Monthly Archives: May 2007

Various Sources of Inspiration

Inspiration Project

Vivien at Inspiration Bit just finished up a group writing project on the topic of “Sources of Inspiration” and she ended up with 37 entries! People from all different backgrounds and subject areas wrote in to tell everybody what inspires them.

We all have things that inspire us as artists, hobbyists, professionals, or whatever type of photographer you happen to be. I’m sure most of us also lack inspiration from time to time — you know, getting stuck in a rut. I find that reading about what inspires other people can sometimes get me out of a rut by changing the way I look at things.

I wrote about “My Top 5 Sources of Inspiration in Photography“, as some of you may recall from a few weeks ago. I managed to read through the other 36 entries, and I pulled out the top 5 that I thought were most relevant to us photographers. To see the rest of the entries, click on the image above and head over to Vivien’s complete list (which hit the front page of digg by the way — nice work Vivien!).

  • Reliable Sources Of Inspiration for Inspiration Bit by Vivien
    I know I’ve had more than one occasion where I went to bed stuck on something and woke up with a solution, or went to bed in a creative rut and woke up full of new ideas. “Sleeping on it” is definitely an interesting way to get yourself some extra inspiration.
  • Get your creativity back: the old fashion way by Mirko
    Taking your mind off something can bring unexpected sources of inspiration. Go clean up your desk, exercise, or have a beer with some friends — it’ll do wonders, especially with photography. Some of my favorite photos came from occasions where I wasn’t in “photography mode”.
  • The Really Simple Domino Effect by Hamelife
    For photography and blogging alike, I get a lot of inspiration from other people’s blogs. I subscribe to around 90 blogs related to photography and another 40 or so photoblogs — and I read (sometimes I skim) every article and look at every photo. It’s a great way to get outside of my own bubble and open myself up for new ideas.
  • Postcards Of Inspiration by Paulie
    What could possibly go any better with walking and hiking than photography? It’s like peanut butter and jelly, chocolate syrup and vanilla ice cream, chips and salsa, Jack and Coke.
  • What Inspires A Graphic Designer by David Airey
    I feel like graphic designers are cousins of photographers — we both deal with a lot of the same issues and roadblocks. So it’s not out of the question to believe that we share similar sources of inspiration.

Next time you’re stuck in a rut, think about the things that inspire you. Read about what inspires other people; maybe you’ll pick up a few new sources of inspiration.

Equipment Options for Macro Photography

Dandelion

I’ve been getting into macro photography more and more lately — partly because of Michael Brown — and I’ve found that there are a number of ways to obtain macro images, some of which are fairly inexpensive. Really, all you need to start with is either a camera with interchangeable lenses or any other type of camera that allows the attachment of filters — such as many of the ultra-zoom models. If you have at least that, there are several methods of getting macro photos out of your camera. Beware, though, once you start getting into macro photography, you’ll likely get hooked on it.

Red Tree Blooms

So what is macro photography? Many consumer level cameras have a “macro” mode on them, and many SLR lenses claim to be macro. But what is it really? Macro refers to close-up photography. In a strict sense, macro means that the subject being photographed is projected onto the image sensor at a lifesize scale, or 1:1 (one to one) magnification. So those cameras and lenses that say macro, but do not produce 1:1 images, are usually refering to their ability to focus on things closer than normal. In fact, many of the SLR zoom lenses that say macro on them are only capable of producing images at 1:2 magification, or half-lifesize.

Miniature Daffodil

What can you do to get 1:1 (or better) images? There are a multitide of options for going macro, and each of them has their own ups and downs. Not only do you have several options, but you have the capability to combine various pieces of equipment for different effects and magnifications. Use the right combinations and you can actually achieve greater than 1:1 magnification, such as 2:1, 4:1, 6:1, etc. Most of the options shown below are aimed at SLR or other removable lens camera systems, but there are also options for compact and ultra-zoom cameras.

Dedicated Macro Lens

THE DEDICATED MACRO LENS

A dedicated macro lens is by far the best option for producing 1:1 macro images, but these are only available for camera systems with interchangeable lenses. A macro lens has a fixed focal length and can produce 1:1 images in addition to focusing out to infinity. This means that you can take super close-up photos of a flower or bug, then refocus and take a landscape or portrait photo without having to switch lenses or remove special macro equipment. These lenses are typically very sharp and fast (large maximum aperture), but a little expensive compared to the other macro options. They come in a variety of focal lengths, but they all have the same magnification capability. The difference is in standoff distance — with higher focal lengths giving you a greater working distance from your subjects. I have a 105mm f/2.8 macro from Sigma, which gives me a 12″ standoff height at 1:1, and it cost about $350.

