Adventure: Texas Flyfishing

Yep, got a shot at my favorite Central Texas fish house. I’ve been here many, many times and always have fun. This day I got to take my wife, mother and sister. Knowing this I was prepared for nearly anything. Maybe we would fish for four hours or maybe just four minutes. The conversation would most likely NOT be about fishing. I would be untangling lines, coaching and then talking RELENTLESS shit if and when I hooked something before they did. Nobody escapes competitive-for-no-reason-nonsense in my family. Even mom. You should see her if she lands something before me. I will look over to see her deadpan face staring at me and will then watch as a grin slowly expands across her face as she starts talking about how great she is and how bumbling and clueless I am.

What do we do with the fish? Just bludgeon them with a boat oar and leave them for the vultures. What else? Just kidding. We are catch and release folks unless I’m fishing for Walleye which I keep and eat. Sometimes the occasional trout will end up in the skillet. Very rarely a bass, which is what we were fishing for here in Texas.

We had high wind this particular day which made things a bit tricky. Still, anytime I get a shot at this activity I’m a happy man. As you can see, I had my Atlas pack with me. This baby has been with me every step of the last six months. From hiking and fishing to city travel, business meetings, etc. I’m digging it. Lightweight, carries like a real hiking pack and doesn’t look like it’s filled with cameras and computers. At one point I had my entire mirrorless kit, two laptops, an iPad Pro, three days of clothes, my toilet kit, cables, chargers, etc. and it STILL fit under the seat in front of me on the good old Southwest jet. I had boarding group C, which is normally the kiss of death, but I just waltzed on and took the first middle seat, much to the broken dreams of those dreaming of an empty middle seat. Stuffed the Atlas under the seat and promptly fell asleep. By the way, Atlas has a serious IG feed if you want to see how others are using these bags. I’m tame in comparison.


Read: A Short History of Nearly Everything

You thought I stopped reading? Nah. Just dug deep with some thicker books and also had both of my jobs ramp up significantly in the past few weeks. Just know I’m never far from at least one book. So Bill Bryson wrote “A Short History of Nearly Everything,” after coming to the realization he didn’t know a Hell of a lot about a Hell of a lot. I came to that conclusion four years ago after deleting social media. It was at that point I began to really read seriously for the first time in a long while. And now reading has become a top-five item in my life’s ranking of important endeavors. THERE IS SIMPLY SO MUCH TO LEARN.

Having said this I still don’t know a Hell of a lot about a Hell of a lot. I don’t. Not even close. So a book like this is impossible. Nobody can write it and write it well but Bryson makes a damn good attempt. And he’s funny which is something I have supreme admiration for. You can’t win with a book like this. First, each subject Bryson encounters could be broken out into fifty-volume detailed, factual, chemical, physical histories, so he’s trying to skip a stone across vast bodies of knowledge while making sure each impact has meaning. I’m sure anyone who is a full time chemist or geologist or physicist would find fault in SOMETHING or perhaps EVERYTHING in this, but those of you who know me know I’m pretty much a total dumbass. So I loved this book. Even if you aren’t a dumbass too you will probably enjoy it.

What did this book teach me? I HAVE A LIFETIME OF KNOWLEDGE TO ACQUIRE WITH LESS THAN HALF A LIFETIME REMAINING. No time like the now. Get it, read it.


Creative: Randall MacNEIL

So Randall (@randall_fm) is a friend from The Great White North. Canada. A place I’ve suggested we invade for at least a decade. I love Canada, and Canadians. And due to our shared border they have to put up with us down here in the zoo that is the United States. Poor bastards.

Randy makes images in places that would destroy me. Namely isolated, COLD environments. This work reminds me of the classic, black and white reportage photographers of yesteryear. All these greats seemed to shoot ALL THE TIME. We know them mostly by their well known work but most of them also created a more personal image that ran parallel to their private life. This is how I see Randy’s work. Randy’s book reminds of “Voyages” by Raymond Depardon. Quiet, personal moments, void of people. Minimal. Isolated.

I think books like this are incredibly important, perhaps even more so than any other book a photographer makes. These books make one think about what’s most important when left alone to your own visual thoughts. My advice, if you aren’t making books like this now then start today. And keep building them. Even if it’s one book at a time, one copy, and you show them only to yourself. Start building your own library of work. Try to make sense of it all.

Thanks Randy. Always love seeing your work. Good luck in the frozen half of the year.


Creative: Cover Design, Different Image

To follow my prior posts regarding cover design, I’ve gone one step further by showing you four covers with different designs and images. I want you to see and feel how dramatically different the publication feels while varying from image to image. I’m showing this because we are photographers and we fall in love with our own images. We make rash decisions based on emotion. “This is my BEST image and it MUST be on the cover.” No, that is simply not the case.(Unless it’s a photo of me…) Let me save you from yourself. Your best cover image is the one that provides the information and feel required to tell the story and to get someone, anyone to open the damn thing. Just getting someone to choose YOUR publication over the millions of others is riddle that demands a certain level of skill.

