Who needs a photography blog anyway?
The push to build a photography blog has had a lot to do with my growing distaste of social media over the last few years. While some people fit into the algorithm quite well, I find it tiresome that accounts are rewarded for peddling van life and yoga pant photos meanwhile originality often goes unseen.
Back in 2018, I was listening to F-Stop Collaborate and Listen, Matt Payne’s Podcast, and one such episode was about building a successful photography business and something struck a chord. The guest explained that social media shouldn’t be the basis of your business and instead it should be used as a promotional and marketing tool to drive traffic to your own website so you can build a subscriber list that you can directly communicate with.
That made a lot of sense. Why keep posting on social media and giving up my content for free? I wasn’t marketing anything except the platform I was on and so few of my followers actual see my content anyway.
If I wanted to make photography business stable and dependable, I needed to build an actual customer base, not just a follower count.
So I began shifting my priorities towards building a website and pretty much putting social media (and many other projects) on the back burner. This was hard to let go of the dopamine rush of likes and shares, but it was all a distraction. Without a website to promote, I would just be chasing the Instagram Dragon and not building a business.
To build or not to build – that is the question!
Next came the decision on whether to go with a pre-built service or to go build a custom site. I’ve had a Zenfolio account for 6 years that features my Live Event Photography (www.visualsuplex.com) but it has collected dust in the depths of the internet and seldom gets views.
Every time renewal comes up, I curse and berate myself for not having something better. I have a list of gripes about it, but ultimately I’ve never been happy with their services or the quality of images.
Of course, there are other platforms like Squarespace ect but I’ve always wanted a more flexible platform where I could create my own system of organizing and displaying my work while having control over the look and feel of it all.
I wasn’t looking for an infinite scrolling masonry gallery of images, nor a cookie cutter photography blog look either. It became clear that I was needing something beyond what these services were offering and I eventually landed on WordPress with self hosting.
For a beginner, WordPress is not easy to get setup and designed without any web development knowledge. Your only real option is to burn piles of money to have someone make a website for you that probably wouldn’t be much more than a customized theme, or spend the time learning it all yourself and hacking it all together.
I chose the latter as I saw this as an opportunity to learn how to design and develop while getting to know it intimately. I already had a website and established socials, so why not learn some new skills while building the blog I wanted. What I didn’t know was that it was going to take two years, but ya know… #noregrets
I didn’t get into photography to become a web designer
Before I got working, I spent some serious amounts of time researching other photography blog websites to find what other professionals were doing with web design and their photography business.
Now let’s be honest – most photographers that run successful businesses are using simple websites and are doing great. I too could have went this route, but my goals were more grand than most and I wanted to create something that was enjoyable for the visitor while being useful for me as a photographer.
Once I had my features laid out for the site, I began digging into WordPress, CSS, and PHP and learning about the basics of web design by using tutorials from Lynda.com and YouTube.
I didn’t get into photography to become a web designer but this project inevitably was going to take me that direction because of the complexity of what I wanted to build!
I ended up buying 4 or 5 pre built themes but never found one that checked all the boxes. One such theme was built with a front end builder called Elementor (www.elementor.com) which completely changed my trajectory.
Elementor Pro lets you work in both a visual mode and a code mode which really lowers the barrier for someone like me who has a strong visual design background but is struggling with code. It also lets me create templates and reusable widgets that can easily be customized for other websites and projects, creating a more efficient and flexible way to design a website.
The goal is to create a theme design of this site that I can customize easily for other photographers or media professionals. I think that features and tools I’ve built could be useful for many people who want to get there hands dirty but not jump all the way in like I did!
A “ball and chain” type of project
Like many projects in my life this one became an ever increasing ball and chain as new features kept creeping into my design all the while learning how to do it in the process. To be completely honest, I never really set any hard deadlines on this project either as it began amidst a huge increase of live event work along with lots of other excuses. It’s still not done in fact!
I have a laundry list of features and bugs to fix and I’m still sole developer of the site so I expect this be a work in progress for some time. And that’s ok! This is my site, warts and all!
In the end though, I feel quite accomplished in learning to do it myself (good job Jordan!) I now have the skillset to build a similar site for other people, which in 2020 and COVID-19 seems to be a great idea to expand my services a bit! It definitely took sacrificing some creative and productive parts of my photography over the last few years, but I feel the pay off of having a blog platform that is flexible and customized to my needs has been worth it!
Hindsight is 20/20
Reflecting on what you might do if you had another chance is important for self growth and development. You can consider your experience when confronted with a similar problem or project and share that experience with others to help them get a leg up. So looking back, here are my main thoughts on how to do it better the next time around:
- Create content before designing
It would have helped to have more developed content as the design of the website has been influenced heavily by the content I’ve been creating. Each piece of content has specific images and metadata to be displayed so having these worked out could have sped up my design time.
- Prototype before building
Because I was developing my features and simultaneously learning how to build them, I just sorta said screw it and tried out everything I could. Many eggs were broken making this omelet and if I had a prototype of the site first, I could have built it much quicker. I could argue though, the final product probably would have been more generic and missing features I created on the fly.
- Build with Elementor Pro and forget about themes
So this was a biggie, Elementor Pro changed my game completely. Spend the time and money to learn the ins and outs and how it’s template structure works. If you’re interested in a One on One Zoom session on Elementor Pro – shoot me an email
What’s next and how to make this blog better
My goal is to be publishing a photography blog post every week that will include video and other content. I have an ever growing list of topics to work from, and I’m really excited to dig in and start writing and exploring photography all the while sharing with people here on my site!
The next big feature release for the website will be my online shop where you can purchase fine art prints and digital products like tutorials and the like. This is going to be a big release and is already well underway. The goal is create a unique shopping experience and make it easy to navigate print size and medium while making the payment process easy.
There’s also a ton of new images I’m working on in different states of completion I can’t wait to share. As the website development begins to wind down, I plan to be finishing and releasing regularly so keep an eye on news and updates as well as my social media accounts!
Any questions or thoughts? Leave a comment below!