Making Your Mark As A Photographer

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Nobody really needs to hire a professional photographer to get decent images.

So what makes someone spend $2000 – $3000 on photographs? What sets photographers and businesses who succeed apart?

Today I want to talk about blogs. Specifically, why I think you should have one, and how it’s one of the keys to success today as a professional photographer.

In any field, really.

Seniors Ignite has grown tremendously over the last couple of years. Most of that is due to the articles published here that drive our email newsletter.

We’ve been working on the Seniors Ignite editorial calendar for the upcoming months, and I have also been re-working the plan for my own blog.

Through this planning process we’ve been thinking about things like:

  • How can we make it better?
  • What are we about?
  • What is interesting, useful or exciting for our audience?
  • What are we most excited about?

Why are we doing this?

Creating content and blogging are like exercising or eating well

We know that it has tremendous benefits but sticking with it consistently is a lot harder. If it was easy everyone would be healthy and in shape. Blogging is the same way. Most people lose interest or give up after a few weeks.

The reasons why are all the same. People aren’t sure what to do, they aren’t seeing fast results, it ends up being a lot of work or they just get too busy.

Many photographers give up on blogging because they aren’t sure how to do it, or they don’t really understand what it could do for their business.

Things I often hear are: Does it work? Why should I blog – Do high school seniors even read blogs? Does blogging actually bring you any business?

There are tremendous benefits to blogging. But not in a way that you might think.

Too often photographers look for strategies that will bring instant business, and give up on it because they aren’t getting results and assume it’s not an effective tool.

The problem isn’t that blogs don’t work, or that seniors aren’t reading blogs.

I’ll spare you the trite advice about blogging. Instead I want to share a few stories and some useful takeaways that will give you some ideas for why and the benefits of blogging. Different ways to approach your blog as a creative outlet that can benefit you both personally and professionally.

If you are struggling with what to do about your blog, or if you should even have a blog at all – read on.

Nobody’s going to read your blog because you take good pictures

“Nobody’s reading your blog because of your art. Your typical artist’s blog usually consists of little more than a photograph of the latest art piece, with a brief description like, “I painted this yesterday. I like how the purple dog clashes with the green sofa.” Or whatever.

But the reality is, most people are not reading your blog because they have an inherent love for purple dogs and green sofas. They’re reading your blog because the person you are inspires them.

They’re not reading your blog because they’re thinking of buying your paintings, they’re reading your blog because the way you approach your work inspires them.

It sets an example for them. It stands for something that resonates with them. It leads them to somewhere that they also want to go. And if your blog can do that, suddenly your readers are associating purple dogs and green sofas with something that actually matters to them. And then, and only then, do they pull their credit cards out. Ker-chiing.” Hugh MacLeod, The Gaping Void

How having a blog can launch your brand and business

When Hugh MacLeod was a struggling copywriter, he started doodling on the backs of business cards while sitting at a bar. He would publish those cartoons on his blog, The Gaping Void. His blog was the key to his success as a cartoonist and artist. It allowed him to launch his career and bypass traditional gallery and newspaper gatekeepers that controlled much of the access in his industry.

His statement above is what inspired this article and my thought process in planning out my own blog.

It gets to the heart of why artists have success blogging. Why people would choose one photographer over another. Or why they buy anything at all.

People aren’t looking for a photographer because they need prints or digital files. People buy better versions of themselves. People buy things because of what having it says about them.

If I need shoes, there are tons of options to choose from. If I pick Tom’s, it is because, in addition to providing a need (a pair of shoes), I want to take action that signals my loyalty to the like-minded Tom’s Shoes tribe.

We aren’t picture takers. We are experience creators

You hear this a lot, “People aren’t paying for pictures, they are paying for the experience.”

But what does that mean? And is it even true?

Yes. However it’s more than just the experience of being photographed. You create an experience by attaching it to the need or story that your brand fulfills.

You’re selling a story that your clients want to be a part of, and that’s what they’re buying. That’s the experience.

Your blog is an outlet for that, and it’s the hub that drives your online marketing.

There are other benefits as well. A blog:

  • Helps you build a reputation, value and brand as an artist
  • Establishes you as an expert in the industry
  • Attracts more of an ideal client that values your work

A blog can completely reinvent your photography, your business and style.