Extension Tubes

EXTENSION TUBES AND BELLOWS

Extension tubes (also only available for interchangeable lens cameras) are a cheap method of decreasing the minimum focusing distance of a lens. This means that you can get closer to your subject, thus giving you more magnification. The longer the extension tube, the closer you can focus. The downside to using one or more of these tubes is that you lose the ability to focus out to infinity. The light intensity reaching the sensor also decreases as the lens is moved away, so you’ll end up with a slower lens. The upside to them is that they’re simple, contain no glass, relatively cheap, and stackable. They typically come in sets of 12mm, 20mm, and 36mm, but you can also find them as single tubes in various lengths. A bellows is simply an adjustable extension tube that costs a lot more. These tubes can also be added to a dedicated macro lens, increasing it’s magnification past 1:1. I have a 25mm extension tube from Kenko, which gives my macro lens a magnification of about 1.25:1 and costs about $60.

Reversing Ring

REVERSING RINGS

A reversing ring is similar to a step-up or step-down ring, but it has male filter threads on both sides. This allows you to attach one lens in reverse to another lens. So what does this do for you? It allows you to focus closer to the subject while also magnifying it by some amount (which depends on the focal length of the reversed lens). The most common setup with reversing rings include a 50mm f/1.4 or f/1.2 prime lens attached in reverse to either a 100mm dedicated macro lens or a standard telephoto over 200mm in focal length. The reversed lens needs to have a large maximum aperture and the other lens must have a long focal length so vignetting doesn’t occur. This setup can be done with fairly little money if you opt for an older prime lens intended for manual cameras. It works best with an SLR system, but I wouldn’t doubt that you can do it with an ultra-zoom camera that allows threaded filter attachments. I have a 50mm f/1.4 prime lens that I can use with two of my other lenses, and it cost me $40 on eBay.

Teleconverter

TELECONVERTERS

A teleconverter is an extra lens that is typically placed between the camera body and another lens on an SLR system. I think there are teleconverters for non-SLR systems that attach to the front of the lens, but I don’t know how well they work. The teleconverter just adds extra magnification to the existing lens. Used alone, and depending on the lens you use it with, you may be able to get greater magnification of the subject at close focusing distances and allow you to get closer to “macro” shots. The real benefit to these is that they can be used with other macro equipment such as reversing rings and close-up filters. I don’t have any of these yet.

Close-Up Lens

CLOSE-UP LENSES

A close-up lens, or close-up filter, is basically a magnifying glass that attaches to the front of your camera lens. It allows you to focus at closer distances than usual, thus creating more magnification. The upside to these is that they are small, lightweight, and easy to remove from the lens by unscrewing them from the filter threads. The downside is that they add another piece of glass (usually of lower quality than in your camera lens) between your subject and your sensor, possibly affecting the overall quality of the image. I don’t have any of these either.

COMBINATIONS

When it comes to macro gear, you’re not limited to one or the other — you can stack for added magnification! For example, I will typically add an extension tube to my macro lens to get a little closer. Then I can screw on the 50mm lens in reverse and get really close. This same setup also works with my 200mm non-macro lens for even more magnification. You can also add in more extension tubes, teleconverters, and close-up lenses. The things to watch out for when adding equipment together are vignetting and loss of image quality. In the animation above, here are the equipment setups shown:

  1. 105mm Macro Lens
  2. 25mm Extension Tube, 105mm Macro Lens
  3. 105mm Macro Lens, 50mm Reversed Lens
  4. 25mm Extension Tube, 105mm Macro Lens, 50mm Reversed Lens
  5. 25mm Extension Tube, 200mm Telephoto Lens
  6. 200mm Telephoto Lens, 50mm Reversed Lens
  7. 25mm Extension Tube, 200mm Telephoto Lens, 50mm Reversed Lens

So there you go, the basic optical equipment for macro photography. If you’re interested in getting into macro, it doesn’t have to be expensive and you don’t have to do it all at once. Start gathering up the different pieces, and experiment with combos as you go.

Also check out my follow-up post that talks about more macro photography equipment — including things like tripods, sliders, ring flashes, reflectors, and more.

