What I've Learned from One Year of Photography Blogging
Blogging is a Sisyphean task that requires a catchy title. Every time I hit publish, I mentally celebrate for about a minute before going right back to thinking about the 5 drafts I need to rewrite. This year of photography blogging has been illuminating.
The decision to start this blog began with an Ezra Klein interview. Initially, I was stuck in a mental loop, waffling on whether or not it would be worth writing about photography. One of my biggest sticking points was that I had no idea what I would write about but I knew that I had a lot of questions. I spent a lot of time wondering how to improve my images, how to build a photography business and how to effectively share my images. Also, I suspected other photographers had many of the same questions and woes. In this interview, Ezra Klein made the point that it's possible to find your perspective and views through writing regularly. So I finally stopped waffling and started writing. I shared my first post in April of 2017 and then dawdled again till June. Finally, I started writing regularly.
Writing is weirdly terrifying in a way that photography is not. Every time I post something, I cringe a little. I wonder if I’m missing something obvious with technical posts. I hope that I’m conveying my ideas clearly enough. Lastly, the typos. This is a one woman operation. Typos happen. I proofread and rewrite drafts but I still miss things. In many ways, I'm still figuring things out as I go but I have learned a lot along the way:
PHOTOGRAPHY ISN'T ALL THAT MEETS THE EYE
I'm a self-taught photographer. Early on, everything I shot and shared was based on how I felt about it. It was baffling to me when photographers would talk about conveying emotion in a shot and then would share something that definitely didn't stir up any feelings for me. It was also baffling to me why one photo I loved was received well and another photo I also loved was not received well. Emotion, I think, is not a good way to talk about photography. It's just so hard to convey.
When I decided to start blogging, I also started doing a lot of research and looking for other photography blogs and photographers that were sharing their processes. Somewhere along the way, I stumbled across Luisa Brimble. In her Instagram stories, Luisa often shares her analysis of images and also introduced me to The Art of Composition and the use of dynamic symmetry in photography. It's not something I fully understand but it has given me a new base for thinking about photography and composition. Thinking about image composition, the depth, the angles, the subject and how to lead the eye is much more concrete to me than emotion. I feel like I can slowly wrap my hands around these concepts.
I've had to search for ways to think and talk about photography that doesn't rely on something as vague as emotion in order to write about it. Over time this has pushed me to think more about my photography. Here's a photo I shot in 2015 and a similar image concept but shot this year. I feel that I have a long way to go at improving my overall photography but through blogging, I'm collecting the tools to do so and figuring out what questions I need to ask along the way. Also, I'm often working in restaurant photography and commercial food photography. I can't just focus on the aesthetics of each image. The photos have to be ultimately useful.
Most of us are making it up as we go
One of the most popular posts that I've written so far has been a reflection on my first year as a freelance photographer. I've had a lot of coffee hang outs with other photographers in response to that post. I've heard about difficult clients and challenging projects. Some photographers shared their relief to hear that they weren't alone in feeling a bit lost. Most of us seem to struggle with maintaining a consistent work flow, staying positive through the dips and understanding how to price our work. It's been nice for me to discover that even though working as a full time photographer can sometimes feel isolating, a lot of us are going through the same things and making it up as we go.
As I progress, I hope to write more about the business of photography. I've found it difficult to find specific information about how photographers structure their work, choose clients, pitch and price projects. The few things I have found like A Photo Editor's pricing and negotiating features have been extremely helpful. It's something I've been very slow to write about because I'm still actively trying to figure out many of these things myself. Currently, my work is too all over the place. I've had project budgets have ranged from $200 to $30,000, so I find it almost impossible to generalize enough to write about my own business. Plus, so much is changing at a rapid rate, though one of the best things I've read about photographer pricing is this. Traditional media routes are becoming fuzzy as publications try to sort out their own business woes and then social media has opened up entirely new routes for photographic work.
I've started to chip around the edges of some of my thoughts about working as a photographer and running a business and hope to delve more into it over the coming years as I figure things out a bit more.
Social Media, marketing and photography
When I launched my portfolio website, I got about 10 views in the first week. It wasn't an auspicious start. I think many of us are taught to have a "build it and they will come" mindset.
If you build it, they probably won't come. You have to build it, tell everyone you built it, plan a celebration party, tell them again, plan a catch up session, tell them again and maybe they'll sort of think about coming by. While you're letting them know that you built it, you also have to try not to be annoying. Anyway, these days I get a lot more than 10 views a week and a lot of those views are to this blog. Even though I've worked in marketing, it's been a challenge to figure out how to apply those marketing skills to myself. I get sheepish. I get nervous.
Creating a blog and incorporating a business have helped me think of my photography work as something a bit separate from myself and me as an artist. That small space has been helpful in thinking about my work more strategically. There are a lot of blogs and tutorials on how to promote a blog out there and by delving into that, I've slowly found ways to promote and market my work in a way that works for me.
Photography Blogging is a lot of work
The biggest thing I've learned this year is how much work blogging can be! I try to be consistent. I've made calendars. I write during free moments. I scribble things down in Evernote. Still, sitting down and putting together a post from start to finish can take me several days! I've made 3 or 4 attempts at putting together a calendar and following it. Usually by the 2nd week I've fallen woefully behind. Perhaps if blogging or writing was my main source of work, I could stick to it a bit better but trying to squeeze it in during the free moments between work and life is a challenge.
I've gained a lot more respect for professional bloggers that put out work on a regular schedule. It's a feat! I'm getting a little better but it's tough.
Final thoughts on blogging and photography
When I went searching for photography blogs, I had 2 main pet peeves. One, a lot of the blogs were run by educators not photographers so there's a huge missing component of what it's like to work with clients and how to find work. Two, most of the blogs I found were run and written by men. I'm totally grateful for the male photographers out there that have shared their experiences, I just wish a few more women would add their experiences to the collective narrative.
Blogging has been a challenge for me but I've learned a lot along the way and it has illuminated my gaps in knowledge. These days, I have a better sense of what questions I need to ask now.