We all face constant choices in our business such as where to put our time, whether to facebook, whether to Twitter, and whether to use SEO to enhance the value of our websites.
Friday, April 30, 2010
We all face constant choices in our business such as where to put our time, whether to facebook, whether to Twitter, and whether to use SEO to enhance the value of our websites.
Facebook, Ping Pong and Coffee
I have a confession to make. I haven’t looked at Facebook in two weeks. I don’t miss it (and I don’t think it misses me either). Its funny; I sort of wish I missed it. I like the idea of being more connected with my friends. And yet, when I am reading the writing on the wall (little humor there), it just isn’t that compelling to me. I would much rather be having a spirited game of ping pong with a friend than sharing tidbits over the Internet. I’d rather be having a discussion about, well, anything over a cup of coffee with a friend, than sharing those thoughts via twitter.
Twitter, Tweets and Limits
Now twitter; I use that to let those following me know when I have posted a new blog entry or interview…and hoping that a lot of RT’s generate traffic and grow my audience. Sometimes I peruse twitter looking for the interesting tweet. But the 140 character limit on twitter I find, well, limiting. E-mail or the phone actually makes more sense to me. To me, twitter is a mini-press release. Oh well, maybe I am showing my age.
A Toe In The Water
What does make sense to me in this digital era is optimizing and fully utilizing my web site. Maybe someday it will be different and people will look for photos through facebook...and that is why I think it a good idea to at least have a toe in the water with social media. But right now, today, people are searching for images and finding my site via search engines. They are licensing images, buying prints and merchandise (though not yet in the quantities that I want), and finding me with interesting business proposals. Oh yeah, and I am making ad revenue from the ads on my site (but again, not yet in the quantities that I desire).
Text Heavy Sites, Finding Images, and Advertising
I made a decision that the look of my site was secondary to the optimization of it. It was a difficult decision to make…to create a text-heavy site. I even resisted it for several years. But eventually I came to believe that if someone was looking for an image, for whatever reason, then having them find that image, on my site, was more important than how the site looked. The way to help people get to those images on my site, that they are looking for, is through text. I further came to believe that if they were looking for an image, and found what they were looking for, then having advertising on my site would not deter them. In fact, if they did not find the image they were looking for, then at least they might find something else that interests them in one of the ads. Providing relevant ads is actually doing a service for them.
An Ear To The Ground and an Eye on the Future
I won’t abandon facebook or twitter. I’ll keep my other toe in the video water (the one not in social media), and I will keep my ear to the ground (as opposed to my head in the sand) and an eye on the future trying to understand where the stock photo industry is headed. I am striving to create images that the market wants (whether they know it or not), and to be as creative as I can in order to fulfill both my monetary and artistic needs. I have a deep faith that the world is always going to need good, relevant photos, and that if I can create such images I will be fine; actually, I will be better than fine, I will thrive.
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Photo©GlenAllison To read the story of this image visit Glen's Blog .
Glen, if my memory is accurate, you once had a large studio operation but let that all go to vagabond around the world shooting stock for Tony Stone. Can you refresh my memory about that and give us some highlights of that trip?
Thanks so much, John, for asking me to do this interview.
To put my 1990s vagabond journey in perspective I should explain the motivating circumstances. There have been times when my career was a bit like a roller coaster ride. Though successful as an architectural photographer prior to 1990, and with lots of accolades in my back pocket, I never developed much of a business sense. Perhaps wannabe "artistes" are never good doing the math. But somehow by 1990 I'd been able to make a million bucks during a very flush three-year turnaround. However, poor planning (and perhaps a bit of fiscal extravagance) left me little prepared for the major real estate crash of that year. In short order, all my architectural photography work completely dried up. Within a year I found myself laying off five full-time employees, then filing for bankruptcy, living in my van and delivering pizzas. I lost almost everything. Somehow I kept a healthy attitude about it all. Though I was determined this dire situation would not last forever, I decided my best strategy at the time was to be the absolute best pizza delivery boy (at age 45) that restaurant ever had. I didn’t want to dig my karmic hole even deeper by entertaining bitterness.
Using my financial devastation as a propellant, I launched into my dream of becoming a travel photographer. Considering my circumstances, many might have thought my dream was frivolous. However, the concept of failure was nonexistent in my mind. Never even once did I doubt my future success. I delivered every pizza with this unyielding determination.
