Critical Mass In Online Communities

June 16, 2010 1 comment

Crowd theory seems to suggest that, when a few people group together they will tend to get along and treat each other with the respect that each deserves; but once the size of the group reaches a ‘critical mass’, that ‘utopian’ sense of belonging gives way to chaos, disagreement and conflict.

Online communities such as Twitter and Facebook are not exempt from this phenomenon. As we embrace that never-ending goal of more and more followers/fans/etc, we also have to embrace the fact that we will come across those individuals who think that they are God’s gift to that community, and who feel that they need to post public, negative comments on everything that we do within that community.

Having been on RedBubble for some time now, I was embracing the community under the guise that it seemed to be immune to this phenomenon: everybody seemed to live by the code of “if you like an artwork, stop and favourite/comment on it; if you don’t like an artwork, simply skip over to the next one unless the artist has invited your critique”. Sadly, it’s not so…

While I’m all for receiving other artists’ critiques of my artwork, I invite it as a private message rather than a publicly broadcast comment for all to read. To receive this rudely worded and uninvited critique on one of my featured artworks (that had already sold two prints within 24 hours of uploading to RedBubble) was most disappointing:

Aside from the obviously juiced-up and apparently perceived as “stunning” colors in the fog, what are you trying to say here? Is there in fact a message at all beyond the alien looking colors?

(Does the emperor have any clothes?)

So, what would make a member of the RedBubble community ignore the community’s published etiquette by posting such a comment publicly on an artwork that is displayed in RedBubble’s featured artwork gallery and selling prints, rather than via a private message to myself?

Superiority Complex: Could it be that the artist thinks they are God’s gift to the RedBubble community, or maybe even to the art world in general? Are they so great that they are in a position to write such comments on others’ artwork? This has long been the issue with ‘art critics’: they are artists who failed to produce anything of value themselves, taking out their frustration and disappointment on the rest of the world by berating the artists who have succeeded in adding value to the wider art community, all the while living behind a disguise of greatness themselves.

Inferiority Complex: Could it be that some artists realise their own work is not that great, and so they feel a need to bring everybody else down to their level by drawing attention to the areas of others’ artworks that they feel lack quality? Artists that fit into this category are sadly missing the opportunities for learning and artistic development afforded by online communities such as RedBubble: instead of taking the time to recognise what makes any given artwork successful and incorporating such things into their own artwork, they look closely for any faults and highlight them, all the while missing concepts and ideas that could make a difference to their own success.

Having looked through this particular artist’s folio, I would say the former of the two categories above is more likely in this case (although I’m sure he sees himself as an ‘artist’ rather than an ‘art critic’). That said, neither of the above reasons for sharing a critique of another’s artwork with the artist really offers any insight into the decision to do so publicly rather than privately…

Exposure: Could it be that some artists think that posting controversial comments publicly on popular, featured artworks is an effective way of gaining exposure? Do they think that other members of the community will see the comment, feel shocked, and be forced to click through the author’s profile to see just who the author thinks they are to post such a comment? Maybe it is an effective way of gaining exposure, and I should try it out by going through this guy’s folio and posting some critiques of my own? Or maybe that would just make me no better than him, and would only give me a negative image within the community?

Market Share: Could it be that some artists feel threatened when other artists start to develop a following of their own within any given community? When artists shoot similar subject matter that targets a similar audience, market share becomes a very real issue, and as new artists gain popularity, existing artists see their share of market declining. I really can’t see any other reason to publicly discredit another artist’s most popular artworks other than fear of losing market share.

These final two reasons seem much more likely! Rather than posting a critique on one of my artworks that is unpopular and has no following, he has chosen to post it on an artwork that is currently near the top of RedBubble’s Featured Art gallery and has gained a substantial following: he has done this for maximum exposure! Unfortunately for him, anybody understanding his comment about “Does the emperor have any clothes?” will realise that he thinks that the RedBubble community are nothing but a flock of sheep who comment favourably on featured artworks simply because they are featured and without considering the actual artworks themselves. As an aside, I was going to ‘name and shame’ the artist in question here, but decided against it when I realised that ‘exposure’ was likely his core reason for doing this, and that giving him even more exposure in that way would be playing into his hands. Coincidentally, this artist is a landscape photographer like myself, and has previously been featured in many of the community groups that have featured my artwork, giving some credence to ‘market share’ argument.