Self Critique of my Best Flower Photo

Critiquing the photos of others can be difficult, but critiquing your own work is downright near-impossible. It’s easy to point out the good points of a photo you’ve taken, but the bad points are another story — especially if it’s a photo you really like.

Mike Brown at “Macro Art In Nature” is asking us to do just that — pick your best photo (flora/foliage closeup) and self critique it. He’s turned this into a group project that he coined “The Self Critique Project”. If you’re interested in participating, head over there and read the rules.

At first, I thought it would be no problem picking out one photo and critiquing it. I’ve spent the last several days going back and forth between 2 or 3 photos, unable to pick what I consider the best. It’s a very hard thing to do. Nevertheless, I’ve managed to choose just one. On with the critique…

Golden Hyacinth

THE GOOD

There are several things I like about this photo, but the strongest point is the color. Originally, it was a purple flower and I accidentally turned it gold during post-processing (click here to see how). I don’t know why I like the color so much, it just has the look and feel of fire to me. Another thing I like about the photo is the shallow depth of field and the location of the focal plane. At a glance, the photo looks very abstract with most of it being out of focus and very soft — except for the very tip of the nearest petal, which is quite sharp. The last major strong point in the photo is the shapes formed by the highlights and shadows within the flower itself. Though most of the photo is quite out of focus, there are a handful of tonal trails and geometries living in the sea of golden color.

Of course I have a bunch of little things I like about the photo, but it’s hard to describe them without pointing at the photo. Even if I point, I have a hard time placing words to some of these things.

THE BAD

I had a hard enough time describing what I like about the photo — this is going to be rough. I guess there are a couple of things that just don’t sit well with me on this photo. One of them is the point of focus. I said I liked how it turned out, but I think I’d be happier with a little more sharpness on the tip of that petal. The right side of it is slightly out of focus, and I think it would be a stronger photo if the entire tip was sharp as it trailed off to blurriness in the background. The other thing that doesn’t sit well with me is the overall composition — but I can’t figure out what it is that’s bothering me. I thought it might look better if the entire flower was shifted upward in the frame, but I tried that in Photoshop and I didn’t like it. Maybe a shift to the left or right… I don’t know. Or maybe it’s missing something in the frame; like something to fill in some of the blackness — maybe some texture or something… again, I don’t know. These are the things that don’t quite sit well with me, but I can’t put my finger on the exact problem.

THE OPEN CRITIQUE

Part of Mike’s project involves deciding if you’re open to the critique of others. Typically I don’t invite the masses to critique my work, because I end up getting a lot of technical advice on an artistic piece from people who missed the point of the photo entirely. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind comments and critiques from other photographers with whom I have some sort of relationship — I just don’t care for the 30 second photo-bash from somebody who didn’t take the time to digest the photo.

That said, I’m going to break stride and declare this photo available for open critique — even if I have no idea who you are, and even if it’s a 30 second photo-bash. Now go on, tell me what you really think about it — no hard feelings, I swear.

Favorite Photos and Stories From the Photographers

Jim Goldstein put together a little project where he asked photographers to pick their favorite photo and tell the story behind it. I participated, as did a few of you. In my opinion, I think the project went very well and some really great project entries came forward. I certainly have my favorites in this list, but I’ll keep that to myself and let you decide what you like.

You can also head over and visit Jim’s final list to tell him how much you like the project results.

“Celestial Wind” by Jim M. Goldstein – JMG-Galleries

Under the Weather by Brian Auer – Epic Edits Weblog

“Zabriskie Point” by G. Dan Mitchell – G. Dan Mitchell | Photography

“Lost” by Guy Tal – Scenic Wild

“Florence Surprise” by Greg A. Lato – Latoga’s Motion Blur

“A Final Gift” by Michael Brown – Macro Art In Nature

“Something Different” by Jenni Brehm – Changing Perspectives

“Whale Shark and Film Crew” by Tony Rath – Images of Belize

“Thoughts of a Dying Athiest” by Andrew Ferguson – goldengod

“Smoke on Route 413, Through the Windshield” by Kathleen Connally – A Walk Through Durham Township

“Waiting” by Avelino Maestas – Live From Silver City

“Death Valley Dunes” by Sean Scanlon – redinkphotography

vogel ROK by Joost Burger – JoostBurger.NL Photography

“Shapes and Abstractions: #10 Scaffolding” by Joe Szymanski – Mostly Photography

“Muzungu” by Rafa – Why Yet Another Photo Place

“The Light Inside” by Laurie – Photine

“Old Toy Camera” by Rohn

“Untitled” by Sameer Vasta – Eloquation

“Gam Saan, Land of the Golden Mountain” by Richard Wong – In the Field

“The tale of a lost sole…” by Robert Coomer – Robert Coomer Photography

Paul’s Favorite Photos by Paul W.