What to blog about?

If your market is high school seniors, should your blog be about high school senior portraits?

Not necessarily.

It can. However just sharing your work isn’t enough to attract much attention to your business. While it’s important to show your work, the direction you go with your blog will depend on your own personal goals, your brand, strengths and interests.

Remember, people want to follow someone that inspires them. They aren’t necessarily reading blogs because they are interested in photographs.

Below are some ideas and different approaches for your blog, as well as what makes them successful. In all of these examples, you’ll find that the reasons for starting the blogs have nothing to do with the everyday work that pays that bills.

Instead, their blogs are designed around something bigger that connects them with followers in a different more meaningful way.

Which is precisely what makes them successful and attracts the kinds of clients that value their work.

Here are a few of those stories.

Behind the Curtain

Some brands and artists take an aspirational lifestyle approach with their blogs. With photographers especially they themselves are the brand so this is a great way to connect with people.

As a small one person brand you have an advantage over big companies. In fact many fashion brands create blogs around one voice of a specific target customer.

The Kate Spade blog, Behind the Curtain, takes this approach. It’s an inside look at the fashion industry and what it’s like to work at Kate Spade. It has a very distinct personality and voice, as if it’s coming from one person. It has tidbits about what inspires the brand, from what books they’re reading to great restaurants around New York City.

For women who aspire to lead interesting and creative lives, they can experience that through the Kate Spade blog. Kate Spade takes this approach because they know that people aren’t interested in following companies and products. They follow people who are leading lives they aspire too.

Sarah Yates is a wedding Photographer for Birds of a FeatherShe started the blog, A House in the Hills, because she wanted a creative place to share things she’s passionate about. Even though she’s a wedding photographer, she blogs about non-wedding things.

Her lifestyle blog is centered around her love of style, food, decor and dogs. It’s a behind the curtain look at her life with her husband who is also a photographer. It quickly grew into an influential site that has been featured in places like Refinery 29 and West Elm.

Over a decade ago Pioneer Woman Ree Drummond moved from LA to live on a ranch in Oklahoma. She started a blog where she chronicled her transition from LA, how she met her husband and became a pioneer wife. The blog features recipes and photos, but it’s her story about life on the ranch that draws readers in.

It is one of the most popular blogs on the web with over 10 million visitors a month. She also has her own show on the Food Network.

Key Takeaways

1. Giving people a look into your work, your studio, what inspires you, places you do, things you do is a great way to cultivate a brand story, voice and style that resonates with people.

They’re not reading your blog because they’re thinking of buying your paintings, they’re reading your blog because the way you approach your work inspires them.

It sets an example for them. It stands for something that resonates with them. It leads them to somewhere that they also want to go

2. Your story is a unique differentiator.

Personal work gets you hired to shoot what you want to shoot

We often think we’ll be able do fun, personal, creative stuff once we are successful. But what if works the other way around? What if the personal projects are what actually leads to success?

Many photographers and artists found success through personal projects. Both Chase Jarvis and Joey L credit their success in photography to sharing their work from personal projects. Their personal work is why they are hired for commercial projects.

A blog is a great outlet for a personal work that can build your brand as artist. In many cases these personal projects grew in ways that artists could not have foreseen.

Concept Shoots and Pushing yourself creatively

Personal work is also important for keeping yourself fresh, pushing you creatively and opening up new opportunities.

Many photographers have found that not only does it keep them inspired, but their conceptual shoots are also an indirect way of attracting more clients.

While their senior clients may or may not want their senior portraits to look exactly like the concept work, they want to be connected to it in some way.

For years, Scott Schuman would take pictures of well-dressed people on the street and post them on his blog, The Sartorialist. His audience grew simply because he was sharing work that he loved in a way that no one was doing at the time, which led to opporunitites with fashion magazines and brands.

Key Takeaways:

1. Personal work is a key to success
Many artists who have had success, used their blog (and social media) as an outlet for things they loved and were passionate about. None of them did personal work just to get new business or to get new clients. All however did see their careers or brand benefit tremendously from sharing and doing work they loved.

