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First Friday in Northville — Photography Night at State of MInd Gallery

The first Friday of every month, downtown Northville galleries and restaurants host the monthly Art Walk. This month, the resident photographers at the State of MInd gallery in Northville, MI will be at the gallery to share stories with you. The Art Walk is a great opportunity to get inside the heads of local artists, and this month’s event is no exception.

Watching the Sun Go Down

"Watching the Sun Go Down" -- Rock figure at sunset, Lake Superior

I’ll be there, as will fellow photogs Kim Kozlowski and Sooney Kadouh of MetroDevious. If you are interested in local color or southwestern themes, we’ve got you covered. Consider yourself personally invited to join us at State of MInd, 120 E. Main St in Northville, this Friday night, January 7, from 7-9PM. We’ll have some tasty stories as well as some tasty snacks to share. You’ll be able to see my Michigan work, as well as some of my classic doors and windows from the Southwest.

And that’s not all. Each of the photographers will be offering a 20% discount on anything purchased during the event. No coupon necessary — just come on by and join the throngs!

A few thoughts on marketing

Asked in a online forum recently:

I am thinking about what I could do differently for the next year for my shows and I am thinking about whether involving a marketing company to do some marketing in the city where the show is held would make a large enough difference to sales to cover the costs. […] Not sure how much the cost would be, but my thoughts are to do a test with a local show, use a marketing company to work on a solid branding as well as get an article in the paper as well as give me a couple of ads to run, that I could then in other towns/cities in advance of shows there. Has anyone had any experiences with this to say that the increase in sales outweighs the cost for the kind of business we do.

Based on my experience in agencies as a creative director, you may find it difficult to find a full-service marketing company affordable enough to make it cost-effective. It sounds like what you may need is a freelance public relations person, who can get you placements with the local media. Buying ads is probably not going to help you as much as personalized appearances and mentions in the news. Think about your audience. Do they read the newspaper? Is there a local magazine? Will they see your ad and remember it when the show comes around? Radio and television advertising is too scattershot to do you much good, except as news.

Free Publicity

If you can get interviewed a day before the show, or during the show on the local news, that’s always good. Free publicity will work better than paid advertising IMHO. Even advertising in the local show program is not generally as effective as you might think. Sure, you’ve got targeted eyeballs in the show program, but most people spend a few seconds at most with each page, often scanning the information, and saving it for when they get home.

Develop Your Own Brand

You might be better off hiring an artist consultant rather than an agency to help you define what differentiates you from similar artists. If you’re creative (and what artist isn’t?), you can do a lot of the marketing part yourself. Especially the branding and design of your materials. (See http://www.wishfulthinking.co.uk/2010/06/07/artists-creatives-internet-marketing/)

Most importantly, you want your brand to reflect your work and your personality as an artist.You may want to hire a designer to help you work on your branding, if you feel that you can’t handle it on your own. Designers, while good at working with the look and content of your materials, may not be the best fit for ad placement and media advice however. It should start with a logo that clearly defines you as an artist, and extends to the look and feel of all of your marketing materials. This includes your business card, letterhead and envelope, your artist statement, booth signage, price tags, your postcards, leave-behinds, portfolio, web site  — anything that finds its way into your customer’s hands. Separate your branding assignment from your advertising needs. Once you have a solid brand, then think about how best to increase awareness of it. Is advertising the best vehicle? or should you spend more time working on direct marketing? What about social networking?

Advertise Only as a Last Resort

If you do decide that you want to run some advertising, make sure that it matches the rest of your branding. Developing ads takes a while — there is a systematic process that you go through to determine what you need, how to get there and how to execute. Many marketing companies do this in a similar fashion, but call it different things. Essentially: Discover, Define, Design, Develop, Deploy. (An example can be found at re:group, an Ann Arbor marketing agency). If you shortcut the process, especially the first two, you may not get what you need. The main thing to remember in advertising that multiple impressions is what usually drives traffic (and sales). And for artshow artists, that’s difficult to do on a limited budget.

Focus on Public Relations

My suggestion is to work on your brand, and focus your attention on public relations & networking activities in those cities that you want to target, rather than spending your hard-earned money on fleeting media placements. Work on getting in front of your target audience through local appearances, interviews, speaking engagements and social networking.

For more advice on marketing, check out Alyson Stanfield’s web sites, or sign up for Ariane Goodwin’s Smartist Summit 2011:

http://www.artbizcoach.com/
http://www.artbizblog.com

Alyson’s book “I’d Rather be in the Studio” is also a good read and well worth the money.

