Blogosphere

You should start a blog

If you have thoughts, ideas, or stories to tell, if you are working on a creative project or have one in mind, then you should start a blog to showcase your work and share it with the world.

Just expect that blogging won’t make you rich or famous. There was a time when bloggers could attract vast audiences, but those days are over. We’re in the post-blog era; the big audiences are all on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube now. This is why in recent years I’ve dissuaded people from starting new blogs.

But I was wrong and I’m reversing my position. You should start a blog.

Unless you’re already famous, gaining attention on the Internet beyond your friends and family requires lots of both effort and luck. The biggest audiences are on social media, so it might seem obvious to do it there. But the giant tech companies nakedly seek monopolistic control. They gather and use information about you in any way they please. Facebook and Google are actively working to wall you off from the rest of the Web so that you stay always within their services. Google is now more about advertising than helping you find things on the Internet. These companies monetize you. They are not on your side; they are not your friends.

A blog is free from the datamongers and monopolists. Starting a blog extends a solid middle finger toward their practices, and uses the Web in the open and equal fashion that its builders envisioned.

The giant tech companies can still be useful to you and your blog, however. Organic search still can lead people to your work, and you can use social media to promote your blog and individual posts. (I need to write a post about what I’ve learned about both.)

So: start a blog. With effort, persistence, and patience you’ll find the people who find what you do to be interesting. With a more effort, you can build a community of those people. This is incredibly satisfying!

I want to tell you about the Courthousery blog. Ted Shideler had an idea to document every still-standing Indiana courthouse — city, county, state, and federal, past and present. Little by little he drove to every one of Indiana’s 92 counties to photograph them. He researched each one and told its story. He’s even beautifully woven some of his personal stories into some of the posts, which is one of the quirky and interesting things you can do in a blog. He’s covered most of Indiana’s courthouses now, so he’s branched out to nearby states to keep going.

Courthouse at Paoli
Orange County Courthouse, Paoli, IN. Pentax ME, 28mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-M, Kodak Ektar 100, 2012.

Ted will probably decide one day that he’s completed his project and stop updating his blog. But then his blog becomes a permanent record, a site people interested in a particular courthouse, or in courthouses in general, will find when they search. They’ll be grateful for Ted’s careful and thoughtful work.

If Ted had posted his research and photographs only on Facebook, or Instagram, or Twitter, they would have become lost. Have you ever tried to find an old social-media post? It’s nearly impossible. They’re not available to search engines, either. They’re meant to be of the moment.

They’d not be entirely lost to Ted, who has the right to download his own Facebook posts. You have the right to download yours, too; do it on this page. But that would include everything you’ve ever posted there, not just posts related to your project. It could be a staggering amount of information to sort through. But crucially, it would not include the comments anybody left on your posts.

Because Ted chose to blog, however, he can export just his project at any time and save it on his own computer — comments and all. WordPress.com has especially robust blog export tools, which is one reason I recommend WordPress.com for bloggers.

Even though neither Ted’s finite project nor my continuing photographs and stories have mass appeal, there are people in the world who enjoy what we do. It’s a big world — some people are likely to enjoy what you do, too.

You can attract readers to your blog, and keep them. You do it one reader at a time. Some readers will find you through search. Some will find you as you promote your posts on social media. Some will find you through word of mouth, which is how I found Ted’s blog. Persist, and you will find an audience.

Courthousery is Ted’s gift to the world. Down the Road is my gift to the world. Your blog can be your gift to the world. What do you have to say? What do you have to show? There will be others who find it interesting.

Start a blog!

If this post has encouraged you, here are links to a whole bunch of other posts I’ve written that share many of the things I’ve learned about how to blog well.

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader, click here to subscribe!

Standard
Blogosphere

Google giveth and Google taketh away

My blog’s stats are essentially meaningless. I’ve said it several times to you that engagement with you is far and away the biggest joy of this blog for me. I love it that I put my thoughts and photographs out into the world and people like them enough to keep coming back.

