Three Years and counting…

The Lewis & Clark Trail American Landscapes Limited Edition

March 20, 2008. Some look at it as the day the of the equinox, the day the sun passes over the equator and begins to warm the northern hemisphere. For photographers it marks the beginning of spring and the thought of wildflowers springing up, or light beginning to make its way to the north side of buildings and mountain slopes. For me it is also my 53rd birthday. But it is also the third anniversary of the release of my inaugural book The Lewis & Clark Trail American Landscapes.

Some reflections of the past three years are what I would like to discuss here today. It has been an interesting ride. From the initial decision to start a project of this magnitude, spending 6 months planning the shoots, 2 years on and off the trail making the images for the project, finding a publisher, and ultimately thinking the best way to go is to become your own publisher (a notion made partly of the romance of being a publisher of fine art photography books and the hard line decision that it was the only way to make it financially rewarding). And once you make the decision to publish your own work, and maybe the works of others eventually (but will discuss that at a later date), then you must begin the process of making the book a reality and not just file cabinets filled with images. Editing the thousands of images, finding the perfect designer (or in my case two of them in Rudi Backart and Rich Nickel!), getting printing quotes from around the world before settling on a fine art printer right here in the United States – the Stinehour Press in Vermont.

But those are all of the production decisions which have to be made. There is an equally mind numbing set of decisions which need to be addressed on the marketing side. Now, you would think someone who has spent his career in the advertising industry as a photographer, would know how important it is to have looked at the end part – the selling of the book – before forging ahead on the production side. Nope. I was thinking to laterally. Get it done and they will buy. After all why wouldn’t they – the images are beautiful and the concept never done and there will be 40 million people along the different parts of the trail during the 200th anniversary years of the expedition. How can it not sell! This was the thinking I had. Fortunately, I had others around me who whacked me upside the head. Bryan Glaza, my first client and now a life long friend, sat down at one of our initial marketing meetings, with Kathy Weber-Mack, Rich Nickel and Kristi Mendez and asked – innocently enough – “What will you do if it doesn’t make it to the shelves of the Barnes & Nobles of this world? Then how will you sell it?” Bang on. And the brick hit me hard! Why would they not carry it? They carry a book about a couch being carried around the world, about stark images of small towns, how could they turn this down? But they initially did. When I actually received a letter saying they’d carry it online but not on the shelves I was stunned. They eventually acquiesced but only slightly it still seems. So Bryan’s original question still remained, “then what”.

Well, we hit the trail again, placing the book in every store and museum along the trail we could. Put out the required press releases, got some press in the papers, then on TV and radio, then more in the papers and then on national TV on NBC News! (And yes you can see them from our website just go to and follow the links for the various programs and articles). We also were lucky enough to win roughly a dozen book, design and photography awards for this book. So, in the three years since the release of the book, we have sold roughly 5,000 copies. Not bad for a photographic book. But, what I didn’t know was most photographic books have a print run of 1,500-3,000 tops. And that leads me to mention one of the biggest mistakes I made during this whole process. The decision to print 10,000 copies, based solely on the printing costs, and the fact that the more you print the less the per unit cost. I did not think about the fact the reprint costs would make up for an initial higher price per unit. In retrospect I should have printed at most 5,000 copies the first time out, maybe even less. But the book has done exceedingly well, we’ve made money on the project, and it is still selling each and every month.

Of interest to me is the fact that most big book stores thought it would only sell along the trail. Nothing could be further from the truth. We’ve found, most of our direct sales through our website have been in states away from the trail, the northeast, southeast and southwestern United States buy as many as the Midwest and northwest where the trail winds its way through. Clearly this should be a book featured prominently at holiday time by the big stores nationally don’t you think?

We also released a Limited Edition version, limited to 200 editions in honor of the 200th anniversary of the expedition. It is presented in a leather slipcase and includes three prints, each representing a year the expedition spent on the trail. Each book and set of prints are signed and numbered accordingly. This edition is available from Amazon or directly on our website at We also have an extensive collection of fine art prints from the book available online. Images from the book have been in exhibits in several galleries, and were the backdrop for an exhibit by the Newberry Library in Chicago on The Lewis & Clark Exhibition.