Enjoy!!!

My Favorite Pointless Photography Discussions

Go to any photography forum or discussion group, and you’ll ultimately end up finding a heated discussion on some silly topic. I don’t know if it never gets old, or if there are just a lot of new photographers who haven’t had the opportunity to participate in these discussions. Either way, it’s almost nonstop. I’ve even seen a few forums that have banned certain discussions because people take it too far.

Here are a few of my favorite pointless discussions complete with my own snide remarks. I try not to take sides in these types of discussions, because it’s just too much effort for what it’s worth.

Film VS Digital

It’s called personal preference! One is not better than the other! Each has it’s own strong points and weak points, and I know a lot of photographers who shoot both. I don’t shoot film (never have), but I’m guessing that if I had started in photography 10 years prior I’d be shooting both.

Canon VS Nikon

Seriously people — they both suck. Get on with your lives and go take some pictures. Just kidding, I love the Canonites and Nikonians. Though it’s curious why they’re the only two groups that have named themselves as if they were residents of a small country. As with film and digital, each has it’s strong points and weak points. I’ve seen amazing photos from both brands, so there must not be a huge difference. I shoot Konica Minolta, so I’m a bit of an outsider on this one.

What Camera Should I Buy?

When you ask this question, you open up the previous two discussions by default — don’t do it! I’ve seen this question asked about 1000 times by unknowing photographers — though it’s an honest mistake. 98% of photographers who answer this question will give you a recommendation for the model or brand of camera they currently use or have previously used. You just end up with two dozen recommendations and an argument over Canon VS Nikon.

Black & White VS Color

Guess what? They’re all photos! What are you arguing about!?! Some photos look good in black & white, while others look good in color. Some photos look good in both, while others don’t look good no matter what you do to them. I like black & white, but I don’t limit myself to producing and enjoying photos of a single color type.

Microstock VS Traditional Stock

Stop whining about microstocks! It’s not the end of the world! If a stock photographer can’t beat the microstocks, maybe it’s time to move on. They’re different markets too (mostly). I tried the microstocks a while back, didn’t like it, and moved on to something else. Now I actually buy from them occasionally when I need an image for the blog (I paid $1 for the image in this post). If I had to pay a couple hundred dollars for a stock photo, I wouldn’t buy any. Bigger companies that have more money than I do, however, know the value of a traditional stock agency and are willing to pay for it.

So go ahead, tell me why I’m wrong and you’re right on these issues — I’m interested to hear it.

Also, what are your favorite pointless discussions in photography?

What Type of Camera Do You Shoot With?

I think I forget sometimes that not everybody has the same photography equipment. I feel like I tend to focus on the SLR side of things while ignoring the other camera-type users. I haven’t heard any complaints or topic suggestions that would lead me to believe that a majority of you don’t have an SLR camera — but maybe I’m blissfully unaware.

Don’t get me wrong — I have nothing against non-SLR cameras and the photographers who use them. I’d just like to know who I’m writing to. If 80% of you shoot with a compact camera, I should probably muster up some tips for compact camera use. If most of you have a dSLR, then I’ll keep doing what I’m doing. And if a majority of you don’t have a camera… well, what the heck are you doing here anyways? Just kidding, everybody’s welcome to read and comment.

So… let’s find out what we’re dealing with here. Take the poll below to tell me what type of camera you shoot with. You may have multiple cameras, so pick the one that you use the most or like the best. If your camera type is not on the list, add it to the list — just try to refrain from being a smart-ass.

Seriously though people, take the poll — it takes two seconds and it’s anonymous. Two clicks — that’s it. And for you feed readers — get over to the site and cast your vote (I’m pretty sure the voting doohickey doesn’t show up in the feed).

Camera Poll Results

I’ll leave this thing open until the end of May, then I’ll write up the results. Also, if you don’t shoot with an SLR, I’m curious to know why. Leave a comment and let me know what’s holding you back — I may be able to address some concerns or questions about moving up to an SLR in a future post.

