We love getting packages in the mail! Especially surprise packages. So it was with great pleasure that we recently opened a small brown cardboard box. The anticipation mounted as we ripped back the tape and peeled open the lids. What we found inside was even more exciting than we could have imagined; it was a signed copy of photographer Zack Arias’s new book, Photography Q&A: Real Questions. Real Answers. The book features questions and answers from his popular Q&A blog, as well as an inspiring foreword from Rolling Stone senior photo editor Sacha Lecca.
After looking through the book—and discovering a few nice shout-outs to WM!—We got in touch with Zack to learn more about his latest accomplishment. Not only was he kind enough to answer all of our questions (as well as almost 1400 photographer ones!) he also offered up three signed copies of his book to WM blog readers! So if you’d like to be in running for a copy, read our interview and then get to comment on this post about why you think you deserve Zack’s awesome book!
Enjoy and good luck…
What inspired you to start your Q&A blog?
Honestly, I got pissed off at a web site that was created to help new photographers go pro. It was filled with bad advice and gave no respect to those who have gone before us. It actually infuriated a number of people in the industry. It was a top ten list sort of thing, so I decided I would start a top 1000 list by answering 1000 questions submitted by photographers.
Did you think it would become as popular as it has?
No. Not at all. I figured it would fill a need in the industry, but I didn’t think it would turn into a book or get the traffic that it does. I started it last summer, and the Q&A blog has received more than 1.8 million page views.
How many questions have you answered so far? And which has been your favorite?
I’m close to answering 1400 questions to date. I try not to cover the same sort of question over and over. It’s hard to say what my favorite question is. My favorites (plural) typically deal with the more philosophical aspects of being a photographer. I like those because they’re dealing with stuff I’m dealing with in my own brain. Those are the kinds of questions that as I answer them for someone else, I’m also answering them for myself. On my site I have an “Ask” box and a “Search” box. I think some folks get those two confused and type search terms into the ask box. Some folks are searching for some odd things. The hardest ones to answer are those where you can tell someone is at the end of their rope. They want this so badly but they have so far to go. It’s hard to be honest with some folks when they are in that spot. I know how it goes though. I’ve been there before and will probably be there again in some way. Sometimes it’s tough to kick someone’s ass when they’re already down, but I work hard to lend a hand and help them back up. I won’t sugar coat the medicine though. I’m going to be honest. Some say I’m mean and cynical, but if you’ll track with me through the blog, you can tell that’s not the case.
Why help other photographers?
Because I have had so many questions and so many people have helped me. This is my way of returning the favor and paying it forward, so to speak.
How did you go about turning the blog into a book?
I have had offers to write a book from a few different publishers, and I’ve always politely turned them down. I wasn’t ready to write a book. Of all the publishers though, I kept a relationship with Ted Waitt, an editor at Peachpit Press. He’s a great guy and has always been sincerely interested in what I do. When I reached question 700 or 800, I sat back and thought, “I think I just wrote a book.”
I then emailed Ted about it and put a proposal together. Within a few months, he was flying to Atlanta to help me start the process of putting the framework together.
What was involved in choosing the questions to include?
I initially pulled 150 or so questions out of the blog that I felt were a good sampler of the types of issues photographers are dealing with. Everything from gear, to technical advice, to lighting, etc. Then marketing, networking, dealing with subjects and clients, branding, and so on. I printed each of these out from the blog and Ted and I then spent a few days sorting them. Some got axed and some were combined into one. Once the framework was there, I spent a few months editing the body of the text and started adding photos and shooting new work to illustrate the answers. The blog is the rough draft, the book is the final—complete with photos, metadata, forms, etc.
How did you go about getting Sacha Lecca to write the forward?
I met Sacha at a portfolio review a few years ago and have kept in touch with him since. He’s got a heart of gold and he truly loves photography and photographers. I logged on to my tumblr page one day and saw that he’d liked one of my recent posts. I was honored and nervous all at once! “Oh man. This thing is on Sacha’s radar!” (I had a similar feeling the first time A Photo Editor linked to the blog). When the discussion of having a foreword written came up during editing, I thought of a number of people who I wanted to approach to write it. Then my wife, Meghan, and I almost simultaneously said “Sacha.” I emailed him a few days later and he was on board!
What has the response been to the book?
It’s been great so far. Far better than I was expecting. It’s getting great reviews on Amazon and a few photo blogs.
Do you plan to continue with the blog?
The blog is still going! I don’t answer questions at the same furious pace as I did before the first 1000 questions, but I’m on there a few times per week and I’m still answering questions.
Have you learned anything yourself through your creating blog and book?
I’ve learned that you can take on a big task, like writing a book, by dealing with it a little bit each day. I had shied away from writing a book before because I knew how monumental that task can be. I never started out to turn this into a book, but little by little each day I wrote a book in less than a year. I’ve also learned that if you honestly and sincerely work to create something that has signal, people will respond to that. That top ten list site that originally pissed me off was a lot of noise. It was eventually pulled off the web and it has yet to return.
Check out Zack’s Q&A blog here.