One of the things I’ve been mulling over the last few months is where this blog ranked in the priority of the things going on in my life and how much time (if any) I wanted to commit to it. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but I ultimately decided that I am going to stop blogging.
Stay with me for a minute on this one, okay?
Head off to your favorite search engine and go search for, say, Blogging Best Practices. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Read through the links it returns.
Notice how so much of what they talk about is about things like “engagement”, and SEO, and “punchy titles” and linking and frequent posting and the like? Notice how pretty close to zero percent of the advice and discussion about this says anything about the writing itself? Except in vague generalities like “be interesting” “be yourself” “be casual” “be engaging”…
When you boil it all down, blogging today, at least as the so-called experts preach how it ought to be done, has been turned into a big marketing engine. It’s more important that it SEO well than if it’s actually well written. Or interesting. Â Short and punchy, and break it up into pieces posted over days, so you can get more hits and pageviews out of it. Blogging has been turned into writing daily press releases in hopes of gaining attention. It’s now a PR function, not a creative one. And frankly, most of the time, it fails miserably at that, too.
The Problem with Blogging
- Too many keyboards chasing too few ideas.
- Too many people following “the rules” rather than the material.
- Too many short, shallow, forgettable, thin pieces of crap.
- Lots of opinions without backing facts or expertise.
- The answer?
- Don’t blog. Unless.
- Â You’re actually saying something.
- What you say actually adds to the conversation.
- You’ve taken the time to think through the material and your opinion.
- Â You actually explain WHY, not just what.
Looking for Answers
One of the things I’ve been doing the last couple of months is surveying photography blogs, trying to figure out what photographers I ought to be reading and looking at what is being written and why I find it interesting. Along the way I’ve sampled hundreds of blogs, far too many which seem to have swallowed the advice of the “best practices” preachers hook, line and sinker. Many of them, to be blunt, should be spending a lot less time writing blog posts and a lot more time working on their photography. All the marketing and blogging in the world isn’t going to do much for you when your portfolio is an endless army of badly rendered images surrounded by blown highlights. And yet it’s clear they’re putting a huge effort into all of this social media stuff in an attempt to sell, well, crappy photos. (god help me, that was probably me five years ago, too… I’ll save a stone to throw at my own house here). It all got rather depressing after a while.
So I give up. I’m not going to blog any more.
Writing stuff every day that someone comes and looks at — for 30 seconds — is pretty easy, actually. But not very fulfilling. I don’t want to write stuff that causes people to come to the site and bounce off to the next site two paragraphs later. I want them to stop and finish the piece and then pass it along to their friends to read. That kind of writing — not so easy.Â What I want to do doesn’t segment out well into 500 word chunks posted five times a week. I’ve tried in the past to build that cadence into my writing, and what I find it does is it pushes you into writing simple, forgettable, easily created chunks of shallow and not terribly useful words.
The other reason I’ve been wandering photography blogs like a hobo the last few months is I’ve been trying to understand how I could add to the conversation about photography out on the net and not merely repeat it. Lets be honest: nobody, anywhere, under any circumstances needs to write another blog post that tries to explain Aperture mode to a new user. There are dozens, probably hundreds, of people who’ve written about that, so if that’s your idea of useful content to write for your blog, just stop and go get your camera and go take pictures instead. Â The universe does not need another blog full of generic 500 word tutorials on basic camera concepts — except that if you follow the best practices experts, that’s the kind of material they tend to push you at, because it’s easy, it’ll SEO well, and it’ll drive PAGEVIEWS. Quality? Good writing? Interesting topics? Kiddo, that stuff doesn’t SEO, why waste your time?
Oh, just shoot me.
So what I’m going to do is this. I’m going to stop blogging. Any pretense of it.