Yet it bugs the tar out of me that my pageviews are way down this year.

If my average daily pageview rate holds this year, Down the Road will net about 216,000 visits by year’s end. In 2018 it was about 245,000 visits. 2017 was Down the Road’s best year ever at 288,000 visits.

I’ve written before that search is driving fewer and fewer visits to my site. In 2017 search brought 10,000 to 20,000 visits each month. Now it’s no more than 4,000 monthly

I think this is in part because many others have started blogging and YouTubing about film photography and the more crowded field has diluted my blog’s influence.

But I see now that I may also have shot myself in the foot in June of 2018 when I completed a large project to change this blog’s tagging scheme (announced here). Tags are little keywords that further describe the post. You can click any tag to see all of the other posts I’ve written that use that tag.

When I started this blog, an old friend who works in advertising gave me some search-engine optimization (SEO) advice. A key piece of his advice was to tag posts with good synonyms for the post’s main subjects so search would have an easier time finding them.

I was inconsistent and sloppy with it, and I wasn’t sure it was helping bring people here at all. Then I decided to add tags to my photography and road-trip posts to help organize that content by cameras, films, and places. Now when you click a tag for a camera, film, or place, you see every post I’ve ever made related to it.

Then I deleted scores of what I thought were useless synonym tags. The decline in search visits roughly correlates to the time I did that.

Correlation isn’t causation. I did that synonym-based tagging scheme from 2007 to 2018 and it wasn’t until 2015 that search started bringing people here in any real numbers. So I can’t say for sure that my tagging scheme had anything to do with my search-driven visits.

I blog to connect with people who share my esoteric interests. Some of you found my blog because you searched for something I wrote about, and you liked what you found here and kept coming back.

If search is bringing fewer people in, there are fewer chances for those connections.

Let’s say that search drove monthly visits in 2019 roughly equal to an average month in 2017. That would bring an extra 5,500 visits to my blog every month, or an extra 66,000 visits all year. That would make 2019 Down the Road’s most-visited year ever.

I blame Google in my title because you have to play their SEO game to rank well in search results. But it was my choice to stop playing the game.

Its time for another tagging project, one in which I restore the synonym tags. I can do it in a more organized manner this time.

I’m also going to read up on SEO. The game has changed a lot in the dozen years since my old friend advised me. There may be some simple changes I can make that will help bring search traffic back.

I have also just upgraded this site to WordPress.com Business to gain the SEO optimization tools and plugins available at that tier of service. It’s three times more expensive than the Premium plan I was on. But after this many years it’s clear that this blogging thing is not a passing fad in my life. The connections I’ve made through this blog are meaningful and enriching. I want to keep making new connections. One of the ways I can do that is to play Google’s game on its terms.

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader, click here to subscribe!

Standard
Film Photography

Film photography blogs you should follow (New for 2019)

A great joy of film photography is the community of people who enjoy everything about it: the gear, the films, getting out and shooting, and looking at the resulting photographs. Lots of us share our adventures on our blogs.

Side mirror selfie
A portrait of the blogger

I’m going to list all of the photo blogs I follow. If you don’t see your blog here, I hope you won’t feel put out. Maybe I just don’t know about it. Let me know which blogs I’m missing in the comments!

This year I’m just going to list the blogs alphabetically. When you see ✨ next to a blog, it’s new to this year’s list. When you see ❤ next to a blog, it’s one I look forward to most. When you see 📷 next to a blog, its author or owner is a member of a little kaffeeklatsch I belong to where we talk about photography and photo blogging — and share each others’ posts around the Internet.

Also, this year I’m limiting the list to blogs that have posted recently and post regularly.