TestFreaks.com Provides Equipment Reviews

When I’m preparing to buy a new piece of photography equipment I do a lot of research. I’ll spend days looking for every review I can locate for that particular piece of gear. I do the same for pretty much every gadget and toy I plan to buy. When you do a lot of review searches, you tend to learn who has the most information and who is reliable — but the process of finding the reviews still takes a lot of time. The TestFreaks aim to fix that problem.

TestFreaks

TestFreaks is a relatively new online resource (still in alpha version) that has aspirations to becoming the best consumer information site on the web. The site is split into eight categories of consumer electronics: camcorders, cell phones, digital cameras, MP3 players, TVs, home entertainment, desktop computers, and notebooks. Each category then contains a fairly large list of products with a link to its own page. The product page has a product overview followed by a list of external reviews for that particular piece of equipment. This is definitely a nice resource to have when doing the research on your future toys. From what I can tell, they don’t do an actual review of the items, but the links are there for external reviews.

The digital camera section already contains about 250 cameras; each with several review links. All the major brands are covered, though I’m sure the list isn’t absolutely complete. They seem to be lacking a bit on the dSLR cameras, but a lot of the popular ones are in there. There seems to be a bigger focus on the consumer side of the business — but that’s probably what most people are looking for.

What I Like About TestFreaks

The site has a lot of potential for becoming an information hub. It covers all the major consumer electronics products, and it could be a real time saver for buyers. The guys running the site seem to be putting a lot of effort into making it happen. They started a site blog to keep people up to date on their progress, and they have a developer’s forum where they can interact with those interested in helping out and giving feedback. All in all, they’re making an active effort.

Some Things I’d Like to See at TestFreaks

Like I said, the site is still in alpha version, so I’m sure a lot of what I’m about to say is already in the works for the beta launch. Here are a few of the things that would make the site better in my eyes.

  1. User Link Submissions — Let the people of the web submit links and content in order to build a more comprehensive site. Although it looks like this may already be the case — maybe for the beta testers or something — I can’t really tell.
  2. User Ratings and Recommendations — A simple thumbs-up/thumbs-down, digg/bury, yes/no kind of thing would provide a sense of trust and reliability for the better reviews. Have the popular review links bubble up to the top so they are more prominent and easy to find.
  3. Make Things Easy to Find — A good search function would be handy for locating what you’re looking for. Listing filters may also be useful for weeding out or targeting specific attributes or brands.
  4. Product Photos — Not everybody knows exactly what they’re looking for, and having a product photo visible may help users locate their goodies.
  5. SLR Lens Reviews — These things are tough to track down sometimes, so it would be nice if they were included in the digital camera section. I’d even say don’t limit it to just lenses — the photography nuts also like to buy things like flashes, tripods, filters, accessories, etc.

My Final Verdict

I give these guys two thumbs-up. They’re making a notable effort, and the site could provide real value to consumers. If they go about it right, the web community may even help make the site a big success. I’m thinking Wikipedia of product reviews.

Filling Your Photography Jar

There was an interesting article at the Daily Blog Tips site titled “Put the Big Rocks First“. The story made a lot of sense to me on many levels, but since this is a photography blog, I’ll share those thoughts. I’m not going to repeat the whole story, but it’s basically the fill – a – jar – with – rocks – gravel – sand – and – water thing that I’m sure many of you have heard before. If you haven’t, go read it at Daily Blog Tips.

The point of the story is that you can only put so much stuff in one jar. If you start filling it with the small stuff first, you won’t have room for the big stuff later. Not having room for the big items is way worse than not having room for the small things. This whole way of thinking can be applied to photography (and life) in many ways.

Here are a few of my thoughts on the subject as it relates to my photography (the jar). The larger items are the things I place more importance on, the things I try to spend the most time on, and the things that provide the most value to me.

  1. ROCKS — TAKING PHOTOS. For me, this is the most important aspect of photography. It all starts here. There’s no amount of post-processing that can match good photography skills, and I spend a considerable amount of time learning, improving my skill-set, and taking photos.
  2. GRAVEL — ORGANIZATION. Keeping things in order has always been important to me, especially when it comes to my photos. I do a lot of categorizing, keywording, and workflow management. It’s also at this stage that I weed out a portion of the photos I’ve taken.
  3. SAND — POST-PROCESSING. I do enjoy working with Photoshop and exploring the possibilities, but it’s not my main focus. I only process the photos that I really like, and even some of those don’t make it out of my personal library. So again, I weed out a portion of the photos I’ve taken.
  4. WATER — MARKETING. Once a small portion of my photos make it out of my personal library, it’s time to market them and have them seen. This is my least important part of photography because selling and sharing photos is really just a byproduct of the hobby that I love.

