Thursday, January 23, 2014

Cape Cod Nights - a book by Timothy Little

"Cape Cod Nights" - the cover of Timothy Little's new book ~ A Photographic
Exploration of Cape Cod and the Islands After Dark (click to enlarge)
How Timothy Little got his book published: Ever since Timothy's book, Cape Cod Nights, came out last June, I've been interested in exploring how he did it. His adventure in having a photo book published might inspire you to move forward with your own ideas. First of all, let me be clear: This is not a self-published book or a vanity book. The publisher, Schiffer, printed the first run of 1,000 copies at no cost to Timothy, and is currently handling the distribution through established channels, and sending out copies at his direction to any local stores that don’t already have a relationship with Schiffer. "Many prominent local photographers had partnered with Schiffer on book projects, so I knew they were reputable." says Timothy.

"A Commons Christmas"
His original idea: Before the idea for a book began, when someone asked to see a sample of Tim's night photography work, he would usually show them a small photo album or a slideshow on his smart phone. When he started thinking about selling his work at art shows he wanted to have something a little more presentable. So the original decision was to self publish a few print-on-demand, copies of a hard cover, coffee table style book that he could let people thumb through like a catalog. He knew that using a print-on-demand service (such as blurb), would cause the cost of the book he had in mind to probably exceed about $100 per copy —not making it a realistic product to offer for sale to the general public. As a result, sales of the book never crossed his mind. Cape Cod Nights, or simply "Cape Nights" as it was originally to be named, was going to be limited to one copy as his portfolio/catalog, and that was it. "Since I wanted it to have a professional feel, I spent a lot of time looking at various layouts from published works at my local book stores," says Timothy.

The locally famous "Red
Chair" at a local golf
course, under a full moon
Somewhat by accident... One of Tim's visits to the Cape Cod section at a nearby Barnes and Noble lead to something unexpected. When opening one of the many Cape themed books, a bookmark dropped out and printed at the top of it was a simple question — "Do you have an idea for a book?" Timothy took it home, where it sat on a desk for a week or two until he decided to visit the publisher's website; and after realizing that he had nothing to lose and no expectations, he submitted a few lines about what a book from him would look like, and why it would be different than all the others featuring Cape Cod. Timothy wrote, "I'm not sure if you need any more photography books featuring Cape Cod, but I guarantee you don't have anything like what I do; I only shoot the Cape at night."

Two weeks later he got the auto-response thanking he for his idea; and two weeks after that he got a call from the publisher. They were intrigued and wanted to know more and see some examples of his photography. And so, what started as a one-off book of night photography grew into a full-blown book contract!

"The Late Tree"
Challenges: The hardest part of the book project was what Tim calls the "Sophie's choice" moment. This was at the end of nearly eighteen months of reprocessing over 200 photographs, writing chapter introductions and image captions, and bouncing layout ideas back and forth with the publisher. It was now time to tighten up the content for the page count and eliminate 25 images. At no point was the process more difficult than this moment. About this experience, Timothy says, "It took the full ten days the publisher gave me to make those decisions; and because I wanted the book to be a complete surprise to family and friends, as far as content was concerned, I couldn't ask anyone for advice."

One of the biggest challenges Timothy faced surrounds the logistics of locations on Cape Cod. When he first started shooting, the area was more or less a blank canvas and there were many easily accessible locations for night photography. As he crossed those public places off the list, it became apparent that he had limited access. Cape Cod has a lot of private beachfront property, so he found himself having to spend more time planning. Gone were the days of simply getting in the truck and aimlessly driving. However, as his portfolio increased, so did his local recognition. Without a portfolio of work, asking someone to access their property at night, to take pictures, was lunacy.  Now that he could point to a well-stocked website and a future book, the doors opened easier, and in some cases, people started seeking him out.

"Technicolor Bath House" – This shot was the most physically demanding photograph of anything Timothy
had shot to that point. Determined to get this right in a single frame, it took about five attempts to
successfully light paint each of the sixteen doorways inside the four minutes exposure time
he had allowed for the shot! ~ © Timothy Little (click to enlarge)
Tools and software: As silly as this sounds, one of Tim's most important tools in keeping him going on all those nights is the playlist on his iPhone, aptly dubbed, "Shoot The Moon." The playlist helps him step into that different headspace that one needs when wandering around with camera equipment after dark. It's a mix from Neil Young, to Ryan Farish, to Crosby Stills and Nash, to John Mayer, and even some twangy country. "While I do enjoy the solitude and quiet that comes with the night, I also like backing it up with a low volume soundtrack," says Timothy.

Second to the playlist is his shutter release cable (of which he always carry a spare.)  "I can make do without a tripod in a crunch, and have before, but if I lose that cable, I'm done for the night!"