Having written all of the above, it is important to consider our responses to such comments carefully before publishing them to the world. As artists, we must be all-rounder marketing professionals, embracing the concept of ‘public relations’ in all that we do. While it would be tempting to write a scathing and personal response to the artist in a public forum (and I admit that my initial response was to do this as a public reply to his original comment), or to ‘fight fire with fire’ by writing similar comments on the other artist’s artwork, neither of these reactions shine a positive light on one’s self publicly. It is far better to look for ways to turn such negativity into an opportunity for positive public relations (such as this blog post, hopefully), or simply ignore the negativity and remove all traces of it from the community (as much as possible) if the former is not possible.

Coincidentally, the artwork in question is shown below (click to view larger)…

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Categories: Art, Marketing Tags: ,

Monthly Review for May 2010

June 2, 2010 1 comment

So here we are again, another month over… time for another monthly review to see what we’ve achieved and set our course for the month ahead!

As per my previous monthly review for April, my focus this month has been split between commercial and fine art photography. Although I did have a few opportunities to develop my commercial folio during May thanks to some kind-hearted individuals who were happy to model for me, I still haven’t developed this side of my photography to a point of marketing myself as a full-service commercial photographer. This hasn’t been helped by the fact that going on location to further develop my fine art landscape folio has always been so much more enticing that being cooped up in a studio somewhere.

A continual focus on developing my online presence, however, has certainly been fruitful during May! My Facebook fan page now has 76 fans (an increase of 58% over last month’s total), while my Twitter account now has 2,314 followers (a whopping increase of 148% over last month’s total). I’ve been receiving numerous requests from other artists and photographers who want me to publish a blog post about maximising Twitter’s potential, so stay tuned for that one…

Thankfully, my artwork has continued to be well received by the RedBubble community, with two more sales in May (one greeting card and one matted print)… click any image below for a larger view:

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Coincidentally, the second image above (Alfred Nicholas’ Boathouse #1) received a placing in The Dandenongs group’s Cool Hills challenge, and consequently I have been invited to exhibit it at Elevation in Emerald shortly… more details to come soon!

A number of my artworks were featured in groups again, which I’m sure contributed greatly to the increase in my stats throughout May, for a total of 13,485 views (an increase of 94% over last month’s total), 1,010 comments (an increase of 74% over last month’s total) and 364 favouritings (an increase of 67% over last month’s total)… click any image below for a larger view:

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So, on to June then… I know it’s futile for me to suggest that the development of my fine art folio will go on the backburner while I focus on developing the commercial side of my photography, so instead I’ll say that the goal will be to strike a better balance between the two. Hopefully my efforts on launching the web site will not continue to be hampered by technical difficulties and Internet connectivity issues this month, so watch this space for the big announcement shortly (I hope!). I’ve really started to see the value of social networking over the last month (as far as increasing my RedBubble stats is concerned), so I will certainly be looking to build up my online presence even further in June… from the numbers above, I don’t think that an increase in the vicinity of 100% over the next month is an unreasonable goal!

Categories: Art, Marketing, Photography Tags:

Essential Photography Filters Illustrated

May 21, 2010 3 comments

Photography filters (the glass ones that you put on the end of the lens while you’re shooting; not the ones you add in Photoshop) have made a huge difference to the quality of my photos. That said, there is something of a steep learning curve associated with them, in terms of knowing which filters to use in which situations, and also in knowing how each filter will change the image captured. I have been wanting to post an article that visually illustrates the filters that I consider to be essential for a landscape photographer, but didn’t find a scene that really illustrated them well until just recently…

Shooting Without Filters

Let’s start with a couple of images taken WITHOUT any filters at all. The light a little while after sunrise is quite contrasty, and so without using any filters, I have to choose between exposing correctly for the lighthouse and the sky behind it (in which case the foreground is dark and under exposed), or for the rocks and water in the foreground (in which case the sky and lighthouse are bright and overexposed):

20100519 BellarinePeninsula 20100519 0012520100519 BellarinePeninsula 20100519 00128

There are filters to overcome this dilemma!