Eventually I found ways to travel, though in the beginning I found myself panhandling for food in a couple of countries where I didn't speak the language. Early on my photos were accepted by After Image in Los Angeles, which a few months later became the first international acquisition of Tony Stone Worldwide based in London. Five years later Mark Getty and Jonathan Klein entered the scene and started gobbling up many of the major stock libraries of the world, Tony Stone being the first. When my photo royalties started rolling in, I decided to stay on the road nonstop, re-investing every penny for the next nine years as a "homeless-by-choice" vagabond travel photographer. Ultimately, I visited more than 130 countries and continuous travel got into my blood.
Was that trip a financial success?
Though I'm not what many might consider to be one of the "high-flying" photographers, I was able to earn about three million dollars during the next fifteen years on fewer than a thousand photos at Getty Images, which wound up being licensed more than 60,000 times.
Was it on that trip that you became interested in Buddhism? Can you tell us a bit about the Soka Gakkai International?
My interest in Buddhism began much earlier in Los Angeles in 1973, back when I first became a photographer. Ever since then, pursuing the "Mystic Law" has enabled me to keep manifesting my "never-give-up" and "anything-is-possible" spirit on a daily basis. The SGI is a lay organization of Nichiren Buddhists comprised of more than 12 million everyday people in pursuit of global peace through education, culture and the empowerment of the individual. We adherents chant the phrase "Nam-myoho-renge-kyo," the rhythmic Mystic Law that powers the universe and enables one to activate life's highest potential. We don’t have statues of the historic Buddha in our homes nor do we pray to him in temples as some kind of god. After all, he was just a common mortal—albeit an enlightened one. Our form of Buddhism isn’t archaic or esoteric and I’ve found that it seamlessly meshes with this modern age. We SGI members are not vegetarians by requirement nor do we deny material needs. In the very real context of daily life we aspire to manifest the inherent Buddha nature within--a life condition that is possible to polish despite our karmic circumstances of the past and present.
After your last epic travel adventure it seems you put down some roots in Bali. What was your life in Bali like?
After all the exotic destinations I'd visited, I moved to Bali because it seemed like heaven on earth. What a perfect place to live! I could take month-long shooting trips and then come back to my paradise in Bali to do the required two or three months of Photoshop post-production work. Back in the 90s all I had to do was FedEx my slides to Getty from the road but in this digital world I now needed a permanent base where I could spend the required time realigning pixels to my heart’s desire.
Was it difficult to give up your life in Bali and commit to this new journey?
One might think so but let me describe the circumstances of this transition.
I had always dreamed of designing my dream-of-a-lifetime home--one that would be unbelievable. I have a degree in architecture from UC Berkeley but never practiced in that profession and became an architectural photographer instead. During the 70s and 80s I photographed some of the world's most notable architectural structures designed by several of the world's most recognized architects (like Frank Gehry) for major publications such as Architectural Digest and Architectural Record. Yet I had never designed even a simple garage. I was driven not to depart this lifetime without dabbling in the endeavor. It was something I had to do while I had the chance. So I took almost a million bucks cash from my previous Getty earnings and embarked on the next wild venture in my life. I stopped taking photos for the following three years. I became the architect, the general contractor and the 24/7 job supervisor of my new visionary project in Bali and I learned how to do it on the job. I designed six inverted pyramid, steel-framed pavilions wrapped in wall-to-wall glass under thatched roofs that rose from twenty-one levels of water. Yes, a bit over the top. But it was my dream.
Check out these project photos for a glimpse: http://j.mp/BaliLotusVilla
But then, guess what?
The world's economy dramatically crashed yet again. My project was only 80% complete and construction costs were already way over budget. It had been impossible to judge construction inflation (it doubled during three years) in this developing country. My cash resources were by then greatly diminished and suddenly my stock photo income dropped 90% in what seemed like an instant with no glimmer of imminent resurgence.
Bali, being one of the world’s hottest travel destinations, has been little influenced by the economic downturn and property values there are still holding strong. My Balinese investment turns out to be probably the best place I could have put my money. So I've now decided to sell the project and the package includes my finishing the construction. I plan to do job supervision one week a month and shoot in nearby exotic locales for the other three during the remaining six months of construction. Fitting it into my current travel plans, I will see this project to fruition then photograph it and get it published worldwide.
