The pros and cons of photo-blogging
7 Reasons why you should have a photo blog, and 7 reasons why you might want to think twice about it.
(Spoiler alert: I think you should have a photo blog. But it’s not for everyone.)
I love having this photo blog. It’s so much fun for me, it really is. But it’s more than fun - it’s also a lot of work. But in this sense, it’s fun work which I love, so it doesn’t feel like work work. Does that make any sense at all?
I get questions from time to time from folks about having a blog, and what it entails, and things like that; I’ve also had a lot of conversations over the years with various photographer friends. And while my blog is not super popular or well-known (and believe me, I am NOT an expert in any of this), I do have a decent readership and hope that I can offer up some valuable insight. Plus, I have been doing this for about 4 years now, with no end in sight, so I have some miles under my belt, so to speak. I simply love it too much to stop.
One thing I didn’t really think about before I started this was what kind of commitment it was going to be for me. Now of course anyone can have a blog, and since it’s a personal thing, you can choose how often you update it and add new posts. And of course everyone has different goals, so that comes into consideration here as well.
Maybe you just want to record your thoughts and need a creative outlet. Maybe you want something that family and friends can read to keep up with you and your family. Maybe this is just documenting a small, personal project and as such is short-term in nature. Blogs obviously come in every flavor imaginable.
But since many people want to find an audience and drive traffic - that pretty much requires frequent posts. And frequent posting requires a commitment, whether yours is a photo blog, travel blog, food blog, or something else. Think about it – people are always looking for new content to consume. Someone’s got to provide it.
(By the way, this article is written from the point-of-view of someone who is serious about their blog and wants to grow their readership, for whatever reason.)
So, I started thinking about all the pros and cons that come along with having this photo blog (and probably any blog, by extension). This list is certainly not comprehensive for everyone, because as I said above this is a very personal thing. These are just a collection of thoughts that have been swirling in my head for a while.
If you have a blog or are thinking about starting one, please let me know your thoughts. What are your experiences? Am I on target here?
1) It’s completely you and yours.
That was one thing I didn’t like about always just posting my shots on Flickr – everyone’s page looks the same, save the photos themselves. It was someone else’s site and they controlled how things looked. While that is ok for some, I got to a point where it was not ok with me. Of course, I still share my photos on Flickr, but that’s another thing entirely. I don’t blog there, and it’s not a good platform for it.
I wanted my own little corner of the internet that I could personalize and really make my own. I wanted to add some lists to the site, and that just doesn’t work on a site like Flickr (or 500px, or Facebook, or wherever). Have I succeeded? Mostly, I think.
There is still a lot I would like to do here on the blog (and I asked your input here), but it all takes time. But I can say that at least the site looks how I want it to look, and I am responsible for that. So, it’s mine and I am really glad I took the step to get started.
2) It’s fun and educational.
I have to admit that it’s fun to have a blog, especially a photo blog. I love it, and am really glad I started one. It’s something that gives me a sense of accomplishment as well as a creative outlet. I simply enjoy the entire process.
I have also learned a lot in the 4 years that I have maintained this little blog of mine. I have learned about how to build a website, for starters. Nope, I didn’t code it myself (I use Squarespace), but it still requires quite a bit of practice, experimentation and knowledge to get things just right. Things I never knew existed now populate my daily thoughts (SEO, Google Analytics…the list goes on and on), and I find myself drawn towards learning more about them.
But this has all helped me in a lot of ways. I have learned a lot about what I like to photograph, what I like to write about, and what inspires and motivates me. I have spent more time writing and sharing. I have spent more time just thinking. In other words, I believe I have learned more about myself, and that is a very powerful thing.
3) It forces you to improve your photography.
Oddly, I never really thought about this before I got started, nor even in the first year or so of blogging, but’s it very true. You have a public historical record of your photos, and you can’t help but compare your new shots to your old shots. Such is human nature.
The desire to post several times a week is both a motivator to shoot more, and to create more compelling images when you do shoot. You simply want to be better, because you are sharing your journey with the entire world. That’s a bit daunting.
I don’t think I’ve done as good a job here. I don’t mean in terms of quality – I like the images that I post; that’s why I post them – but I do mean in terms of learning more about the craft.
I spend more time shooting, creating, writing and sharing and less time learning new processing techniques. There’s still a lot for me to learn about editing photos. But I will say that I have landed – somehow – on a style that I like. People tell me they recognize my photos from the thumbnail previews. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad, but if my work is recognizable I will choose to think of that as a positive! :-)
4) It forces you to improve your writing.
Let’s face it, unless your name is JRR Tolkien or Patrick Rothfuss (or insert your favorite author’s name here), we could all use better writing skills – it helps in life and in business. This is something I really never thought about until the last year or so (and I have a LONG way to go), and it’s a focal point for me.