  • 35 millimetre — Film photographs by Charlotte Davis in the UK.
  • 35mm Chronicle — The fellow who writes this blog never shares his name, but he does some lovely work in black and white.
  • 35mm Film Shootist — Black and whites from Martin Smith’s Leica.
  • 📷 35mmc — Hamish Gill and his crew write about cameras and films and photographic skills
  • 📷 Alex Luyckx — A dedicated film photographer shares his work. His film reviews are the most useful on the Internet.
  • Alex Yates Photography — Pinholes, Polaroids, and 35mm.
  • All My Cameras — Christoph in Germany and his growing collection. In German and in English.
  • Analog Cafe — A group blog of photo essays, reviews, and stories.
  • Analogue Wonderland — The blog of Analogue Wonderland, a film store in the UK.
  • Andrew Bartram — Film landscapes of the Cambridgeshire Fenlands in eastern England.
  • Aragon’s Eye — Chris shares photographs and film-camera reviews.
  • Attempts at 35mm — Pekka waxes philosophical about cameras and street photography.
  • Barnaby Nutt — Barnaby documents his life with his film camera.
  • Bernard Prunesquallor — Essays on many topics, illustrated with film photographs.
  • ✨ 📷 Bill Smith’s Photography — Bill shoots 35mm and medium format, and shares in a visual diary format.
  • Broken Camera . Club — Mostly reviews of mostly obscure gear.
  • ❤ 📷 Camera Go Camera — Peggy reviews lots and lots of gear, some of it off-the-wall stuff she bought while living in Japan.
  • Camera Legend — Sam collects legendary cameras and writes about using them.
  • Canny Cameras — Gear reviews and photographs by Alan D. This site explained why the Lomography 110 film I use sometimes leaves light spots on some images. A tip of the hat for that.
  • 📷 Casual Photophile — This site written by James and his crew sets the Internet standard for vintage gear reviews. Excellent writing, excellent images, great cameras. I read every post, from beginning to end.
  • coronet66 — Photos from lots of great film gear from this UK blogger.
  • Curating Cuteness — Katie shoots film with a small stable of cameras.
  • 📷 EMULSIVE — A place for film photographers of all backgrounds to share their knowledge, experience, and thoughts about everything related to film photography.
  • Field Photographer — A group blog about gear and adventure with that gear.
  • Filling the Time — Karen explores photography and film cameras.
  • Film Advance — Gary shares images from his eclectic collection of film cameras.
  • Film Based Traveler — Nicole works in a biomedical research lab by day and shoots film in her spare time.
  • Film is Back! — Wayne in New Zealand shares his film and film-camera adventures.
  • Film Photography Blog — A straightforwardly named blog from the Film Shooters Collective.
  • Film Photography.Blog — Film photographs from northeast England.
  • Film Photography Project — You gotta include the blog of the FPP gang.
  • Fogdog Blog — John takes his Nikons and his Pentaxes (and sometimes his Leicas) along the northern California coast.
  • For the easily distracted… — Rhianne in the UK shoots film, and lots of it.
  • I Still Shoot Film — A group blog about all things film.
  • I dream of sumac and milkweed — Personal essays and film photographs.
  • Ivan Pilov Photography — Film photographs, mostly from Israel.
  • 📷 Japan Camera Hunter — Bellamy lives in Tokyo and finds lovely old cameras for you. And writes about film photography.
  • John’s Cameras — If it can make an image, John Margetts will give it a try and share his experience here.
  • 📷 Johnny Martyr — Photographing portraits and live music on film.
  • 📷 Kosmo Foto — Stephen dispels the myths about film: that it’s too hard and too expensive, and breaks film-photography news.
  • Mere Film Photography — Shooting film, printing digitally, thinking and writing about the craft.
  • 📷 mike eckman dot com — Long form histories and reviews, from common cameras to wacky stuff you’ve never heard of.
  • Mostly Monochrome — A photo-a-day blog with a surprising number of color photos given its title.
  • myvintagecamerasblog — Experiments with cameras and film.
  • Natalie Smart Film Photography — A film photographer in Brighton, UK, who shoots 35mm, 120, and instant.
  • North East Liberties — Michael shares scenes from the region of Northern Ireland his blog is named after. His specialty is printing.
  • Olli Thomson Photography — A career ex-pat who lives all over the world, shooting his film gear and sharing his work.
  • Photo A Day — Daily film photos shared more or less weekly.
  • Photo-Analogue – Nicholas shares photos from his 20 film cameras and discusses tech and technique.
  • Photo Jottings — A lot of film camera tests and reviews.
  • Photography and Vintage Cameras – Mike does great work with his old cameras, especially in black and white. He can make an old folder or box camera really sing.
  • ✨ 📷 Photo Thinking — Theo Panagopolous writes a friendly and informative blog on photography, photo processes and the wonderful and varied cameras used to create pictures.
  • Physical Grain — Personal essays, illustrated with film photographs by the authors.
  • Random Camera Blog – Mark shoots frequently with his old cameras and shares the results here.
  • reCap — Gear and photographs. A German blog in English.
  • Richard Haw’s Classic Nikon Repair and Review — What it says on the tin. Extremely informative.
  • Seeing Wide — Photo walks and street photography, on film.
  • short stories — Gerald, amateur photographer, professional misfit.
  • shot on film — New images from old cameras.
  • Slow Photography — Jordi shares his experiences with gear and technique.
  • Steel City Snapper — Medium format and 35mm photography from Sheffield, UK.
  • the6millionpman — Lots of medium format.
  • TAZM Pictures — Tom films everything, and often on actual film.
  • The Resurrected Camera — Joe proves that film photography doesn’t have to be expensive.
  • The Unrecovering Photography Addict — Sam loves everything about photography, from the gear to the process to the result.
  • The Vintage Lens — Photos with cameras at least 50 years old.
  • Utah Film Photography — Shaun Nelson with vintage gear photographs and reviews.
  • View from the Carrot Room — SilverFox moved from the UK to the US and records his life on film.
  • Why Use Film Cameras? — Frank in Luxembourg shoots film, proving every day that it’s not as expensive as you think.
  • Yashica Pentamatic Fanatic Photos of gear from his extensive collection, mostly Yashicas.

