A few weeks ago Yahoo rolled out a weather app for smartphones.
It’s a crowded market, and it’s hard to know what customers want. Some people want quarter-hour reports of barometric pressure; some just want to know if it’s snowing in Minnesota because they’re in Arizona and haven’t gloated in a while.
Yahoo’s approach: Use gorgeous photos to illustrate the conditions in your town, drawn from its bottomless Flickr site. The first one Minneapolis users saw was a knockout portrait of the skyline at sunset, taken by Dan Anderson.
So, you’re a pro, right? Traveling the world for National Geographic, shooting exotic locales?
He laughs. “I’m a recruiter for a sales executive search firm. I got into photography because I had two active kids in sports and bought a little camera to capture what they did. All the pictures turned out blurry, so I got a bigger camera, and then a bigger camera and a monster lens, and I learned how to take pictures for the sake of taking pictures.”
Oh, the kids must have loved that. Here comes dad with the huge dork lens.
“Sure, but then the kids started asking if they could put the pictures up on their Facebook page. They got me a T-shirt that said ‘Photoguy.’ ”
Not Photodude? Wise kids. But once a guy’s invested in the monster lens, you want to shoot something other than the 437th soccer match. So Dan started to learn about the craft.
“I’d plan a shoot, do this location, do this sunrise, try to map the weather — it’s almost a little adventure. You don’t just take the picture whenever you want; you’re up when people aren’t up or out when people are home.”
His work got noticed; he started getting paying jobs. So he quit his day job and became an artist, right?
No. “It took the fun away. I already have a job that pays better,” he laughs. “I had to put the brakes on it.”
Anyone can join Flickr and submit their pictures to the Weather Project, as it’s called. Any advice for someone who wants to get on the weather app?
“Minnesota is an absolutely frickin’ beautiful state, and this area offers so much variety. Sometimes I learn from my daughter’s picture — I think, ‘Wow, I would have never pointed the camera there, never shot that.’ ”
The sunset photo isn’t the most popular. “I took one last summer of my nephew launching a bottle rocket. It got 30,000 hits on flickr. Then someone on reddit.com put it up, and it got 1.2 million hits. It’s shown up in so many bizarre places — my brother said he got one of those mass spam e-mails from his father-in-law, and the bottle rocket picture’s in there.”
Not a dime for those 1.2 million views, but that’s not why he does it.
“I have no training in art whatsoever. I would have loved to have been a painter, put a floppy hat on and paint away, but I can’t even do stick figures. I’m not artistically advanced. But this is a way of painting for me.”
A painter would be happy to have his work in a museum, yes. But there’s something to be said for having your work in the pocket of everyone with the Yahoo app, waiting to pop up when the forecast is clear and warm.