How do you apply this philosophy to your photography?

Notes on Running an Outstanding Blog Project

I don’t know if it’s just me, but it seems like there are a lot of blog projects and blog games going around lately. I ran my own project a little while ago, I’ve participated in four others, and now I’m caught up in a game of bloggy tag — but hey, I’m all for it. To see who tagged me, click on the blue “Bloggy Tag” button. To see who I’ve tagged, keep reading until you hit the bottom of the post. There’s also a link for the bloggy tag rules down there in case you’re interested in starting up your own game of tag.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been able to participate in several group projects while maintaining a focus on the topic of photography. I started off with my own project asking for “Sites From My Readers“. Then I did a combined “Top 5″ and “Source of Inspiration” project with Problogger and Inspiration Bit, respectively. I went on to participate in a “Favorite Photo and Background Story” project with JMG-Galleries. And I just finished up an article for the “What Does Photography Mean to You” project with Words:Irrational. I tell ya, it’s been a busy couple of weeks.

I’m no expert on running blog projects, but I think I’ve pulled a few worthy pieces of advice together from what I’ve experienced so far. As for the “Outstanding” part of the topic… I don’t know if I’d go that far, but I think I can at least give advice that will keep people out of the “terrible” end of things. So here we go then…

  1. Gaging Your Audience — This may be a little tough to do, but it’s a good idea to get a handle on the number of active readers you have and what their interests are. By active readers, I mean those readers who visit frequently, leave comments, link out to your site, and submit your articles to social networks. These are the people who are going to jump all over your project and put a lot of energy into making it successful. If your active readers have a common interest or background, you may want to think about targeting your project topic to these readers. Prior to my first project, I had guessed that there were about 10-15 active readers, most of whom had their own photography sites.
  2. Choosing a Topic — The topic of your project should be strongly tied to the topic of your blog, and it should be interesting and informative to your readers. If you have a lot of active readers with the same site topic, make sure you keep them in mind so they’ll be more willing to participate. I decided to keep my topic very broad but targeted to photography — I simply asked my readers to submit their photography-related site with a one sentence description.
  3. Setting the Boundaries — Based on your topic and your estimate of possible participants, you may or may not want to set further boundaries on the project to limit the size of it. If you allow too many participants, the resulting traffic and interest will be spread too thin to really make anybody happy about the results. My boundaries were fairly open for my project — I only asked that the entries be a photography-related site such as a photography blog, a photoblog, or a photo gallery. I wanted to get a better sense of who my readers were, and what their level of involvement was with photography. Plus, my readership wasn’t so huge that I had to worry about hundreds of project entries.
  4. Laying Down the Rules — At this point you should have some idea of how the participants will go about entering the project — try to think of anything they could do differently from what you have in your head. The more follow-ups and clarifications you need to make with the entrants, the less time you have to focus on the other aspects of your project. I didn’t set a lot of rules on my project. I asked that the participants use my contact form rather than the comments for their entries, I prominently set the deadline, and that the final list of entries remain in-tact if reposted. Everybody followed the rules.
  5. Promoting the Project — Your active readers are probably going to find out about the project quickly, and eagerly participate. But you want others to come and play too — it’s called expanding your network. Make sure everybody who happens upon your site knows that you’re running a project. Also, if your active readers don’t hit the social networks within a couple of days, you might also consider doing a little self promotion if the project is lacking interest. Just don’t do it five minutes after the project goes live — you’ll look like a dork and it’s kind of a turn-off to the other socialites. As soon as I posted the project I also posted a very prominent link to the project in my sidebar. This way, every visitor would have a much better chance of seeing the project. I also had a lot of support and promotion from my active readers who urged their readers to check out the project and submitted my project post to many of the social networks.
  6. Keeping Up With It — Stay on top of the entries as they come in! Don’t wait until the project closes to put everything together. If you wait, you’ll have a higher chance of screwing something up and getting really stressed out. I started my end-of-project post before I even had any entries — I got a lot of the structure in place so I could easily add the entries as they came in. When each entry came in, I would send a confirmation reply and add the entry to the final list immediately. If I had waited until the last minute, I would have been up all night putting the list together.