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader, click here to subscribe!

Standard
Blogosphere

How to blog every day

Recently someone asked me how I manage to post every day. (It’s really six days a week.) I’ve built up a lot of blogging speed since I started in 2007, and I thought you might like to know how I did it.

Foremost, I’ve committed to it. This is something I do; it is not optional. At least that’s the attitude I take toward it. There are exceptions, such as the one-week break I took last October, and a few days missed due to extenuating life events. But I make those choices deliberately. Six-day-a-week blogging is my default.

I give my morning breakfast time to blogging. I’m either writing or processing photographs while I sip my coffee and eat my eggs. I give it 45 minutes to an hour every weekday and Sunday morning, and on Saturday I spend all morning at it except for doing laundry and other minor chores. Sometimes I work on the blog during my lunch hour, too, and I even do minor edits to posts on my phone when I have ten minutes to kill.

I work very hard to keep 2-3 weeks of posts queued and ready at all times. Sometimes life gets hard, as it did in June when I had so much awful insomnia, and I can’t manage my morning ritual. Queued posts help keep the blog going during those times.

Me
Even taking photographs is working on the blog. Why won’t this camera fire? -oh.

I didn’t start at six days a week — that’d be like running a marathon at a 5K pace, never having trained. I built up to this frequency and have kept it for about five years now. Before this I posted three days a week, and before that 4-6 times a month.

Each time I increased my posting frequency, my pageviews and comments went way up. And all the writing practice keeps improving my skills. I like both; they reinforce my choice to do this.

Still, to post six days a week and still hold down a full-time job and raise my children meant I had to learn how to write faster. I’m pleased to say that I spend about as much time now posting six days a week as I used to spend posting three days a week.

To do this, I learned a great technique of freewriting on a topic for 15-30 minutes, without editing, and then stopping. I go back later, usually on another day, for 15-30 more minutes and edit it into shape.

In freewriting I just let the words come however they may. I sometimes surprise myself with the things I write! If during freewriting I find my ideas don’t flow naturally I let myself rearrange sentences and paragraphs a little until they do.