Neutral Density Gradient (ND Grad) Filters

ND Grad filters are sheets of glass/plastic that slide into an adapter that you screw onto the front of your lens. One half of the filter is coated with a grey, neutral density coating that gradually fades into no coating at all. The light that passes through the grey area is darkened, allowing us to control the bright/highlight areas in the composition to make them more consistent with the dark/shadow areas. ND Grad filters come in a range of strengths… I have a set of three that achieve 1-stop, 2-stops and 3-stops of darkening, and the adapter is such that I can stack them on top of each other to achieve up to 6-stops of darkening in one half of the image.

20100519 BellarinePeninsula 20100519 00131

Although I have achieved correct exposure throughout the image with thanks to the ND Grad filters, the reflection of the lighthouse is “shimmering” a little too much for my liking…

Black Glass Filter

I have a Hoya NDX400 filter (often referred to by photographers as “black glass”) that screws on to the front of the lens to darken down the whole image by a whopping 9 stops! In mathematical terms, the NDX400 filter allows only 1/500th of the available light to enter the lens. Or put simply, I have to double the normal exposure time 9 times to get a correct exposure when the NDX400 filter is on. As such, a common use for the NDX400 filter is to achieve long exposures in daylight conditions. I typically use the NDX400 to smooth the surface of water, as is my style, and the effect that I need to reduce the shimmer in the reflection of the lighthouse here.

20100519 BellarinePeninsula 20100519 00137

You may also notice that application of the NDX400 filter has resulted in richer, deeper colours here… a nice side-effect of the long exposure achieved through this filter.

While I do think this is a pretty decent image so far, there is one more thing that could make it just that little bit better. We can see that there is some interesting textures below the surface of the water in the bottom right corner of the image… imagine how much better the image could look if we could see some more of that underwater detail!

Circular Polarizing Filter

A Circular Polarizing filter (or CPL) allows us to control the reflections of light that are allowed to enter into the lens when we shoot. Without getting too scientific about it, light emitted from a light source (except for a laser) is omni-directional… it goes every which way; whereas the light we see reflected off a surface only travels along a single plane. The CPL filter allows us to block out the light reflected along any given plane, thereby minimizing the reflections that we see in that plane. The ability to do this has many applications, such as returning contrast and saturation to an overly reflective scene… or in the case of this example, cutting down the reflections on the surface of the water so that we can see what lies beneath:

20100519 BellarinePeninsula 20100519 00146

The Finished Image

With a little post-production work in Lightroom and Photoshop, the finished image can be seen below (click to view larger)…

Point Lonsdale Lighthouse

Categories: Photography Tags: , ,

Continuous Education

May 16, 2010 3 comments

Once an artist starts exhibiting their work and receiving a wealth of positive feedback, it can be very easy to fall into the trap of thinking we know it all and to stop researching our chosen medium. We go on reusing the same techniques over and over again, until the positive feedback starts drying up and we end up feeling uninspired, seeing the same results day in and day out. Those techniques that we knew so well just don’t do it for us, or for anybody else, anymore… our artwork becomes stale!

Maybe I’m speaking for myself in the above paragraph, or maybe it is a common occurence for other artists, too… I’m not sure. Either way, I’ve found a great way to combat this phenomenon: continuous education. I’ve found that the best way to overcome outputting stale artwork is to go back to basics by finding some new guides or tutorials around the net, often ones that tell you what you think you already know.