Running a project successfully can provide many benefits to you and your readers; increased traffic, new friends, expanding your network, boosting your authority, and an increased sense of community are just some of them. But those benefits can turn into costly detriments if your project flops. My biggest piece of advice for running a project: do the extra work up-front. The more effort and thought you put into it, the more it will show — and that will cause the project to be a success naturally. Another key point is to participate in a few other projects and learn from other bloggers. When you run your own project, learn from it and incorporate those learnings into your next project.

Like I said before, I’ve only run one project of my own. I was testing the water and getting a feel for my readers. I learned a lot and I am very pleased with the results. I managed to make a few new friends and bring others together who otherwise wouldn’t have. Based on that project, I definitely plan on running another — but the rules and boundaries will be a bit different.

There are a couple of things I’ll do differently in my next project. First, I’ll require more than just a link to a site — it’ll be a writing project or a photo project that requires original content. Second, I’ll remove the rule for reposting the final list — repost what you like; it’s your blog. And third, I’ll remove the restriction for needing a photography-related site — just the content of the project entry will need to be photography-related. Other than that, I’ll probably run it much in the same way I ran the first one.

Now for the tagging. These go out to the people whose projects I’ve participated in — Jim from JMG-Galleries, Antonio from Words:Irrational, Daniel from Daily Blog Tips, and Darren from Problogger. I know the last two are kind of big fish, but there’s no harm in trying — right? The topic is how to run an outstanding blog project. Also, read the Bloggy Tag rules for more info on how this whole thing works.

photographyVoter FeedFlare and Bookmark Icon

Social Networking

I typically try to update the site at least once a week for improved functionality or aesthetics. This week, I paid a little attention to the social bookmarking links that are displayed on each post and feed item. Specifically, I’ve updated the FeedFlare (via FeedBurner) and I’ve added graphical bookmarking functionality for my favorite social site — photographyVoter. You’ll now notice text and graphics links for digg, StumbleUpon!, del.icio.us, and photographyVoter at the end of each post — and the same text links at the end of each feed item.

digg, StumbleUpon!, and del.icio.us are the easy ones. FeedBurner offers options (via FeedFlare) for displaying these text links in your feed and on your post. The text is also dynamic, so it shows the number of votes or bookmarks for that particular post in real-time. On my site, you’ll also notice a small graphical button for the same links, and those can be done via the Notable plugin or the Sociable plugin (preferred) for WordPress. There are a whole lot of other options for which social sites you choose to display, but I only display the ones that I use and like. The only social site (that I like) that isn’t available is photographyVoter — it’s too new and not as widely used. So I fixed that.

Here are three options for integrating photographyVoter links in your blog content.

photographyVoter FeedFlare

The FeedBurner FeedFlare panel allows you to add personal feed flare — you just need to tell it where the XML file lives. If you want to add a link for photographyVoter to your site and feed, follow these instructions.

  1. Download the XML file (pVoteThis.xml) to your computer and upload it to your own server somewhere under the public_html folder. DON’T TELL FEEDBURNER TO REFERENCE MINE! USE YOUR OWN BANDWIDTH!!!
  2. Go into FeedBurner and under the “Optimize” tab, you’ll see the “FeedFlare” menu item — click on it.
  3. At the bottom of the list, you’ll see a textbox that says “(Enter or paste a Flare Unit URL)” with a button to the right that says “Add New Flare”. Type in the address that locates the XML file you just uploaded to your server and hit the button.
  4. You should see a section below the “Official FeedFlare” that says “Personal FeedFlare”, and you should see something that says “photographyVote This!”. Check the box or boxes for displaying the Flare on your site and/or your FeedBurner Feed.
  5. If you want to change the text or description of the Flare, just edit the XML file — you’ll figure it out; it’s pretty simple.
  6. Wait 5 or 10 minutes and you should see the Flare appear on your posts and feed items. Test it out to make sure it’s working right.

This is just a static FeedFlare link, so it doesn’t display the number of votes or anything like the “Official FeedFlare” links do — in other words, it always displays the same text. When you click on it, you’ll be taken to step 2 of 3 at the photographyVoter submission page. From here, you just need to fill in a description, keywords, and a category. If the story has already been submitted, you’ll be taken to a page that tells you this and offers to take you to the story so you can cast your vote. Unfortunately, that little feature doesn’t really work that well and you end up having to sift through every single story to find it.

