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by Ryan Weber

“I’ll try anything twice…” has always been a sort of motto of mine.  I believe everyone sees the most growth by getting out of their comfort zone; driving themselves to learn, achieve and even fail. 

So when I was feeling a bit burned out on commercial photography, I set out to experience new stimuli, in hopes that I’d get a binary answer on what path I should pursue going forward.  But what I realized was that life is a multi-branched path, not a straight line.  My reading of books, listening to podcasts and watching of online videos exposed me to myriad interesting topics, any one of which I could easily see myself experimenting with as a future career.

Should I create an online course to sell?  Dive into affiliate marketing?  Start a podcast?  Seek a position in the political realm?  Teach college-level photography courses?  I had some good ideas, some of which are still viable for future exploration. 

What landed in my lap was something unexpected.  One of my favorite podcasters, Tom Woods of The Tom Woods Show, had a guest who talked about creating and selling apps to local businesses.

After a bit of research, I realized a couple benefits of this idea:
1. It was a laptop-lifestyle career, which afforded the freedom to work from home or anywhere with an internet connection.
2. It was a product largely untapped by small local businesses, so there were lots of potential clients.
3. Designing apps nowadays is about as hard as designing drag-n-drop websites.   You used to have to know how to code, but now there are services that have app templates you can customize and have your app live in just days.  It’s a great product to repackage and sell to the right kinds of small businesses.

So I had it in my mind to start looking for app ideas all around me.  That’s where Disneyland came in…

Wait,…what?!

As Disneyland annual passholders, our family was at the park nearly every month and each time I’d overhear someone complaining of a dead camera, tablet or cell battery around dinner time.  I started hunting down all the well-hidden power outlets around the park, ultimately finding over 160 of them.  If dead batteries were such a problem, an app might help alleviate that issue, I figured.  So the Mouselets app was born!  (Click link to find out more about it)

Mouselets app screenshot of pinned power outlets around Disneyland Resort.

But creating a consumer app, and selling an app to consumers are two different things.  Because my app had special features, I had to learn about Google map APIs, JSON coding, creating Terms of Service & Privacy Policies, and many other behind-the-scenes elements of getting an app designed and published.

Getting it into the app stores was no problem, but marketing the dang thing was a Herculean feat.  Trying to advertise a niche app with nearly no profit margin to a wide demographic, all the while bleeding monthly hosting costs…well, it was both stressful and enlightening.  Much of the app’s success came from hours of good ‘ol fashioned social media outreach.

(Side note: Did you know you can harvest all tweets within a certain geographic area (Disneyland + 1 mile radius) for a particular keyword (“phone dying”)?  It’s a dynamite tactic for local businesses…just ask me how to do it). 

In my search for the best ROI for my advertising dollar though, I discovered the power of Facebook ads! 

Location-based ad serving, crazy granular demographic targeting, re-targeting people who’ve taken certain actions on your website or FB page, ads for pennies, detailed reports that allow you to fine-tune your current and future ad sets…the nerd in me found it all so fascinating!  Forget the app, I needed to be doing this!  THIS is the way you add value to a community!  Helping businesses and customers find out about each other through a platform they’re both already using. 

I’d discovered what I had originally set out to find…something that fired me up!  It was just a round about way to get there.

As an autodidact, I dove into many hours of getting familiar with FB’s ad platform, listening to trainings and reading blogs on ad strategy.  I tried advertising my app as a case study, but what I realized in the end was the Disney demographic was just too expensive to market a $0.99 app.  Anything Disney-themed had too much targeting competition and I’d lose money on each app download.

HOWEVER…I knew it would be a fantastic platform for businesses with higher margins, which is just about any other non-app business in existence.  I thought to myself “This is a freakin’ gold mine of demographic data, and hardly anyone is using it correctly!  What if I could take a traditionally low-revenue business, like an artist, and earn them some profit on a minimal ad spend?  That would definitely prove the power of the ad platform!  And if I can do it with a niche local artist, it can surely scale for a brick-and-mortar or online business!”

And so I did! 

In the next blog post, I’ll talk about using Facebook ads to help artist Toni Best find paying students for her gourd basketweaving classes.

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I’m currently finishing up some images of a very rare MINI Goodwood edition.  Developed in collaboration with Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, this car was limited to 1000 units with only 140 cars making it to the US.

The MINI Goodwood is a treat for the senses.  The intoxicating smell of the Rolls-Royce leather, the ever-changing LED ambient interior lighting in the doors and pillars, the wonderful sound system, and the spry turbo and suspension to make you smile.  It was a fantastic car to shoot, as well as drive to and from the location.

Here are some shots I’m working on and more are on their way.  Click on any image for a higher res, more detailed version.

MINI Goodwood exterior detail.

MINI Goodwood exterior detail.

Radiant_Goodwood Mini Engine Detail-2 Web

MINI Goodwood motor detail.

