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Five handy photographic tools

As photographers, there are certain tools that we all take for granted. A camera is necessary, but not necessarily a lens, for most photographs. Something to hold the camera: hands, or a tripod, perhaps. Some way to present the images captured, whether on paper or the ephemeral flickering light of the computer screen. And then there is the non-physical aspect of photography, the thinking part. The ability to see the picture, and compose a cohesive story out of seemingly inconsequential moments. Eyes to frame the scene. Ears to hear what is happening while the image is being photographed. A designer’s mind. These perhaps are more important than the camera and tripod.

But this post isn’t about all that. No, this is about the little things that make photographic life easier in the field. Like coffee in the morning and Lightroom in the digital darkroom. Every photographer has a few tools in the camera bag that make life in the field just a bit easier. My five favorites include

  1. My iPhone. Aside from allowing me access to email and internet browsing while away from the laptop, the iPhone has a number of enhancements that make fieldwork a lot easier. Built-in GPS on the 3GS version; mapping, trip routing and traffic for free, courtesy of Google Maps; a rudimentary compass; a rudimentary camera with many third-party apps such as BestCamera, Photoshop Mobile and others; the list goes on and on.
  2. Sun locating tools. Back in the day, I used to use a little circular slide-rule device called a Sundicator. Nowadays, thanks to GPS technology, the iPhone has several good electronic equivalents. My favorite is Focalware, by Spiral Development. With a built-in compass, and the ability to find the sun and moon at any latitude and longitude, FocalWare gives you the height of the celestial objects on any day and date. It also lets you calculate the length of the shadow. With the built-in compass, you can line up a shot with the sun in the position you want. You also have the ability to lookup many common geographic locations, as well as save custom locations that are not already in the database. Darkness, a similar app by Bjango, has some additional features, such as civil, aeronautic and astronomical twilight; the ability to compare sunrise, sunset, moonrise and moonset for several locations; a nifty light map and an easy to use interface. Darkness costs $0.99, Focalware is $9.99.
    A third, desktop based application is Stephen Trainor’s The Photographer’s Ephemeris, or TPE. This app is built using Adobe Air, so you’ll need to download that first in order to run TPE. With an elegant interface, and maps enabled by Google Earth, TPE is a beautifully designed application that will do many of the same things that FocalWare and Darkness can. And it’s designed so that it can be run on a NetBook, so anywhere that you have internet connectivity, TPE will run. The main advantage to TPE is that you can see the angle of light superimposed over a map of the area you are photographing. For planning a shoot, TPE is indispensable. And best of all, it’s free. Development is funded by donations alone.
  3. A small level. Although tripod heads often have a built-in level, a small portable level is very handy to have in the bag of tricks. It doesn’t weigh much, it doesn’t cost much, and can be useful for setting up level or plumb on top of your camera. A small hot-shoe plate can be glued to the bottom of the level so that it can be affixed to your camera when using it handheld. Available at most hardware stores and home centers, a tiny three-way torpedo level costs less than $5.
  4. Lens-cleaning tools. I know this sounds obvious, but keeping a small bottle of lens cleaning fluid, a micro-fiber cloth and a small anti-static brush in the camera kit is a no-brainer. Other useful additions are a bubble blower, such as the Giottos Rocket Blower; a small sensor-cleaning kit, if you’re so inclined; and a package of pre-moistened lens-cleaning wipes. Visible Dust makes some very good sensor cleaning brushes, available directly and through photographic suppliers. I wouldn’t recommend cleaning the sensor out in the field, but it’s handy to have in the evening, especially if you change lenses often. An antistatic brush is also handy — Kinetronics makes a small StaticWisk brush on a lanyard that is quite nice.
  5. In-field backup systems. Although the proliferation of cheap CF cards in the 8, 16 and even 32Gb capacity has made portable hard-drives largely unnecessary, having a redundant copy of your media is a good idea. I’ve used Wolverine’s portable drives, as well as a laptop powered by an inverter off of the truck battery. I like to copy the contents of each card shot to an external drive before erasing the card. Ideally, I like to have two copies, one on the laptop and one on an external drive. Here’s where the Wolverine comes in handy. You can preview the images on a built-in LCD screen, and you can copy directly from the card to the device. Battery life is low, however, so carry spares, or a charger. Epson also makes backup units in 40G, 80G and 160G versions. Available through Amazon, and other retailers, many photographers use these devices. The Wolverine is a bit less money, however.

