12 Tips for Writing a How-to Book

Have you ever wanted to write a how-to book? Need some advice? Well, you've come to the right place my friend!

Here are the tips that I have followed while writing my 36 books, the latest, Creative Visualization for Photographers.

I also following these tips when writing my e-books.

These tips apply to writing all types of how-to books, not only photography books, which is my book specialty.

1 – Study and know your subject - inside and out. Old saying: If you want to become an expert on something, write a book about it. As well as you may know a subject, hire (or have the publisher hire) a technical editor. He or she will probably catch stuff you miss and mistakes you make.

2 – Know where you are going. Before you start, have a detailed outline (which may change). If you don’t know where you are going, how are you going to get there?

3 – Respect the reader. This might be the most important tip. When writing each sentence, respect the reader. Remember, you are not writing the book for yourself, you are writing it for the reader. When writing your book, keep Amazon.com reviews in mind. You want as many 5-star ratings as possible, and you have a better chance of getting those rating if you respect the reader and do you very, very best.

Shortly after my my latest book was released, it had a 5-star rating and was #1 in three categories on Amazon. One reason: I respected the reader while writing the book.

4 – Leave no question unanswered. Don’t leave the reader asking asking the question: Why did the author not complete that line of thought? Go the extra mile when talking about a topic.

5 – Know your competition. Go on-line and see what other authors are doing on the same subject. Ask yourself: How can I make my book, better/different . . . the best?

6 – Have more material than you think you need. You need a lot of material to write a how-to book: photos, illustrations and text. In planning your book, plan on having more material than you think you need.

7 – Make it easy and fun for the publisher/editor to work with you. Be flexible. I am not the best photographer or author on the planet, but I do pride myself on being perhaps one of the easiest when it comes to working together.

8 – Give your editor specific instructions. For example, when I submit photographs, I tell my editor: "Crop my pictures and you're a dead man!" After which I add this symbol:  :-)

9 - Plan ahead. Never miss a deadline. Give yourself plenty of time to write . . .  and edit and rewrite and rewrite and edit, etc. Remember: Dates in your rear view mirror are closer than you think.

10 - Let your personality show/shine though. In reality, many other authors know what you know. What makes your book different? Your personality, your style. Write like you talk and don’t try to write too fancy. Tell a few (just a few) jokes and personal stories. Let people get to know you.

11 - Have fun! If you are not having fun writing your book, that will probably come though to your audience. Even if you are not having fun, write as though you are having fun. As I tell folks at book signings: "It's sometimes not fun writing a book, but it's always fun autographing one!"

12 – PR your book. After your book is completed, it’s really up to you to promote the book, though social media and on your web site. You are the best PR agent your book can have. Get your friends to help you promote your book, too.

When I talk about writing a book to potential authors, I share these three quotes:

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. – Ernest Hemingway

Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words. – Mark Twain

I’m writing a book. I’ve got the page numbers done. - Steven Wright

Good luck  writing your how-to book!

Here is a link to my other how-to books on Amazon.com.

Explore the light,
Rick Sammon,
Canon Explorer of Light

P.S. These same basic tips apply for producing on-line classes. Click here to read about the classes that I have produced. Again, the main element: respect the audience.


Canon EOS 5Ds Quick Field Test

Click images to enlarge.

At 9 AM this morning I took my Canon 5Ds, which arrived last week, for a field test. The location: The Chuang Yen Monastery in Kent, NY - which is about 30 minutes from my home in Croton-on-Hudson, New York and one of the locations on my Rick's Backyard Photo Workshop. Hey! I hope you can join me someday on this workshop, which I run twice a year. You will learn a lot and have a lot of fun. I promise.

My main goal for this quick test was to check out the sharpness of the files from this whopping 50.6 MP digital SLR - because one of the main reasons I choose a camera is image sharpness: I want/need the cleanest possible image. This is especially important, to me, when shooting in low-light/low contrast situations – which is why I chose this location for my test.

