Photography & Social Media: It’s not Terrifying, I Promise

Photography is one of those terrifying things that seem to intimidate a lot of people. Let me be the first to say, I knew nothing about photography at the beginning of this year, and I’m certainly not a pro now. But learning the basics was not nearly as complicated as I thought. And the more I got into it and the more I learned about social media, the more I realized how the two things go together like pie and ice cream. You could have one without the other, but the pie would be so much less exciting.

Big companies have the money to outsource photographers, and that’s great. It provides freelance photographers work and gives them a great source of income. Many smaller businesses, and especially publishers, do not have those kinds of resources. So we have to make do. But how?

You don’t need a fancy camera to start taking pictures. With most phone technology nowadays, you have access to a pretty decent camera right in your pocket. The main challenge—and by challenge, I mean fun part—is setting up the photo. Where do you take it? How do you set it up? This all depends on your business or publishing house but doesn’t take nearly as much effort as you think. Ooligan Press is a very Portland-centric press, so we can walk right outside and take pictures of the bridges, the parks, the rain—and it all fits with our message. Take a book from your press to the coffee shop. Take it home and snap some pictures of it with a plant or favorite blanket. Take it to the bar, on a walk, maybe even a dog shelter. You can take books anywhere.

But the photo can’t just stop there. Not with digital photos, anyway. You need to edit them for branding and consistency.

Branding is important in the sense that it establishes a page’s content with one simple glance. A viewer clicks on the Instagram page and boom, they can get an instant-read of what that business is all about. Half of this is the subject matter—what you take pictures of. The other half is editing the lighting and colors to look consistent.

This is the really scary part for most people, but it’s actually the easiest part.

My favorite app for editing photos on my phone is Lightroom, but this costs money. My favorite free app for photo editing is VSCO. I started out with this app, and it helped me learn so much. The interface is extremely user-friendly. Jump on the app and mess around with the different settings, especially with colors. It takes a few tries, but eventually, you’ll get the hang of moving the sliders around and controlling the lighting and colors on your photo. Higher contrast tends to make for sharper, cleaner images. Warmer images tend to give off happier vibes. Cooler images give off more wintery vibes.

Having clean, authentic images really boost your social media game. They help create a consistent, professional-looking feed. And photography is just a fun thing to jump into.

Brief Art Lesson on the Bookstagram

Bookstagrams are a form of art. Fact.

Bookstagrams are also a form of great marketing, and as such, a source of revenue. Also fact.

Why is it that the bookstagram community has worked so well for publishers and bloggers alike? Why is #bookstagram currently at over 19 million hits on Instagram? It’s because of both of those above facts. People like to see art. And in posting this art, they are unknowingly marketing a publisher while simultaneously marketing themselves. It’s brilliant. And there are no signs of it slowing down.

Bookstagrams, like all other forms of art, can be tricky to learn how to make. All it takes, though, is an honest feed, intentional artistic arrangement, and, most importantly, consistent branding.

What exactly goes into a bookstagram? The short answer: ANYTHING WITH A BOOK. It really is that simple. For me, I like to use props that go well with the themes of the book as well as the cover design. Some people just take pictures of pages. Some people take pictures of endless stacks of books surrounded by hundreds of colorful props so large you actually can’t read any of the titles on the books.

When starting an account, you have to understand who you’re trying to reach and what your basic brand will be. I want to be a very personal and trusted reviewer. I want people to feel like they know me. So, I only post pictures of books I’ve read and only post honest things about those books. That’s my brand. (This also makes it much easier to pick out themes in the book I can match with props.)

For my picture, I arrange the props against a consistent white background. It’s actually just a shelf I have at home. A really popular background right now is monochrome sheets.

For my props in my example of The Ocean in My Ears, I used SweeTarts because they’re relevant in the book itself and also pair very well with the cover.

After I take the picture, I edit it. All of my photos are edited to have the same lighting, the same fade, the same vibrancy. This is all part of the brand. I’ve yet to see a successful bookstagram that doesn’t use some kind of consistent photo editing. People want to see similar styles of photographs.