"Nauset Stars"
Until recently, Lightroom has been his software of choice for post processing. In the past, he's tried to avoid complex processing techniques such as layering and HDR in favor of experimenting with more organic techniques in the field. For instance, rather than taking a short exposure of a light house beacon and layering it with a longer exposure of the light house itself, he will wear a black glove, and when the light house beacon flashes, he just blocks the lens! "I enjoy employing tricks such as these because it gives me more of a physical connection to my work process, much in the same way light painting does."

"On the other hand, there are plenty of circumstances in which Photoshop layering is a must. I've previously left a lot of shots on the table because of my resistance to that type of post processing; but, I've started to come around on that, and as a result, new opportunities are opening up," says Timothy.

Shockamore Bridge
What Timothy gained from the book project: Before the book, he was more focused on the experience of shooting at night as opposed to the resulting photographs. The photographs were originally just meant for his enjoyment and for sharing between family and friends.  It was a way for him to unwind. A good night of shooting could erase a bad day at work. The experience of doing the actual shooting was what he was after, and the photographs were memories of those nights out. "Seeing that a publisher was interested in showing off what I was doing was a form of unexpected validation," says Timothy.

Now that he had a book project, Tim wanted to make sure he had enough work to round out the pages and cover as much of the Cape as possible.  While he previously only shot within a few towns of his home, he now doubled his shooting radius so that the book would appeal to as many people as possible.  It also forced him to discover new areas that he might not have been looking for otherwise.

"Moon Shock"
"Once I knew that my photographs were going to be featured in a book that people would actually spend money on, I got very serious about making sure I put that extra effort in capturing Cape Cod in ways they hadn't seen before. I regularly heard comments like ‘I hope this is in your next book.’ [This] energized my nights out."

The book has propelled his work onto the pages of local newspapers and magazines, putting his photography in front of a wider audience.  "I regularly get emails from folks who grew up in the area and have since moved, [telling] me that my photography really strikes a chord with them, and helps to connect them to Cape Cod, no matter where they are."

"Lunar Boats"
"Seeing it on the shelf of that same Barnes and Noble, where I first encountered the bookmark a few years ago, never ceases to amaze me.  Seeing it repeatedly out of stock, and being told by the staff that it’s constantly moving doesn’t hurt to hear either."

Future plans: Even though Cape Cod Nights is done and published, the thought of a possible second book helps motivate Timothy to keep shooting, keep searching for that next new location, and keep sharing what he's shooting with the people who follow him.

For Timothy, this whole night photography thing was never meant to be more than just a guy with a camera, zoning out to some Micheal Hedges acoustic guitar solos, and unwinding after a long day. Now, it's grown into book signings, speaking invitiations, workshops and gallery shows.  In the next few weeks, he should be getting the numbers on this holiday season's book sales. With any luck, he'll be pitching a sequel to Cape Cod Nights with a heavier focus of some of the wacky stories that have been generated as he has been shooting after dark.

Summer 2013 was the first time he had offered workshops and since they all sold out, and the wait list for future workshops continues to grow, he plans to scheduling more of them for 2014.

Timothy Little in front of
Cape Cod's Railroad Bridge
Timothy Little is the only Cape Cod photographer that shoots exclusively at night.  His book, Cape Cod Nights, is the first book to capture this popular New England destination after dark.  Tim is the owner of Cape Night Photography. Besides “the Cape,” he also enjoys spending time in the Mojave Desert of California, capturing its night skies and shooting abandoned roadhouses and Joshua trees.   Tim is a licensed amateur radio operator and often talks to people from around the world from his truck in the wee hours of the morning, while driving between destinations.  He also owns a very high maintenance beagle. Galleries featuring Cape Cod, the Mojave, and points between can be seen on his website.

"The act of shooting at night is what I enjoy the most," says Tim. "The entire experience is a meditative one for me. I shoot alone, away from from people most of the time.  When you wait for the exposure to complete, you tend to absorb your surroundings. I can look at every one of my images and remember how I was feeling at that moment, how the weather was and what music I might have been listening to.  In a strange way, it's made my past a lot more vivid than it would be otherwise."

"GM Bus" is located outside a large junkyard in Pearsonville, CA (self proclaimed hubcap capital of
the world). Photo taken in 2009 while attending one of Troy Paiva's workshops. The image ended
up being one of Timothy's most sold images. ~ © Timothy Little (click to enlarge)
Despite the success he's enjoyed in recent years, Timothy says, "I still love attending Troy Paiva's workshops for some of his zany locations, always learning something new and meeting some truly terrific likeminded folks.  However, even if none of this had played out the way that it has, I'd keep doing the very same thing that I set out to do from day one —getting outside at night under the moon and stepping into that alternate universe."

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  1. Thanks so much for this in depth article about a truly gifted photographer. I've so enjoyed his first book, giving some away as gifts and am looking forward to a possible second one in the future. I check regularly on his website to view his extensive galleries and his interesting blogs.

  2. So inspirational. Thank you for this incredible article. It really kind of sparks a fire for my own pursuits having this talented man's story laid out like this.

  3. Very nice pictures! and great article!

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