Again, using templates here to quickly mock up versions, samples, tests, etc. Color, placement, image density, cropping, type face, font size, text overlay, amount of copy over the image, complexity, simplicity. Basically, I begin a cover with a general idea of what I want, but then the chess game begins. I start moving pieces around the board until I feel like I have a strategic, visual advantage. You can find Blurb templates here.

When I look at these designs I think about magazines I know from the newsstand.(Not that these are finished or quite that good.) Historically, many of the best covers have very incredibly clean and simple. If you have a great image get out of the way and let that baby work its magic. A cover also depends on your audience, their expectations or patterns. You can’t entirely cater to this reality but you should hover on the edges of what is accepted otherwise you aren’t really making YOUR work or pushing yourself to keep things fresh and edgy.

And the bottom line with all this is you can only put lipstick on a pig for so long before you realize you don’t have the photo goods to print yet. So, you want to start that cover with the best image you can possibly make no matter how long it takes. This isn’t to say you don’t mock things up along the way, but hit print when you know you have the mother of all images loaded into the cover pole position.

Or, forget the image and just run text……..only half joking. (Visuals are consumed 60,000 times faster than text.) Just saying.


Creative: Is Photography Still Worth It?

I have no special right to question the validity of modern photography outside of the fact I have basic rights to question almost anything, but this particular idea is front and center in my mind because I’ve had some time to think about this over the past few days. This topic came up with both an attendee at a trade show and a secondary conversation I had with a waitress at the hotel.

To get to the meat of the question. Is it worth it? Is it worth it to get into photography as a profession? My honest opinion is “no.” It’s not. Based on the numerous and frequent conversations I have with photographers I would say that things are not trending in the right direction, and economic realities are already far worse than most people admit, at least publicly. Behind closed doors the conversations are dire and they have been for over a decade. This is not to say there is anything wrong with photography itself. This is not to say there aren’t photographers doing well, making legitimate income and living the photography dream, but these situations are disappearing in rapid order, and a certain percentage of people who appear okay are in fact not doing well but have learned to live behind the facade, at least for the short term. You also have a significant group that would tell you they are doing fine but “fine” is month-to-month, no health insurance, no official biz license, no tax strategy and something or someone else allowing them to live the online look of someone who is doing well. You could throw thousands of Instagrammers in this category. But this isn’t really what matters to me anymore. I’m not actually interested in the industry because I moved on a long time ago.

Here is what I find promising. The IDEA of what photography represents. An attendee came to our booth at a show and talked about making commercial books for her clients. For the most part this was a sterile conversation. Typical. Not bad, just nuts and bolts. But the passion wasn’t there. Then, I watched as this same person froze and began to enter a deeper level of thought. She froze, stood motionless and didn’t utter a word. I was close to her and watched her eyeball. It never moved, and she never blinked. A deep thought trance. “You know,” she said. “I just realized something,” she added. “I can make a book for my family.” “I can use the photos we’ve had our entire lives.” I waited without saying anything. Very slowly she began to look around once again and a smile emerged and took over her entire being. “THAT,” I said “Is the most important book you will ever make, and those are the most important photos you will ever have.” On the surface modern photography gets SO much publicity. We are deluged with more imagery than we can possible consume, but most of it isn’t good. Content isn’t photography. But the buzz is powerful, and at times the noise almost feels real.

Later in the day I was having a strange and painful meal in the hotel and the waitress noticed my camera on the table. “Are you a photographer?” she asked. “I was,” I answered. This began a long and astoundingly interesting conversation. Her idea of what a photographer does was so profoundly exotic(based on phony IG content) it was hard to comprehend, but I wanted to make sure to keep the conversation positive so I kept asking questions. Turns out her father was the one who planted the photography seed and was someone who fancied himself a photographer but only as a hobby. She began hinting about attempting to be a pro, but admitted her work now was simply for fun. Being a pro to her was as simple as making the declaration then begin to build the largest IG audience as possible. No study, no training, no website, no knowledge of the history, no understanding of agents, agencies, rights, contracts, day rates, usage, etc. “My personal opinion is that you should keep it personal,” I said. “The only thing that matters is making your own work, and you are much more likely to be able to accomplish this if you remain with photography as something you love.” “Keep it pure.”

But I began to think about something else. Photography is totally worth it if it triggers someone’s ability to be creative and this ability allows this person to contribute to our culture and society. I don’t mean magazine articles, IG followings, book deals or gallery shows. I mean simple information exchange or idea presentation. I don’t think it’s healthy to look at modern photography with the same filter we’ve been using for 100+ years. Photography is now part of the tapestry, and is far more powerful as a smaller part of a larger idea than it is on its own. The novelty is long, long gone, so now what? How does it survive? What will it become?