On this the third anniversary of the release party ( I can say it has been a great ride! I have spoken to many groups about the book, photography and the Lewis & Clark Expedition. It has enabled me to think about other books now in the works, one on Great Smoky Mountains National Park and one on the Great Lakes, as well as some other projects still in the idea stages. We have begun to look at the idea of offering more expeditions for folks to join us on where we’ll talk photography as we explore different national parks and places around the world. Do you have someplace you’d love to go with the expertise of a photographer along with you – let us know!

I want to thank everyone who has enjoyed the book, come out to the lectures, worked behind the scenes to make this possible and in the making of this book. One person can never make a project this size come about alone. It does take a team effort. Without all of you we would not be where we are now. Thanks!


Richard Mack



Winter in the Smoky Mountains

Pines and Snow

Late last week a spring snow storm dropped 12” – 17” on Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This is a rare event, especially in the last few years. As part of my next book project I have been sorting through 30 years of photographs from the park and have found myself woefully lacking winter shots. So with the snow totals looking good, but the temperatures expected to rise back into the 50’s and 60’s, I called my friend who happens to have access to a plane and we took off 24 hours later, on Saturday morning to head down to the snow. This seemed a bit crazy to most around here, since Chicago has been inundated with snow this winter, but it had to be done for the book.

We took off about 6:15am on Saturday morning and flew down the lakefront past Chicago. In the morning light the city looked great from the air and I snapped a few shots as we went by. The remainder of the flight was a beautiful blue sky smooth ride at 9500’. We arrived at the Gatlinburg airport at 10 or so and after picking up the rental car and a bit to eat we were in the park by 11:30. On the drive up the mountains I started to get concerned because I had yet to see any snow! Were had it all gone? The weather reports had said there was even 5” on the ground in Gatlinburg, but it was not here now! I could not even see it on the edges of the cliffs. The farther up we went the more concerned I was that the trip had been for nothing! But then we reached the altitude where the base of the snow started. At the first creek with snow we pulled over and I began to shoot. It was almost like being in overdrive as I pointed the lens everywhere in a mad rush to get images. Predictably, these first shots were not very thoughtful. But after getting this first stop out of the way I began to settle down and really start to see images. As the snow depth increased, so did my concentration. It takes time and an openness to what is presented in front of you to find the images which will tell a story, make people want to linger over them. You can not be a bull in a china shop and just snap away if you want them to be interesting. You must slow down and see.

I worked streams with their snow covered rocks, hillsides with the pines covered with snow, small detail scenes of snow clinging to rocks, and icicles hanging from the cliffs. The biggest problem was it was a blue sky day – making it very sunny with the light casting shadows and making the images full of contrast. Not the best, but it worked and as the sun began to settle into the west the ridges blocked the light and gave me the perfect mix of soft light.  

Rocks, Stream and Snow

Because we had only one day, and maybe a few hours in the morning, we could not spend any time hiking into some of my favorite places, but stayed near the main road. We saw a lot of folks building snowmen, even putting them around the antennas on their cars so they drove with small snowmen on their windshields. By evening I went to a few of the overlooks which give you those sweeping look up the valleys. Winter is the best time for those long views of the mountains as the clear air enables you to see much further than in the summer. By now there was also a steady stream of overcast clouds moving in, making a sunset either one of those things that will not happen, or will be stunning. I shot at one overlook and then just before sunset went to the most famous overlook for sunset in the park, Morton Overlook. As I pulled in no one else was there. Guess they all figured nothing would happen this evening. I knew enough to hang out and wait, with the camera setup. This brought a few people to pull off the road, some getting out and looking and then going on, some staying. And then, right on queue and as I thought it just might, the sun went below the bottoms of the clouds and lit up the undersides of the clouds in a spectacular sunset. Now cars were pulling off the road in great numbers! I kept shooting while people talked to me. The show would not last more than a few minutes and I had work to do. Within five minutes the sun was gone and the clouds returned to a dark gray. The day was over. It was time to think about the morning shots over dinner.

Sunset, Morton Overlook

Unfortunately, the weather back in Chicago looked like it would deteriorate early in the day Sunday, instead of staying nice until Monday. After much consternation, we agreed we needed to leave at dawn to get in before the weather in Chicago made it impossible for us to get back in the next three days. It would have been nice to have more time, but in the roughly 9 hours on the ground I was able to get enough I hope to fill out the book with the winter shots I so needed.  To see the entire selection of the trip use this link to see my quick gallery of images:


We’ll soon have a selection of these images for sale online in the Quiet Light Publishing Gallery, were we already have images from this upcoming book and from the Lewis & Clark Trail American landscapes book.