I’m going to write. I have a bunch of stuff to write about, actually, as I’ve been collecting topics and concepts for a while (My evernote has around 70 “blog this!” notes in it now). I’ve also thrown out a lot of stuff I will not write about, because either I don’t feel I’m qualified or I don’t think I’d say anything really original, or because it just isn’t (to me) all that interesting. That’s another 50 items that no longer live in my Evernote “blog this!” folder. Â Ultimately, my goal is to create some ebooks, and yes, maybe even sell them (gasp). Along the way, as I get parts written, I’ll post them here, because I believe in sharing instead of hiding, and because I’ve long believed that the feedback and ideas I get from sharing are worth a lot more than the incoming I might theoretically lose by only making the material available freely.
Besides, well, marketing. If I write good stuff, you’ll want the final version, and you’ll tell your friends (you will, right? RIGHT?) — and we all win.
So that’s what we’ll do.
Your friendly neighborhood IT guy
One thing I’ve found is that lots of you are insanely negligent about taking care of your digital darkroom — that computer and the software on it that makes your images happen. I can’t tell you how many twitter discussions I’ve had with people who are wandering around with $10,000 in camera gear, and suddenly find themselves with a dead four year old computer and a copy of Photoshop CS3 and no backups. Usually, this happens (a) on deadline, (b) on a weekend, and (c) just before they’re headed out on a trip.
What these people need are an IT guy to deal with the systems. As someone who spent a number of years in IT as well as behind a camera, I’m going to talk about things like investing in your infrastructure, technical debt, maintenance and scheduling things like upgrades — and backups. (hint: when was your last backup made? If you can’t tell me off the top of your head, or if you know that the date you’d give me would cause me to slap you silly, stop what you’reÂ doing and attend to your stupid backups…)
So you can consider me your IT guy, especially if you’re running on a Macintosh. If you’re a Windows person, not everything I’ll talk about will be of direct use, but the theories will still apply. (another hint: if you are running on windows, and that Windows box boots up and says “Windows XP”, you are an idiot, you you need to upgrade your gear sooner rather than later. We’ll talk about WHY, but don’t wait. You’re a disaster waiting to happen on a number of levels).
Lightroom for Fun and Profit
When I’ve talked to people about my Lightroom workflows, and when I’ve walked people through how I process an image, the feedback I get back is fascinating. So many people seem to be at the “hunt and peck typist” stage of managing their photos, and struggle at finding images later or reproducing an look on some later image. In a lot of cases, this is because they sit down at the computer and push buttons and twist knobs until it looks okay, and haven’t spent the time to really learn the tools.
I’ve had a bunch of requests to teach my workflow or to get it into a form that people can study. So we will.
One thing I’ve thought about doing for a while is doing tutorials and writing my way through how I process a given image. I’ve decided I’m going to try to do at least one of these a month, where we start with a RAW image right out of the camera, and end up with — hopefully — something pretty and useable. One of the things I’m considering doing in the Bird Photography group on G+ is offering to do this kind of processing on someone else’s image and show them how I’d process the image. If I start that up, it’ll happen here as well. The idea is to get down and dirty in Lightroom and give people a chance to see how an image is developed in the digital darkroom, one example at a time.
And Other Stuff, Too
I’ve always used this place as a bit of a journal, and that’s not going to stop. You’re going to continue to see some hockey writing (but probably less than in the past), and more birding, more community management discussion, and a lot more photography. I’ve got a lot of things in process or in planning, and as they surface into reality. I’ve enjoyed doing my road trips in the past, and gotten good response to them. Laurie and I have a trip up the Oregon Coast and I expect to take a lot of photos and talk about it.
There’s lots to talk about. What I think is important, though, is not how many things I write about, but how well. Rather than try to write to the cadence of a blogger, I’m going to worry more about writing well instead of writing fast, and so things will happen as they happen. I’m hoping the results will be worth it for all of us, whether I’m updating the blog every couple of days or every couple of weeks.
We’ll try it and see how it goes. If it works, great. If not, we’ll try something else.
Because isn’t that the essence of all of this?