I heard from Michael Grecco about his new ebook on lighting and wanted to know more about finding the original book on torrent sites and how that spurred him on to create an electronic version. Here’s what he had to say:

In 2006, I released a book that grew from a very well received lecture series called “Lighting and the Dramatic Portrait” that I gave at the Photo Plus Expo. The goal of the book was to describe what I had learned about lighting over the course of my career. In writing the book I made the decision to hold nothing back. The book went on to be a best seller, briefly hitting number 291 on Amazon (out of the millions of books they have). We sold over 30,000 copies worldwide. I was thrilled with the results and, to this day, the book continues to sell

A few years ago a friend recommended that I start a “Google Alert” for my name and projects. Google will send you an email anytime you are mentioned on the Internet, which is an amazingly useful tool to monitor the Internet coverage of yourself and your projects. I discovered that “Lighting and the Dramatic Portrait” was very popular on torrent download and share sites. At the time, I just smiled and thought there was little to do about it; I guess it was just nice to be popular.

Then I thought, why not offer the book digitally? My book agent checked the contract and we both agreed that I had retained the electronic rights. When the book was first published by Watson Guptill (great publishing house- they did a fantastic job!), no one understood the value of digital rights, so the issue never made it into the contract. I consulted, my 19 year-old son, Dakota, who is into game design, to see if this was something he could program. Dakota did the coding of the book; we worked together on optimizing the images in size and resolution so that they looked great. We also re-did the lighting diagrams, taking them up a notch by giving them more details and making them read better on the device. Then we added a bonus chapter for purchasers of the eBook.

In retrospect, I understand that the torrents were infringing my book, but as we investigated, some sites actually did not have the book available- they were just using the name to entice people to subscribe to their torrent site. Researching who actually had the book, and who did not, was a huge undertaking. But what I realized was that these sharing sites were telling me that there was an unfulfilled demand for a serious photography book, in an electronic format, about lighting. We expect, with the eBook release of “Lighting and the Dramatic Portrait,” for the electronic theft to disappear as photographers find the original–and superior–version available at an affordable price.

If the book continues to be successful, we are looking to provide other photographers with our publishing and marketing infrastructure to help them publish their books electronically through our newly formed company, Naked Editions. I am curious to learn what your readers think.

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  1. Good luck with your book. Maybe you can create a website for digital books witch are only readable after a login?

    (sorry for may bad English)

  2. Personally, I’m all over this. I prefer most of my book purchases be electronic at this point. Reference materials, novels, and most other books are all electronic in my library these days and I consume them either as iOS applications or books for Apple’s iBooks ap and the iOS Kindle ap. I still purchase certain kinds of books as analog books though. The kinds of things I buy as hard copies tend to be objects of desire themselves. A nicely printed photographer’s or other visual artist book that showcases their work (as opposed to a lighting guide for example), would be an example of something I purchase the hard copy for.

    • Oops, just noticed he was looking for feedback about digital publishing. I like the idea of having a resource available to self-publish but I would be more likely to release it through the engine of Amazon or Apple for the sake of maximum penetration and convenience for my potential readers.

  3. I produced “How To” VHS tapes way back in the 1980s. All of the problems of VHS/DVD has been cured by E-Books. You can take your iPad out to the garage, your bedroom studio, the park, anyplace you need to use the instructions/diagrams.

    For “How To” books the future is E-Books. Not just photography, but any hobby/skill someone wants to learn. Where else can you have Text, Photos, Diagrams and Video in one product?

  4. I much prefer electronic editions as they are more convenient to access on a variety of platforms (iPhone and iPad), they are easier to bookmark, search and enlarge the images for study. In addition, I enjoy the immediacy. I do wish that Apple would create the means to view books on my desktop and laptop as well and not limit them to mobile devices.

    BTW – I am enjoying your book immensely and kudos to your son for his efforts.

  5. “When the book was first published by Watson Guptill (great publishing house- they did a fantastic job!), no one understood the value of digital rights, so the issue never made it into the contract.”

    I find this actually kind of amazing–given that WG is a division of Random House, which was fighting the infamous Rosetta books lawsuit over just that in 2001. And when I went to New York to work in 1996, we were already arguing with agents over ebook royalties, which at that point were amount to coffee and cab fare.

  6. i’m working on a book and would very much like to have it available as an eBook as well as physical copy. i’ll stay tuned to see if you make your eBook infrastructure available.

  7. Michael, great way to capture revenue. Anyone publishing educational or how to books needs to jump feet first into the e-book realm, if they don’t they are throwing money away.

  8. How cool that Michael was able to collaborate with his own son and use his son’s coding skills to create a successful business venture together.

  9. Interesting. If this book was directed by someone like Nick Knight or Albert Watson maybe it might be a little more impressive. No discredit to the photographer and his taste, but i do feel the lighting is a little bit amateur and possibly a bit 1990’s stop down background in its techniques. If i was give n Christina Applegate for a portrait i probably wouldn’t shoot her on a Green screen with a broad light source that flattens everything. But i guess if people like Knight gave away their technique that easily wed all be out of a job. Best luck with the digital book.

  10. But … $20.00 for an eBook?

    Apparently Mr. Grecco (while hardly alone) believes a printless ebook is worth that kind of money, for my iPad. Although he actually feels $150.00 for a printed copy is perfectly fine, so he does believe he has some golden words there.

