Strobist's Next Phase

Note: The following letter is mainly for the benefit of those of you who have been with me for a while now, as those people who just drift through occasionally will probably not notice the difference.

I first came up with the idea (and the name) for Strobist in February of this year, after being invited by a colleague to give the same lighting talk for the umpteenth time to a fresh group of college students in Baltimore.

Instead, I decided to put it all down in writing once and for all. That way I would not have to repeat myself, and I could save some precious discretionary time.

Boy, was I wrong.

One thing led to another, and the site pretty much went nuts. Word spread faster than I ever thought possible. Not because it is better than anything else -- it's not. Because a lot of people would like to know more about using flash, and there really isn't anything like the site anywhere else on the web.

As the number of hits grew each day, the site began to take on a life of its own. There is something about getting dozens of e-mails a day from appreciative readers asking for more to lead you to give them just that. You can crank out an incredible amount of work when sufficiently motivated.

Since early April, went the site went "live," I have posted approximately 200 articles and you have responded with more than a million(!) pageviews. That blows my mind.

Interested tidbit - that flipping of the switch in early April was via (spotty) cellphone internet connection in a hotel room while dog-tired from shooting a long day on the road for The Sun. How appropriate.

Shortly thereafter, I got sick. And, glutton for punishment that I am, I used the time to crank out about a dozen posts. Two or three of which actually had coherent content. Credit the haze of Thera-Flu for much of Lighting 101.

I had several goals associated with doing the site.

1) Create a body of work that would serve as a reference for anyone who wants to learn how to light cheaply, and without needing a pack mule. (I feel I accomplished that one.)

2) Give myself a creative outlet that was entirely within my control to help to further my own understanding of light by teaching others. (Check - and it has really recharged my own batteries.)

3) Create more net free time in the long run by only having to go through the process once. (Uh, nope. Missed that one by a mile.)

4) Make the site free to all who wished to learn from it. (Did that. Free, and worth every penny.)

5) Build a community of minimalist lighting enthusiasts. (Almost 1,000 enthusiastic and interesting folks, and counting.)

6) Possibly create a site with a high rate of traffic, with an ad model that would lead to a decent supplimentary income. (Yes, and no.)

Number six is at the center of my delimma.

The site is producing a decent part-time income, but nothing proportionate to the the huge amount of work involved. Exacerbating the issue is the fact that the work is being done in my marginal time, at the expense of quality time with my family. And sleep. I am writing this at 1:45 am local time.

The way I see it, I have three choices.

I can give up the site. I can work the business model harder to try to make the income proportionate to the large amount of time that this requires. Or I can scale back the posting frequency and try to reclaim some evenings with my family.

I am choosing choice number three. And as I have always been honest and open about all of the lighting stuff, I am choosing to be up front with the website stuff, too.

Regular readers will notice the changes soon, but I wanted to give you guys a heads-up first.

Here they are.

First, no pre-existing content is going away. If it is here, it will stay here. I want this place to be a free reference for current and future readers.

Second, in my effort to maximize the income to the site, it has gotten pretty tarted up with flashy ad links and displays. I will be exchanging most of those for a few, simple image links that will allow people who wish to support the site to painlessly do so when they shop at Amazon or Adorama. These will be simple and without the flashy bells and whistles that I think are severely cluttering up the overall look.

I am strongly considering using the best ad "real estate" on the site to call attention to non-strobe stuff that is even more important than good light, and worth reading about. I get between 10k and 20k page hits a day. If I can teach you about light and make the world just a little better place - even a tiny bit - that's a very good thing.

Third, I am 100% in favor of completing Boot Camp. I think it has developed into a wonderful "group learning" experience for all of us - myself included. I am pretty sure nothing like this has ever been done on the web before (with flash photo, at least) and I am just as curious to see where this goes as some of you are. So, if you're game, so am I. Don't look for Boot Camp II next semester, though. It will go down as a unique experience.

Fourth, regular readers will henceforth notice a decrease in posting frequency. My goal is to publish fewer, more developed pieces. Yes, I know this breaks a cardinal rule of blogging. But it was pretty much the only blogging rule left that I had not yet broken. (Brevity comes to mind as an early casualty.) So, what the heck.

Fifth, the freed-up time will allow me to explore other educational venues. I can tell you that there is at least one seminar in the planning stages, and more info will be available soon. I am also talking with people from a couple of pre-existing educational organizations about bringing my approach into their workshops.

I hope to at least partially reverse the "many-hours-for-very-few-dollars" ratio that I have apparently embraced in the genre of lighting education. But whatever I do will be very affordable, or I won't do it. I simply do not believe that good light has to cost a lot.

I see this last item as an exciting development. In partnership with another (local) organization, we have come up with a workshop model with a very high content-to-cost ratio. If it is successful, it will not be the last time I do it. And I could hop on a plane and do it just about anywhere. I love the dynamic of working face to face with a classroom-sized group of people. The learning and enthusiasm are contagious.

Most important, the biggest change for me will be to reclaim some very precious family time, which I see slipping away along with the last weeks of summer vacation. My kids will never be 5 and 8 again. And quality time lost with them and my wife is more expensive than I can afford.

Finally, I want to thank from the bottom of my heart those people who have shared with me the hundreds of notes about how much they have learned from the site. I absolutely love teaching people, and hope to continue. And I could not ask for a better and more enthusiastic group of readers. I mean that.

So, I hope you'll understand and join me the next phase of this experiment.

You guys have always been a very opinionated bunch, and I do not expect that to change now. So I am sticking a thread on Flickr to house your comments, rants, reactions, curses, suggestions, etc., to this development here.

I know I do not have to mention this, but please let me know what you think.



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