Is it worth it? Yes, of course.


Adventure: More Big Bend

Physically I’m back from West Texas but mentally I’m still dusty. I’m actually IN Texas again, but this time on the opposite side. Houston to be precise, a city that has REALLY shocked me in a good way. I’ve had little experience with this place, and only knew an old version combined with stereotype and stigma. I was wrong. The most diverse city in the country and one that is just plain happening. So much local action here, and bathed in Texas hospitality. Notice I didn’t say “perfect.” No such place I’ve yet found but Houston is on to something.

But I’ll be back in West Texas soon I fear. Just too much to see.


Adventure: Texas Training

Yesterday I drove 1200 miles straight. Twenty-one-hours. Not recommended. But traffic returning to SoCal on a holiday weekend is biblical in proportion, and I have work to do, so it was required. Got out last week. Seems like a year ago but it was last week. Big Bend National Park. I had not ventured to these parts since 1991 when I was attending school in Austin. My roommate and I drove out in my old Landcruiser. We had very little camping gear so it was a hot, dirty, uncomfortable trip. I also had something fall from the sky in the middle of the night and smash out the grill of my truck. And I hit a buzzard at 60mph doing further damage. But the place was magical, still is if you can stomach the crowds. This past week was a holiday so I’m granting a pass, and perhaps if more people visit these places they will become more active in attempting to save them. And they NEED saving. Just ask the Trans Pecos Pipeline.

Also got to hit my favorite Central Texas fishing hole. Three massive strikes. Zero fish. I’m sloppy. Still, anytime I get a chance to wet a line it’s well worth the broken dreams. Saw family, saw a few friends and got to watch the sunrise with mom. All in all, a grand time.


Creative: Cover Design, Same Image

I’ve done cover design posts before, but I think this one is a good one. At least a good visual post. I created this post because I see a lot of bad covers coming through the Blurb network.(I see plenty at the local bookstore too.) And I’ve made plenty of books with lame coves, so always looking to improve my skills. I think often times people are so excited about the book they end creating the cover first, then rush through the remainder of the book because they are so amped to see their work in print. I’ve done that too, several times.

But the cover is unforgiving. Yesterday I spent an hour going through the Blurb bookstore’s “recently published” category and saw lots and lots of bad covers. Really bad. But I also saw more than a few that were very well done, and I found TWO that were brilliant. (at least in my unskilled opinion) The cover is going to make or break your book in a very, very short amount of time. The cover sets the mood and feel of the entire project, and should leave viewers wanting more. Humor, shock, drama, beauty, simplicity, all things I’d use to address the idea of a solid cover.

In this post I’m showing you four different treatments with the same cover image to give you an idea of how impactful your cover design is. Just feel how small changes in image placement, type face, font size, layout all work for or against the overall feel. Also note how the image content works with some designs better than others. Which designs feel like a travel magazine? Which ones like an adventure magazine? And what cover design fits the actual content of the images and the copy? To follow up my post from a few days ago, I’m using templates here so I can create options in a very short amount of time. I can print these out and lay them on my desk, living with them for a few hours or days to see what grows on me, the same way I do with my images.

Also, as I said before, the template is my trail map. I can hold to it like the law or I can morph it into something entirely my own. The point is to give yourself options. Take chances and experiment till you find that perfect feel. You can find Blurb templates here.

I gave a talk in San Francisco last night and told one of the attendees that as a creative person I always try to keep myself on the fringe of what I feel comfortable doing and that most of what I make ends in abject failure. But, I’m old enough, and seasoned enough to know the edge of the abyss is where most good things are made. These templates I’m showing here aren’t cutting edge but the point is to study them to find what resonates with you and what doesn’t which will hopefully help you get started when your next bookmaking voyage begins.


Adventure: Tacoma TRD Off Road

As many of you know, I had a six-month saga with Subaru that did not end well. Oddly enough there are things about the Subie I miss, but the truth is that baby is long gone. Bought back by Subaru after an “unfixable” issue. Whew. So I bought a Toyota Tacoma, TRD-Off-Road, four door 4×4, long bed. This is not my first Tacoma. Well, it is because my last Toyota pickup was a 1992 which was prior to them being named the “Tacoma.” That older truck was awesome, and for all I know it’s still out there. I put 100,000+ miles on it then gave it to my brother who put another 100,000 it. The Tacoma, historically, is one of the most dependable vehicles of all time. So when it came to getting the 2017 I didn’t hesitate. I did however look long and hard at used Tacoma’s but the problem is they actually do not go down in value. In fact, I found several 1-2 year old models that were more expensive than the 2017.

