Thursday, November 29, 2007

How To Adjust Your Pictures

In previous articles, we’ve taken up how to take good pictures, and also how to crop and resize them.

Let’s take one last look at graphics issues, then, by talking about how to tweak them. Sometimes you get a picture, and it looks just fine in the framing, or composition, but it’s just a little too dark. Or maybe it’s a little too light. How can you fix it?

Clearly it’d be too much work to reset the item, realign the lights and shoot the picture again. Maybe it’s a picture of some people at an event. You certainly can’t gather them together and have them pose again.

Most graphics editing programs have tools that allow you to adjust the picture. Let’s talk about them. I’m going to show how to do it in, which you can get for free, but other programs function in similar ways.

First, let’s open the program and open up a picture in it. Go to the “File” menu in the upper right-hand corner, and select the “Open” command. Then select the picture you want to adjust in the dialog box that follows. Open that picture.

Before we get into editing the picture for clarity, go ahead and crop and resize it, like we talked about last time.

Now go to the “Adjustments” menu and select “Levels”, and a strange little dialog box will appear over your picture. As you make changes in this box, you’ll see the changes in your picture.

The part of this that we’re going to be the most concerned with is the sliders under the “Output” area. You’ll notice there are three of them (represented by small arrows on either side of the column). You can click on these and slide them around.

At the far right, you can see a button labeled “Auto”. When you click that, it automatically checks your picture and sets it for what the computer thinks is optimal. You’ll probably notice some improvement in the picture. I think, however, that human eyes and a little experimentation can do a lot. Also, there’s a “Reset” button. That’s convenient because if you get lost in your adjustments, you can hit that and be back to the start.

Back to the sliders. The top slider represents the highlights. These are the brightest white spots of your picture. The slider in the middle represents the mid-tones, which are not so bright, but not so dark. Then, the lowest slider represents the darkest blacks.

If you grab the highlight slider and drag it down, it turns those bright whites into duller grays. You’ll notice that it also moves the midtone slider a little bit. The whole picture becomes grayer. If you grab the dark slider and move it up, it lightens the blacks a bit. It also moves the midtone slider some, lightening everything. You’ll notice that when it gets lighter it turns more pale. That’s because the are fewer darks for contrast.

Most of your adjustments will be in the midtones. Grab that slider and move it up a bit. Notice how the darks stay dark, but the overall look of the picture becomes much lighter? You can move it back and forth just to see what it does.

Do the same with the dark and the light sliders as well. Play with the input sliders. Remember that if you get it too jumbled up, you can always reset it.

By playing with these controls, you’ll soon learn how to tweak your pictures to be clear and visible!

Mark is the co-director of, the search marketing consulting arm of Clickincome ( Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

How to Get Good Blogging Ideas

I’ve been noticing a distinct trend in my blogs of late.

The funny thing is, this revelation is nothing new. I’ve known it factually for a long long time. But over the last six months I’ve seen it in action.

The more you post, the more people read. Or, in essence, “If you build it, they will come.”

Here’s what happened. At my main blog (, this summer, I got really slack in my postings. Sometimes, I’d go for two weeks without writing something new. I was just too busy. My traffic was pretty steady. Not as much as I’d like, but steady. It had plateau-ed, as they say. Fluctuations were minor, and there was no growth.

Then, I dived in and committed to writing at least twice a week. There was an almost immediate jump in the traffic, which sustained for several weeks. Then it settled into a new plateau, almost double the original traffic levels. That was very exciting news!

Also, as a result, I was noticing a significant jump in the traffic clicking over to my website, at

As I thought about what had happened last summer, I struggled to understand what had slowed me down. What was it that made the difference? One common thread stood out. What to write about?

It’s easy to get stuck without ideas. Or at least to think you have no ideas. In reality there are lots of them, blooming all around us, just waiting for us to reach over and pick them up. Here’s some suggestions on how to see them.

  1. Stop And Smell Them

I saw a cartoon the other day that really tickled me. Appropriate for the upcoming season, the drawing was of shepherds on a hillside, staring up into the heavens with brightly lit faces and awe in their expressions. As I looked at the picture I could almost hear the chorus of angels. One shepherd says to another, “I am SO blogging this!”

The point is that there are blog ideas all around us. From the most mundane to the most miraculous of events can be blogged. All it takes is a moment to recognize that something just happened, and that you can comment on it and record it for everyone, forever.

  1. Jot Them Down

The problem with the “smelling the flowers” idea is that you can’t always sit down in the moment and whip out your laptop and blog about it. And by the time you’re at your computer next, you’ve lost the idea.

