Saturday, July 16, 2011

Falling Web Traffic And Long Term Goals

Picture of a man free falling from a very high altitude in a stock photo metaphor for adversity, challenge and failure.
A businessman falling from a very high altitude is a stock photo metaphor for loss and adversity...and my falling Internet traffic!

Steady Progress And Plunging Traffic
As of last month I was hitting an average of 1,500 unique visitors a day to my web site. Not bad. Nowhere near my goal, but steady progress nonetheless. Of course, that was last month. Three weeks ago my traffic plunged to about 700 a day. Yikes!
Since then I have crawled back up to about 900 a day…where it seems to have leveled off.

The Panda Slap
What happened? When these dramatic fluctuations in traffic happen nobody really knows what the cause is…the from what I can figure out it is probably related to Google’s Panda release…their latest tweak of their search algorithm.  Some SEO types are calling such a traffic drop the “Panda Slap”. The apparent intent by Google was to, well, in the words of Matt Cutts, one of the engineers of “Panda”:

This update is designed to reduce rankings for low quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.”

Collateral Damage, Discouragement and Long Term Goals
Of course, anytime Google tweaks things there is collateral damage, of which I am apparently included in. I have to admit, it is really discouraging to work my butt off for almost three years and then overnight see a fifty-percent drop in my search engine traffic! Arrrgh. I keep reminding myself that this is the time to not get discourage and keep on plugging away.  It is the long-term goal that is important. It helps to see that I am still make sales over the internet and still making revenue from online advertising, albeit a tad less than a month ago.

Rejection and Determination
As photographers we all have had to deal with rejection on almost a daily basis. How many times do you show your book versus how often you get the assignment? How many people view your stock images before you license one? It seems as photographers we have chosen a life of rejection and set backs, and those of us who ultimately reach our goals have developed a thick skin and a determination to dig a little deeper, go a little further, and, by god, get the job done!

An Insane Goal And Finding Enjoyment
In fact, in the middle of my discouragement, I am feeling a resolve, a determination to reach my insane goal of getting twenty thousand visitors a day to my site. The resolve actually feels stronger than before…like I have something to prove. I can do this! The trick here is to let go of my irritation and anxiety, accept that this is a marathon and not a sprint, and actually develop a mindset where I get enjoyment  from all the little tasks that will eventually get me to my goal. Those tasks range from adding more content to improving the content already on my site (reviewing, correcting and adding to the text on my pages), to continuing my effort at sharing my photography experience and work on this blog.

A Little Help From The Like Button
One of the many suggestions I have found on the net for dealing with the dreaded “Panda Slap” is to pay attention to social media since Google is now telling us that take such things as “likes” are definitely included in their site evaluations. Hey, you can help me…just click that little “like” button at the top of this blog! Thanks! Now its’ off to spend some time improving my early photo descriptions and metadata…I am SO looking forward to that.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Creating A Concept Stock Photo of Oil Spills and Toxic Waste

Barrels of oil, toxic, or radioactive waste toss in the surf of an ocean storm and tsunami in this environmental stock photo.

An ocean photo, a sky pictures, and a barrel photograph become a sea of toxic waste or oil spills in this stock photo.

More barrels, less water equals an ominous, glistening sea of pollution.
This version of all barrels and sky is what I originally envisioned as an environmental stock photo to illustrate concepts of pollution and toxic waste.

Concept Stock Photo Of An Oil Spill
After the Deep Water Horizon Gulf oil spill I thought it might be a good idea to create a stock image that could be used to illustrate and bring attention to the environmental issues of offshore oil production and drilling, as well as those of transportation of crude oil. But how do you photographically illustrate an oil spill in a concept stock photo? 

The Answer Comes Barreling in
I thought of the rainbow colored sheen one often sees on the street after a rain, but couldn’t quite figure out how I could make that work. A foundering ship perhaps? A burning offshore oil rig? I let the idea percolate thinking that an answer would come eventually, and it did. Months later I was listening to the radio when the newscaster was talking about how many barrels of oil had spilled. That was it…barrels! I could fill the ocean with oil barrels. Heck, I could make a tidal wave or tsunami of oil barrels! 

One Prop, And A Sea Of Oil
Such an image, I imagined would be very simple to execute. All I would need is one black 55-gallon drum. I could photograph the barrel and then use Photoshop to, one by one, build up a sea of oil barrels. I checked Craig’s list, found a drum, and paid $25.00 for my one prop.

Overcast Days, Reflections, and A Parking Lot
I waited until I had an overcast day, and then photographed the drum in a variety of positions in the parking lot in front of my studio. Before I photographed the drum I spray-painted it with flat black paint. I photographed it outdoors because I know from experience if I tried to shoot it in my studio it would have reflected everything in there.  In the parking lot, on an overcast day, the only reflection I would have to worry about would be that of whoever helped hold the barrel in the various positions I would need. As it turned out even those reflections didn’t turn out to be a problem.

Oil Drums, Clipping Paths and A Tsunami
To create the image I used Bridge to select the barrel shots I felt I would need, and then used Photoshop’s pen tool to create a clipping path around each 55-gallon drum. Next, I opened a file I had created a while back of a tsunami. My plan was to use the tsunami image as a template for this new image. It was a simple, straightforward task to open the barrel images and paste them in position using the tsunami image as a guide.

A Sea Of Oil Barrels And Another Option
After about half a day of inserting barrels, rotating them, sizing them and positioning them, I was only about a quarter of the way done…. if that. It quickly dawned on me that perhaps an entire sea of oil barrels might not be the only image to come out of this effort. I liked the look of the barrels floating in the water. I started adding layer masks to the barrels and then blending the barrels into the water.

Oceans Spray and A Sense Of Action
Once I had the basic look I wanted I went to my archive of ocean imagery and selected splashes of spray to position over and among the barrels. That added a sense of action and helped deal with difficult transition areas between barrel and water. Here and there I added an adjustment layer of brightness and contrast…and some spot cloning clean up as well. Finally, I brought in elements of water and sky to transform the base ocean image that I had brought in as a template to a new look so as to eliminate any problem of similars.  At that point I had my first image, oil barrels tossing in the surf of an ocean storm.

A Sea of Barrels, Toxic Waste, And Making A Difference
I then spent another day adding in more barrels until no ocean was left visible, thus coming up with the second image that was what I had originally envisioned: A sea of barrels, glistening and black, ominous and filled with anything from oil to toxic chemicals to radioactive waste.  Hopefully this is a stock photo that can be used to bring attention to pressing environmental challenges and perhaps help make a difference in the survival of our planet.