The TRD Off Road has an upgraded suspension, but still might go away as I begin to upgrade the truck. I’ve probably driven 250 miles of solid, off road miles so far, which in the grand scheme is not that much, but these miles-mostly in Wyoming-were a good test. And I have to say, this baby was unreal off road. Deep mud, twisting off camber tracks, hills and slow and rocky stretches. One section of New Mexico was so rocky and rough it took me about an hour to navigate three miles.

Phase one of the upgrades will begin soon, and I’ve got plans to do a Dispatch interview with the company who is doing the work. Sliders, skids, lights, bumpers are scheduled for round one. These might seem like major upgrades but in the truck world they aren’t that out of the ordinary. If you spend anytime in remote, 4×4 areas things like skid plates and sliders are essentials. The bumpers help with approach and departure angles and offer far more protection than the stock bumpers which are PLASTIC. Yes, plastic. And, I’m often in areas with massive deer populations, which means the reality of drilling one of these babies is not only within reason it’s actually quite likely. My sister, brother and father have all hit deer, and even a small whitetail will total a vehicle. The lights, well, when you are in the middle of nowhere it’s nice to be able to brighten things up.

Future build upgrades include extra gas containers, water containers, potentially that suspension upgrade I mentioned…and……a supercharger which will increase my horsepower by over 200+. This truck is a tool to get me where I want to be so that I can launch my hikes, bikes, rods and reels and general exploration needs. I want to see the remote parts of the country before they go away. I did NOT buy this truck to specifically go four wheeling. I have no intention of rock crawling or doing extreme off road driving. If I’m in those areas I’d rather be on my bike, or on foot. I’ll drive whatever it is to get me where I need to be but that’s all. Eventually my aim is to get a van but that’s when life takes it’s next turn.

A few quick takes on the Tacoma in general.

1. It’s a blunt instrument. I would not call this truck refined, but for what it’s designed for it’s potentially the best option made.
2. A little underpowered. Most noticeable at highway speeds, which is where the supercharger comes in.
3. Shifts A LOT. The 2017 is a 6-speed automatic or manual, and I got the auto. At highway speed the truck is constantly shifting. Toyota has taken a lot of grief over this transmission and I can see them making changes in the near future. I’ve spoken to quite a few people who said “I wanted the truck but can’t stand the transmission.” I’m learning to love it, but it will take some time.
4. I like the size of the truck. The modern Tacoma is far larger than my 1992 model, but it’s not TOO big. I can still drive it and park it around a place like Los Angeles without too much trouble.
5. My mileage has varied from 18mpg, with completely full load doing 75 on the Interstate, to 26mpg driving from Santa Fe to Wyoming on backroads. I’ve done 400 miles on a tank. Not great, not terrible.
6. This truck is so overdue for a diesel it’s not even funny. In the truck world there might be more talk of this single issue than any other issue.
7. This truck has a crawl control feature that is truly remarkable. When off road you can dial in your settings and the truck takes over control of the vehicle. You take your foot off the break and it just goes, slowly of course, but makes micro adjustments that allow the truck to climb, navigate and descend things you can’t possibly imagine. And it works.
8. I bought the long bed because I can sleep in the back without being at an angle. I can also store three bikes inside the camper shell, upright, and still sleep with plenty of room.

One of these days I’ll make some better images, but so far I’m jazzed with this baby.


Creative: Using Templates

When I give talks and people ask about “tips and tricks” for putting your work in print the FIRST thing I always stay is START NOW. RIGHT NOW. TODAY. Create a default size publication, whether that be a 20-page Photobook or 24-page Tradebook. Open Bookwright, go default and don’t get up until it’s done, uploaded and paid for. If you do this you have an overwhelmingly high chance of making more books. If you don’t do this I don’t hold out much hope. I really don’t. Remember, I’ve been making publications for twenty-four-years and I’ve heard just about every excuse you can possibly imagine. Some excuses I’ve probably heard five hundred times. They are just as they seem, excuses.

Recently I did a test. I used templates. These were not Blurb templates, although Blurb offers their own which you can find here. I was testing another site, another platform and knew if I liked what I created and wanted to print I could just use the Blurb PDF to Book. But I never really planned to print, just experiment.(Something I highly recommend you do.)

Templates are great, at least in my opinion, but usually take a beating from the “Masters in Photography” crowd. I’m not sure why this but so be it. I think templates are a GREAT way to get in gear, especially if you don’t have design chops. And remember, the vast majority of the templates I see are starting points. Look at them like a trail map. Sure, the map will take you to the summit, but you can veer off course at any time if it suits you.

Ever tried to paint a canvas? Then you know what it’s like to stare at that blank space trembling with fear over making the first mark. Designing a book can feel the same way. So take the pressure off and start with a template. Push it, pull it, tweak it and make it your own. Just make something.