But it’s true. The mere fact that you sit down in front of the keyboard several times a week and need to come up with something to say…it makes you think about it. That’s part of why I wrote about going through some changes on the blog recently. I really enjoy the writing, and it bothers me that I didn’t put enough effort into in the past. I intend to correct that going forward. I can do better. More importantly, I want to do better.
5) It’s a great way to meet people.
If you are like a lot of photographers that I know, you started by sharing your images on Flickr, and over time you developed virtual friendships with some of your contacts there (more on that in this article). But it wasn’t until I started blogging (and they did too) that I really started to feel like I was getting to know these people. In some cases, I have met these folks in real life, and they are awesome. I consider them friends now, not just “contacts”.
Some I know through their blogs instead of somewhere like Flickr, and I feel like they are friends too, even if I haven’t met them in person yet. But whenever I travel somewhere and know of a “contact” that lives there, I try and reach out and see about meeting up. It’s always great to make that human connection.
I’ve met IRL (in real life) with “photo friends” in Austin (you would think that is easy, since I live here, but it’s not really), San Antonio, Portland, Denver, San Francisco, Nashville, London and even Bratislava. I always enjoy the real life connection and interaction, and it’s rewarding to learn about these people after “getting to know them” through their blog.
6) You will likely get some interesting offers.
While this can be a benefit, I want to be clear that this is not what I started this blog for (and frankly, never expected it to happen). I just wanted my own little space that I could put my own stamp on. When somebody offers me an interesting opportunity, I am always surprised. Me? Really?
Well it has happened. There have been some small things like free software and free hardware (nothing big, mind you – but things I have used, loved, and in some cases still use). There have been a lot of requests for product reviews in exchange for free use of said product. I have only done this once, and I didn’t feel very good about it, mostly because I wasn’t a big fan of the product. My time is valuable and limited, and I don’t want to feel like I am getting bought, simply put.
I have gotten many requests to review an app for this or that in exchange for a free copy of the app. While I am willing to do something like that if I felt like it was the right app for me or my readers, I haven’t yet as I haven’t heard from any that I really thought I would use. Even if they are really cool, I don’t want to waste anyone’s time, least of all mine.
And there have been a couple of bigger things, such as exchanging photo usage for hotel stays. That one I am a big fan of. :-)
This is not to say these things will happen to everyone, or that it will ever happen to me again, but the point is that once you get yourself out there and build up some sort of recognition, interesting things begin to happen. It’s all very flattering, actually. But more than that, it is a reinforcement that you are doing something that is beneficial and helpful to others, and that people are listening. Why else would a company want your support, other than to reach your readers?
And of course, if people can find your blog and like the photos, you may get some customers that way. While selling prints is not my focus, I do sell them now and in fact late last year set up a portfolio site to display and sell them on SmugMug. So far it's going pretty well, and I am selling some prints, so it's been worth it.
7) Growth is rewarding.
Simply put, when you see more people starting to visit your site, and stay a while, and views start going up – it makes you pretty happy. (Ok, it makes me happy, though I admit that is just my ego responding to the attention.) It’s rewarding to build something from the ground up and see it succeed. It makes you realize that your content has value.
Reader feedback is my favorite part of it. When someone leaves a comment on one of my posts, indicating that I have helped them or inspired them in some small way…that’s really rewarding. Or when I exchange emails with someone and am able to answer their questions, give them some assistance or just point them in the right direction – that really gets me fired up.
And yet there are challenges..it’s not all wine and roses. :-)
1) Blog maintenance is time-consuming.
This is something else I didn’t realize in the beginning. I thought I would put together my little website, add some photos each week with a short description, and carry on. Not so much.
I work on my blog at lot. It’s usually something small, but now and then I notice that something is wrong, or missing, or needs fixing – so I fix it. Sometimes I decide I want to change how a page looks, or how something displays – so I change it. Sometimes I decide to create a list of some sort – so I write and create the page (which also involves making sure the right photos are processed and added).
Perhaps I want to experiment with a different template or theme for my blog – so that involves switching to the new theme, which also involves a lot of little manipulations here and there (fonts, colors, etc). It sounds quick and easy, but never seems to be.
All of this is often not noticeable to the casual viewer, but added up it takes a lot of time. Also note here though that a lot of this is self-selected. I guess I am just obsessive, that’s all. (Hey, I learned something else about myself!).
I liken this part of blogging to being the Operations guy at a business. If you ignore all the little details, things start to fall apart. And of course, I am the Operations Guy here, as well as the photographer, writer, blogger, editor, marketing and sales guy, and whatever else there is that needs doing.
2) Blog ownership is thought-consuming.
I never realized (nor could I have known) that I would think about my blog all the time. It’s true. I am constantly thinking about how I could improve this feature or that feature. I am constantly thinking of ideas for posts, and therefore am constantly typing notes to myself in my iPhone whenever an idea strikes (and usually, it happens when I am trying to do something else).