Ariane Goodwin’s blog can be found at:

http://smartistcareerblog.com/
http://www.smartist.com

Holiday Note Cards

Some of you may remember my holiday note cards from years past, and the notes I’ve sent personally. I always like to use personal images rather than commercial note cards, and I’m finally making some of these images available to you. Each card features a single image in one of three main themes, with the inside blank for adding your own message. You can find all of these cards locally at several galleries:

Yellow Door Art Market, 3141 W. 12 Mile Rd., Berkley MI

The Village Fine Art Market, 220 N. Adams Rd., Rochester Hills MI

State of MInd Gallery, 120 E. Main St., Northville MI

Each image comes as a single card, or in packs of 5, with matching envelopes. You can also purchase a sampler pack of each theme, which includes six cards and envelopes, one of each image. Themes include the Holiday Collection, Patterns in Nature and Forest Florals. Stop by one of the galleries, and have a look!

Happy Holidays!

Printer calibration image

Many times it’s hard to tell if your inkjet printer is spitting out exactly the color it’s supposed to. Having a test image that represents the full gamut of the color spectrum may help to check that. You can make your own, download them from various color labs, or use the one I’ve used for landscape work over the years. Accurate color chips representing all the major inks, their combinations and a grayscale ramp are good to include in your calibration image. Flesh tones are also helpful if you do a lot of portrait work.

Basically you open the file in your printing application, set your printer driver the way you normally do for making prints, and send the test file to the printer. If it looks like the image on the screen, your workflow is calibrated. If it’s off, well, something’s off in your setup. I’ll leave that thorny issue for another post.

Here’s what my image looks like. To download a full-size 8×10 printing image, click it to open in another window, and right-click it.

Calibration image

All images ©James W. Parker, 2010

Some tips for backpacking with a camera

Sunrise at Floe Lake, Canadian Rockies

Floe Lake, Kootenay, British Columbia

I’ve done a lot of packing with cameras and gear over the years, and every year I carry less and less. This past summer I went on a three day trip with nothing but a Canon G11, instead of carrying my 5D and lenses. Once I got used to the limitations of the G11, it was a joy not to lug an additional 10 pounds of camera gear over rocky trail-less terrain. I often scramble around in the rocks, and do some climbing, so lighter is generally better.

I’ve almost never carried a full size tripod into the backcountry. I use mini-pods at times, and sometimes a monopod adapter atop a walking staff. I don’t use long telephoto lenses in the backcountry, either. Most of my backcountry work is shot with one or two lenses — a 24-85 or 24-105, a 16-35 and very occasionally, a 70-200mm or 70-300mm. And since I’ve moved to Canon L-series lenses, I probably wouldn’t take the 70-300mm into the backcountry. Just too damn heavy to carry unless there was a serious reason. Unless you are planning to do a lot of early/late shooting in golden light (admittedly a good reason to go into the backcountry), you may never need a full size tripod.

Numa Peak and Mt. Foster, Canadian Rockies

Numa Pass & Mt. Foster in the Canadian Rockies

The best strategy for carrying professional camera equipment into the wild is to pare your gear down to the bare essentials. And that includes the camera kit. On my first backpacking trip to the Canadian Rockies, I carried a SLR body, a 24-85mm lens, a 70-300mm lens, a full complement of graduated filters, polarizers, a bunch of film, and a small compact tripod. I also carried my own stove, tent, food, water and way too much clothing. All told, my load was close to 60 pounds for four days, and 20% of that was camera gear. Since then, I’ve gotten  the load pared down, and I can get along with about 25 pounds for a long weekend, with an additional 5-6 pounds of camera gear. Tailor the load to the assignment. If you plan to shoot golden light landscapes, leave the long zoom in the car. If you plan to shoot wildlife, leave the ultra wide lenses behind. It’s hard to stay focussed if you are too tired to lift the camera at the end of the day from carrying a sixty or seventy pound load up 4000′ of vertical trail. You may miss some shots if you don’t have the proper lens, but you will miss more shots wasting energy carrying gear you may only use once.

That said, to carry more than a single lens and a tripod into the backcountry, you will want a backpack that has good size wand pockets and lash spots or side compression straps to carry the tripod on the outside. Keeping the load centered is ideal, but a tripod cantilevered on the back of your pack will definitely tip you backwards. Carrying the lenses and cameras so they are accessible is another big issue. A good sized top pocket is usually the best option, but will make the pack top heavy and awkward to maneuver. Best thing is to experiment and find what works best for you. Take your gear into the store when trying out backpacks, and see what works.