My Bali experience is my treasure. I have absolutely zero pain as a result of this endeavor. Though I put my entire life into the project, I soon realized I never wanted to be a full-time contractor nor was it possible to envision I’d need to take so much time away from my true profession. Besides, from a technological standpoint, three years ago I needed a base so I could return to a powerful desktop computer and a high-end graphics monitor to do Photoshop post-production. But today I can do it all on the latest Macbook Pro laptop loaded with 8 gigs of RAM and its excellent display. It’s now not a necessity for me to maintain a permanent base.
Most importantly, however, I had to go back to what I love.
So now you have embarked on yet another lengthy journey, an eleven-year sojourn that won’t be completed until your seventy-fifth birthday? I have to ask, why such a long trip?
It seems my life has been defined by reinventing myself and I also must admit that marathons thrill me immensely. Besides, I must outdo myself by adding a couple more years to this sojourn. Age 75 sounded like a great celebration point though I’m determined it won’t be my last.
I haven’t been bound psychologically to tangible possessions. In 1990 I signed all the copyright ownership of my previous twenty years of architectural photos over to the clients who had commissioned me. Overnight I burned every bridge to the past and abruptly switched to travel photography. I have not one transparency, negative or tear sheet from those two decades to show for my architectural work even though several of the buildings I photographed will go down in history as some of the most famous structures of the twentieth century.
At the time I felt so cleansed and ready for a new life.
Last year I made a trip from Bali to Los Angeles. In a storage unit there I had 20 file drawers of travel photo transparencies from the 90s. After a week or so of culling through the best images one last time, I called a mega shredding company. They came early the next morning with a monster machine and it only took eight minutes to shred tens of thousands of images--a decade of work from all over the world.
Once again, I felt refreshed. Now I was ready for another brand new life.
To some, these actions might appear a bit radical. For me, I had already scanned the best of my travel images and I was never going to look back. I don’t like baggage.
A lot has changed in the photography world since that first trip you took, particularly in the world of stock photography. I’m sure many people are wondering if you can still make a living shooting travel stock…what does your experience tell you about that?
Well, if you consider what many pundits in the industry are saying today (some of them in your blog) plus the stats from our now devastated monthly royalties, then the future of stock photography indeed looks very bleak. Novice photographers are being encouraged that it might be better to pursue a career at McDonalds. But, you know what, I will not let such doomsday scenarios deter me.
None of us knows how the stock photo world will unfold. Our challenge, however, is to keep manifesting our individual talents to the best of our ability--no matter the limits that might seem to strangle us at times. I will continue to throw my life into my work. Even if I can only achieve a modicum of creative success, I'm convinced that eventually there will be a buyer who will respond.
Each of us must chart the course toward our own sustainability. I can't even begin to suggest what others must do. In my own case, I've structured my life so that even with just my USA Social Security retirement benefits, I’d be able to live a reasonably nice lifestyle while I continuously travel to a huge number of countries in the world where the cost of living is minimal. Every country has its treasures to photograph. Bali, for example, is one of the most exotic and popular travel destinations in the world. Yet, outside the travel industry, it's possible to live there very cheaply. The average salary for local workers in Bali is only three or four dollars per day. In the rest of Indonesia, it's about two bucks.
For the time being, my current stock photo income hasn’t plummeted to zero. One should also consider that I’m not encumbered with the normal financial responsibilities of living life. I don’t have mortgage or car payments. I don’t pay for auto repair or car insurance because I don’t own a car. I have no kids living at home so I don’t have to worry about their education or health care or food or an endless list of other concerns. I don’t have televisions and exercise equipment or coffee pots or scores of other things that eat up income. What most people spend each month to maintain daily life, I invest in travel and most of those expenses are tax deductible. For me, continuously visiting new countries is like being on a holiday that never ends. Banks in Indonesia are currently paying 7% interest. If I factor in the eventual return of my cash investment in the Bali project and deposit some of the proceeds into those time deposits . . . well, at least I have a plan for future income despite the depths to which the current stock photo industry might plunge. I can use this bank interest for travel expenses and keep doing what I love while I still keep the nest egg in tact.
Bottom line: I'm creating a scenario where I’m more distanced from the stress of worrying about future income. I'll concentrate on creativity and see where that leads me. Meanwhile, technology seems to explode exponentially every few years. Past stock photo marketing avenues may die but new ones will most certainly be born.
So, I'm getting new images ready in anticipation.