In editing I worry about which words to use, how to spell them, what order to use them in, and where to punctuate them. If I do this during freewriting I bog myself right down, and every post takes five times longer to create.

Using this technique means I often have many posts in progress at once: some in freewriting and some in editing. As my 15-30 minute block ends I wrap up loose ends as best I can and maybe leave myself some notes for what I still want to do with the post, but then leave the post for a later session.

Another key to my frequent posting is that I have some easy post types. My Saturday Recommended Reading post is easy: I just add to it all week as I find interesting articles to share. I barely edit those posts because they’re all about the links.

My “single frame” posts are also fast to write. I look for a photo that makes me want to tell a story or make a point. I freewrite two to six paragraphs about it in one session, and then edit the paragraphs in another.

Another fast post to write is “here are a bunch of photos about a subject.” My travel posts often fall into this category. I write a couple introductory paragraphs and then just write to the photos: here’s what you see, here’s some interesting stuff I can think of about it.

At the end of my recent bout of insomnia I found myself with almost no posts in the queue. I needed five easy posts to build a week’s cushion, so I shared the series of photos I took of the same subjects, e.g., the Wrecks Inc. sign and the sunsets through my back door. Those took 30 minutes each to put together. Because I post so often I find my creative muscle is strong, letting me generate ideas like this quickly.

My camera and film review posts have fallen into a format that makes them faster to write, but especially the camera reviews can take several hours to finish. They often need a lot of research about history and usage, which I try to do in 15-30 minute sessions just like freewriting and editing. I write my research into the post as rough notes, and build the opening paragraphs around it. Then I share a bunch of photographs I made with the camera, and write about my experience with the camera as I made those photos.

I write ideas for more substantive posts, such as my essays and personal stories, on sticky notes and leave them around my desk. As I think of things I want to say in those posts, I create the draft post if I haven’t already and record my notes there. These posts take real time to write, so I tend to work on them only when I have 2-3 weeks of posts queued. I work on them bit by bit over weeks and, sometimes, months.

I write about whatever I want — it’s a personal blog after all. Anything is subject fodder. I write about photography and cameras a lot because it’s a lifelong interest and I’ve found my largest, most engaged audience there. Yes, I pander shamelessly to you film photographers!

If you blog, what tips do you have for keeping it going?

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader, click here to subscribe!

Standard
Essay, Photography

Few people make real money following their passions, and you probably won’t be one of them

(Originally published 7/26/2016) I’ve been asked a few times if I’ve ever thought about making photography my living.

A portrait of the artist
Nikon D3200, 35mm f/1.8G AF-S DX Nikkor, 2016. Margaret Grey photo.

It sure sounds wonderful to spend my days driving old roads or looking at historic architecture, making photographs as I go — and getting paid for it!

The other question I get asked, a lot, is whether I’ve ever thought about making writing my living.

And my answer is not only yes, but I’ve done it. For many years early in my career, I traded my written words for my supper. There I learned a crucial truth:

The kind of work you do for yourself is very different from the kind of work that pays.

I hadn’t dreamed of being a writer when I landed my first writing job. I wanted to be a software developer. But the country was in a recession then and jobs were scarce. I was willing to do any job I could get in the software field. I wound up writing manuals, and it turned out that I really enjoyed the work. I did it for more than a decade. I even contributed to a few published books on popular software products. It’s a rush to see your name on a book’s spine!

In that field I met a lot of talented people who had dreamed of being writers. They came with degrees in English and poetry and journalism, and extensive portfolios filled with great work. Yet they wound up writing and editing books about software — not remotely their dream. For the kinds of writing they wanted to do, the supply of talent far outstripped demand. And then they found that the software industry paid well. Few of them loved the work, but they were grateful to be writing something, anything for good pay.