There are two things I would like to see happen with the FeedFlare and the photographyVoter site.

  1. Fix photographyVoter so that you are taken directly to the voting page if the URL has already been submitted. Digg does a very good job at this. Paul, I don’t know how involved this would be, but I’m at your disposal if you need any assistance with the code (I’m fairly well versed in HTML, PHP, C, PERL, and several other languages) — and if anybody else is code savvy and willing to help, let Paul or me know.
  2. I’d like to make the FeedFlare link a dynamic one so it shows the number of votes if it’s been submitted already. I only spent about 10 minutes slapping the static Flare together, but I’m sure a dynamic one won’t be terribly hard. I’ll be working on providing a solution to this, but it may hinge on the item above. And if anybody else feels the need to work on it, let me know if you make any breakthroughs.

photographyVoter Sociable Integration

I just switched over to Sociable from Notable because it has more options and a much better interface. I also spent the extra five minutes to update the plugin so that photographyVoter would be included in the list of bookmark options. These icons will only show up in your real posts (no feed), but they’re a bit nicer looking than plain text. If you’re on WordPress and you want to try this one out, follow these steps.

  1. Download and install the Sociable plugin.
  2. Download the button image (photographyVoter.gif) to your computer and upload it to the “sociable/images/” folder in your plugin folder.
  3. Download the PHP file (sociable.txt) and upload it to the “sociable” folder to replace the existing file. The download is a text file, so you’ll have to rename the extension to .php before uploading. Or just copy the text and paste it into your plugin editor for the sociable.php file.
  4. Now go configure the plugin in the “Options” panel and you should see the “photo-Voter” icon. I had to shorten photographyVoter because the string length broke the configuration interface.

That’s it — pretty easy installation. Let me know if you have any problems with this one working correctly. I also fixed a bug with the StumbleUpon! button in the original file — it wasn’t working correctly.

photographyVoter Bookmarking Icon

This will only show up in your post (not the feed) and they’re a little more eye-catching than the text links. I tested this out by following the steps below and placing the code just before the Notable icon code (before I turned it off and switched to Sociable) If you use WordPress and you want to include the photographyVoter bookmarking icon in your posts, follow these steps.

  1. Download the button image (photographyVoter.gif) to your computer and upload it to your own server somewhere under the public_html folder. AGAIN, DON’T REFERENCE MINE WHEN IT COMES TIME TO CODE! USE YOUR OWN BANDWIDTH!!! It’s just good etiquette.
  2. Go to your theme editor and edit the “Single Post” page.
  3. Somewhere below the content function call and above the comments function call, insert the following code:
    <a href="http://www.photographyvoter.com/submit.php?url=<?php the_permalink(); ?>" title="photographyVoter: <?php the_title(); ?>"><img src="http://yoursite.com/photographyVoter.gif" border="0" width="16" height="16" alt="photographyVoter: <?php the_title(); ?>"></a>
  4. Save the file and go check it out to make sure it’s in the right spot and that it works correctly. It should work exactly the same as the FeedFlare link
  5. Now put the same code in the “Main Index Template” so it shows up on the main site in addition to each individual post.

That’s it for that one. Placing the code where I’ve indicated will put the icon on every post, but you can place the code anywhere in the post content (I think) — if you want to be more selective with your bookmarking options. You can also replace the image I provided with anything you want, like a bigger image or something. I hope Paul isn’t upset by my makeshift button image taken from the photographyVoter banner — but I don’t think it looks too shabby.

photographyVoter Firefox Extension

Eventually I’d like to see this happen, but I think I’d like to see the dynamic FeedFlare working first. I’ve never programmed a Firefox extension, but I wouldn’t mind seeing something like the digg extension. One step at a time I suppose…

So that’s it. If you have any issues with any of my links or files, let me know IMMEDIATELY! So who’s going to be the first to test out my new photographyVoter button (hint, hint, hint) to make sure it works? I’m also not opposed to a periodic testing of the other buttons and text links… you know, for the sake of clean-coding-practices and whatnot. ;)

[UPDATE: photographyVoter Buttons Via Bookmarks]

I just remembered that one of the photographyVoter users created a bookmark button for submitting articles right from your own browser. It works just like the other site buttons and links, but you can do it straight out of your browser. This bookmark opens photographyVoter in the same window so I modified it in case you want one that opens the site submission in a new window or tab — to use that one, drag the pVoteIt link to your bookmarks and use it the same as the original one.