John, everyone who reads your blog is looking for fresh ideas to orchestrate a path through the quagmire in which many might find themselves stuck. The way I live my life is probably not going to work for very many people who have families, responsibilities and obligations. For me, I may have allowed myself to get momentarily sidetracked in Bali but now I’m back to creating a very streamlined lifestyle that makes me happy. Other than the gear I now carry with me, my entire possessions in this world consist of just a couple of small boxes stored at friends’ houses in Los Angeles and Bali. Clutter doesn’t fit into my life. Most people might not want to live such a minimal lifestyle like this. But whatever our lifestyle choices, I'm convinced that every single person can move forward exactly from the very position where they now stand--even with just a little progress each day, step-by-step. Each of us must find a way to free ourselves from the constraints we encounter while at the same time honoring our responsibilities. The key is discovering ways to keep our determination fully charged and developing a life condition that thrives on overcoming obstacles.
I am bursting with hope and I'm absolutely thrilled by the challenge.
I have really enjoyed reading your blog. You have also written some books as well. Can you fill us in on your book efforts? Has writing always been something you have been interested in?
After my first decade-long jaunt around the globe I was consumed by writing about the tale. You can imagine the harrowing experiences and funny circumstances one might encounter during such a trip. But I didn't know how to write. So, being the marathoner that I am, during the last few years of my travels in the 90s I read 200 novels to gain insight about writing my own novel. But my first draft had 200 writing styles. I lucked into meeting a fabulous editor who quickly convinced me to throw out all the crap and start writing again from scratch. I then crafted a love story about a travel photographer (naturally)--a story that dragged him through harrowing experiences to some of the most exotic reaches of the earth--places I had been and many real-life experiences I had actually encountered . . . well, with a bit of embellishment for dramatic effect.
I was amazed that in 2004 my novel, "The Journey From Kamakura," was nominated one of three finalists for "Best First Book--Fiction" in the USA at the Benjamin Franklin Awards. That year I also had a travel narrative published, "Penis Gourds & Moscow Muggings," which is a collection of humorous tales from my travels in the 90s.
Your new Rajasthan book sounds intriguing. Is that print-on-demand? How has your experience with Blurb been?
I went to Rajasthan last fall to photograph twenty thousand camels at the Pushkar Fair. It was my fifth such trip to Pushkar and once there I decided to shoot only a few camels (so to speak). I was having more fun finding fine art photos hidden amongst the wild color and chaos that is India. A couple of weeks earlier I had been turned on to Blurb.com where I could quickly design a book online as a print-on-demand publication. I decided to give this publishing avenue a whirl since all I had to invest was a bit of time. After a month-long circuit around Rajasthan I parked myself in Jaipur, India, for two very intense weeks and used Photoshop to crank out my first coffee table book, "Thrill Me Rajasthan." It has very little text, mostly just fine art photos. The downside of a POD book is that the cost per copy with one-off printing is a bit expensive since there aren't any discounts from large print runs. The upside is that there are no upfront costs for production other than the fact that Blurb requires you to order one book. Hey, I've got all the time in the world and my markup on sales is all profit. This is where social media promotion will really come into play, I'm sure.
There was a book review in the San Francisco Examiner: http://j.mp/ExaminerBookReview
How do you prepare for a destination (do you research what to shoot, when to shoot and possibly establish some local contacts)? Do you shoot with a plan?
Kind of, but not to the extent one might imagine. First, I go online with Getty or other stock libraries and see what they have on file already for a particular destination in which I'm interested. I quickly peruse a guide book, like Lonely Planet, to gain insight about seasonal weather, festival timings, visa requirements and the key travel sites that would be marketable. Then I figure out most of the trip once I get there. I’m not threatened by the unexpected and I want to see what I discover raw. Too many facts will clutter my mind. I talk to other travelers I meet along the way and see what they learned first-hand. Basically, if the season seems good, I just get on the plane and go. That is the thrill of discovery.
OK, how the heck do you organize a 4005-day trip? How do you determine where next?
As you can see, only a bare minimum of preplanning goes into my journeys. I do have one overall plan, however. There are about 220 countries and territories in the world today and there are at least twenty I wouldn't dare visit for safety reasons. A nice round figure of 200 is my goal during my 4005 days of this adventure. I must say, however, that my overriding determination is to make at least one lifelong friend in every country of the world. As each month unfolds, something will trigger me to visit the next place that presents itself.