I created the opening HDR image for this post from a seven-stop, automatically bracketed sequence. To get the seven stops, I changed the Number of Bracketed Exposure from the default setting of 3 to 7. Setting AEB (Automatic Exposure Bracketing) is fast and easy with this camera. Note: you cannot set AEB when the camera is set to built-in HDR - and vice versa.

I used my Canon EF 15mm f/2.8 Fish-eye lens and my ISO was set to 160. My camera was set on a tripod.

I processed the series of images in Photomatix.

Above: To check the sharpness of my HDR image, I zoomed in on the two small sections of the original image you see here. Sharp and clean, as expected. And . . . keep in mind the statues are soft in and of themselves.

Above: Here's another set of images that illustrates the clarity of the images from this camera – as well as the sharpness of the Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L lens. ISO was 160.

When I zoomed in (right image) the original file not only revealed good detail, but I noticed something I had not seen before: a small carving of a Buddha in the headdress of the larger Buddha.

I used Live View for this shot, as well as for the previous shot. I like the camera's Live View feature because it tells you to Press the Set Switch for AF. Kinda cool. Speaking of cool, here's a cool feature of the 5Ds: Mirror Lockup . . . with the option of choosing a delay from 1/8 second to 2 seconds after pressing the shutter release button. Want to get the steadiest/sharpest shot? Go for mirror lockup!

And speaking of clean, I used the in-camera Long Exposure Noise Reduction feature to get an extra-clean shot.

Above: To digress (from the Buddhist temple but not from cropping) for a minute, being able to crop an image for an end-result image with more impact is important for me. Why? Sometimes,  I simply can't get close enough to the subject. Cropping gives me (and you) a second chance at composition - so the 5Ds gives me even greater cropping possibilities.

I grabbed the shot above on the right with my Canon 70-300mm F/4-5.6 IS USM lens (set at 300mm) while on safari in Kenya. I shot quickly because I did not want to miss capturing the leopard's intense stare. Cropping my image produced a photograph with impact.

Learn more about composition in my KelbyOne class: Composition - the strongest way of seeing.

Above: Continuing on quest to test the camera's image quality, I photographed these small (maybe two inches high) Buddha statues. This is a hand-held shot taken with my Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens. My ISO was set at ISO 500. When I zoomed in on a statue near the middle of the frame (my focus point), I could clearly read the writing under each statue.

Above: Here's another 14mm lens shot. Above the painting you'll see just some of the 10,000 Buddha statues that surround the main statue of Buddha. I could not ask for a sharper image.

Above: After my quick indoor, low-light/low contrast test, I headed home to check my results – but not before making this image. I set my camera to the HDR mode and then chose the +/- 2 EV setting and the Art Vivid mode. Here, the in-camera HDR worked beautifully. In much higher contrast situations, I use Photomatix to process my images.

Well, that's my quick Canon EOS 5Ds field test. There are many other camera features I want to test, including the AF system. But that will have to wait. My son is home for a few weeks and I want to spend as much time with him as possible.

Speaking of time, for someone as hyper as I am, the review time of the images is noticeably longer than with my Canon EOS 5D Mark III, which I used for the leopard image. That increased time is especially noticeable when it comes to in-camera HDR. But heck, everything in photography (and life) is a trade off, and I'd trade a few extra seconds for awesome image quality any day.

That said, my 5Ds will probably be my camera for landscape, portraits and subjects that don't move. I'll still use Canon 5D Mark III for action shots. I used that camera and the Canon 200-400mm IS with built-in 1.4x teleconverter for this shot of two lions mating.

Above: Here's a shot taken with my Canon 100-400mm IS lens (new model). ISO was 400. I converted the image to black and white in Lightroom.

Again, I hope you can join me someday on one of my workshop. Lots of shooting, lots of processing and lots of fun.

Explore the light,
Canon Explorer of Light

What's new? My new (and 36th) book: Creative Visualization for Photographers - which features lessons on Composition, Exposure, Lighting, Learning, Experimenting, Setting Goals, Motivation and more!

No Other Old Car City Photo Workshop Offers This Much!