There are lots more tools that didn’t make the short list. For shooting models and small products outdoors, you can never have too many mirrors, reflectors and bounce cards. Grip supplies, from the lowly C-47 to Matthews C-stands, can be handy for larger shoots. Model and property releases. I’m positive that you have your own favorites, so don’t be shy about adding your comments!

Five things you must do to succeed in the Art Show World

It’s been a while since I posted about the mechanics of doing shows, and there are several good posts on the blog that cover certain aspects. With the economy the way that it is, many people I meet ask me, “How do I get started doing art fairs?” Many folks have dreamed of a life of independence, creating art that they enjoy, and wonder if it’s possible to make a living doing it. For most people, the mystery is in the logistical aspects, not so much in the creation of the work. So I’ll point you to some of the previous pieces, and add some new comments, focusing mostly on points 2-5.

  1. Create a body of work, or organize work that you’ve done over the years into cohesive units. If you’re considering doing shows, you should already have work that you are passionate about, enjoy making, and most of all, enjoy talking about. While everything else is important, nothing should take a back seat to your continual creative evolution. For more on how to spend more time in the studio while still marketing and selling, you can’t beat Alyson Stanfield’s book, “I’d Rather Be in the Studio”. You can find it on her website, along with other weekly doses of inspiration on her Art Biz Blog, here.
  2. Create a display to show your work in its best light. Think of this as a retail environment, like a gallery. This is the most important part to get right, as you must have not only a system to protect your work from the elements and sell to art patrons, but also a way to present your work to show jurors. Most shows require several images of your work and a booth slide that shows your display as it would appear at a show. There are many ways to get there, from the simple EZ-UP or Caravan canopies, to the Trimline and Lightdome tents. At a minimum, you need a 10×10′ tent, with sides that can be secured at night; display walls or pedestals, depending on how you want to display your work, and the work itself.
    Many people use home made walls, using plywood, hollow-core doors or other materials that can be broken down and carried in a van or trailer. Arguably the best systems for 2-D artists are the lightweight panel walls from ProPanels and Armstrong Displays. The walls come in different heights and widths, and you can get good ideas from their sites.
    For photographers, printmakers and other 2D artists, framed work is hung on the walls, and prints are usually displayed matted in browse bins. I’ve written quite a bit about my bin systems: here’s a recap. ProPanels and Armstrong also make collapsible bin systems if you don’t want to make your own.
    At shows that run into the evening, you may want to consider lighting, too. Some events will supply electricity, others charge for it, and some allow you to use a generator or marine batteries. Lighting is a “nice to have” in most situations. To learn more, read this post on portable lighting. Honda Generators are the quietest, but not all shows will allow them, or gasoline.
    Go to shows and see how other artists that work in your medium set up their booths. Walk the show, take notes, and talk to artists, if it seems as if you are not distracting them from the primary business of working with their paying customers. Use these ideas to plan your own display.
    When you have your booth and displays thought out, you’ll want to have some photographs made that you can use to apply to shows with — this is known as a “booth shot”. It can be made at a show, or set up in a driveway. Chris Coffey, a respected art-show photographer, has this to say about the booth shot and jurying for shows in general. Larry Berman and Chris Maher have also set up a monster resource site for art show artists at artshowphoto.com.
  3. Apply to shows. To get your work out in public, there is no better way than to do art festivals. For the most part, the people that come to shows come to look at art, talk to the artists in person and hopefully, buy some art. There are lots of shows all over the country, and depending on the season, there are probably shows right in your area. There are several well-known resources for locating shows, detailed in this post on Finding Nirvana.