When I do this, I find that I am reminded of certain factors that made older artworks successful, but that I have been glossing over while shooting within my “I know it all” bubble. For example, I recently became lazy as far as getting high or low was concerned while on location: a quick read of an article today reinforced this fact for me, and I have realised one area where my more recent artwork has been falling short. Likewise, that same article spoke of shooting at dawn and dusk, which led me to reflect on the fact that my most successful photographs have all been shot during one of those times, and yet lately I have been busy in the evenings and sleeping in in the mornings, leading me to shoot during the daylight hours… another area where recent artwork has been falling short!

Not only did this article highlight the areas in which I have been falling short recently… it also gave me some new ideas! I have also aimed to get as much of a landscape into the frame by using only a wide-angle lens… I would never have thought of cropping a landscape tightly using a telephoto/zoom lens had I not read this article today! Who would’ve thought Mr Know-It-All could pick up a new idea from an article that takes us back to basics?!?

Another great reason for constantly reviewing the breadth of new (and old) information available to visual artists on the net is the inspiration that can be gained from the illustrations that go along with them. As visual artists, we are all more than familiar with the cliche that a picture speaks a thousand words, and this rings true for the countless tutorials and instructional texts that have been published for artists, by artists, around the net! While the text content of such articles does serve to make us think about and extend our techniques, it is the pictures that give us inspiration to get out and get the next perfect picture ourselves. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have read an instructional article and thought, “I want to do that,”  in response to the accompanying illustrations!

Coincidentally, the article that I read today and have referred to throughout this post can be accessed here: 5 Opposite Steps to Better Photographs.

The Hidden Woman Optical Illusion

I was just reviewing some of my artworks when I happened to notice an (unintentional) optical illusion in one of them! Can anybody else see the woman’s face hidden in the image below?

Tall Reflection

Tall Reflection

If you collect optical illusions, please click on the image above to order your print today!

Categories: Art, Photography Tags:

The notrO Effect

Have you ever gone through your post-processing workflow (particularly when it includes HDR generation), looked at the final image, and found that it was still lacking the vibrance and clarity that you remembered seeing whilst capturing the original photograph? I had this problem after working with the following image from my shoot at the Alfred Nicholas Memorial Gardens yesterday, during which the capturing the vibrant autumn colours was one of my main goals… and found the solution by adapting what I consider to be a derivative of the Orton effect!

Alfred Nicholas' Boathouse - Original HDR

Alfred Nicholas' Boathouse - Original HDR

The Theory

When we apply the Orton effect (blending an over-exposed copy of the image with the original), the resultant image takes on a ‘dreamy’ feel… the colours tend to wash out a bit (that is, vibrance and saturation are reduced), while the highlights creep into the shadows to brighten up the overall image at the expense of clarity. For the sake of comparison, the image below shows Alfred Nicholas’ Boathouse with the Orton effect applied:

Alfred Nicholas' Boathouse - HDR with Orton Effect

Alfred Nicholas' Boathouse - HDR with Orton Effect

I figured that, if the Orton effect actually emphasizes the traits that I didn’t like in the original image, applying the opposite of the Orton effect would fix them…

The Result

In the image below, I blended the original HDR image with an under-exposed copy of itself:

Alfred Nicholas' Boathouse - HDR with notrO Effect

Alfred Nicholas' Boathouse - HDR with notrO Effect

As you can see here, the colours are a lot richer, while emphasizing the shadows rather than the highlights yields greater clarity and gives the image a more ‘moody’ feel rather than a ‘dreamy’ one. This is much more like the scene that I remember capturing whilst on location!

A Word About Levels

Just as the image’s levels must be carefully adjusted after applying the Orton effect to avoid losing too much detail in the highlights; so too must the image’s levels be adjusted after applying the notrO effect to avoid losing detail in the shadows!