Here’s a trick I learned as a songwriter: get a notebook, a small one, or some other method of writing, so you can jot down your idea. In the era of technology, there are lots of ways you could do this. I have a PDA in my pocket, so when I think of an idea, I grab it, and make a quick note about it. I don’t write the whole article. Sometimes I don’t even write more than a phrase or a word. But that’s enough to remind me what I wanted to write about and what I wanted to say. Got a cell phone? Send yourself a text message or leave yourself a voice mail. Find a system that works for you.

Then, when it’s time to blog, just open up your notes, and pick the one that strikes you at the moment to blog about. And away you go.

  1. Read A Lot Of Other Blogs

Sometimes, even when I look over my ideas list, I’m not struck. When that happens, I go out onto the ‘net and look at other people’s blogs. I have a big long list of blogs that I follow. Sometimes I’ll read the whole postings, and sometimes I just skim, but nonetheless, I’m an avid follower of blogs as well as a reader. Why? Because they give me great ideas!

No, I’m not talking about stealing someone else’s ideas, or worse, stealing their words. I’m talking about inspiration. Something someone else says will spark something in my mind, and before you know it, I’m writing.

And then, I cite them. With a link. And then I go back to their site and tell them. “Hey, I liked your idea so much that I blogged about it.” Most of the time, they link back to me, too.

  1. Read The News

Pay attention. There’s a whole world out there full of stuff that’s happening. Get aware of it. Some of it is hard-hitting, important news, like who’s getting elected, or how they’re going to fix health care in this country. Other is fluffy pop-culture stuff like who’s divorcing who and what the newest movies are.

Both of these can be good sources of ideas for your blog.

  1. Get mad

Let yourself get a bit passionate about what you’re writing. Don’t be afraid to tell it as you see it. Now, there’s a line between being upset and deliberately being provocative, controversial and outright offensive. But even that can be effective in drawing traffic.

Once you’ve got an idea, then it’s easier to just sit down and write about it. Remember: Twice a week!

Friday, November 09, 2007

How to Take Better Product Pictures

There are few things on the ‘net that will identify a website or an auction as “amateur” faster than bad graphics. Likewise, it’s hard to find something that will chase someone away from your catalog faster than unclear or badly shot photos of your products.

Now, if you’re selling things from a dropshipper or even working with a manufacturer, very often they’ll have product pictures you can get, or even download directly from their website. That’s cool, because often they’ll be shot by professional photographers, and already sized for the web. That’s so much easier.

But what if you’re selling a product you’re making yourself? Or, what if you’re selling something you already own in an eBay auction? You might not be able to capture a picture of the exact make and model off the web.

If it’s something that you’re going to be selling a lot of (in the case of the eBay auction) or if it’s something you’re going to be building your business up around (in the case of your website), you might want to consider hiring a pro, or even a good semi-pro photographer. It could be well worth it in the long run.

If, however, you don’t have the budget for that, let’s talk about some ways to make your pictures great.

  1. It’s all about the framing

One of the biggest problems I see as I look at non-professional product photos is that the item itself isn’t filling the frame. There’s a lot of space around the item, and often a lot of clutter, and irrelevant items competing for the space.

The fix? Get up close enough to fill the frame with the item. Remove the clutter from around it. Remember that the picture is of the product, not of the table with the product in the middle of it.

  1. Then it’s all about the lighting

The next biggest issue I often see is that the items are not well enough lit. This can be simply not enough light, which ends with dull and gray pictures, or it can be too much reliance on the camera’s flash, which can “white” or “bleach” out a picture with too much direct light.

My basic rule is: You will need more lighting than you think. Gather all kinds of lamps and floodlights. You’ll want to have light shining on the object from several directions: Left, right, and back. Think of the layout as a triangle with the item in the middle. Put a couple of bright lamps in each position and you might get enough light. Flood lights work very well because you can direct the light. If you’re going to be doing a lot of pictures over a long period of time, I’d recommend buying a few good photo lights.

Another option is to shoot outdoors on a sunny day. You’ll have plenty of light. Position the item so the sun shines on it from one side. The problem with this is that you’ll also have harsh shadows on the non-sunward side of the item. To lighten up those shadows, hold a big piece of white posterboard up, reflecting the sunlight back onto the item. Using posterboard instead of a mirror will diffuse the light and soften up the harsh shadows the sunlight brings.

Try and get so much light on the item that you don’t have to use your flash. A flash will send a hot, bright light straight from the camera, off the item, and back into the lens. As a result, you won’t be able to see any of the side-to-side shadows that give the picture its three-dimensional look. And, you’ll have a harsh shadow line directly behind the item as well as bright hot spots on the item itself.