From reading your blog I understand that you travel very light. What does “traveling light” look like to you (i.e. what gear do you take, etc.)?
Since I must take necessary computer gear and cameras I’ve reduced everything else to a bare minimum: three shirts, three sets of underwear, two pairs of trousers or shorts depending on the climate, one pair of high quality sandals for warm countries, and one pair of lightweight but reasonably good trekking shoes with a couple pairs of socks. By the way, this represents all the clothes that I own in this world. I hand wash almost daily (it only takes a second) and I give clothes away when they wear out or when I change climates. I carry minimal toiletries since they can be bought anywhere. I also stash a few packets of generic antibiotics. Mosquitoes have decided they don’t like to bite me. I almost never get sick from exotic food perhaps because I probably have just about every known amoeba in my system already.
For now, I'm taking one Canon EOS 5D Mark 2 body with five lenses: 24-105mm, 17-40mm f/4, 70-200mm f/4, 14mm full-frame rectilinear, 15mm full-frame fisheye and a tele-extender. I have one flash unit and a small lightweight Gitzo tripod with a ball head. For computer gear I carry the latest 17-inch MacBook Pro fully loaded to the hilt with 8 gigs of RAM, an internal 500 gig hard drive and a matte display for easier editing. I also take an EyeOne Color Calibrator, 4 terabytes of external hard drives containing my full digital archive (two TB for the image files plus DNG and 2 TB for the backup). If I'm in a risky place, I always carry the backups with me in a small bag and leave one set of external drives in the hotel. Note that I backup at least once each day: usually immediately after each Photoshop session. As soon as I get to a fast Internet I upload the DNG files to PhotoShelter for the selected images on which I've worked. I also upload a flattened high rez JPEG of each layered master TIFF image from Photoshop. The layered files are only stored on the external drives. If I lose all the hard drives and the laptop on location, then I at least have a backup of the best DNGs and JPEGs online at PhotoShelter. I also keep an extra full backup copy of everything both in Bali and Los Angeles at friend's houses each time I make a return trip. I try to do as much image manipulation as possible in Lightroom so that all that work is stored as non-destructible metadata embedded into a small DNG which has been uploaded to PhotoShelter. Photoshop layered files are way too big to upload online with all the slow internet I encounter.
On a side note, one can most definitely do final Photoshop corrections using the display of this new Macbook Pro as long as you color calibrate it. One slight downside is that you must train yourself to keep your head dead center to judge correct exposure, saturation and color balance. After I’m finished with all Photoshop corrections, the trick I use is to zoom out on the image to make it smaller and I then place it in the center of the display. Without moving my head up and down or left and right I make one final confirming check on color and exposure across the breadth of the image in one glance. I thought I’d hate this limit of a laptop display but I got used to it very quickly. Hopefully, one day soon Apple will solve this problem too. At least I can now travel continuously never needing to return to a home base and a high-end monitor. I also don’t have to pay for return flights home from the opposite side of the globe every month or so.
Glen, sometimes when I'm traveling I just have to put my camera away for a bit, maybe a half a day or even a whole day, and experience my surroundings. Do you ever put your camera down and just live the experience?
When many photographers travel, they try to combine a vacation with work and may feel they need to capture as many marketable images as possible to make the investment profitable. So there might be a bit of pressure not to relax too much.
I’m always on holiday and I’m not looking for very many images. My goal is just one great photo per day. Now that I do all my post-production work while on the road, I'm moving very slowly when compared to my sojourn in the 90s and that gives me more time to really enjoy my destinations. I made my first trip around the world in 1994 and it was my craziest travel year ever. I had 100 flights in 365 days and only spent three or four days in each city looking for the icon shots. Today I sometimes hang out in cities for a couple of weeks or more and take my time. If I have the slightest inkling I might miss a shot, then I take my camera with me when I go out. However, there are many circumstances when I'm going for lunch, etc., that I don't take my camera. I'm not much of a "grab shot" type of travel photographer. Usually I study my compositions in detail but if I'm in a location with lots of colorful people and spontaneous action, like India, then I carry a camera with me at all times though maybe with just the 24-105mm lens to keep things light, leaving all the other stuff in the hotel room while I wander around looking for good locations.
Do you ever get lonely?