Radiant_Goodwood Mini Door Detail Web

MINI Goodwood door interior with LED ambient lighting.

MINI Goodwood dash detail.

MINI Goodwood dash detail.

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Years ago, when mirrorless cameras came out, I wasn’t the skeptic that many pros were.  They seemed to fit a niche for the hobby photographer who needed something light and easy to use at the expense of resolution and pro features.  The fit a gap between plain point-and-shoot cameras with which you couldn’t change lenses, and full on DSLR rigs that offered resolution, lens changes and such but were cumbersome to carry around.

Well that final DSLR quality has done me in on family trips and casual shooting.  I’ve grown tired of hauling a 5D MKII, 17-35mm lens, 50 prime, 100 macro, and 70-200 L-series glass around on family trips and casual shoots.  With my iPhone’s camera quality being sufficient for 90% of what I encountered, I usually just snapped and processed images on it instead of carrying my big gear anymore.

Sony a6000 with lens. Photo courtesy of Amazon.com

Sony a6000 with lens.
Photo courtesy of Amazon.com

Well, now mirrorless tech has matured to the point where I feel the investment is worth it for myself and the business.  Here are three reasons why I’m using Cyber Monday 2014 to score a deal on a Sony a6000 with 16-50 kit lens  (Click link if you’re interested in the same deal):

1. Weight – My current Lowepro backpack with DSLR gear weighs roughly 10-15 lbs, depending on what gear I’m hauling at any given time.  Add a tripod capable of holding a DSLR with a 70-200L lens, and it goes up even more.  I’m 36, I have a five year old and a baby to keep up with, I walk a lot on family outings.  I’m tired.  I need something compact, lightweight and easy to store when not in front of my face.  A point and shoot or mirrorless camera fit the bill for such uses.

2. Functionality – Shooting cars, or anything for that matter, becomes less intuitive and spontaneous the more gear you bring to the shoot.  Photographing detail shots of collectible vehicles in an auction preview area is a hassle (and a liability) with a tripod and big camera set up.  Being able to handhold a camera and quickly change angles and camera settings helps with creativity.  It also makes you less of an asshole for all the other people waiting around to view the vehicle you’re diligently photographing.  BUT, having the functionality of lens changes, a camera flash hot-shoe, tripod mount, and exposure bracketing were things I wanted in a handheld set up.  The lens changes allow me some creative freedom over a point and shoot rig, even finding old vintage lenses to adapt to the current Sony mount to play with some vintage or DIY lens effects.  The flash hot-shoe means I can throw on my Pocket Wizard or other remote flash sync unit and shoot studio strobes for portraits, action, and car beauty stills.  This means I can use the camera on paid shoots and get just as good of lighting but with a smaller camera kit.  The tripod mount I require so when I’m doing beauty stills, I can shoot multiple exposures, but being able to use a smaller, lighter tripod will keep my kit as a reasonable weight.  Exposure bracketing helps in many situations, one of which I run into on a sunny Concours and need to tone-map layered exposures together to retain both shadow and highlight detail in a single final image.

3. Wifi image sharing – Honestly, it’s not as much of a sell as the reasons above, but being able to slingshot images I capture to someone’s phone nearby, is pretty handy.  For personal use, sending my wife an image we just shot at Disneyland so she can forward it to the Grandparents would be neat and save time later in the hotel downloading, processing and emailing images out.  From a business standpoint, I’m hoping I can slingshot images from the camera to a client or art director at the shoot so they can preview images, without having to look over my shoulder at my camera screen.  I tried this with a technology called Eye-Fi years ago, and I never got it setup to reliably work on location, so the 8gb Eye-Fi memory card is still just sitting here unloved on my desk.

For a very informative review of the Sony a6000, visit Steve Huff’s review page here.
For a plethora of mirrorless camera reviews and articles, Steve Huff has his whole library here.

And, again, click this link if you want to take advantage of the Sony Alpha a6000 Interchangeable Lens Camera with 16-50mm Power Zoom Lens 2014 Cyber Monday deal on Amazon.com.

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Just a quick update on the fine art photography front.  Last night I finally had a chance to break out my chemistry and step wedges to do some testing and calibrations for my carbon transfer print workflow.  I’ll talk more about carbon transfer printing in another post, but it’s basically the most archival of all photographic printing processes, with prints dating back to the 1800s looking brand new today.  The most defining characteristic of a carbon print is the very cool 3D relief of the gelatin standing off the paper a bit.  It’s an exquisite sight when done with highly textured or detailed images.  But it’s only practiced by a few hundred people in the world, because….

It’s an incredibly fickle and time consuming method of putting images on paper.  To date I’ve spend nearly two years off and on trying to get a print, to no avail.  It’s a maddening technique when you don’t have the right work environment and uninterrupted time to devote to the process.  But I think I’ve solved my prior issues and am nearing my first real carbon print.

