The blog… While some have embraced it as an easy and fun way to keep others up to date on their latest projects and daily activities, to others, the mere mention of the word makes them cringe. Keeping a blog up to date, knowing what to write, or even how to begin, has become the bane of many photographers’ existences.
But whatever your feelings towards blogs, I do believe they are an important part of every commercial photographer’s business. As Wonderful Machine’s publicist, I have been writing daily blog articles on photography for several years now—and I’ve picked up a trick or two along the way. So, for all your blog-aphobics, or even for the blog-aholics looking for tips, here are a few things I’ve learned…
Why Blogs Matter
Why have a blog anyway? I’m sure a lot of photographers ask themselves this question—and then many come and ask me. There’s no one answer, but the reply I give most often is that a blog is the perfect way to keep creatives updated. While your website should only contain the best of the best, and most appropriate work for each portfolio, a blog allows you to expand on this. You can show your latest work, interesting personal projects, maybe some photos that aren’t exactly in line with the rest of your portfolio. It’s also a great way to connect and show some personality—and the chance, if you’d like, to show a different side of yourself. Sharing behind the scenes info and fun stories helps creatives get a better sense of who you are and what it would be like to work with you. Another great thing about blogs? They’re free! While promos, emailers and just about everything else related to sharing your work costs money, a blog is a free way to share your work with the world.
A few more reasons to have a blog:
- Creatives love them! I’ve heard from a lot of art buyers and photo editors that they like looking at photographers’ blogs.
- Search engines love them! While your website may have little to no copy on it, blogs can be filled with keyword heavy copy and tags, making it easier for search engines and creatives to find you online (increasing your SEO). A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a thousand words is worth more to Google (not that you have to write a thousand words in every post…)
- Blogs offer RSS feeds, which automatically allows for syndication of your entries to a wide audience. It’s a simple and free way for creatives to follow you.
- It can help further your brand. Have a fun, quirky logo and photo style? Fun, quirky commentary on a blog (with matching branding, of course) will enhance your brand. Structured architecture photographer? A blog discussing the structures you shoot can help cement your style, and help you be known as the photographer as opposed to a photographer.
Types of Blogs
There are a number of great blog platforms out there. At Wonderful Machine, we use WordPress, which is easily updateable and good for those who like to write. One factor I really like about WordPress is how easily I can schedule posts in advance. Going on vacation for a week? I can write articles ahead of time and set them to post each day, at whatever time I desire. Also, WordPress is chock full of plug-ins to help design, share, promote and otherwise make your blog simple to use and snazzy to look at. I’d recommend this platform to anyone who enjoys both customization and writing.
For those who find posting a gaggle of photos preferable to writing prose, I’d highly recommend Tumblr. It’s a snap to post photo upon photo—and then have those pictures shared across the web. Effortless is a word Tumblr uses to describe itself, and I certainly agree.
As a side note, Tumblr is also customizable, but you may not find the same ease, or at least support, as you would with WordPress. I’d also like to add that Tumblr can be a great way to share a personal project—like with Julian Love’s Clara Hayward project. Tumblrs are a cinch to set up, making it an ideal way to highlight a special series or to separate your corporate from lifestyle work.
For inspiration, here are a few of my personal favorite photography Tumblrs:
- Peter Baker – http://ptrbkr.com
- Feature Shoot – http://featureshoot.tumblr.com
- Cheyne Galladere’s Universe of One – http://universeofone.tumblr.com
- Joshua Pestka’s The Day’s Hello – http://thedayshello.tumblr.com
- Maddie On Things – http://maddieonthings.com
Other blog platforms to consider:
What to Blog About
Your blog can take a number of directions, but I’d recommend deciding which works best for you before you get too involved. Plan, plan, plan! For many photographers, posting daily pictures, Instagrams and behind the scenes photos works just fine. They’re not big writers, but they want to keep clients and fans informed on what they’re up to. Then there are the Chase Javrises and Zack Araises of the world, who enjoy sharing knowledge and opinions. Their blogs are populated with photo industry news, tips and insights. Their astute posts have earned them huge followings and have helped propel their brands and careers to the next level (but as I bring up in the next paragraph, this type of blogging isn’t for everyone). Then there are the photographers who simply post tear sheets from their latest assignments. All of these can be viable options, but before you jump into one particular style, make sure you can keep up with it and that it fits your brand and personality, as well as your time constraints.
When you’re planning out your direction, make sure you also consider your audience. I frequently find photographer blogs that are targeted toward other photographers, rather than the creatives who can hire them. And yes, Zack’s blogs are aimed at photographers, but he can get away with this because he often hosts workshops and speaks at events. This means he earns revenue off of his audience. He also seems to really enjoy being a spokesperson for the photography community and dedicates a lot of time and energy into it. But, if your primary goal is reaching art buyers and photo editors, make sure you shape your blog accordingly. Ways to do this can include writing posts that highlight your technical skills or sharing BTS shots that demonstrate how fun/easy you can be to work with.