2. It’s easier to commit to something you love

3. Financial success came as a result of doing personal work, it was not the motivator or reason for doing it

How to stand out in a world where everyone has something to like and share

In 2010 Brandon Stanton started the Humans of New York blog. It was a simple photo project where he set out to photograph 10,000 people on the streets of New York. He shot images every day, then he’d post the images along with a short story about each of his subjects. It was a hit and the Humans of New York is now a world wide phenomenon with millions of fans.

His book, The Humans of New York is on it’s way to becoming one of the bestselling photography books of all time.

Last spring at SXSW he talked about the difficulties of standing out in a world where everyone has something to “like” and “share.” He attributed his success to having a story that made him different from everyone else. He came to this realization when after he had a little success he tried to break into fashion photography. He learned that it wasn’t his photography, it was his storytelling that was drawing his audience in.

His point of differentiation, where he was better than anyone else, was his ability to talk to strangers. The way he approached people made them reveal something about themselves they hadn’t before and those captions are what made his photographs connect with so many.

His photography and blog were simply vehicles to share his story.

Key Takeaways

1. The story is what makes you different. It doesn’t have to be a big or complicated idea, it just has to be yours

2. The ideas behind successful blogs grew organically
The focus of many of these blogs and the work seemed to take on a life of it’s own and went in a direction that they could not have foreseen when they started. It was simply starting something they loved, sharing it, and letting it unfold one piece at a time.

Sharing Expertise

In 2006 David Hobby, a photojournalist for the Baltimore Sun started a blog so he could share photo lighting tips with a friend. He wrote down a few ideas to show how photographers could create great images like the pros by using inexpensive equipment.

He posted those ideas to a blog he called The Strobist. The blog is one of the most popular lighting resources for photographers who want to learn how to use their lights like a pro, on the cheap. The site gets millions of visitors of month.

Less than two years after starting the blog, he left The Sun to blog full time.

This is so interesting to me for a lot of reasons.

Many photographers resist sharing techniques because they don’t want their competition to see them. They think that their knowledge of photography is some sort of rare secret that once it gets out will put them out of business once other photographers see it.

Yet Hobby shared techniques at a time when the newspaper industry was laying people off and bypassing professional photographers for amateurs who would do it on the cheap.

Those budding amateurs could literally go to his site and benefit from the knowledge he was sharing. However, this doesn’t seem to be a detriment to success.

In fact sharing your knowledge has the opposite effect. It increases your influence as an expert and that leads to work, as well as more freedom to do what you love. It also makes you better at what at you do.

The reality is, hiding your knowledge does not insulate you from competition. It simply makes you invisible and irrelevant.

Here’s some food for thought: Look at famous chefs. They share recipes and techniques with the masses through cookbooks, television shows and sharing their expertise everywhere. That’s how they built a name for themselves and why they are in demand.

People can cook at home and bypass restaurants. Anyone can buy the tools and easily cook themselves. Everyone has a kitchen. No one needs a chef, yet these chefs are thriving with their own restaurants, food products, books and other things.

Key Takeway:

Putting yourself out there opens up new opportunities, hiding does not. Not blogging because you are paranoid of idea theft is not an effective strategy.

The Photographer Nobody Knew

Vivian Maier was a nanny with a camera. She carried her Rolleiflex twin-lens reflex camera with her everywhere and took pictures of life around Chicago.

Her photographs are considered some of the best in street photography over the last 100 years. But she’d never experience that recognition since it came after she had died.

In 2007 John Maloof a real estate agent in Chicago ended up buying her images at an auction after seeing a few images he liked. He purchased the boxes of negatives for less than $400.

Maloof started a blog and began posting Maier’s photographs on Flickr. Soon, photographers were telling him he had something special on his hands. The discussion went viral which led to a lot of interest in her work. People became fascinated by the mystery around her story as much as the images. She became celebrated as a talented photographer and her collection of images is said to be worth millions of dollars.

For her entire life, Vivian kept her work to herself and no one knew who she was. Her legacy came later after her work ended up in the hands of complete strangers.

Who started a blog and shared her work.

10 thoughts on “Making Your Mark As A Photographer”

  1. Very nice, Nancy. Your timing is great as we are rethinking our blog and how to not be so predictable and look like everyone elses photo blog.

  2. I like this idea-but do you create an entire new site/blog site or just connect it to your current site? curious how you get more traffic and followers to your site if your personal blog is separate?

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