Blogging with a Target: is there a Tribe for Fine Art Photographers?

Over the past few months I’ve used the blog mainly for shameless self promotion/communication of what was happening to me and less for talking about photography or for commenting what was going on on the photoblogosphere. I apologize for being so selfish but time has been limited and, as I wrote (in Italian) here, blogging something interesting means time and effort. It’s also worth to say that I’ve started twitting more and, hey!, twitter is absolutely interesting and intriguing and, for sure, need just a breeze of time blog normally deserve.

I actually know that this way of behaving bring your regular readers far from your blog. At the end of the day who cares about your nth news? Probably just a very small part of regular readers. Most can be interested in something different. Yes, something different what? Over the last years of blogging (started back in 2004) I’ve covered different aspects, from technologies and techniques to Art, from camera-related topics to interesting findings/takes from the NET. I’ve done it in different languages, sometimes only in Italian, sometimes in both languages. Now, everybody keeps saying that blogging and social media are an important aspect of every photographers (marketing) strategies. There is a group of fellow twitters (@PicSehsu, @NewMediaPhoto, @jimgoldstein, just to mention some of them) that are intelligently focusing on the mission of bringing photographers to use of social tools. Rosh has also a nice blog devoted to this task.
But an important thing is to try to understand clearly WHY are we blogging (or socialmediactvie), and WHICH is our target audience. Last year there was an interesting attempt made by DLK to classify blogs with a triangle (just for photography as ART) whose sides where CURATE/PROMOTE/COMMENT. It is a useful classification that starts from the view point of (part of) the OFFER, but does not cover the viewpoint of the DEMAND. Yes, the demand. Which is the demand of who’s looking for photography on the Net? And WHO’s actually looking for photography on the Internet? Art and/or Technique (let’s try to keep this simplistic distinction at the moment)? These are million dollars (or, even worse, Euros) questions with not a single, definite answer. I believe that an enormous mass of blog readers are photographers (mostly amateur) that are primarily interested in gears and techniques to improve their shots. This assumptions comes from the analysis of statistics on my posts reading (will cover later) but, more then that, from the moves the photographers as Chase Jarvis made on the Internet. Here’s the oversimplified recipe: you blog on some technique. You are a cool guy and look extremely successful as a photographer. You probably start becoming a model for a lot of aspiring photogs, since, from what can be perceived online, you’re life is a metaphor for most people holding a camera (for passion or for work). Just before the announcement of The Best Camera apps for the iPhone I was keeping asking myself: why does Chase do all of that? Kudos to Chase, he surely hit the target. A nice application for the most relevant market niche of fellows photographers that came out AFTER building a complete community: probably a new business model for making money out of photography (I agree with Doug Menuez here). Same applies for David Du Chemin who puts more focus on education (with direct and ebooks focused offers) but that, again, is hitting the greatest marketing niche.
If you resisted so far to this (arguable) overview on marketing considerations, I would like to elaborate towards a perspective that is closer to mine. I’m not a full time commercial photographer, I do not promote seminars or workshops, I’m mostly an (emerging – horrible word but still very much used :-/ ) (fine art) photographer. So which is my niche as a blogger? Who should be my targets readers? Photo buyers and collectors, galleries and museums. Am I getting closer to this niche with the Blog? Is there a content of Interest for them? I think we are back to the Art Triangle. With a great difference from who’s currently making that triangle live, which is “who am I”. As a photographer I can PROMOTE (as I did) some works I like. I can please a friend, but still simply think that photographers are not the best at promoting other colleagues works (maybe I’m wrong, and, of course, I’m fully open to discussion). For sure I would feel myself really uncomfortable at “curating” or “commenting”, I simply don’t have the “right profile” and I also feel that too much writing brings slowly far from photography  (or, at least give the impressions that you’re more writing that taking pictures as Rosh write here). Is just promoting interesting for my target niche? Not sure about it… So where is my tribe or, do I have a tribe on the Internet outside other photographers? Are the consideration and thoughts of a photographer interesting for his potential market? Or being socially active means just getting more hits and hence becoming more known with the idea that in the big mass we could also hit some of our potential target niches? Lot of questions, would love to hear your viewpoint.

Comments 13

  1. Rosh - New Media Photographer

    Thank you for including me in the conversation.

    The business of photography is not easy.

    Unfortunately, writing is necessary in today’s photography business because Google can’t read the 1000 words our photographs represent. Google’s opinion of us is very important to our future success (scary).

    Online Social networking is just like offline networking. To be a good business person you need to network. The rules are the same, business is about people. Social media allows us to network with more people than ever.

    With all the noise, it is important to have a niche so you can stand out and be noticed. Once noticed, you can spread your wings a little more.