It’s much the same in photography. Many of us who shoot probably dream of creating great art and making a living through sales, or maybe patronage if that’s even a thing anymore. But most working photographers shoot things like weddings or consumer products. My first wife is a talented photographer, but when I met her she made her living in the United States Air Force shooting portraits of officers seeking promotions.

Photographers can find this kind of work rewarding, just as I truly enjoyed writing software instructions. But who dreams as children of being technical writers or wedding photographers? We back into these jobs because they leverage our skills and pay our bills.

438933770007_ proc.jpg
Nikon F3, 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor, Foma Fomapan 200, 2016

Those jobs pay because they create clear value. This blog creates value, too — you wouldn’t keep coming back if you didn’t find my words and images to be valuable in some way. But the amount of value that captures your attention is much lower than the amount of value that opens your wallet.

If I were to charge even a nominal fee to read my posts and see my photographs, most, if not all, of you would quit visiting. What I do here isn’t that kind of valuable. Even the big players struggle to make online content pay.

There was a golden time when personal blogging could be lucrative: approximately 2004. Several talented early bloggers found large followings and made good money with online ads.

But in about 2011 online ad revenue dropped off a cliff. The bloggers that didn’t have to find day jobs again created other revenue sources: writing sponsored posts (where the blogger writes an ad and tries to make it sound like it’s about them or their interests), creating product lines, and offering services such as personal coaching and workshops in an area of skill or expertise they have.

These are great, legitimate ways to make money. But notice how these things aren’t personal blogging. They’re not the passion that made the blogger start blogging.

If your passion is something like managing hedge funds or starting tech companies, and there are really people with passions like that, well heck yes those passions can pay, and handsomely. But for most of us, we just want to make something that represents us or showcases our talents, and put it out into the world and hope people come to see.

Is that you? That’s me. And so I persist. I’m very happy that my work creates enough value to keep capturing your attention. I’ve dabbled in ways to generate a little passive income and hope to pay this blog’s costs and maybe some of my photography. But I have no delusions that this will ever let me quit my day job. The same almost certainly goes for you.

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader, click here to subscribe!

Standard
Blogosphere

Through the magic of networked computers you will find your people

Back in Feburary on this blog’s 12th anniversary, I wrung my hands here over feeling dissatisfied that this blog hasn’t been more popular.

tl;dr: I like to think that I’m doing this for my pleasure, and for the pleasure of people like you. But during this blog’s life I’ve watched other film-photography blogs launch, greatly surpass mine in pageviews, and become darlings of the film-photography community. It bugs me. A lot. I’m more competitive than I like to admit.

When I was a kid my dad took up golf. He liked it, he said, because no matter who he shot with he always felt like he was competing primarily with himself. Could he better his last game today?

I want to be happy for the other film-photo bloggers in their achievements, but keep improving my own game because I enjoy it.

It’s also important that I understand what game I’m playing and measure the right things about it. Pageviews are not the right measure. They’re a little depressing this year anyway, as at the current rate I’ll end up with about 25,000 fewer pageviews than last year.

Search just isn’t driving as many views my way as in 2015-2018. Posts of mine that used to be a top-five search result aren’t anymore, because competing posts on more popular blogs have knocked them down. This post about the Kodak Pony 135 camera, for example, used to be ranked third at Google. Now it’s not even on the first page of results. It has been pushed aside by an avalanche of Kodak Pony 135 reviews that didn’t used to exist.

Here’s a measure that shows what’s really happening at Down the Road: comments. If you keep commenting at the rate you have been this year, this blog will gather about 1,100 more comments than last year.

About half of those comments are mine, as it’s my pleasure to respond to nearly every comment. I’m realizing it’s why I blog: to find and cultivate the community of people who share these interests.

When I was a kid with boxes full of old cameras, I had nobody to talk to about it. I would have been thrilled for just one friend who shared this interest even a little. As I rode my bike to yard sales all over town hunting for camera treasure, I would have loved to have had a companion.

I’d like to send a message to that young man: hang on, through the magic of networked computers you will find your people.

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader, click here to subscribe!

Standard