    To get into shows, you’ll need to apply. (Seems obvious, doesn’t it?) And to apply, you need examples of your work to show to jurors. Both Zapp and Juried Art Services only accept digital files, and the specifications for creating these files are very specific. Read Zapp’s article on creating digital slides, and follow their advice. While it’s free to join Zapp and JASV, shows generally charge an application fee to apply to their show. These fees range from $25-75. If you’re accepted, you’ll also be required to pay a space rental fee to reserve your space, often months in advance of the show. Booth fees run anywhere from $200 to $1500. Tiny local shows may be less expensive. Generally, the more exclusive the show, the more the booth fee. Larger shows attract more customers though, so it’s usually worth the extra dollars. This is one of the tricky parts of the show business.
    Local shows and smaller venues may still require slides instead of digital files on a CD, although this is changing rapidly. There are two ways to do this. Hire a local photographer to shoot your artwork and provide you with slides (harder and harder these days to get processed), or take your digital files to a resource that will convert back into analog slides. Two good resources are Slides.com and iprintfromhome.com. I definitely recommend reading the show’s requirements well ahead of the deadline so that you can provide exactly what they need. Shows are picky about this. If they ask for four slides and a booth show, labelled with a red dot in the upper right and your name on the bottom, that’s what you should send. Every show’s requirements are different, so read carefully and do as they ask.
  4. Show up. I can’t stress this point enough. If you apply to a show, it is your responsibility to get yourself and your booth there, on time, and set up ready to sell by the time the show opens. But showing up also means that you are there physically and mentally, ready and passionate to talk about your work to anybody who walks in the door. Art shows require a commitment of 110%. Sometimes it is really hard to drag your butt out of bed at 4AM to go set up a canopy in the rainy dark pre-dawn hours and be ready to smile at 9AM. If you want to do shows, then you need to be prepared to make that happen.
    Showing up also means that you make a commitment to evolve your work. Some show artists are still showing the same old tired work that they carted around to shows ten years ago. The mats are dog-eared and dusty, the frames are chipped and the canopy is brown with mold. It’s obvious that they lost interest years ago and they are now just doing it for the fame and glory. Don’t be one of them. On second thought, do be one them — it’ll make my booth look better!
  5. Market your work. This topic covers a lot of ground. From creating good signage in your booth, to sending out postcards and emails, to social networking, it’s important to let potential customers know how to find you and your work. Alyson Stanfield, Maria Arango and Bruce Baker all have interesting contributions to this subject, so it’s worth your while to study this subject in depth. I’ve written several posts about this in the past, and this one sums it up nicely.
    It bears repeating that participating in the social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn will help you to connect with others who are struggling and succeeding, as well as people who are generally interested in your work. Sign up for an account if you haven’t already, and participate in the conversation.

You can start small, with a cheap EZ-Up, and some homemade walls, doing shows within a few miles of your home. Or you can do what I did, and jump in both feet, and travel round the country, meeting all kinds of interesting people and constantly seeing new vistas. The choice is yours. Good luck! And if you found this info useful, don’t be shy about adding a comment, or dropping me a line at info (at) parkerparker.info.

Happy Trails!

HappiFeet — new weight system

HappiFeet in use

Found this online today — a much more efficient weight system than the traditional cement filled PVC tubes. While I use steel bar weights, these have a smaller footprint and may be easier to transport in a smaller vehicle. Check out their website at happifeet.com. Be warned, though. They are pricey. HappiFeet are about $100 each, for the 32 pound style. They look quite efficient however, and can be purchased with optional levelers. For contrast,  I paid about $75 each to have a fabricator make my weights out of 2.5″ steel bar stock. My weights are 75 pounds each though, 2 1/2″ x 30″, with a hanging loop at one end. They attach via heavy-duty tie-downs.