Examples

I found that I needed to use this technique on a couple of the images that I brought home from my shoot yesterday. Click any image below for a larger view…

Alfred Nicholas' Boathouse #1

Alfred Nicholas' Boathouse #1

Autumn Colours at Alfred Nicholas Memorial Gardens

Autumn Colours at Alfred Nicholas Memorial Gardens

Categories: Photography Tags:

The Importance of Online Art Communities

In a recent blog entry (Monthly Review for April 2010) I made a statement as to why online art communities such as RedBubble are not an effective way of selling one’s artwork. However, such online art communities are still a very important tool in the artist’s marketing toolbox!

Apart from the ability to showcase you work to other artists and develop a network of like minds who will give you honest and creative feedback in the process, the market research provided by online art communities can hold immense value for an artist deciding which artworks to promote in other markets, and which to keep hidden away in the private collection. With statistics such as sales, comments, favouritings and views, the artist is equipped with a wealth of information to help make informed decisions as to the marketing potential of individual artworks.

Sales!

Obviously, making a sale of an artwork through an online art community is the greatest indicator of an artwork’s marketing potential. The fact that someone was willing to show their approval of your artwork by pulling out their wallet (or purse, as the case may be) and liked your artwork enough to spend their hard-earned cash on a print is the biggest thumbs up you’ll ever get. If an artwork sells, it has a place in your folio and should be promoted to the rest of the world… even moreso if it was a fellow artist who gave you the thumbs up in that manner!

Favouritings

To have another artist add your artwork to their online collection of favourites is the next biggest indicator of an artwork’s marketing potential in my book. While not being as potent (or as profitable) as an actual sale, a favouriting tells us that another artist likes your artwork enough that they want to see it again later. It may be that they want to refer back to your artwork as an inspirational reference point for their own artwork, or that they just really liked it that much that they want to see it whenever they log in to the online art community. Either way, a favouriting is another sign that an artwork should be promoted to the masses.

Comments

Apart from the subjective qualities of comments left by other artists on your artwork, the number of comments that an artwork receives can be used as an indicator of an artwork’s marketing potential. Although the number of comments can mean less than the number of favouritings (due to dilution from the number of your own replies, or the number of comments left by group hosts accepting and/or featuring your artworks, etc), the fact that other artists have taken some of their time to leave comments does mean something.

Views

The number of views alone is NOT the best indicator of an artwork’s marketing potential! A high number of views without associated sales, favouritings or comments could indicate that your artwork looks fantastic as a thumbnail (therefore encouraging people to click on it), but is less impressive in full view (as evidenced by the fact that people are not following up by buying a print, adding it to their favourites or leaving a positive comment). Don’t be fooled into thinking that a high number of views means an artwork is popular… a lesser number of views with some associated sales, favouritings or comments means so much more!

Putting It All Together

I have a spreadsheet containing a list of my RedBubble artworks, the date each was uploaded, and the number of sales, comments, favouritings and views for each. I regularly update this spreadsheet with live data, and publish the results to my RedBubble profile.

In addition to the raw data outlined above, I have added the following columns to the spreadsheet to express these statistics as conversion rates:

  • Sales per View;
  • Favouritings per View; and
  • Comments per View.

In assessing the relative popularity of each artwork, I multiply these three columns together to come up with “Sales, Favouritings and Comments per View” and sort by this column (in descending order) to come up with a list of the most popular artworks.

With only a couple of sales on the board, I needed to add an additional column, “Favouritings and Comments per View”, as multiplying by sales was giving most artworks a value of 0 in the sort column. After sorting by the first column in descending order, I then sorted by this new column (also in descending order) to come up with a list of the most popular artworks without sales.

Given that some artworks came up with similar numbers in this final column, I then sorted by the artworks’ uploaded dates (in ascending order), as I consider an artwork that achieves a higher conversion rate in a shorter period of time to be more popular (and therefore have greater marketing potential) than an artwork that achieves the same conversion rate over a longer period of time.

With results in hand, I regularly post updates of the top five most popular artworks to my RedBubble profile… click here to see today’s results!

Categories: Marketing, Photography Tags: ,