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The creation of PhotographyTips.com

How this great photography website got its start


SOME PERSONAL BACKGROUND

Hi! I'm Dan McCormick. I created PhotographyTips.com.

There was a time, back in my early teens, when I was new to photography. It was love at first click. I took to it like a duck to water, and absorbed every bit of information about photography that I could get my hands on.

I built a makeshift darkroom in the basement of our family home, and can remember saving for my first quality camera - a medium format Yashica that produced big, sharp negatives. How thrilled I was to finally buy it!

I photographed anything and everything, concentrating mainly on mastering composition. It seemed that I took twenty pictures to get one good one, and fifty good pictures to get one great one. Then, I began to lower the ratio, making better and better images as experience and a hunger for learning began to have their effect.


I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with and learn from many top pros - great photographers like Rene Delbuguet of Montreal and Bruce MacAulay of Toronto. Soon, although still a hobby photographer, my pictures were getting published, in sales brochures, booklets, on posters, even in magazines and a number of annual reports, including those of a large, well-known international corporation.

TURNED PRO MYSELF

My life-long hobby became my profession when I signed on as staff photographer for a small community newspaper, taking pictures for the news, sports and lifestyle sections and running the newspaper's darkroom, often working till 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. I was delighted to receive a Community Newspapers Association Spot News Photo award. Within a relatively quick period, I was offered the editor's job and happily tailored "my" newspaper to serve its readers, featuring a special community section that had my own column and plenty of local news, pictures and features. I was still personally taking most of the paper's photographs.

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My first award-winning photograph. The boy on the left had fallen from a dock. His jacket (discarded in the water) was water-logged, making it difficult to stay afloat. I provided the life preservers while other swimmers brought him safely ashore.
My first award-winning photograph. The boy on the left had fallen from a dock. His jacket (discarded in the water) was water-logged, making it difficult to stay afloat. I provided the life preservers while other swimmers brought him safely ashore.

Team photography was one of many types that I dealt with. This picture was photographed in the arena on the ice. Ice time can be expensive. I learned how to photograph an entire team (group & individual players) in under10 minutes.
Team photography was one of many types that I dealt with. This picture was photographed in the arena on the ice. Ice time can be expensive. I learned how to photograph an entire team (group & individual players) in under10 minutes.

MY OWN STUDIO

Having seen and liked my newspaper pictures, many local people began asking me if I would take family, wedding, portrait and other photographs for them. It became clear that there was a need in our community for a commercial photographer who could deliver quality results over a wide range of assignments.

I left the newspaper to open my own studio, and was soon photographing a huge diversity of events and activities - everything from weddings to sports team pictures - and an incredible variety of commercial product shots (deer repellant, jewelery, packaged foods, costumes, commercial refrigeration equipment, mining rock samples, customized furniture, restaurant table settings, mountain bikes, paintings, sculptures, native art, custom-made spacecraft models and so on.)


In a small and busy community with limited access to professional studios, you never know what you will be photographing next. The experiences were tremendous, and I learned how to excel in more areas of photography than I would have been able to in a big city studio that specialized in one area. I would often study up on specialized shooting and lighting techniques and experiment for days before handling a shoot of something I hadn't photographed before.

I took countless portraits and family groups, shot numerous model portfolios, photographed Fire Department picnics, group pictures and test burns. My studio has had animals as small as a hamster and as large as a pony in it. In the field, I photographed hotels, resorts, bed and breakfast operations, restaurant and bar interiors, commercial fishing operations, professional guided tour businesses, award presentations, annual general meetings, trade shows, conventions, drag races, fishing derbies, stage shows, dance students, school events, government officials, actors' and authors' headshots - you name it.

THERE WAS LOTS TO LEARN.... AND I WAS A SPONGE FOR KNOWLEDGE

It was a fantastic experience. I experimented with and learned more about unusual techniques, tricks-of-the-trade, gimmicks, special effects, lighting, equipment usage, posing techniques and subject rapport than I could have in almost any other work environment. I had to, or my photography business would not have been successful, and my clients' needs would not have been met.

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Performers' headshots, portraits, model portfolios, product shoots and more occur in a busy studio, and mine was a very busy one.
Performers' headshots, portraits, model portfolios, product shoots and more occur in a busy studio, and mine was a very busy one.