One option is to carry the camera and working lens outside the pack, in shooting position. I have used a Zing case, but with today’s large glass, my old case doesn’t fit my camera. Anything that will relieve weight on your neck and keep the camera close to your chest for shooting will work.

Last Light, Mt. Robson, Canadian Rockies

Last Light, Mt. Robson and Berg Lake, Canadian Rockies

If you are an experienced backpacker, you’ll know how to size a pack for your anticipated itinerary, stamina and load. If not, Gregory and Osprey are great places to start. Backpacks have gotten lighter and stronger, and internal frame packs carry much more compactly than the old-style external frames. OTOH, external packs are very forgiving in the way that they are packed, and can carry huge loads. If you really want to carry a ton of weight, the Kelty external frame packs are tried and true.

Osprey makes very good packs, and my current weekender is a climbing pack with very few bells and whistles. It carries enough for a three day trek if you pack light, but it leaves very little room for camera gear. And it only weights a kilogram.

Look at the Kelty Tioga series for a great example of a classic external frame backpack. While I favor the internal frame style, this pack has stood the test of time, and is highly recommended by many people. If you are planning to carry heavy loads, this may be a better option for you. Try both and see.

One piece of gear that I’ve found incredibly helpful is the Cotton Carrier system. Basically a camera harness, it allows me to carry one or two cameras without the load hanging completely off the neck strap. Great for climbing, or any activity like backpacking where you need to have your hands free and the camera secured for part of the time, the Cotton Carrier holds the camera close to your body until you need it. This is a bulky piece of gear, but worth the extra load in certain situations. Backpacking with a full size DSLR and a heavy lens would be one of them. The Zing Action cases use the same idea — a strap that goes around your waist to keep the camera from swinging forward or from side to side as you walk.

Overloaded backpacker with loads both front and back

What NOT to do when backpacking! Byron Johnson attempts to load the back half of his 80 pounds.

Some tips for traveling light:

  1. Carry less water. With the exception of the desert, you can probably tank up at stream crossings, little ponds and seeps. Water is just about the heaviest thing you can carry, weighing in at 8 pounds/gallon. You can use Gatorade bottles instead of Nalgenes if you want to save an extra ounce or two. I like to use a hydration bladder so that I don’t have constantly fumble for the bottle while walking.
  2. Carry a lightweight filtration system instead of a pump. For years I carried a PUR Hiker filter, which added bulk and about a pound to my pack. Ultraviolet purifiers, such as the SteriPEN, can render water safe to drink, and take up way less space in the pack. Or you can resort to the tried and true iodine tablets.
  3. Carry the lightest backpack, tent, sleeping bag that you can for the conditions you anticipate. For more on ultralight backpacking in general, head over to backpacking.net.
  4. Learn how long your camera batteries will last. Carry only enough spares that you won’t run short. Nothing worse than having your batteries go dead right at sunset.
  5. Carry only dehydrated food on longer trips. The lightest food is the Backpacker’s Pantry type, although I personally prefer to cook gourmet style when on longer trips. But you pay a price in weight. General rule of thumb: 2 pounds a day is more than enough food to replace calories burned on long-distance walks. Energy bars, oatmeal, rice, pasta, dried fruit, nuts will keep you going. Consider a few packs of Emergen-C mixed with water to replenish electrolytes. And with careful planning, you may be able to carry less per day.
  6. Learn how to steady a camera without a tripod. With the exception of long exposures, you can make use of rocks, trees, even a trekking pole to steady the camera. Consider whether you will need a tripod for your shots, and balance the weight over the number of days you will be in the field. before adding it to your backpacking load.
  7. Don’t attempt to carry more weight than you have trained to carry! I can’t stress this enough. There is nothing worse than planning the trip of a lifetime, and then cursing the load on your back every step of the way. Practice gear triage. Before your trip, lay it all out, and eliminate everything that doesn’t have a definite use, or multiple uses. I have used an excel spreadsheet and a postal scale to weigh every single piece of gear, and to calculate to the ounce what I will be carrying “from the skin out”. FTSO refers to everything in your pack, plus your boots, clothing that you are wearing, and yes, that camera around your neck. 20%-30% of your body weight should be comfortable if you are in shape; 35% is not. Strive for less is more.

Happy Trails!