Pushing the Envelope

I have a phrase for it, the Darwin Theory of Photography – Evolve or Perish. While it’s very true that I’m a gear head and one of my greatest pleasures in life is to get a new piece of gear and just sit and inhale the new gear smell, there is most definitely a method behind my madness. I love telling stories and since I can’t draw, dancing is out of the question and my family won’t even let me sing in the shower that leaves me with photography to tell my stories. In 1998 when I first started to shoot digital, I knew then that the means in which I delivered my photographic stories was going to have to change.

It gets complicated for Sharon & me in the fact that we make our livelihood by telling stories with my photographs. The editorial marketplace is where we have worked and grown for the last three decades in part of our own mission to get the word out about our wild heritage. Realizing from the get-go that we couldn’t do it on our own, we needed to enlist every possible photographer in shooting and sharing their stories, so then our editorial requirement grew from our own stories to helping photographers tell theirs as well. This created an even greater need for the editorial marketplace to be healthy and strong.

Over the years digital photography has as you know become more and more powerful as a medium. Its ability to instantly tell a story and the web’s ability to deliver it has in some ways crippled our traditional method of telling stories. Many a magazine and newspaper has succumbed to this new pressure due in part to not following what they don’t know about, my Darwin Theory of Photography. In a nutshell, if you’re a storyteller, you gotta have a way and place to tell your story. And if you’re a storyteller who tells stories with photographs and depends upon magazines for a vehicle and they are disappearing, your ability to tell stories is going to disappear too. And if you have a mission to help others, the pressure is even greater. You gotta push the envelope!

One of the greatest perks of working with all the great folks at NAPP is the constant flow of creativity. I am very fortunate to be able to sit down and talk with Scott or Matt or RC or Moser and discuss the creative and business side of photography and outreach. It was from a conversation with Scott years ago when the iPad was first made known to us though it was not on the market yet that got my wheels turning. It was then that I saw at least in my own mind, a way to push the envelope of photography and the editorial marketplace and deliver content in a very new and exciting way.

Shortly after the iPad’s release, a plug-in became available for InDesign that permits you to take your InDesign document to the iPad. I’m not talking eBook, which is just a glorified PDF. I’m talking a whole new method to deliver content in an exciting and visually more stimulating way, taking advantage of all the unique qualities of the iPad to improve learning. This was the way we could push the envelope and take advantage of our digital photography and the way more and more want to receive their content, how they want to learn. One major, big, giant problem…it was way over my head!

I was sitting at my desk working and our son Brent was down for the weekend from college. Brent has this unbelievable ability to make computers sing with just a glance. He was looking over my shoulder while we were talking and I was doing battle with the program when he asked, “Dad, what are you trying to do?” I explained it to him, kinda and he just said, “I’ve got a minute why don’t you let me try it?” The rest is history now. He had it working within a heartbeat and my blood pressure went back to normal.

Our first goal was to take our 15yr old BT Journal to the iPad. The main thing was to just not “take” it to the iPad but take advantage of the iPad technology. The first thing that came to light is the ability to deliver more photographs and more of their stories. Brent loves the “push dad button” as he started asking for more and more photos for the digital version of the BTJ. This is because he was able to do slideshows, adding 400-500% more images to the content. With the traditional editorial model, you have only so much real estate where you can place images. Such is not the case with the iPad, which not only vastly increases useable real estate but also presents the layout designed both in landscape and portrait format. (And when magazines can use more and more photos and you’re in the business of selling images, this is a good formula!)

But our abilities to present content in more untraditional ways doesn’t stop there.  When you go to iPubs, you have the ability to incorporate video content right along with the written and visual. This is very powerful stuff when it comes to teaching and inspiring! One of the first cool videos Brent incorporated was of Upper Yosemite Falls. When you flip the page in the BTJ, folks see the waterfall shot and at first think it’s a still image until after a moment they notice the water is flowing, falling and crashing. The look on folks’ faces when they see their digital magazine “come to life” is great! Being able to include video got Brent to thinking and that’s how the Pg28 Videos came to be. Where on the hard copy Pg28 are just photo captions (which are greatly expanded and attached to the photos in the digital version), in the digital version Pg28 are video Photoshop lessons about photos in the issue. It wasn’t long before we realized there are no limitations! Our latest BTJ issue with an interactive map is an example of this, but wait, there is so much more.

You might have noticed I like to take pictures of planes. For awhile now, I’ve been trying to get you excited about playing with planes. Just like with wildlife photography, I’ve been putting out information on how to improve your aviation photography and wanted to put it all in one place for folks, what we traditionally call a book. Well, no one wanted to publish a book on aviation photography, “no market” was the response. Publishing a book is expensive, distribution is tricky and marketing is everything and this all takes time. Brent & I put our heads together and decided we were going to push the envelope again and produced the world’s first iBook, Taking Flight.

Taking Flight took one month to write, lay out, assemble and put on the market. Taking Flight is an iBook that has hundreds of photographs, web links, videos and the best thing, is updatable! That’s right! Our iBook (only $14.99) includes free updates, which we have already done in the form of additional photos and more videos since its release. If you want a new edition of a traditional book, what do you have to do, buy a new book right? This is not the case with an iBook. The worldwide response has been so amazing that we’re working on our next iBook, and it will be FREE!! We don’t stop pushing the envelope around here.

But what does this all have to do with you? I know one of the first comments below will be, “I don’t have an iPad or will it be coming out on Android?” which to me is no different than, “I don’t have $29.95 to buy a book.” And I’m sure each producer of a new means of communication since the printing press has heard the same basic comment for their day at the introduction of their product. That brings us back to the Darwin Theory of Photography. And this is not for those books you want to curl up with next to a fire on a snowy afternoon. What we’re talking about here is increasing the marketplace, the means to tell our visual stories in a changing editorial world, which we need to support if we want it to support us!

Our traditional model of delivering content is fading with newspapers, magazines, and books slowly disappearing from our visual landscape. If you are like me and tell your stories visually through the editorial medium, this means you’re going to lose if nothing else, income. If you not only need that income but also have a burning desire to share your photographs (which you all should have!), then you need to push the envelope and be part of how we develop the next generation of magazines and books. You can do that by subscribing to all the magazines now available on the iPad and buying those iBooks that might interest you. At the same time, think creatively how you can add content to these mediums and get more involved in sharing your photographs.

Evolve or perish…be it a new body, lens, technique or passion, it is at the heart of my photography. And I hope now I’ve planted the seed that becomes the heart of yours. When Brad pinged me to write about how Brent & I went to the iPad with content, I scratched my head how the story might be of service to you. And in a long winded way, I came back to really basics illustrated with a high ended story. Pushing ourselves and more importantly our photography is what all great photographers have done since the dawning of the medium, which is how we got where we are today. It is now up to us to push past camera brands and megapixels and focus on telling the story of our days by using the mediums now available to us. Don’t settle, share your photographs and change the world, knowing that in part you do it by pushing the envelope!

You can see more of Moose’s work at MoosePeterson.com, follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook, and circle him on Google+