I have a laundry list of ideas which are all scribbled down into Notes on my iPhone (hey, it’s always with me). There are a lot of things I want to do here. Some are quick and easy, while others are lengthy and complicated.
I am thinking of things I could do to better market myself and grow my readership and views. I want to write more. I want to publish some ebooks. See what I mean? The list of “To Do” items never shrinks…it just grows and grows.
On top of all that, you want to be different. If you just follow someone else’s idea of what your blog should be, then you are treading a well-worn path. It’s more fun to create your own path. This is something I am trying to do more of.
3) You get addicted to watching your stats.
It’s almost embarrassing to admit, but it’s true that I watch my blog stats a lot, and my stats aren’t really all that impressive. Like I said before, this site isn’t that well known, and I don’t make my living from it. This isn’t really even a business – it’s a glorified hobby. It’s a hobby I am incredibly passionate about – but a hobby nonetheless.
At some point, you start Googling certain things to see if you come up near the top of the search for them. And if not, you think about how to fix that. Then, you will hear about Alexa and start checking your blog out there too. You start considering what you can do to drive higher reader engagement, and more views, and all that stuff. I hate to admit it, but it’s true. Why bother putting all this out there if no one can find it and benefit from it?
4) You will get excited when you get comments.
With social media being so prevalent, it’s hard to get people to leave their social media site of choice in order to click over and read your post. You have to make it sound enticing, and that is hard to do. Plus as a photographer, you usually post the photo on said social media site anyways (because photos get more engagement than links), so they don’t really have to leave to see it.
In other words, while people may “Like” your photos, getting them to come over to your website and leave a comment is a whole other deal. It’s incredibly difficult. While I get a few comments from other photo-bloggers (which I greatly appreciate, and try to reciprocate), whenever I get a comment from a name I do not recognize (and it’s not spam LOL) that gets me excited. It means someone was willing to cross over, and that makes me feel good. Something resonated with a reader. That’s good.
This all may seem small and insignificant to you – and it may actually be small and insignificant – but it matters to a blogger. It really does.
And yes, I do consider myself a blogger. That was hard to swallow at first, but I am embracing it. You can read about that here.
5) It’s a very crowded blogosphere.
When you get started blogging, you will quickly find out that it is very crowded out there, despite the vastness of the internet. In other words – it’s hard to get noticed. There are so many talented bloggers out there, and more are coming online everyday.
I read a stat somewhere that in 2013 there were 10 million new blogs created – just in that one year! That is on top of the millions that were created before then. While all of these won’t be in your niche, many will be. It’s like standing in a crowded stadium and trying to get your voice heard over the din of a massive crowd.
So as you can imagine this leads to the above-listed things: thinking about how to grow the blog, thinking of new content, thinking of ways to be different, etc.
6.) Social Media takes on a whole new meaning.
Everyone is on some sort of social media site, and there are a LOT of choices - too many, if you ask me. But when you start a blog, one of the key things you will find yourself doing is sharing your content on whatever sites you frequent, with the intent of bringing people back over to your blog. It’s no longer just “hey, let me check out what my friends are doing” but rather you have to look at it with a critical eye and figure out how to engage people. You need a strategy. (No, I don't really have one.) How do you get more fans and followers? Just add this to the increased time commitment I mentioned earlier. Social media could be a full-time job. Promoting yourself is time-consuming and difficult work (not to mention the payback is questionable, hard to define, intangible, etc), and there is never a time when you are actually done with it. It goes on forever. Let me repeat: you are never done.
7.) Every other site will seem more popular than yours, and every other photographer will seem more popular on social media.
Here's another thing I try really hard not to do, but end up doing anyways: comparing my site to "the big sites". That's a crappy game to play, and it never ends well, but I do it anyways. It's human nature to compare yourself to others, and it's the nature of a blogger to compare their site to someone else's. But this usually leads me to think I am not doing enough, or not good enough, or something stupid like that. It's a waste of time and energy, frankly.
The same thing happens with social media. You see someone else's images get SO MUCH ENGAGEMENT and you wonder what is wrong with your images, or your approach, or something like that. It's better to just turn that voice off and leave that game. There is no sense in how things work, and really...it doesn't matter one bit. Just do what you do and enjoy the creative process. That's the only advice that makes sense.
So, what do you think now? Do you still want to start a blog?
I sure hope these “Cons” did not dissuade you from getting out there and creating your own photo blog (or whatever kind of blog you want to create). I firmly believe that anyone who has an interest in this should try it out. Why not? It’s easy to get started, and in many cases it’s free as well. Why not take it for a test drive?
You may find that it is something that grows on you (and hopefully, grows in readership too) and you get just as much back from it as you put into it, or more. I know I certainly do. You may learn a thing or two about yourself. You may learn a thing or two about what you like, what gets you excited, and what makes you want to get up in the morning. In other words, what makes you want to come alive.
With that, I will end with one of my favorite quotes, because it seems to fit here:
“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people that have come alive”. – Howard Thurman