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Editor’s note: Dan’s words of advice were featured in liveBooks latest report, “8 Blogging Truths for Creative Professionals.” More of Dan’s honest and heartfelt narratives can be found on his blog at http://smogranch.wordpress.com.
My earliest memory of writing is from elementary school. In a small, spiral bound notebook, I managed to compile hundreds of pages about a group of mushroom people.
I was convinced of its brilliance. Then I promptly lost the notebook. Note to us all: backup your work. I didn’t write for the next twenty years, but as I began my photography career, something changed in me and writing on a daily basis became a part of my life. But let me be painfully clear. This was not a choice I made. This was something I had to do.
There was something inside of me that needed to come out and photography was not enough, still isn’t enough. I remember my first, adult journal, or diary, or whatever you want to call it. One of those black and white speckled jobs from the supermarket, a “composition book,” I think they call it.
I began to fill them.
I filled boxes of them.
The first time I put pen to paper, the very first time, I made a critical decision: Don’t hold back.
I realized for this journal to work, this therapy, I had to get out the truth. “What if someone reads it?” my friends would ask. “Well, then they will actually know some things about me.” I answered. At times this was a sobering endeavor. There were times I closed that book after a day’s session and thought, “I really hope nobody reads that.” But this feeling of exposure, or closure, was overwhelmingly positive. To write and not do this was not writing at all.
I was hooked.
I started blogging around 2002. The very first time my fingers hit those keys I made a critical decision. Don’t hold back. For the first four or five years I felt the only way to do this was to not tell anyone I had a blog. I was like an 1880’s gunslinger, something would set me off and I would unload both barrels of my opinion.
I wrote fake movie reviews. I wrote about the brilliance of the 1970’s hit television show “Charlie’s Angels.” I wrote about my family, and yes, I wrote about photography and what I felt was happening to the photography industry. And then one day I got an email from a stranger, a very successful blogging stranger.
“I’ve been reading your stuff,” she said. “I think you are really on to something.” We began to communicate.
“I think you could really make this work, but you have to narrow it down,” she said. “I think you should write about photography.”
By then I had photographer friends who also had blogs, nothing like today, but a few were starting to pop up.
“Okay, I’ll give this a shot,” I thought. And under the guise, “Don’t hold back,” I began to write about photography.
I wrote about why digital point and shoot cameras all suck and are nowhere near as good as their analog counterparts. I wrote about magazines using list style stories because they were lazy and their subscribers have no attention span. I wrote about how photography had become more about technology than actual imagery. And I wrote about the great work I was finding from unknown photographers.
I also began to realize my opinion was, no surprise, in the minority, and readers, under the guise of the anonymous comment, were not shy in sharing their wrath. I knew I was on to something.
Fast forward to today and the era of “blog as sales tool,” and you quickly realize what is painfully lacking is honesty, truth and pure opinion.
Does this sound familiar: “I could have never made this picture without (insert latest piece of technology being sold by company sponsoring photographer) the new Zupperflex 5000 version 2.0.”
For the love of humanity blogging photographer, if you find yourself writing this above statement, please stop.
Today we are saturated by photography blogs but most are, in my humble opinion, extremely predictable. There are some good blogs out there, and blogs that have an incredible number of readers, but most are heavily oriented at gaining new followers rather than really revealing the truth.
I love blogs that give me a real view of what a photographer’s life is like. I love to hear the ups, the downs, the surprises and those intimate moments that make the person unique. These blogs are difficult to find.
I think the opportunity of blogging lies in the “don’t hold back” idea, in being honest.
Photographers live, in many cases, incredible, interesting lives. So tell us about it.
In essence, stop selling, start telling.
Recently I wrote a post about returning to photographing weddings after taking a few years off, but realized I needed to make some changes first. I looked at this post as being simple, nothing ground-breaking, and yet in 24 hours my site had roughly 5,000 hits (which for me is a lot), most of which were directed at this post. I received a flood of comments, emails, IM’s, etc., all from people saying, “This post really hit home.”
My first thought was, “I’ve got boxes of material like this on the pages of my journals.”
So as a blogger, I’m still learning, still searching, but I know that the path forward lives in what makes me unique and the ability to share the highs and lows of living a creative life.