One thing is certain: an unweighted canopy is much more likely to blow away in windy conditions. The minimum weight you should have on each leg is 25 pounds. 40 or 50 is better, if you can manage to lift that much at a go.

America Creates

America Creates - a new site for artists, craftspeople and patrons of the arts

America Creates - a new site for artists, craftspeople and patrons of the arts

Two refugees from the corporate world have started up America Creates, a new artists site with some interesting features.  The website is unique for a number of reasons, and stands out among the crowd of wannabe art destination sites. For starters, its creators, Sharon Sinclair and Larry Hitchcock both have extensive creative backgrounds. Larry worked as Creative Director at Disney for years, and was a veteran of rock concert staging before that. Sharon, his partner also has a background in stage design and interior design. Together, they share a love for handmade objects and American craft. 

But the site is more than a pretty storefront. They’ve thoughtfully included whole sections on resources for the creative community, forums, blogs and even a way for artists to post video of themselves working in the studio. In their own words:

America Creates is an Internet business that connects American artisans with a local, regional, national and worldwide markets.

America Creates is a showplace for creative goods and services produced by independent American artists and artisans.

America Creates raises awareness of the people, places and events that support creativity in their own communities.

America Creates fosters the education of future generations with learning experiences in the classroom and apprentice programs with local artists and artisans.

America Creates revitalizes the concept of community, inviting all to participate.

The site is still in its infancy, and is looking for talented artists to participate. It is a juried site, so you must go through a vetting process before you are allowed to post work. For more information on how to join America Creates as an artist, click here. If you don’t already have a website, or ecommerce abilities on your current site, this is a terrific opportunity. Joining the site as an artist or crafter is free, but America Creates takes a 25% on any sales made through the site. There is no charge for listing items, unlike Etsy, so limited editions or multiple sizes or colors is not an issue. Creating variations on a single piece is still a bit kludgy, though, as there’s no way to add your own attributes if the pre-filled ones don’t cut it for you.

But there’s more to America Creates than just a store front. Larry and Sharon hope to enable the site as an information hub for events; creative services; guilds and co-ops, galleries, museums and art centers; art schools and associations, and any other resource that you can think of. Listings are free, and it’s a great way to promote your artistic endeavors to a broad audience. The concept of making it an art-based community is unique and sets it apart from sites that are mainly designed to sell. 

Larry and Sharon have recently hired a SEM (Search Engine Marketing) firm to help get the word out. They have ambitious plans for publicity, and the practical experience to make this a great place to find information on anything art related. Their goal is give artists the best marketing tool they ever had, but they need you and your work to make it wonderful.

Some good reading for aspiring artists

Here are a few good books on doing art shows, and marketing yourself as an artist:

Art Fair Sourcebook is the best database of show information on the top 600 shows in the country. Published yearly, it’s a subscription based product, available in geographic sections or as a whole. Online or print versions.

Maria Arango’s book, the Art Festival Guide, is very well-written, and worth reading. Her style is breezy, imaginative and the information she sets out is logical and based on her years of experience on the Southwestern show circuit.

Alyson Stanfield, an artist consultant with years of experience in museum and gallery management, has written a book that is a must-read for aspiring artists and experienced exhibitors alike. She’s inspirational, practical and she has a whirlwind of a life to boot! Her book, I’d Rather be in the Studio, covers many topics that aren’t strictly geared to show artists, but help get you out of the rut and creating new work, as well as marketing it.

NAIA also has a book called “The Art Fair Survival Guide” available on their site. I haven’t read this one, but it looks interesting. The approach is more anecdotal, and it is geared specifically towards show artists. Lots of other resources on their site for members, as well.

Jack White’s series on marketing and keeping inspired are also good, especially the “Magic of Selling Art“, if you can get by his ego. All of his titles are electronic (pdf) only.