Here is the latest monthly installment of writing and photography news which provides insights into the process of writing a book and related areas. I hope that you find these topics interesting and please let me know if you have any ideas for future newsletters.
November 2020 newsletter
Until a few years ago, the traditional way for a writer to meet potential readers was to go on an author or book-signing tour. However, as in many other walks of life, there is now a digital equivalent, namely the blog tour, which has become increasingly important in these lockdown times.
Blog tours can take many forms, including an author writing guest posts or taking part in interviews. Tours which just focus on reviews are another option and, intrigued by the possibilities, I took part in one in November for my latest book The Mersey Estuary: A Travel Guide.
I wasn’t at all sure what to expect but it was run smoothly by an experienced organiser, with ten reviewers taking part over ten days. These were all people with a love of books and travel who mostly knew Liverpool and surrounding areas well. All were given a package of information on the book to weave into reviews as they wished.
Once reviews were complete, they were posted on the bloggers’ websites and a notification sent by Twitter. Some reviews appeared on Goodreads and you can read a selection here if of interest.
Generally, the reviews were much more detailed and thoughtful than I had expected and included comments on some more unusual aspects of the book, such as how it had been useful for a school geography project, on the role and value of travel guides during lockdown, and on some aspects of the design, such as the listings sections and the overall size and length. Many people also commented positively on the photographs.
Overall, It was great to get this type of detailed feedback and, now that I’ve tried it, is something that I would do again for the next book.
October 2020 newsletter
I’ve recently been trying out Instagram, thinking that it might be a good way to share photographs and find people with similar research interests. Not having looked at it before, I wasn’t sure what to expect, so thought I’d share a few initial impressions, if you haven’t used it before.
Perhaps the first surprise is that it is optimised for use on a smartphone, but there is a workaround allowing you to use it from a laptop. Photograph captions are optional but definitely make it more interesting if included. It works best if photos are in a square format.
Another surprise was the large number of hashtags that you are encouraged to use. These can be on any topic in addition to the location, such as your impressions of a place. Hashtags prefixed with igers are widely used to share photos on a theme, such as #igersliverpool or #igersmersey.
Overall, it seems straightforward to use although I’ve barely looked at Instagram Stories, which are another popular feature. If you are interested to take a look at what I’ve done so far, I’ve posted photographs on Outdoors Art, Wildlife, Shipping and Unexpected Sights themes, all on the Mersey Estuary (@meteowriternews). I’m also cross-posting some to Twitter and some Unexpected Sights appear in a blog post.
September 2020 newsletter
Earlier this month I enjoyed visits to three places around the Mersey Estuary that I wanted to highlight. They may be of interest to you too.
Royal Liver Building tours
For those who don’t know, the Royal Liver Building is perhaps the most impressive building on Liverpool’s waterfront, and is topped by the Liver Bird statues. I first visited it on one of the rare Heritage Open Day tours, following which practically everyone asked why these didn’t run all year!
Well, now they do and the tours are just as good as ever, with great views over the city and waterfront and of the Liver Birds. There is now also a dramatic audiovisual presentation of the history of the city in the place where the clock mechanisms are housed, and those are fascinating to see too.
New Brighton Open Air Art Gallery
New Brighton is gaining a reputation for its open air artwork, with the Black Pearl pirate ship on the waterfront and the Mermaid Trail consisting of several mermaid statues around the town. This more recent addition is in the town centre, where dramatic artwork now adorns several shops, houses and businesses, created by local, national and international artists. The most recent called Urban Heroes is a tribute to Mike Jones, a long-serving volunteer with the local RNLI station.
Time Square Warrington
When I lived in Warrington, I watched this scheme take shape from the early discussions, groundwork, demolition of a car park and the old market, and construction of new buildings. This was the first time that I had seen it complete and it’s a great addition to the town, with a bustling modern market and a wide-open square, great for outdoor performances and dining. For the first time in decades the town also has a cinema. I wish the scheme well.
August 2020 newsletter
Some tips on video production
I recently made a short video about my latest book The Mersey Estuary: A Travel Guide which was fun to do and something I’ve done in the past, such as for a classical musician and on a project in Africa.
Although I’m still learning, along the way I’ve picked up a few tips which may be useful if you are considering doing or commissioning something similar, such as for a club or voluntary organization. I thought I’d share these here and will explain more in a future blog post.
- Use a tripod – to avoid footage that looks shaky on large screens
- Use a purpose-made microphone – to get better sound quality than from a DSLR
- Don’t forget cutaways and clips – to make the video more interesting and informative
- Adjust the ISO setting – to cope with situations without enough light
- Consider a variable neutral density filter – to cope with situations with too much light, and for a more cinematic effect
- Panning isn’t as simple as it looks – and requires some practice and ideally a video tripod head
- Still photographs can be a useful addition – to help convey the story, animating them slightly if you wish
- Edit to the soundtrack – think early about how to combine audio and video in the best way, and throughout the editing process
- Have a plan – it sounds obvious, but don’t just go out filming without preparation, forgetting clips and other useful additions!
- Learn from others – watch other similar documentaries and short films for ideas on both filming and editing
I’m sure experts will have many more suggestions but hopefully these are useful.