Keeping a consistent brand, no matter how personal the account, is so important. People want to follow accounts they can trust will post fairly similar art because they like that art. You wouldn’t commission an artist who gave out a different-styled piece every time someone requested their services; in a similar way, people will not give you that follow if you remain inconsistent and unpredictable. According to Forbes, “The best brand strategies are ones that are unique, ones that get users involved directly, and ones that remain true to the brand (preferably all three). If you can do this, and maintain a steady stream of content over the course of months and years, you can build a similarly massive, engaged following with your Instagram account.”

You heard it from the rich people’s magazine itself. Stay consistent, and your bookstagram will reach more people. When you reach more people, the books make more money, and you get more followers. It’s a win-win.

Marketing a Hiking Book in the Winter

Have you ever tried hiking during the winter in the Pacific Northwest? I have. Twice, in fact. Once was intentional. Once was not.

The first time I went, I embraced the rain. I let myself get drenched and covered in mud, as though this were a requirement for being a “true” Oregonian. This was all great until I got back in the car and realized that the downpour had soaked through my not-so-waterproof backpack and ruined my phone.

The second time I hiked during the winter, it was a lovely and dark January morning. I was sleep deprived, wearing a dress, and had no food or water. We’re not going to talk about that hike.

Fun fact: In Quebec, they have a saying for winter hiking: s’habiller comme un oignon. It means “dress like an onion.” Well, I can tell you right now, this onion did not have a whole lot of layers that morning.

Maybe there are some extreme hikers out there who are ready for any season the Pacific Northwest throws at them. They’re thick onions, ready for anything. If that’s you, I congratulate you. In fact, I envy you. Most of us, however, don’t really think about hiking until April or May (or, let’s be real, June). Hiking seasons aren’t something many people have to think a whole lot about, unless you decide to publish a Pacific Northwest hiking guide book at the tail end of winter.

On March 1, Ooligan Press released hiking guide 50 Hikes in the Tillamook and Clatsop State Forests. The hikes featured in the guide take place in what is a beautiful and classic example of the Pacific Northwest at its finest—vast rolling hills full of diverse forests, rushing rivers, clear mountain streams cascading over rocks, and views for miles towards the cold Pacific Ocean. But these lands can also be very unforgiving in the winter season. Some of the roads and pathways become closed off due to mudslides or destruction caused by wind, hail, rain, and ice. So how does a press market a hiking guide in the months leading up to its spring release if we can’t access the trails?

This last summer, many of our brave members at Ooligan Press hiked every single one of the trails in the guidebook. No one had to dress like an onion. And since no one got eaten by a bear, the trails were deemed safe enough for the book. An added benefit of this fact-checking experiment was that many people took photos of the trails in their pristine summer condition, which we then used to sustain us through the long winter.

We were very honest when posting these pictures. It wasn’t like we were saying in mid-December, “This is what the forest looks like right now! Go try it and tell us how it goes!” But the pictures did allow us to create social media content highlighting the beauty of these forests and reminding those of us who were still hibernating that Oregon (and the Pacific Northwest in general) can be a very beautiful place in the spring and summer. It allowed us to get people excited for new adventures after they finally thawed out.

With the content itself, we aimed to write things that matched the brand of the product and stayed consistent in our readers’ minds. One post reminded you that your face was frozen. Another reminded you that the land is terrifying and that you shouldn’t attempt to go outside unless you wanted to die. While it’s fun to compare the dangers of hiking in the winter to eating tide pods (please don’t), these statements all had grains of truth about the hikes that continued to reflect the Ooligan brand. Keeping the facts and images for these hikes consistent was the most important part of the marketing phase.

Thankfully, we had these marketing strategies in place so we didn’t have to go on slightly dangerous adventures in the frozen forests of Oregon. And now that summer is almost here, we can put our guide book to good use and bask in the sunny glory of the trails!

Check out 50 Hikes in the Tillamook and Clatsop State Forests here!