Traveling to most countries in the world is not at all like traveling around the United States where it’s possible to traverse the breadth of the country and never talk to another tourist. That’s hardly the case everywhere else. Just imagine all the great travelers I bump into, not to mention colorful local characters I get to know along the way. Just yesterday I met an interesting 71-year-old amateur photographer on the minivan ride from Vang Vieng, Laos, to Luang Prabang. Last month he went on a bicycle trip in Northern Vietnam from Sapa up into the hill tribe areas next to China. Last February in Northern Japan he photographed Macaque monkeys that were swimming in hot springs during a snow storm. He's even bicycled up the silk road from Russia through Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to the famous Kashgar Sunday market in the far reaches of western China. He then pedaled across the Himalayas down the Korokorum Highway to Islamabad. How thrilling do you think those stories were? When I made that same trip ten years ago, I was in a boring bus. This guy isn't rich. He's a retired school teacher who taught Spanish in Sitka, Alaska, of all places. Now he's my new lifelong friend. As if my exchange with him wasn't interesting enough, there were also nine great young women on the same minibus with us for seven hours, four girls from Thailand and five girls from Japan, who all spoke reasonably good English.
I thrive on this life. There’s no time to get bored or lonely.
What role does your website play in your business? Do you do your own SEO? Do you do any direct sales? I know you license stock through Getty, do you use any other agencies?
Currently my images are licensed through Getty, Alamy, Evostock, and from years ago a few images still with AGE Fotosock and MIRA. I recently redirected my GlenAllison.com website to Photoshelter where I’ve set up eCommerce for direct sales of stock, T-shirts, puzzles, fine art prints, coffee mugs and greeting cards. I recently spent a few weeks in Bangkok where I had reasonably fast internet connections to set it all up and to upload more images. So far, I have minimal direct sales but they are starting to augment. While in Bangkok I learned a bit of HTML and CSS coding so I could customize my PhotoShelter site but soon I'll have my GlenAllison.com website professionally reformatted to clean up some of my bad code and to incorporate the PS eCommerce into the background. It will also place my travel blog within my own site rather than redirecting it to Wordpress so that I'll start to build better SEO as a result. I simply hate doing all this SEO stuff. John, you are one of the most dedicated people I know who keeps plowing away at it. I'm finding it almost impossible to keep up with those tasks while on the road plus at the same time digging into social media efforts like Twitter and Facebook. Encountering slow Internet where it sometimes takes two minutes just to launch an email is also quite a pain. Today in Luang Prabang it took more than twenty minutes just to download eight email messages into my browser. Then it took another thirty minutes just to open the Citibank homepage where I then attempted to do a bit of internet banking but finally gave up. I read my guidebook in the interim. This internet frustration is the biggest downside of continuous travel when you’re in countries with stone age internet speed. So for now, I've put most of my SEO and social media efforts on the back burner but I plan to keep dabbling in it as I go along. Plus, there's almost no photo I don't spend 2-4 hours working on in Lightroom and Photoshop.
Hey, I need a life too. :-)
What makes a great travel stock photo?
For me, a great travel photo is one that captures your imagination instantly, one that immerses you into the destination making you salivate to be there. It might have some intriguing point of view or perhaps might incorporate a unique juxtaposition of elements. More likely than not, it probably will be steeped in magic light or will capture a brief moment of drama or frivolity that titillates our senses. A great travel photo should whet our appetites and propel our minds toward dreamy destinations--a powerful, magnetic pull we simply cannot resist.
What are a couple of your favorite places to visit…and shoot? Do you have a favorite image of your own that you can share…along with the story behind it?
Well, I'd have to say that my favorite country and my favorite image is my next one.
But here's a fun story and a couple of related photos from the recent past:
I started this current 4005-day sojourn last September. Prior to that in early June (when I was getting bored in Bali and was trying to decide what to do with the rest of my life) I flew to the next door island of Sulawesi—a very intriguing place—which is about 1.5 hours away by air. This was my first shoot in three years. I'd already been there a decade ago to photograph the Tana Toraja funeral effigies in the burial caves and I decided to go once again with a different eye to the viewfinder. I also wanted to visit Manado, the famous dive location. Now I don't dive and don't have underwater housings but the lagoons are shallow there so I figured I could get a few good images from the boat looking down through the crystal clear water at the awesome coral formations. Once on location, however, I realized it would have been best to have hired a couple of nice models to swim around.
