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Miki Johnson: Let’s talk a little bit about your book.
Ian Shive: The book is a 224-page, hard cover, coffee table book on the American National Parks. This is the latest and a most updated look at the parks, a modern look at a classic subject. We included six or seven places that you’ll know — the other 185 pages you’ll have to read the caption to know where that is.
The layout is also unusual. Traditionally national park books have been grouped by region or park. We bounced back and forth across all these different parks. We might show a red maple leaf on a brown pine needles in Maine, and then that color or shape relates to something in Yellowstone National Park in the middle of winter. It was our goal to show the colors and collaborations that happen in nature and are so similar no matter where you go.
MJ: And was this something that the national parks came to you about? Or was this an idea you had?
IS: The parks turn 100 years old in 2016, and I wanted to do a book on the Centennial. I have great collection of images, and I decided to work on a book over five years and develop this idea. So I started sending some emails around to gauge interest from publishers.
Cristina Mittermeier at International League of Conservation Photographers hooked me up with a publisher in California. They called and were like, we love your idea — how would you like to do the book in four months? I said okay, but I needed to pick up a few shots in the meantime. It’s pretty exciting because, from what I understand, every Borders in the country is going to having it on their front table.
MJ: That’s exciting. Is that something that you arranged or the publisher did? How did that happen?
IS: It was through the publisher. And once I had made the deal with the publisher to do this book I brought in the National Park Conservation Association as a partner. I had done a lot of work with them, and the two lead editors of the magazine have been instrumental in guiding my career as a national park photographer. So I asked them to write two essays for the front of the book, and then the president of the organization also contributed the book’s forward. They also have an insert in the book, so it helps further their message, and I’ve given a percentage of the proceeds back to the NPCA.
MJ: So tell me about these webisodes you’re doing.
IS: I’ve been working on multimedia for a while, exploring the collaboration between film, video, and still photography. For the book I had to go and pick up some shots; I had this great archive of national park sites but I didn’t have the obvious shots of Old Faithful, or Delicate Arch, or the Grand Canyon from Angel Point. The publisher said, you can do whatever you want on the other 200 pages, but there’s certain things that we need in a national park book from a market perspective. And I agreed.
So I put together a road trip to travel through the entire American West over about five weeks. I brought Russell Chadwick, who is my partner in video and multimedia, and he shot footage with his HD video camera. The idea was to get a little bit of the park, show me doing my thing, and build a multimedia piece for the web. At first we were just going to do one piece, about the making of the book, as a promo tool.
When we got back and looked at everything, the footage was stunning. We had time lapses of fog going over the mountains in Glacier and Logan Pass, and thunderstorms in White Sands, New Mexico. We had so much stuff, we decided to turn it into four six-minute segments, called Wild Exposure.
I came from a strong motion picture background, so I shared the videos with some friends in the industry and they were like, this is incredible. You’ve got to do something else with it. So I showed it around to a few people in the television network world, which has been a more arduous journey than I anticipated. But I’ve persevered, and the show’s scheduled to air this week on Current Television.
I had a meeting in San Francisco and shared the first segment with them. They thought it was really different and it fit really well with their programming. They weren’t all about changing it. They were into what the show embodies, the kind of Zen moments and a soft conservation message. They’ve agreed to run the four-part series, so 50 million U.S. households and 142,000 web visitors a day will be exposed to the show.
MJ: And they’re running these short pieces?
IS: Current has a unique approach to how they do the programming. It’s not like ABC where something begins at 7:00 and ends at 7:30 and has seven minutes worth of commercials or whatever. They have five-minute shows, two-minute shows, twenty-three-minute shows, and they all flow together. So there was no need to expand or force an expansion on the pieces.
We feel like the web has really shortened people’s attention spans. To get somebody to sit down and watch a show for 30 minutes is difficult these days. One of the strengths with Current is you can do a tightly edited, compelling six-minute show and achieve your goal, either a message of conservation or even advertising. So the show will exist as six-minute units that are spaced out. We are also looking at potentially marrying all four to be a twenty-four-minute segment.
MJ: So how do these episodes fit into your larger marketing strategy for the book?
IS: I think getting people to invest in what you’re doing is the most important part of marketing. Let’s say you walk into a Borders and you look at this book, but you’ve never seen anything else besides it. It might sell itself, certainly. But you can really augment that emotional connection that people have to the book if they have seen this six-minute segment on Glacier National Park. Somehow they feel a more personal connection with what you’re doing, and that’s when they actually buy to the book. Or they decide to crack it open and give it a longer look than they would have before.
MJ: Have you thought about how the book and episodes translate into increased visibility for you as a photographer?
IS: With 50 million U.S. households, it’s going to be very interesting. I have no idea what I’m in for. I’m hoping nothing. The last thing I want to do is get to a national park and have a ranger ask if I have a commercial filming permit.
I hope that Wild Exposure will continue beyond the book. And one thing that I have begun to discuss with the network is making the show more interactive. How cool would it be to have me in the field, and let’s say I’m doing a story on poaching in Africa, you can actually meet that poacher and hear his perspective, then introduce other characters who embody this type of conservation photography.
I also want it to stay true to Current’s prime demographic, which is 18- to 34-year-olds. I want it to continue to appeal to a younger, sophisticated, edgier, hip audience. I feel like that group is so often overlooked — certainly in nature photography. I think it’s usually geared toward older audiences, but the conservation message is all over.
MJ: Did you fund these Wild Exposure episodes yourself?
IS: I did. The payoff is the marketing. Right now there’s no money being made off it. It’s purely a marketing and promotional tool that I hope will grow into something that generates income at some point, maybe as a regular television series. Or at the very least, you know, just boosting my profile as a photographer. It’s an incredibly crowded marketplace, and everybody’s looking to get their voice heard. If you’re a book publisher and you’re looking to do a book on anything, and if your photographer shooting things, then producing a series that can be placed on the web or television seems obvious.
MJ: It sounds like it’s all paying off, but I suppose it’s always a gamble.
IS: It is. People might not respond to it. It’s very exciting, but I’m putting myself out there in many ways. I’m putting myself out there not only in print in a book, but also the show, too. People are seeing me peeking out of a tent. They’re seeing what I’m shooting, how I’m shooting it, what results I’m getting, and then they see the product I’m putting out. One thing about today’s media, and especially the web, there is a brutal honesty that I love, but it’s also brutally honest. So I’m prepared a little bit for that. I just hope people like what I’m putting out there so that I can continue to do what I love.