With digital pictures, you can tweak the lightness, darkness, and contrast, as well as the colors in your graphics editing program after the fact. Still, the better your picture is to begin with, the less tweaking it will require.

  1. The picture space

If the framing and the lighting are working, then the next step is to take a look at the space where you take the picture. Just dropping the item onto the kitchen table isn’t as nice as having some nice cloth draped behind it.

One easy way to set up a picture-taking spot is to cut two adjacent sides out and the top off of a cardboard box, so that you’re left with the bottom and two sides forming a corner. Set a couple of books on the base to have a pedestal for your item, and then drape nice cloth over the entire thing. Gentle folds in the cloth give it texture and three dimensions. Set the item on the cloth, on the books, set your lights and take the pictures.

A “Photo Box” is another great item that you can get from a photo store. It’s a box made of translucent cloth with only the one side panel open. You set the item in the box, with the open face toward you, and shine lights toward the sides and top. The cloth will diffuse the light around the item, giving it a nice glow.

The best thing you can do is to simply take some time and experiment. Try lighting this way, that way, more, less. Look at your pictures and see which ones come out the best. It will take a lot more time the first time, but you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t. Then the next time you’re taking pictures, you’ll be ready!

Mark is the co-director of, the search marketing consulting arm of Clickincome ( Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Bring Them Back

I have a few short little stories to tell, which will all tie together in a hopefully interesting way.

First of all, I was reading some emails and I got one from a guy who teaches actors how to survive and thrive in the difficult world of the entertainment industry. He always has some good advice.

This particular time, he talked about how to really win an audition. The trick, he says, is not to stress about whether or not you’re going to get that particular part that you’re auditioning for that particular day. He says that you should go in, do your best to show your stuff, and walk out with your head up.

What happens is that if you go in and do a good job, and act professional in the process, then even if you don’t get that particular role, its very likely that at some point that casting director is going to have a role that you are just right for, and you’ll get the callback for that one. In the meantime, you’ve gotten better at acting and auditioning.

The Second story: The other day, I made some Indian food in my dutch oven. I really had a good time about it, and as I shared that with some of my other dutch ovening friends online, someone suggested I look into getting a Tandoor if I really wanted to cook Indian food. A Tandoor is essentially a big clay pot, sometimes buried, sometimes encased on concrete, and heated from below by gas or charcoal. You skewer your meat and set it down in the pot, with the handle of the skewer sticking out the top. Tandoori chicken is one of my favorite Indian dishes!

So, I started checking out websites all about Tandoors, looking at prices, sizes, features, etc… I wasn’t buying yet, just learning. Just checking. I bounced from website to website and discovered a lot about these fascinating ovens. Some are quite primitive, others quite high-tech. Some are designed for home use, some for restaurants. I learned about the features and what makes this one good and that one better.

But I didn’t buy anything. Just like the casting director. I didn’t cast the part. The actors, and the websites, ended up with nothing.

Here’s where it all ties together with running a web business: Not everyone who visits your site is going to buy immediately. Some studies show that it can take as many as 6-7 contacts with your store to entice some people to drop their money. Have you failed? No. They may come back later and buy.

Now, the trick is to discover what you can do that will make that more likely to happen!

  1. Get them to leave a trace

The first step is to entice as many visitors as possible to leave you their email addresses. Offer a prize drawing. Tell them about the amazing information they’ll miss out on if they don’t sign up. Give away something free. You can’t contact them and bring them back unless you’ve got their contact info!

  1. Send out a newsletter

When you update something on your website, send out an announcement. Got a new product line? Got some new information? Did anything change at your site? If so, let everyone know! As you’re building up your list, begin using it.

  1. But not too often

I found a website that had lots of great information about web marketing. I thought the site was cool and useful, so I signed up for the mailing list. Since then, I have rued the day that I did. Now, at least every other day, if not daily, I get something in my inbox from this guy. It’s no longer useful, informative, interesting, it has crossed over into annoying, and soon will go into my spam filter.

  1. Get into other people’s newsletters

Some newsletters that address your site’s focus will allow advertising. Buy some listings in someone else’s newsletter. Or maybe trade adds. I’ll mention you in my newsletter if you mention me in yours. You scratch my back…

  1. Be well connected in a community

In addition to the newsletter, a good way to draw traffic back to your site is to be well-linked within the web community. If someone is searching for what you’ve got, and they keep seeing it in their web travels, it will eventually draw them back to you. In addition, being well-linked within a group of topical websites will boost your search engine performance as well.

So, don’t be too sad if you miss out on the sale the first time around. Just do all you can to bring them back!

Mark is the co-director of, the search marketing consulting arm of Clickincome ( Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.