On my first morning in Manado, I strolled near the pier where boats departed for the famous Bunaken Island, the nearest and best dive location. Naturally, a boatman asked if I wanted to go and I asked how much. He indicated he had already lined up a couple of other tourists from Norway and I could join them for only ten bucks my share for an entire day on the boat. Sounded like a bargain to me.
But little could I have imagined the Norwegians would be absolutely beautiful, 22-year-old, blond, bikini-clad nubile young ladies who, as it turned out, were more than ecstatic to sign my model releases and tantalize me with their poses for the rest of the day. They seemed absolutely thrilled with the prospect.
I tried to act nonchalant.
But here's the fun part: After an amazing day, I had shot around 500 images, that’s about 20 gigs of RAW files and a massive amount of shooting for me in such a short period. OK, OK, those girls got me a little trigger happy. Then they challenged me to get in the water with them. Hey, I can't swim very well in strong currents. Nevertheless, I put on my bravado and dived in since their enticement couldn’t be resisted. I had already donned my swimming trunks earlier that morning. But in the excitement of the moment I forgot to remove my CF memory card pouch from my pocket. So I frolicked in the water with these energetic mermaids for an hour never realizing what the salt water was doing to my entire day's shoot.
Once I got out of the water and found the saturated CF cards in my pocket, I freaked. I dried them off quickly and anxiously stuck them in the camera one-by-one. But I was only greeted with a "Card Not Readable" message.
SUPER Freakout!! We’re talking about some VERY serious chanting here. :-)
Back at our beach bungalows the girls loaned me a hair dryer. Miraculously, after a couple of hours, I was able to dry out the CF cards and retrieve every single image.
The next day all those cards were completely dead again. Already the salt water corrosion must have taken its toll. Here are a couple of those photos. Now search "Manado, Bunaken Island" at Getty Images to check out the competition. Perhaps I'll earn a few bucks on these pix one day. Capturing them, however, sure was a hellava lot of fun.
Any tips for those of us who want to engage in travel photography, but aren’t so inclined to do such an ambitious itinerary or can't figure out how to get the ball rolling financially?
Sure. In today's stock photo environment if you want to be a travel photographer, you absolutely must measure that determination against how much you are willing to challenge yourself in overcoming the obstacles. Most people’s lives are structured very differently from mine but one certainly doesn't have to go on the road for such extreme trips. If you live in Denver, for example, then one day someone will want a travel photo of Denver and that destination is right in your back yard. You can snap a great photo any time you catch magic light throughout the year. For me, I may only be in Denver for a week when it's raining.
As for making money, there's absolutely a way to somehow mold your own circumstances and desires to make them generate the necessary income for travel. Here are some ideas: I have a friend in Bali who turned his photo hobby into big profit. He shoots amazing macro water drop splash photos with all kinds of colorful reflections. He set up a gallery on Monkey Forest Road in Ubud, which is Bali’s art and cultural destination. There's lots of tourist foot traffic in Ubud. In less than half a year, he's now making 8 to 10 thousand dollars each month in over-the-counter sales, which provides him with abundant travel money. Also, there's a young guy named Nomadic Matt (Google him) who writes a travel blog about his continuous backpacker trips. He's molded it into a very popular blog and now travel related companies beg to place ads on his website. He says he is earning 7 or 8 thousand dollars a month from these sources, which feed’s his travel habit. He gets lots of freebies, too. Note, also, that new five-star hotels in exotic locales always need travel brochures and they hire professional photographers and models and usually pay all travel expenses. How about this idea: one of my travel photo buddies got a free press junket to Phuket, Thailand, last month through SATW so this is another route. I also know a Western shooter in Bali who makes $15,000 a month photographing ten tropical weddings and there are thousands each year on that romantic isle. His Balinese living expenses are efficient and he’s left with abundant travel funds as a result. Naturally, these avenues require extensive behind-the-scene efforts to develop. Nevertheless, there are endless possibilities to generate cash for travel, even in this economy, if we put our creative minds to the task.
Anything is possible with iron determination.
Maybe today trying to earn money solely in the stock photo industry really sucks. But new marketing avenues and technologies will evolve for sure. In the interim we must stimulate our minds and find creative strategies to augment our income without sacrificing our photographic careers.
Just about every single one of us probably has our own unique circumstantial crap we are standing in at the moment, which might seem to mire us down from time to time. Can we find ways to plow through this muck and carve the path to our dream?