Once you’ve chosen a direction, and acknowledged your target audience, the next step is more planning (sorry, but only fools jump in!). Before you start posting away, I recommend putting together an editorial calendar. Do you have interesting assignments coming up? Make sure you plan on taking behind the scenes images and set a date to sit and write about the job. If you’re more of a knowledge sharer, keep up with trends and current photography news. Also, plan out topics you can write about in advance—and schedule dates to write and post these articles. And stick to it! Here at Wonderful Machine, I post seven or more articles a week—which believe me, is pretty much a full time job, and I don’t expect this from you—but, the way I accomplish this is by having a printed calendar on my desk at all times. I pencil in article ideas and check them off (by filling in a little black circle) once they’re scheduled. Then I know I can move on to the next post. This way, I never miss a day and I know what types of articles I’ve been writing about and what’s missing. I also keep a running list of all Expert Advice articles written by the WM staff, along with ideas for future articles. Again, this lets me see what we’ve covered and what needs to be covered in the future.
Categories are also a good way to keep yourself on track. Come up with a few before you get started. Here, we haveWeekend Links every Friday and SaTEARday posts on Saturdays. Ideas for individual photographers could include designated behind the scenes days, weekly advice posts, monthly video shares or an interview column with fellow photographers or favorite clients. Creating categories and setting schedules makes blogging easier and helps keep you going when you’re feeling stuck.
Mostly though, I’d say stick to what you know. If you’re the person everyone comes to for advice, share that advice on your blog. If you’ve got ton of Instagram followers or great personal pics that just don’t work in your portfolio, post those on your blog. If you have interesting behind the scenes photos, share those. If you’re a writer, write! If you’re funny, be funny! If you’re lazy, well, maybe don’t start a blog…
Sharing and Tracking
Just as it’s important to track your website’s analytics, it’s also important to track your blog. Through analytics, you can see what posts generate the most buzz and which may be falling flat. This is valuable information, you don’t want to be wasting your time on posts no one reads. There are a number of ways to track how well your blog posts are doing. Number one being Google Analytics. It’s easy to set up and will give you a great deal of useful information. A few things you can track through Google Analytic’s include:
- Number of visitors to your blog
- How long each visitor stayed, what pages/posts they viewed
- Where those visitors live, what language they speak
- What pages they entered on, what pages they exited from (which can help you see which posts continue to be popular over time. For example, our Writing a Photographer Bio post continues to bring in thousands of visitors a month, even though it’s over a year old)
- Traffic sources to your blog
In tandem with Google Analytics, I would also recommend using some sort of RSS feed with your blog. Google Feedburner (which unfortunately looks like it may be going the way of doomed Google Reader) allows you to see how many people are subscribed to your blog through RSS, how many people view each post through RSS daily, and which posts are the most popular via RSS each month. This is important to add to your Google Analytics results since many people never actually click through to a site when viewing through readers and/or email feeds.
I’d also advise posting links to your blog posts on your other social media pages, like Twitter and Facebook. To do this, I use a link tracking service called bitly. Bitly creates trackable links for you, so you can see how many people click each one.
If you’re using a Facebook page, you can also see how many people view each post, even if they’re not clicking—this is called the “total reach.”
Photographers Doing It Right
There are plenty of photographers out there already doing everything right, blog-wise. Reviewing and keeping up with their blogs can help inspire you to write your own follow-worthy blog. Here are some of my favorites:
- Zack Arias’s Ask Me Anything blog. Recently back from hiatus, Zack’s “Ask” blog brings in thousands of viewers and helps brand him as the go-to man for any and all photography related questions.
- Chase Jarvis‘s blog. Chase’s blog has helped make him a “household” name in the photography world. Everyone knows about it and a heck of a lot of people read it.
- Dana Neibert’s photo journal. Dana’s blog lets his images do that talking. It’s all photos. Let me rephrase that, it’s all beautiful photos (and a few videos). It gives the viewer a glimpse into Dana’s assignments while also solidifying his elegant photo style and brand. And, unlike his well curated website, his blog allows Dana to share all of his best photographs, whether they work in his portfolio’s edit or not.
- Joe McNally’s blog. Joe’s blog takes you behind the scenes, and gives insights into his recent and past projects. His thirty plus years of experience shines through and makes for an interesting feed to follow.
- Matt and Agnes Hage’s blog. The Hages are adventure/outdoor sports photographers, and their blog sure lets you know it. They’re constantly updating about their wild adventures from across the globe. If you’re into skiing, climbing or hiking, their site is interesting, whether you’re interested in photography or not.
Well, that’s about all I can cram into one blog post. If you’re looking for more individualized attention, or have questions about blogging I haven’t addressed here, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.