    No Mr. Grecco, I’ll search the torrents thank you.

    • $19.77 on amazon for paperback.
      $19.99 on iTunes.

      If stopping torrents was the primary reason for the ebook then this does nothing. Heck, it may make it worse.

      • Exactly, he simply made an illegal copy the much better option.
        $20.00 for an eBook?
        No wonder there’s such an underground market for books like these, $5.00 maybe, but $20.00 to support Mr. Grecco’s ego, no thank you.

        • Cheap. Entitled. Unethical.

        • I can’t see anything wrong with paying $20 for all the lighting insight and learning that a reputable professional photographer has garnered over his career.

          Just because it is delivered in e-book format doesn’t mean the information should be given cheaply.

          And don’t forget how much time and effort it takes to write a book. Why should anyone be expected to do that for next to nothing?

          Just as photographers are under pressure to give their images and copyright away cheaply, it seems they are now under pressure to give away their knowledge for next to nothing as well.

  11. Hi,

    I own your book for years and appreciate it a lot, thank you!

    In principle I do like the idea, but I feel quite disappointed that you added an extra chapter that cannot be purchased separately. Besides I feel eBooks should be cheaper than paperbacks. Finally I avoid device-specific eBooks — certainly at this price — since gadgets come and go …


  12. …a sight is what you take pictures of… a site is what you visit…

    even if a majority of books sold were paperback we’re still talking millions in gross revenue, so the slight ego i sense in the piece makes some sense… but, still, it might be time for Mike to just call it, mothball the ‘ol hassy, and dedicate his time to writing books that’ll give other photographers the knowledge they need to make images like other photographers.

  13. This piece is just another Advertisement. However Mark’s sentiment rings true;He is purely teaching other photographers to make images that look like other photographers work. But in saying that, aren’t we all? Is it not impossible to create a truly new image these days. Even on a subconscious level we are absorbing so many images these days that its impossible to not replicate or reference imagery in some way. Anyhow, another topic for another time and place. I gotta get back to working out how he managed to become such a well known photographer with his body of work.

    • “I gotta get back to working out how he managed to become such a well known photographer with his body of work.”

      ha. that’s the nut to crack… no forthcoming book titled, “photographs don’t matter: true confessions of a commercial photographer.”

    • re: I gotta get back to working out how he managed to become such a well known photographer with his body of work…

      Simple, connections.
      Remove the “celebrities” from his portfolio, and there’s really nothing there that every other photographer doesn’t have in their portfolio.

      “Fame” (well known) does not necessarily imply talent.

      • KGB, the answer is easy. He worked his ass OFF !

        People don’t get it, they think just make some great photos and you will be successful. There are lots of great photographers and yes many could do the same images or slightly different. BUT it is hard work and sacrifice that gets people like Michael where they are today. He works hard, is always creating personal work to add to his portfolio and he understands that the photography industry is 80% business and 20% photography.

        KGB, yes he has connections but how do you think he got there ? You think he just called up and said “hi I am Michael Grecco” ? Michael deserves every bit of success he has EARNED.

        It is sad how uninformed people are about what it takes to be successful in any field. No one is an overnight success and he has spent 20+ years building his business and yet, even today he still has to bid and fight for every job he gets. Yes he is a known quantity but he is the first to tell you he still has to deal with dwindling budgets, high overhead and increased competition.

        So before you go blabbering on about something you obviously know nothing about. Consider that everyone who is successful has had a lot more failures in order to reach that success.

        • I’m sure Lee, that you will say you know this information as fact.
          I’m sure you’re a personal friend of Michael Grecco, and you’ve known him since childhood.

          My points stand.

  14. As a matter of fact I do know Michael. Also I have followed his career for years and I had the pleasure of interviewing him last week. And so yes I know for a fact that he works his butt off. Does he know a lot of people in the industry, of course that is part of marketing your brand and your company. But if you think he just gets handed a job you are wrong.

    A name and reputation might get your book called in and possibly put on the short list. And yes he might even get requested by the agency or the client. But if he doesn’t fit the budget or his work is not what the client was expecting, I guarantee you he will not get called the next time.

    Michael gets the work because he DELIVERS not because he is in the old boys club and gets patted on the back and handed a job. If you think this is the way it works then you are sadly mistaken.

    How about you ? Talk to Michael lately ?

  15. Of course you know Michael Grecco, I’m sure this is your site too, http://www.leelove.ca.

    Well, do say hello to your BFF Michael Grecco for me. Mention my name.

    • oh please. you sound like a fucking 4 year old.

  16. Unfortunately this won’t stop his book from getting on torrents sites. He’s charging $20, that’s $20 more than a lot of folks want to pay.

  17. the hard work was exactly my point…

    it is precisely the hard work & business acumen that makes a photographer like Michael a success… creative photography doesn’t necessarily matter. the portfolio just needs to prove that things aren’t gonna get all fucked up on location.

    in fact, having a bland book probably means more work: the editor doesn’t have to worry about getting a box of shitty 8×10 because an über-creative photographer watched a Soth interview, tripped in front of a red tri-cycle, looked up and noticed crooked telephone poles for the first time.

    the industry needs work-horse photographers. nothing wrong with that.

    my point is, instead of a tale of narcissistic (and doubtfully successful) pursuit of e-thieves through retail product diversification, why not hear about Michael’s true success as a marketer/promoter — which seems like a refreshing role reversal in this industry.

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