July 2020 newsletter
For photography enthusiasts and authors who provide their own illustrations, here in case it’s of interest is more on the mentoring scheme that I mentioned in a recent blog post. This was with the Guild of Photographers which is a UK-based organization and offer mentoring to both professional and non-professional members.
If you wish, the scheme can lead to qualified status, which is assessed by a panel of independent judges. This requires 21 photographs to be submitted on three or more themes and these are assessed against a range of technical and other criteria, such as impact and style. I chose two maritime themes – for Liverpool and Edinburgh – and one on cities.
My mentor was a professional photographer specializing in portrait and travel photography and it was really useful to step back and look at images from an expert’s point of view. Initially I wondered if there would be a lot of comments on the technical aspects but instead if I had to pick three areas that we focussed on, these were:
- Composition – making it clear what the subject is for each photograph, and drawing the viewer’s attention to that subject
- Background distractions – carefully checking images at full size, as often the tiniest speck of dust or minor object in the background would be noticed
- Post-processing – trying to get as much as possible right at the time of the shot (‘in camera’) to minimise the need for post-processing later
If you are interested in the scheme, information is available on the Guild of Photographer’s website. Most photographic clubs and societies can also advice on qualification via this and other routes, such as the Royal Photographic Society, and are another useful source of constructive feedback on photographs.
Submitting photographs to a stock photography agency can also be illuminating as they have strict acceptance standards, and can also lead to a modest additional income if enough people like your photographs.
For example, in the case of Alamy, a long established UK agency, there are more twenty quality control criteria to meet for each photograph, such as checking for blemishes, colour cast, excessive sharpening, noise, over manipulation and a lack of definition. My portfolio of Mersey Estuary photographs is at this link if interested.
June 2020 newsletter
The June 2020 issue contained just a short entry about a new photo guide available to newsletter subscribers.
Estuary photo guide
I’ve been visiting estuaries for years to research books and enjoy the scenery and wildlife and have produced a pictorial guide to share some sightseeing ideas in the following categories:
1. Waterside walks
2. A Bird’s Eye View
3. Sunsets and clouds
4. Seal spotting
6. Tidal bores
7. Maritime history
8. Ports and harbours
9. Boat trips
10. Maritime festivals
There are examples from the Parrett Estuary in Devon to the Firth of Forth in Scotland, including the Severn Estuary, Mersey Estuary and some estuaries in Cumbria.
It is available to new subscribers to this newsletter but please let me know if you would like a copy too.
May 2020 newsletter
The May 2020 newsletter was issued during lockdown and I found this unusual perspective interesting.
Working during lockdown: some reflections from sea and space
In normal times, naval officers and astronauts aren’t my first choice for advice on a work-life balance, but soon after the lockdown began I stumbled across some tips on coping by John Bailey, a former submariner.
These were written from the point of view of someone who had spent a lot of time at sea, working in isolation.
Recently, out of interest, I revisited his thoughts and the following article provides a handy summary, although skip this link if you might be offended by the occasional swear word! Link
Astronauts face similar challenges and three who have worked on the International Space Station give a similar point of view, along with another naval officer: Link
Interestingly, much of this advice seems to have held up well and some common themes include:
- Make sure to take time out each day to follow up your own interests
- Don’t get too obsessed with news about things outside your control
- Try to make plans for the future when life returns to normal.
Also, perhaps more obviously, plan out each day at the start, eat well (within limits), take exercise, and keep up contacts with the outside world.
Of course, these analogies can only be taken so far because not everyone has the luxury of a stable financial, health and family situation, but they are interesting all the same.
April 2020 newsletter
The April 2020 newsletter was issued during lockdown and contained an item on photographic post-processing which has now been developed into a blog post on this website.
In these extraordinary times, with many normal activities on hold, amongst other things I’ve been looking a bit more into how to get the best out of your photographs through post-processing.
A few years ago when I began taking this seriously, I quickly stopped using the manufacturer’s software in favour of something more powerful. In my case, that was Adobe Camera Raw, which is available in Photoshop. I found that I could do most of the processing I needed there and tried to avoid using Photoshop at all as it seemed so complicated. I also looked at Abobe’s Lightroom but preferred to do my own file cataloguing independently of any software, an approach that I’ve kept to this day.
After a while, based on the great reviews it was getting, I decided to try another approach: DXO’s Optics Pro, which is now called DXO PhotoLab. Some key features included its comprehensive library of camera/lens correction tools and powerful noise reduction algorithms. It also includes many automated functions to give you ideas for what to improve.
For various reasons, I’ve now gone almost full circle in that, whilst I still use PhotoLab for the initial processing of RAW files, I have returned to using Adobe Camera Raw for further improvements, including its great option for removing spots, if there are any.
After resisting it for many years, I now also find Photoshop indispensable for final fine-tuning and for resizing files for web, book and other applications, and use it more and more. I also occasionally use DXO’s Nik Collection plug in for Photoshop for additional processing.
This approach works for me but if you search on photography workflows online you may feel that there are as many approaches as photographers! The key though is to find something that you feel comfortable with and which gives consistent results without taking hours of your time.