Re-visiting the idea of the long tail. Buying valuable knowledge in an inexpensive book.

I wrote my first photography book back in 2007 and it was published in 2012. That seems to mean that the information in the book is five years old and, like cheese, it must be past its expiration date by now. But oddly, it continues to sell briskly on Amazon. I think it's because while the model numbers of the flashes and cameras and radio triggers change faster than a presidential candidates position the core stuff, the real information has hardly changed or been rendered obsolete. The basics are still the basics even though publishers are always trying to repackage the basic information with new visual candy. The book has been ranked as high as #19 on Amazon in its early days, and, for the last few days, it's been in the top 20 to 30 thousand books on Amazon.  Pretty amazing to me when I consider that there are over 8 million titles to choose from in their sales catalog.

Most interesting to me when looking last night at Amazon's tally of the four lighting books I've written is that all four of them, at that moment in time, were still in the top 100 books about photographic lighting. What this tells me is that people are looking for the concepts and details more than they are au currant illustrations. It also shows me the power of creating intellectual property with a long tail. Last year my publisher wanted to revise this book but I think it still has some legs. It's got forty five star reviews and I still get e-mails from people around the world who find the contents valuable.

I am a firm believer that books are the best value proposition for self education on the market today. They are infinitely re-readable. Unlike streaming workshops on the web one can stop and mull over a concept and then go on reading. A book will sit in the back pocket of your camera bag or on the back seat of your car and wait for you to come back to it. The batteries won't run down. You can look at illustration photographs side by side. You can pass it along. You can write notes in it. You can rip out the pages and tack them to your wall. You can share it.  And when you come back to it time and again it always seems a little different. The market and products may shift and change but the basics are more robust. All of that for the price of four or five vente mochas at Starbucks. Seems reasonable to me.

If you aren't familiar with the book above it's my stab at explaining why I thought we were destined to evolve our shooting styles from big, heavy lights to smaller, battery powered flashes and it also provides a guide of what kind of gear to buy and how to use it to your best advantage.


  1. I've just kind of stepped back about 30 years with regard to lighting...

    In the last month, I've acquired and nearly completely repaired four Norman 200B packs and heads. All that remains is installing the low voltage trigger adapters into each head and getting batteries suitable for portable operation.

    They are very obscure, to be sure: They suck nearly 20 Amps at 12V when they start charging the caps. They have a positive ground (I'd never ever touched a device with positive ground before these). But for just over $200, it's 16X the power of a single, modern AA-powered flash (200B is 200 W-s each vs. <=50 W-s for a typical flash).

    To be sure, I did not initially set out to acquire 4 - I saw one on Craig's List and it was cheaper than donating/converting a newer portable flash into a Sunpak 120J equivalent. That first one had an issue with the tube not extinguishing before the inverter turned back on, so I bought two more dead packs with heads, and then another pack...

    Now if only I could channel all the interest and energy I have for tinkering with equipment into actually developing and using my artistic abilities...

  2. Kirk,

    all of your books are awesome, and I even prefer them to the one you've said you learned from (that would be "Light, Science and Magic"). For all of your blog visitors who never tried and bought even one: big mistake. Run to your next bookstore and have a look into them, they're all worth it.

    Can hardly wait for your novel. But I understand that work comes first.

    All the best, and thanks for everything that you did for the rest of us already,

    1. Hi Wolfgang! The novel is so close. I'm waiting on Belinda to finish the design and the cover. I'm hoping it's ready before Christmas. I'm think I'll spend the rest of my life writing novels about my new character, the photographer. So much fun.

      Thanks for the glowing mini-review of the books.

  3. There are lots of amazing classic photo instructionals written in the film age that are still relevant in the digital age.

    And in video, there's the amazing Dean Collins instructionals, which are jam-packed with useful information.

  4. The real knowledge in books doesn't get obsolete. Only the catalog of tools that seems to go along with the books. If you don't need a buying guide the books live for a long time.

  5. Damn good book for real photographers.


Comments. If you disagree do so civilly. Be nice or see your comments fly into the void. Anonymous posters are not given special privileges or dispensation. If technology alone requires you to be anonymous your comments will likely pass through moderation if you "sign" them. A new note: Don't tell me how to write or how to blog!