    Rosh

    1. Post
      Author
      cristaldiphoto

      Rosh,

      thank you for the comment, which, indeed, I find OK if we only consider the broad perspective.
      I agree with the fact that writing means indexes and indexing means Google positions. But I'm not sure about the similarity between offline and online networking. For me these are two different arenas. In the first one (unless you have the power to print 20 feet large billboard to hang in Times Square) you focus on the direct contact you're making. In the second, especially if it is "research based", you are "found" by somebody. In the fine art world it is very unlikely that you're found by a prospect buyer or by a Gallery. You're normally found from another photographer. I think (and this post by DLK confirms my feelings http://dlkcollection.blogspot.com/2009/08/how-man… that this niche is too small and "exclusive" and that blogging and social media are NOT the way to reach it. Which, of course, does not mean that these are useless tools…

  2. Jim Goldstein

    Massimo… First of all kudos to you for posing the question and kudos again for do this so well in a 2nd language…

    The literal answer to your question is “Yes”. Yes there is a tribe for every area of interest.

    To the larger question… “Is there reward worth the effort in regard to being active in social media?

    I would sum up an answer to this question in the following way:
    1. There is no formulaic solution that everyone should follow
    2. Blogs & Social Media put the power of publishing in your control.
    3. Content and discussion should be tailored to your goals & availability

    You should have established creative and business goals. To accomplish these goals you’ll have to think creatively on how to use any marketing medium whether online or not. Social Media is a low cost solution that affords the ability to reach people at relatively low cost, but still utilizes a personal cost of time.

    People forget that to show your work to others it used to be a lot harder. Now with your own blog or chosen social media service you can share your work with people globally in seconds. Think about it… you have 100% control over what you publish and what people see. 10-15 years ago artists had very few outlets that they could publish their work with out facing huger barriers.

    The key component of the previous point is that what you publish shapes the perception others have of you, your interest and your work. In essence this is your brand. You have the ability to establish yourself so that others can encapsulate what you do and share that with others. The greater the reach, the greater the opportunity potential…

    Audiences and tribes won’t just find you. You need to make the effort to find if not build them. The tools to do that are social media. People who have interest and demand in your brand & products will slowly find you via search or word of mouth. It’s not as streamlined a process as we’d like, but it’s evolving. Working now to incrementally accomplish this will be far easier than attempting to go from 0-100 km/h in a couple years.

    Press on and share what you’re passionate about. The effort is not wasted. My recommendation is think creatively not just about your fine art photography, but your marketing. This was as much a necessity before the days of blogs and social media as it is now.

  3. Patrick Smith

    From what I can see and as you mentioned, blogging and social networking for photographers increases visibility to other people interested in photographers. This is good if you wish to sell books, workshops etc. discussing technique. But it is not the best way to market your fine-art work to possible buyers either as prints or as high-end stock photography.

    My Flickr stream has many millions of views but the result of all that are lots of people requesting information on how I do this or that. Sometimes they wish to pay (20%) and more often (80%)they want it for free.

    Occasionally I do get buyers via interestingness searches, but only because my work is at the top of many big keyword search results.

    So in order to make a serious living at fine art photography, more traditional means of advertising and spreading the word are required!

    Patrick

  4. Don Giannatti

    The hardest thing to do these days is to cut through the clutter. The noise has reached nearly the level where it becomes inaudible at all and getting your message through becomes terribly difficult.

    Finding ways to cut through will be the challenge of the art photographer and commercial as well.

    How do you separate your work from the dentist down the street with a MKII and a website? How will a true art photographer find the venues that are beyond the screen?

    I think a lot of traditional efforts will be reviatalized… as an addition to the social media.

    I tweet daily, leading photographers to interesting articles on photography and design and business. But I am tweeting to a small group of people who are also tweeting out.

    Am I reaching people that will hire me to shoot an annual report or am I tweeting to other photographers who will try to get that annual report instead of me? Is that old school thinking, or is it a reality? Is it good or bad? Necessary or extraneous?

    Traditional forms of one to one marketing will be a very big part of this year and decade. After all the SM and tech and all, a conversation will be the thing to close the deal.

    That’s my take anyway.

  5. Ed

    Thanks for posting this, it is a great post with many questions that I have been contemplating since we met in NYC last year and had a similar conversation about sharing photos and goals as a photographer. I’ll be very interested in the responses.

    I’m on the very low end of experience since I only started seriously pursuing photography as a hobby, and sharing my photographs, in August last year. For me, right now sharing in the small way I have been on flickr and my blog has at the very least gained me a community of people whose work I respect and whom I follow and interact with. I try to comment on/promote particularly noteworthy [to me] images/posts when I have the time. This has helped to improve my technique, give me inspiration, and acts an outlet that motivates me to keep learning and producing.

