Building your blog


Building your blog with Skip Cohen

We started out talking about your website, then your blog, last month. Well, the next big building block for your brand awareness is figuring out how to use your blog. That means filling it with useful content.

I always hear photographers whining that “there’s nothing to write about!” The truth is, there’s always something to write about, but most of you take so much for granted in terms of your expertise and being helpful to your readers.

Let’s come up with a series of topics you can expand on so you’ve got a nonstop flow of content.

Picture-taking tips: If you’re a professional photographer, then you’re already loaded with tips to help your target audience raise the bar on their own images. Every consumer would love to get better images, even if they’re only shooting with their cellphone.

  • Posing – Do a piece on posing in triangles, and let’s get people away from the firing-squad lineups they insist on doing when the family is together. Talk about sitting Grandma in the middle and then building out the family around her. Give them ideas you use every day.
  • Lighting – You don’t need to teach a program as if you were speaking in the Profoto booth at a convention. All you need to do is get them to start to see the light. Talk about natural light. Show examples of backlighting challenges and why they might need to turn on the flash of their point-and-shoot or phone. Share ideas on sweet light, and show examples.
  • Composition – This has to be the easiest, because consumers are always too far away from their subject. Help them to understand that “what they see is what they get,” and show them examples of the benefit of moving a little closer. Think about the way you photograph a bride and groom, especially when you’re moving in for tight face shots and emotion.
  • Storytelling: You’re the ultimate storyteller. It’s your job, but the average consumer sees one shot and then typically moves on to something else. Show them how their images tell a story, the same way your wedding albums share scene-setters and other details.

Here’s a perfect example. Tell the story of Thanksgiving dinner with some scene-setter shots and details of Mom and Grandma working in the kitchen. Help them understand timing and the importance of getting a great table shot before everybody is eating. Think about it: Within 10 minutes, the Thanksgiving table looks like a war zone. Teach them to get the shot before the turkey is carved.

Things to do with images: All it takes is a trip to Shutterfly to get acquainted with some of the consumer products out there. Over the years, I’ve had a ball with coffee mugs, barbecue aprons, mouse pads, puzzles and even pillowcases. Help them understand some of the novelty things they can do with their images. At the same time, show some of your professional presentations of prints on metal, wood and canvas.

Community profiles: This is one of my most favorite projects because it pulls the whole community into your blog. Do a blog post once a week about somebody special, like the cook at your favorite restaurant, the pharmacist who’s always so helpful, your dry-cleaner, vet, dentist or doctor. The list goes on and on. Even the produce manager at your supermarket has a job that’s perfect for an environmental portrait.

One profile a week is a perfect feature. The best thing about this is being able to go out for the day and build a stash of profile posts, so you get ahead of schedule. Then, when you post the image, let the subject know about it. Every subject becomes an ambassador for your blog.

Buy a few of those inexpensive free-standing Lucite frames. Print a copy of your blog page on it. At the top, add a little copy, something like “As seen on” Just about every person or business you profile will put your blog post out on their counter for the public to see.

Profiles don’t have to be just adults in the community. Think about pets, kids and families. They’re all prime subjects—just make sure you’ve got the appropriate model releases, especially when working with children.

Community calendar: Every community has events going on all year long that have something to do with imaging. Share those events on your blog, and share picture-taking tips for events. Again, this is about being helpful to your reader.

My favorite places: Where do you like to shoot and why? Share those locations with your readers. When I moved back to Ohio for a couple of years in 2009, I really thought there was absolutely no place decent to do a portrait session in all of Cleveland. Hey, I’d lived on the West Coast near Malibu for seven years. Lake Erie doesn’t exactly match the California coastline.

Well, I couldn’t have been more stupid. A buddy of mine took me on a ride around some neighborhoods on the west side of Cleveland. I was blown away by walls of old brick, coastline spots on Lake Erie and downtown areas with lots of texture and stunning light.

Share those locations and images with your readers. Here’s a chance for you to show off your artistic skills and plant a seed.

Showing your work: I’m a huge fan of using your blog to show your work, but don’t be excessive. For example, many of you are caught in what I call “riptide marketing.” You started showing images from every family or engagement shoot, and now everybody expects you to share their images on your site. When you don’t, you’re afraid of hurt feelings and a negative impact on your business.

So, let’s deal with the challenge. First, don’t show more than one or two images from any shoot. You don’t need to show every image you captured. Second, use the images to make a point about lighting, posing, composition or the location. Your images will become more educational, and gradually you’ll be able to reduce the number of images you’re sharing.

Issues and things you believe in: As I’ve written before, your website is about what you sell, while your blog lets you show your heart. Remember your readership and don’t be afraid to get a little sappy now and then. Share ideas about family, children, grandparents, love, etc.

If you’re a parent, it’s the perfect venue to talk about the importance of capturing images of your kids as they grow up. This is like “Subliminal Man” from SNL years ago—you’re planting the seed for your readership to not only take more pictures, but think about hiring you for some quality family heirloom images.

Remember, you’re a magician who’s built a business around capturing memories and turning intangible moments into photographs to last a lifetime. Use your blog to talk about some of the images you’ve captured of your own family. Talk about how fast kids grow up. Puppies become dogs…moments pass that will never come back again.

Contests: Use your blog to establish a few fun contests centered around picture-taking by consumers. Have some fun with a few different themes, which can be as simple as a winter day and kids playing in the snow. Give them themes to think about: family, pets, a rainy day, a day at home…there’s nothing you can’t build a contest around. For prizes, as your readership grows, work with local companies to provide some fun and unique items. Again, this is about turning your blog into an event center all about photography and your role in the community.

Don’t forget hybrid technology! Most of you have started to incorporate video into your presentations, especially if you’re shooting with products like Lumix with 4K video. This is about education again, but a lot more fun than just trying to teach. Use your blog to show your storytelling ability, combining still imaging and video.

Ed Foreman, a terrific marketing consultant, spoke to us many years ago at a Polaroid meeting. He said something that I’ve never forgotten (and which you have seen if you follow my articles): “If I can see the world through my client’s eyes, then I can sell my client what my client buys!”

This is far bigger than just putting yourself in their shoes. You have to think like they do and understand what’s important to them. You have to see the world their way and pay attention to their priorities, issues of trust, the importance of memories, family, friendships, love.

Creating a strong blog can be one of the most strategic and powerful building blocks for your business. Be consistent, listen to your audience and, most importantly, open your heart.

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To read the full article, launch the digital version of the April 2015 magazine.

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