Updates

The copyedit for Brew to Bikes is underway! We took the most up-to-date ebook file and exported out all the XML coding so that we could work with the text only. We are also developing a tracking sheet for all of the photographs so that when we lay out the text in the new format, we will know where everything goes.

Photo research for the Mastersounds project is continuing. We are gathering a variety of portraits of musicians and landscapes of the changing cities, which will enhance Lynn’s manuscript. This research has helped develop the team’s understanding of the history of jazz, allowing for us to create more specific marketing plans.

Last week, we finished the final design of the t-shirt, which will be revealed at the launch of the crowdfunding campaign, and this week we are developing a few grant applications that we feel match the project.

iCook: The Digital Age of Cookbooks

On a chilly Thursday night in October, a group of fabulous people met at the Historic Old Church in Southwest Portland to discuss food writing in the publishing world. Transmit Culture, a series of discussions centered on the various elements of publishing, gives Ooligan Press and writing students alike the opportunity to engage in an earnest dialogue with seasoned professionals of the industry. This particular panel discussion, focusing on food writing and publishing, was moderated by PSU’s Diana Abu-Jaber, professor of Creative Writing, and a former food writer. Panelists included Breanna Goodrow, senior designer at Timber Press, Marnie Hanel, a writer for The New York Times and Vanity Fair, and Greg Mowery, a cookbook publicist and founder of Greg Mowery Public Relations.

The panelists commented on the importance of photography and illustration in the food writing world. Greg Mowery said, “It’s an advantage that fiction just doesn’t have,” and he’s absolutely right. Cookbooks have become somewhat synonymous with picture-books for a variety of food enthusiasts. It wouldn’t seem quite right to open up a cookbook and solely be confronted with cold blocks of text; you might feel appalled by the book for its false advertising. You often pay not just for the writing, but also the photographs collectively in a cookbook. In fact, the appearance of a photo directly correlates to a person’s decision to spend their money on the recipe. Mowery continued, “It’s no longer a reference book. People want to create replicas of the pictures they see, they want to use it for more than instruction.”

Design is absolutely fundamental to the cookbook and food writing world. “It’s overtaking the traditional text,” confirmed Breanna Goodrow. As a senior designer for Timber Press, she notes that what customers want is not only a book full of food ideas, but a product that itself is beautiful. The demand for a design element seems to be reflective of the quality of the text; in a world where print photography is an expense that is often too difficult to come up with, what will this mean for the future of food writing?

Greg Mowery had some interesting insights about the digital future and what this means for cookbooks. The rise of tablets, smartphones, eBooks, and publishing platforms such as Cookbook Cafe, present a dimension to food writing and publishing that has yet to be fully tapped into.The transition of photography and design to the digital screen can be amplified and continually improved upon. Our culture of consumption has never been so ripe. Think about your last meal, chances are you probably posted a photo of it on Instagram. Think about the cookies you made for your girls night last week, you probably got the recipe off of the social networking site like Pinterest. Social and digital media have evolved in tandem with photography and the visual arts. The connection of food and the digital world are already inseparable; food and food publishing are specifically rooted in the concept of sharing. Not only does this concept make sense, but we can expect the evolution of foodie culture to exponentially continue along the digital surface because of that very fact. Photography is just as vibrant on the illuminated screen of an eBook or a tablet as it is on the glossy pages of a print book, and now it’s even more interactive to boot.

Publishers should not be threatened by the illusion of harm that the digital cookbook poses to print. The transition of cookbooks and food writing to the screen of a tablet or a laptop won’t render the print copy extinct, but it certainly will offer consumers an entirely different cooking and reading experience. Like other forms of writing, a print audience will remain steadfast.  As Mowery mentions, “Cookbooks are kitchen accessories and go-to-gifts that demand a beautiful physical print form, but the digital age ushers in an opportunity for publishers and writers to experiment as well.” Emerging trends such as quarterly magazines and regional cookbooks can benefit from the switch of print to digital, saving publisher and writers money, time, and even stress.  The world of cookbooks has never been so accessible, or exciting as it is now. Charge that iPad and dig in!