The Reasons Your Photography Blog is Failing


Photographers need two websites. They need a portfolio site that shows off their images, offers tear sheets, introduces their portfolio and reveals their taste through their personal projects. Those sites win jobs — and they need to do it fast. Buyers consistently report that when it comes to looking at photographers’ online portfolios, they prefer sites that are simple, fast and Flash-free. But photographers also need blogs. The content might not appear as important as the portfolio itself but a photographer’s blog is still a vital part of a marketing effort. It has a different purpose to the main part of the site, needs to work in a different way, contain a different type of content  — and despite its apparent simplicity, often fails to achieve its goals.

The first problem is usually the goal itself. When you’re creating a website to win work, it’s pretty clear who the site is aimed at. Wedding photographers will wonder how a bride will feel when she reaches the site. Editorial photographers will be familiar enough with art editors to predict how they’ll react as they browse their portfolios. Pet photographers will know what impresses their clients as they look at the pictures of dogs, cats and prized birds. But a blog may be read by a fellow photographer, a bride looking for ideas, friends interested in what you’re up to now, as well as casual visitors who stumbled upon your pages through a search engine.

Blogs, Like Portfolios, are for Leads

None of those people matter. Like the main site, the blog’s only goal should be to sell work. It should be aimed at clients and produced with the aim of showing your potential to people who might be willing to hire you. Other visitors are welcome (and may bring referrals) but the main target of any commercial blog should always be leads who will move from the blog to the portfolio to the contact page.

That suggests that the best strategy is to follow the same principle used on the site: add big pictures and just enough text to describe the images. It’s an approach taken by many photographers whose blogs seem to consist of little more than a Photo of the Day. But that kind of content is already available on the portfolio, and it ignores one of the biggest reasons for adding a blog to a photography website: the preference of search engines for sites with dynamic content.

Google is pretty weak at indexing images and relies instead on the surrounding text to interpret meaning and serve the page in search results. That means the images you post on your blog to show off your talent should be accompanied by a reasonable amount of text — usually about 350 words — to make the most of Google’s indexing. If your blog is failing to show up in search results, one reason may be that it has too many pictures and not enough writing.

Producing those words might look like a chore for photographers. After all, if a picture does speak a thousand words, then a blog page with a couple of images on it should already have said enough. But the right words can add a great deal to a photography blog, and they’re less welcome on the portfolio site itself. Writing in LPV Magazine, a new contemporary documentary and fine art photography publication, Bryan Formhals argues that photographers should write (and not just blog) more:

“Words can provide clarity and context. Whether it’s a simple caption, a funny anecdote or backstory,” he says. “When we see a photograph on the web, we generally look quick and then move on. When words are included, we stay with the photograph just a bit longer. It may be subtle, but I think it makes a difference. The words keep us with the photograph.”

Formhals says that he’d like see photographers creating more ideas and stories. Photographers are interesting people, he points out. They travel to odd places, hang out with other interesting types, move around on a whim, and indulge influences and interests from science to sociology. If the stories picked up on a wedding shoot can make for interesting blog posts just think how much more interesting the blog of an editorial or travel photographer might be.

But not all photographers produce those kinds of stories. While a blog should say something about the photographer behind it, one common mistake is to say too much about the person behind it. Leads and even most random visitors are likely to care little about the photographer’s personal life when it says little about them as a photographer. Reading about a spouse is interesting when he or she is part of a photography road trip across the United States and features in the images. It’s less interesting when a photographer just wants to express his or her love publicly. It’s sweet but not particularly effective as a marketing device and more likely to drive away leads than pull them in.

Support Your Blog

A professional blog that gets too personal may be one cause of failure but a more common one is the failure to support the blog by building a community. Just as a portfolio site needs the support of a dynamic blog to bring in viewers to its static images, so the blog needs the support of even more dynamic social media activity to target leads and inform them that the blog contains posts worth reading.

For photographers then, what should be an essential but simple way of showing off work becomes much more complex and far more demanding. But it should also be much more enjoyable than creating the basic platform of a portfolio site and a collection of images. When you’re enjoying your photography, you’ll also feel more inclined to write about the shoot and what happened on it. When you like the people that the blog attracts, you’ll enjoy chatting with them on Twitter and Facebook. And when all three of those elements are working together, you should find that you enjoy the extra work they generate.


5 comments for this post.

  1. Peter Buzzrain Said:

    Laurie, great post! I agree with most of what you said, except the bit about blogging %100 about work.

    I think a good blog should also entertain people and not just sell work. It should have some dose of personality, that should be clear in the way the posts written.

  2. Samuel Jackson Said:

    Hi Laurie,

    I represent Loudsparks, a small design agency focused on photographers, and wanted to say we 100% support the idea of having both a portfolio and a blog.

    We feel this allows for greater value for possible customers as you serve a clean, easy overview of your best work (only selected images - what the portfolio should be).

    And then support that with a more informative blog, discuss the work projects in more detail (link them to portfolio), behind the shoot, personal projects and so on.

    As an example, we've developed a free solution for the portfolio presentation, which we think works best in the commercial field:

    http://www.loudsparks.com/portfolio-view/free-professional-flash-portfolio-website-auro/

    Paired with a clean tumblr like blog, we feel this offers a simple and effective way of building a focused online presence.

    I feel blogging is about creating valuable content, and it doesn't necessarily focus on work, yet it should be always aim at offering relevant information to your readers (information that should be worth their invested time).

    Thank you,
    Sam

  3. Angy Chesler Said:

    I agree with everything you said about the importance of a website and a blog. But I am not sure what you mean when you say photographers should have two websites. I feel like the blog needs to be integrated in the website and be accessible for the main navigation. It should not appear as a separate website. I am using wordpress for my blog on my Joomla page. It is a plug in and integrates really well.

  4. Samuel Jackson Said:

    Hi Angy,

    It really depends on the business model you're in. In the wedding photography you are working straight with the consumer, he is interested in seeing more than just the images (who you are, location, services, prices, testimonials). There are more aspects concerned when figuring out if you are the great fit. So a solution like yours (one website with the blog integrated) can work really well.

    Now in freelance photography (which I believe the article was more intended to), you are working on assignments, it's more of a business to business model. You will be sending a lot of unsolicited emails to photo editors and art directors, and mainly you'll want to give them the option to skim over your best work.

    In this case having a contained portfolio works better. It is more like a business card your are handing around, a lightweight introduction of your photography work, easy to bookmark and remember. It shows you respect their time and understand their needs.

    And you can support that with a more informative blog, show how your style has evolved, personal projects, latest works, behind the shoot, skill-sets, tips.. things that may interest them, after and if your portfolio gets their attention.

    So there isn't really one solution fits all. Photographers should have one that fits best their own business model. A dedicated one, focusing on what your audience is looking for.

    Kind regards,
    Sam

  5. Christopher Sciullo Said:

    Fantastic article. Very well written and unique but relevant. This is great advice for photographers starting out and looking for a way to organize their creativity and share their experiences with others in the hope of being recognized for their skill or simply to share their ideas.

    Great piece.

    -Chris

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