Unlike my first attempt years ago, my gelatin image didn’t float off the surface of the paper before my eyes during development.  I also didn’t have any shadow areas of the image lifting off the paper, which we call “frilling”.  I’m still dealing with some gray highlights and underexposed shadows, but I’ll hash these out with some chemistry and exposure changes in the coming nights.

I love this stuff, as frustrating as it can be.

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I decided to start posting up the occasional project car post for restoration and upgrades I’m doing on our family’s Lexus IS300 Sportcross.  Let’s call the series “Project Sportcross”.

We had a heck of a time finding a decent Sportcross, which is the wagon version of the sporty IS300.  For months every Sportcross we found for sale was outrageously priced for its condition, or more often than not, it had a salvage title.  It’s amazing how many of these cars have been wrecked, salvaged and are back on the market.  The prices are reasonable for those, but who knows if the frame is straight or what electrical gremlins you’ll uncover.

So this clean titled black-on-black one popped up for sale in the San Francisco bay area and we made the 12 hour round trip to pick it up on the very day it was offered on the lot.  It certainly has things to fix, but they’re mostly cosmetic, like paint, fabric dying, trim replacement.  While we originally bought this car for the wife, I actually love putting it through its paces.  Put it in sport mode, take off traction control and use the shift buttons on the steering wheel and it’s a blast to drive.  Being a wagon, it gets looks from those enthusiasts who know, but doesn’t get a second glace from police and other undesirables.

So I’ll be posting up the occasional update on it’s restoration and upgrade progress.  This week, I tackled the fogged headlight restoration.

For this project I used a 3M Headlight Restoration kit ($13 on Amazon), some elbow grease (free!), and finally an XPEL headlight protective film kit ($48 on Amazon).  For far less than the cost of new light housings, I brought the OEM ones back to life.  Basically, the process involved a couple different grits of dry sandpaper to remove the yellowed exterior layer of plastic, which initially leaves the lens extremely fogged looking.

Yellowed and hazy IS300 headlight, before reconditioning with 3M Headlight Restoration kit.

Yellowed, pitted, and hazy IS300 headlight, before reconditioning with 3M Headlight Restoration kit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First step in headlight recondition is removing the outer layer of plastic with rough grit sandpapers.  It looks worse before it looks better.  The whole time you're worried you just committed yourself to shelling out $500 for new headlight housings.

First step in headlight recondition is removing the outer layer of plastic with rough grit sandpapers. It looks worse before it looks better. The whole time you’re worried you just committed yourself to shelling out $500 for new headlight housings.
Then we move to progressively finer grits and wet-sanding to polish the plastic.

Half way through it's looking much better.  I'm convinced at this point now, that I'm at least back to the way it was pre-restoration and won't be on the hook for new housings.

Half way through it’s looking much better. I’m convinced at this point now, that I’m at least back to the way it was pre-restoration and won’t be on the hook for new housings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The final step uses a nice 3M polish and foam applicator to really shine the lenses back to new.  I could have left it at that, but the lenses probably would have glazed over again in a few years, so I wanted to protect the investment with the XPEL film kit.  The film is precut to fit the lenses and goes on with an alcohol/water mist, which is then squeegeed out, adhering the film to the lens.  Some areas needed a heat gun to get the the thick film to conform to the compound curves, but it all worked out well.  Now the lenses should remain crystal clear, produce better light projection and cutoff, and stay free of rock chips for a very long time.  Clear lenses make the car look much better and increase its value during reselling.  For $61 and about two hours of work, I’d recommend anyone take it on.
-R

Lenses refinished and protected by the XPEL precut film.  They look new and perform much better.

Lenses refinished and protected by the XPEL precut film. They look new and perform much better.

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The last few days I’ve been busy getting my darkroom area set up, and it’s nearly done and ready for developing and printing.  The safelight has been installed, darkroom sink plumbed, and yesterday I cut new glass to refurbish my NuArc UV exposure unit for printing handmade alt-process prints.  In the next few days I hope to get back to testing my carbon-transfer process using that fancy color chart and step wedge you see on the table there.  Lots of testing ahead I’m sure, given I tried off and on for over a year in Hawaii to get a decent print and failed.  It’s that hard of a process if your environmental conditions aren’t dialed in.  In Hawaii the humidity and some other factors prevented me from succeeding, but I’m starting from scratch with a better workspace here, so I’m anticipating better results.
But before I can print, I need a light tight cabinet to dry sensitized films and tissues in, as well as some beakers and protective gear for mixing up my chemistry.  That is next on my list this week.  Hoping to have print updates soon thereafter.
-R

Wet area on left, dry area on right.  Temp/humidity gauges, glass plates and reference texts...oh and a Brownie Camera to refurbish.

Wet area on left, dry area on right. Temp/humidity gauges, glass plates and reference texts…oh and a Brownie Camera to refurbish.

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