A sampling of the many publications in which my photographs appeared.
A sampling of the many publications in which my photographs appeared.

My images began to appear in publications of every type, including

  • telephone book covers,
  • calendars,
  • magazine and newspaper advertisements,
  • CD album covers and entertainment posters,
  • giant transit posters advertising commercial clients,
  • real estate newspaper covers and community directories,
  • trade publications,
  • brochures,
  • booklets,
  • book covers,
  • school textbooks,
  • neighboring city newspapers,
  • web sites, and so on.
My client list also began to grow. I soon found myself working under Government contract as the official photographer for our region's Native Band Treaty negotiations, taking rental-location images for folks in the movie industry, making portraits of elders for our local Native Band's Traditional Use Study, handling fashion shoots for local merchants and shopping centers, shooting food product shots on a weekly basis for grocery store flyers, taking fund-raising pictures for our hospital, and real estate publicity images, including a wonderful three-day assignment photographing an exotic island estate belonging to an internationally well-known personality.

There are few areas of photography that I haven't touched upon, it seems.


THERE'S MORE TO PRO PHOTOGRAPHY THAN JUST TAKING GOOD PICTURES

In the years spent running my own commercial photography business, I learned a great deal about invoicing, accounting, customer service, record-keeping, negative and physical media storage, archival and retrieval systems for what must be hundreds of thousands of images.

I also learned about framing, presentation, photo portfolios, advertising, time management, bulk purchasing of supplies, differentiating the good labs from the mediocre labs, pricing, job costing and estimating.

That was a lot to accumulate, but there was even more. I discovered how to achieve additional sales and learned about upselling, advertising and promotion, contracts and agreements, pitfalls to avoid, which associations to join, hiring and managing assistants and contractors, dealing with hairdressers, make-up artists and image consultants, negotiating with models and agents, handling large groups, small children and concerned and watchful mothers.

There is much to know about successfully running a photography business. A good deal of it was new to me when I first began, and some of it was actually intimidating. But, I knew I had to know what the specialist pros know if I was to succeed. I just had to know it in a wider range of areas. And I felt I had to compete at their level, producing top-quality photographs for my clients. There is no substitute for excellence.

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I BECAME A PHOTOGRAPHY TEACHER

I collaborated with the local regional government's Recreation Department in the creation of a summertime program for teen-aged girls who wished to learn about modeling for photographers. The program was a huge success and was repeated for three separate sessions. It also opened the door to my becoming an instructor for the Regional District in Basic Photography. It's true when they say if you really want to learn about photography, then teach it.

I thought I knew just about everything to do with basic photography, and was brought back to reality by the incisive, innocent and often simplistic questions that I faced as an instructor. It's amazing how much we take for granted. This experience reinforced in me the necessity to never assume that your audience knows what you are talking about unless you have already explained it, and to make things crystal clear and understandable when you are teaching or passing on information.

DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY - THE NEWEST FRONTIER

Then along came the digital world - another revolution in the tumultuous history of photography. I started using a digital camera soon after the first truly-practical studio digital camera became available. I went through the technology step-by-step, learning from every possible source, questioning everyone I met who knew anything about it, experimenting and trying new techniques, often even comparing images taken in 35mm format in side-by-side shoots in the studio and in the field.

Digital photography quickly became integrated into my business. This meant a sizable, new investment in camera equipment and accessories, including a high-end computer system and peripherals. Although I sometimes may employ a medium-format camera system and various Nikon and other proven cameras, my main camera these days seems to be the Nikon D2X, an older digital masterpiece. I also always travel with a very handy digital camera made by Fujifilm, the FinePix S 9100, for quick shots at unexpected moments, and am quite pleased with it. Digital photography has truly come into its own with today's high-quality cameras producing such superb images.

Some would say that I was approaching the pinnacle of my professional photography life. I had a very busy, growing studio, was making money, had an impressive list of clients and accomplishments, felt there was nothing I couldn't photograph as well as anyone else or I'd exhaust myself trying, but.... I began to think, what if I could go to the next level, and somehow transfer all the knowledge about photography that I'd accumulated and learned over 40 years of private and professional life to others, and still make a good living?