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Above: Old Car City. Model photography is included in my October 2015 Old Car City/Southeaster Railway Museum photo workshop. Canon 5D Mark III, 17-40mm lens.

Registration is open for my October 2015 Canon EOS Destination Workshop: Capturing the Classics: Old Cars and Antique Trains. I can't wait to return to Old Car City and the Southeastern Railway Museum - both of which are located outside of Atlanta, GA.

I'll be teaching: composition (the strongest way of seeing), "croposition" (combining composition with cropping), storytelling,  lighting, HDR – and how to use reflectors, diffusers and speedlites when photographing a model.

My friends from Canon will be there to loan you the newest cameras and lenses (including fish-eye lenses and super-wide-angle lenses) to photograph some of the oldest cars in the country. You will also have plenty of time to process your images – for our group slide show/critique session. And, you'll even get to make a print or two on Canon printers.

No other Old Car City photo workshop offers this much. In addition to the teaching, model session, processing and printing, each workshop participant will receive an autographed copy of my three favorite books: Creative Visualization for Photographers, Exploring the Light and Travel and Nature Photography. In addition, everyone will also receive a free download code for two of my on-line classes: Master the Art and Craft of Bird Photography and Master Landscape and Seascape Photography - both available in my on-line store.

Total value of these items is over $100.

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Above: Lounge car, Southeastern Railway Museum. Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 15mm lens.

Here's a look at some of my favorite photographs from my previous trip to Old Car City and the Southeastern Railway Museum.

The lounge car photograph (above) and the mail car photograph are HDR images, created in Photomatix. I recommend Photomatix for this workshop. You can get a discount on Photomatix on my Save on Plug-ins page.

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Above: Old Car City. Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 17-40mm lens. 

I removed some of the reality from my images in this post either by using a fish-eye lens, by altering the true color of a scene, by applying a plug-in, by shooting HDR, by selectively blurring parts of an image –  or by using a combination of all these techniques.

I can show you how to apply digital enhancements during the workshop. Of course, I'll show you how to get awesome in-camera shots, too.

Above: Southeastern Railway Museum. Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 17-40mm lens.

About removing some of the reality from a scene: When we remove some of the reality from a photograph, the photograph can - but not always - look more artistic.

Photoshop, Lightroom and plug-ins make creating artistic images relatively easy - if you have a creative vision. 

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Above: Old Car City. Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 24-70mm lens.

On my workshops I stress light and composition, the topics of my two latest classes on Kelby Training. The picture above (taken on my previous workshops) of our model Hanna (she's coming back for this workshop) illustrates the benefits of shooting on an overcast day, when contrast is low. It also illustrates creative composition: shooting at an angle creates a sense of depth in an image, the Bel Air insignia adds a sense of place to the image, and shooting at eye level helps the viewer of the photograph relate to the subject.

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Above: Old Car City. Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 17-40mm lens. Effects added with Nik Color Effects Pro. Several Photoshop CS6 enhancements.

Above: Old Car City.  Like abstracts? You will find them in pealing paint and in rust at Old Car City.

Another element of photography we talk about on my workshops is the importance of cropping. In the above photograph, the extremely tight crop (I know it's extreme) emphasizes the fins and tail lights of this cool Caddy.

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Above: Southeastern Railway Museum. Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 17-40mm lens.

Yes, the railway cars and old automobiles are awesome subjects. But hey, I especially enjoy photographing people on location. That is why I was so glad our model Hanna is returning! 

I hope to see you at Old Car City and at the Southeastern Railway Museum - where we not only make good pictures, but where we also have a ton of fun.

If you can't make that workshop, all my workshops are listed here.

Explore the light,

If you have any questions about this workshop, or any of my workshops, give me a call at 914 271-6132. Note: I'm in the Eastern Time Zone.

Focus on the Past at Old Car City - Glenn Taylor

Click images to enlarge.