    Regards sharing for self-promotion and it impacting fine art photography some would say to share less – I know we talked about that too – in order that the portfolios you build take pride of place on the web. This might be important when you enter competitions or submit your portfolios for consideration and the judges do some research on the rest of your work. Contrary to that though there are some photographers who have become well known and successful through simply sharing from day 1, mostly on flickr. Their early work is up there to see but remains within their frame of reference artistically. At some point their work became good enough and popular enough to reach the tipping point that got them recognized by publishers, curators and commercial commissioners. Notable ones include Trey Ratcliff of Stuck In Customs who has made a very successful niche for himself doing HDR; Rebekka Gudleifsdottir, and Natalie Dybisz (Miss Aniela), among others. SO just getting out there can be a great thing.

    On the other hand it is true you have to be careful what you publish. I mention that these people have a body of work that is consistent and followed their own style/niche from the beginning. Photographically exploring technique, style, and genre is fun and can also be engaging but may shape impressions when you find that particular area you want to focus on and leave the rest behind. Publishing your work on the web from the beginning allows that previous work to be available to be seen. In a way, because of the advent of self-publishing to the web through these methods, we have moved away from the “publish or be damned” mentality to a “publish and be damned” shotgun approach. By that I mean that publishing has shifted towards gaining attention (clicks, comments etc.); Damned if you don’t – by not posting means you lose attention; Damned if you do -posting simply putting work out there simply for the sake of keeping attention, even though it may not be a good piece of work. Obviously you have to be careful to tread the fine line between the two.

    Thus, I think both social media and the traditional methods of networking play important parts, and I’d also agree there is a community out there on social media for each area of interest. One or the other method of networking may not fit someone’s personality or style but finding the level of involvement that suits you in each is important and can change over time depending on where you feel that you fit. Since I am still looking at where I fit I have a wide range of blogs and photographers that I follow. Simply reading your post, the replies above, and writing my own has helped coalesce some of this for me. I feel ready to evaluate where I fall in this whole genre of photographer, what I want to produce in the future, and adapt my networking practices accordingly. That may well change how I approach sharing on the web – it already has in a couple of small ways; timing of posts, what I post, and my online identity.

  6. Michael E. Gordon

    As Patrick points out, I’m pretty well convinced that all the Twitting and Blogging is mainly only reaching photographers. If that’s one’s market, great. For me, it’s largely a huge time drain. Facebook has done a better job of connecting me with non-photographer buyers.

    I still wonder how so many photographers find the time to consistently Tweet, Blog, and Facebook. Does everyone have assistants? Lack of business? Boredom? Using their time more efficiently than I do mine? :)

    Interesting post, Massimo.

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  8. Guy Tal

    From my perspective, Don hit the nail on the head. There is too much clutter and dilution of quality. We are still in a transitional period where many are exploring the value of having an online following but few can tell with any certainty what portion of their fans/friends/followers have a genuine business or creative interest in their work vs. just being part of the herd staring blankly and tweets rolling on the screen for lack of something better to do.

    I predict that the sheer volume of content will ultimately fix its own problems and that, as with other markets, there will be two distinct types of winners: those who offer low-volume, high-quality content at a premium, and those who rely on large amounts of easy-to-manufacture, low-overhead, low-quality goods (content, images, etc.) Ultimately those who rely on social media as a business channel will need to decide which side of the scale they prefer to be on and align their presence accordingly.

    Personally, I pursue the high-quality, low-volume route. This is not to say it’s the most lucrative but it’s what I find most satisfying. This is why I take the effort to offer thoughtful and meaningful content, which I think is only possible in a free-form medium like a blog or printed media. Messaging/micro-blogging etc. is only useful to me in the sense of its immediacy in reaching people and directing them to my own pages, where I hope they find a reason to stay and explore longer.

    Guy

  9. Fabiano Busdraghi

    Massimo, this is a really good post and there are a lot of interesting comments too.

    Personally I think that blogging about photography as we do (artists interviews, comments and reviews, links to photographers sites…) and hoping that this can eventually promote our personal work is just a waste of time. Time that can be used to produce more and better photography and promote it in the real world. This is based on my personal experience: I spend several hours every day writing my blog, I’ve a lot of followers but in 3 years I’ve never got an interesting (to make money) contact thanks to Camera Obscura. Nothing. In the real life it is much easier for me to convert efforts in useful contacts, that at the end means some money to pay my every day expenses.

    But I still keep blogging, and this is for a simple reason. Writing means thinking. Means be curious, look around you, meet people. Use your brain. I think blogging without a precise business strategy is not the best way to directly make money, but at the same time makes us to be better. This is an important value for me, I prefer less money but have the feeling that I’m learning and that I have an interesting life.

    Fabiano

  10. marko

    I totally agreed with Fabiano.
    I have spent many effort in twitting and blogging, and it is interesting, but doesn’t work for promoting you it in the real world.Twitter is nice to built a social credibility. It help you to get inspired sometimes … but like Fabiano said, get off the computer and walk into the real life.

    Marko

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