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER - THE BIRTH OF PHOTOGRAPHYTIPS.COM

By the time 1999 rolled around, I knew a good deal about photography and had detailed photographic experiences in a broad range of areas that many photographers may never be exposed to. I could also write reasonably well, and was able to explain complex things in a clear, logical and thorough manner. And I truly enjoyed people getting excited about taking pictures and especially taking better pictures. In fact, nothing excited me more than to see someone's pictures improve as a result of something I said or showed them. It still has the same effect. I receive countless emails from people who say they just "didn't get it" before they visited PhotographyTips.com, and now they understand. Many send in their pictures, often the befores-and-afters, sometimes just the "afters," to show how their photography has improved. It is tremendously gratifying.

The internet came along at just the right time. I acquired the domain name "PhotographyTips.com," which said it all, and began to prepare material for the "impossible dream" - to become the internet's best photography resource. I engaged the services of one of our nation's top website designers, Bad Dog, Inc., and the programming services of the incomparable WebOnTheFly.com, who made personal editing and managing of the site a breeze. And, I hired one of North America's top illustrators, a man who can draw anything just the way you want it, Stuart McKenzie from LooksGood Creative (now known as StooArt.com) to create our friendly squirrel mascot in its many forms, each design suited to the topic being discussed. You couldn't get a better team.

More than ten years of 12-hour days and seven-day-weeks later, PhotographyTips.com has become a highly-acclaimed, very popular and terrifically practical web site. Photographers at all levels from rank beginners to advanced amateurs to top pros can learn things here. And this website is still young. It has a long way to go. In fact, our plans for adding new material are very exciting. We'll be touching on topics that everyone wants to know about, and hopefully doing it better than anyone else.

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PHOTOGRAPHYTIPS.COM GOT DISCOVERED

Soon after its launch in early 2001, people began to say good things about the website, including folks from a number of well-known publications who visited the site, liked what they saw, and began to say complimentary things about us.

PhotographyTips.com has now been featured in or on:
  • Australian National Radio,
  • the BBC,
  • USA Today,
  • the USA Today website,
  • Netsurfer Digest, on the web,
  • the Kim Komando Show's web site,
  • Earthlink's Elink newsletter,
  • The Lockergnome newsletter,
  • the Free Pint newsletter,
  • PC World.com,
  • PC World magazine, in its March, 2002 7th Annual Guide to the Best Free Stuff on the Web,
  • Alienbees.com,
  • Backwash.com (twice),
  • the Internet Web Guide Magazine,
  • the New Zealand Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry Rural Bulletin,
  • Family Education.com,
  • Telus Internet Services,
  • My Old Kentucky Home.com,
  • The Tribune, the largest selling daily newspaper in North India,
  • Uniserve Net News,
  • Family Life & Health Digest,
  • the British magazine, Digital Photography Made Easy,
  • Mothers and more, and
  • Amateur Photographer magazine (the U.K.'s best selling weekly photo magazine).

The revered Vancouver Sun newspaper, in a feature article entitled Top Sites on the Internet [May 29, 2004], placed us second in a list of the top 20 of "the best and most practical" photography websites on the Net. The website for the renowned Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography was the only one that appeared ahead of us.

PHOTOGRAPHYTIPS.COM IS LIKE A LIVING MAGAZINE THAT ALWAYS HAS SOMETHING NEW

Like a top photography magazine, there is something new, interesting and exciting added every month to Photographytips.com, and sometimes more often - new tips, new techniques, whole new sections on previously-untouched categories, and more. Unlike a photo magazine that is on the periodicals shelf for only a relatively short time, the information that is on PhotographyTips.com and that is regularly added and updated to the website remains available to viewers at any time of the night or day.

I hope you will stay with me and join the site as a subscribing member (only $4.95 a month, or $49.50 for an annual membership) so you can enjoy all the benefits that being a member will bring, including unlimited access to everything that is already on the site, and immediate access to all new material that is currently under development as soon as it appears on the website. And there is lots of exciting new content on the way.

PhotographyTips.com has undoubtedly come a long way and still has a long way to go. It is always under construction. New information and tips are constantly being added, and its members will be there every step of the way to benefit and learn more about improving their photography.

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