Today's awesome guest blogger is my friend and fellow Canon shooter Glenn Taylor. Glenn is an amazing photographer and Lightroom instructor. He will be joining me for my Capture the Classics: Old Cars and Antique Trains workshop this October. We hope you can join in this creative exploration of composition, exposure, HDR and image processing.

Take it away, Glenn.

I first want to thank Rick for this opportunity to guest blog again and tell you about two great photographic “gems” located in my hometown of Atlanta. If you have never been to Old Car City (north of Atlanta), there has never been a better opportunity to see this local treasure. Join Rick and myself in October for his 2015 Canon EOS Destination Workshop: Capturing the Classics: Old Cars and Antique Trains. Rick and I will be your guides to explore the acres of opportunities available at this location. We will also have a great model, Hannah (featured in this post), joining us again to help set the scene.

Opening image: Nothing has more details and textures to photograph than classic cars, especially when they have aged to this level. I made this photo with a Canon 24-70mm L lens by getting in close to enhance the texture, colors and character of this hood ornament. Classic design that never goes out of style.

Above: In this image of Hannah, I let the rich texture of an old panel van be our backdrop. I shot this with the ever versatile Canon 24-70mm L lens. This was made using natural light on an overcast day. The whole sky was a nice, big softbox. Rick and I will demonstrate getting great results in natural light, using reflectors or with your flash, plus how to know which method works best in various situations.

Canon (all the images in this post were taken with Canon cameras and lenses) will be there with some great gear to try and what better locations to give it a spin than Old Car City and the Southeast Railway Museum. If you like HDR, want to improve your technique or just try it for the first time, these locations coupled with Rick’s excellent teaching style are a can’t miss event. You will come away with dramatic images and an even better experience. Rick makes learning fun and these locations offer so many amazing subjects to try various techniques.

Above: They have a sense of humor and southern charm at Old Car City. There are all sorts of slogans, collections and just generally interesting items to photograph at every turn. This image, once again, was made with the 24-70mm L lens. (One of my favorites, can you tell?)

Above: These old vehicles, nestled throughout the acres of woods, make incredible HDR images. You can for a natural look, as I did here in this 5 exposure photo or take it as surreal and gritty as you want. These cars were made for the “grunge” treatment. Rick and I will show you our favorite processing methods and help you achieve just the right style for your vision.

Above: Here we have Hannah (again in natural light), sitting on the back of a school bus shell full of old tires. Rick and I will explain composition guidelines and using creative processing techniques like I did here to take away some of the reality of the scene and add mood. We like to have fun on these workshops and give tips on exploring plug-ins and bringing an artistic style to your images.

The Southeastern Railway Museum is another great location we will visit on this workshop. They have loads of old trains, city buses and train equipment in various stages of decay and restoration. These interiors make for great HDR images to bring out the dynamics of the dimly lit interiors and not have the window areas blown out. The peeling paint, rust and mountains of heavy metal in the process of aging just can’t be beat. Rick and I will help you learn how to compose, shoot and process your own great images at this location as well.


Above: This is the mail car at the Railway Museum. In one image I used it as a background scene and balanced out the available light in the rail car with a flash on the model to give a nice warm portrait look that gives a sense of place and sets a mood. The other image is the same mail car, only this time shot as a 5 exposure HDR and processed to bring out the texture and character of the scene.

No other Old Car City photo workshop offers this much. In addition to the teaching, model session, processing and in addition, each workshop participant will receive an autographed copy of Rick’s three favorite books: Creative Visualization for Photographers, Exploring the Light and Travel and Nature Photography. In addition, everyone will also receive a free download code for two of Rick’s on-line classes: Master the Art and Craft of Bird Photography and Master Landscape and Seascape Photography - both available in Rick’s on-line store. Total value of these items is over $100. Rick always adds value to his workshops and this one is no different.

I really hope you can join Rick and I at Old Car City and at the Southeastern Railway Museum – we’ll not only make good pictures, but also have a ton of fun.

To see more of my pictures or contact me, please visit my website.

• • • • •

Thank you Glenn for another awesome blog post. I can't wait to see you and shoot with you!

Explore the light,