The Golden Bullet

This week, over the Christmas break, I’ve been able to sit down and read ..  and something I noticed, in fact have been noticing for a long time, is the number of articles that offer photographers the Golden Bullet which will make them more successful – make their business take off – improve their photography – and all at the touch of a button.  The right camera body, the right lens, or the right software….  and not many of these articles ever talk about the right attitude, or the right skill sets.

Here’s a few headlines from this week:-

“Hack your Smartphone and become a better photographer” – really ???

” Five weather sealed lens that will improve your photography” – please explain this one to me..  It might let you get out in bad weather, but just how does it improve your photography?

“Why natural light is best for portraits” – absolutely……

“Why flash is best for portraits” – absolutely (but if you are a new starter, this could be a bit confusing..)

“Lightroom / Photoshop presets to take your photography to the next level” – yes, bolt on that preset or that filter – you don’t need to learn how it all works….

“5 of our favourite lens for environmental portraiture” – 5?  Can’t we use just the one?

“Secrets of sports photography” (insert any genre at this point) – because after all it’s good to know a secret isn’t it?

I read one or two articles about building a business, and working on accounts, and keeping clients, but mostly they’re about getting new cameras, lens, computers, and software.

It’s such a shame that photographers can get sucked into GAS (gear aquisition syndrome), so much that everything sensible seems to leave their heads.

With a constant bombardment from your favourite camera brand telling us what’s new – or what’s coming soon, it’s so easy to get sucked into this strange new disease..  This obsession we have with getting the ‘next best thing’ in camera tech leads to a vicious cycle and will continue to distract us from our art if we don’t find out what it is we really need to focus on.

Education is a photographers most powerful tool when it comes to progressing, and being successful.  Sure, improved gear can be a great help – but there’s nothing to beat a good course on accountancy and business management – not as exciting to be sure, but an absolute essential if you want your business to succeed.

We all love our toys though, and it’s great to have the ‘latest’ thing, and if you can afford it feel free to indulge.  For those of us though who max out the credit card just to be able to say “I bought this”,  you should probably reconsider things.

BUY BOOKS – NOT GEAR

Having gear can make it easier to capture the type of image you want, but won’t make you a better photographer.  Buy books, look at pictures, attend gallery exhibitions, listen to podcasts.

Books are expensive yes, especially good quality photo books – but compare that to the price of a new lens.  Every time I go to a talk by a photographer that I admire – I buy the book they are selling at the end.  It’s not often I’ve been disappointed, and I’ve had some brilliantly creative images put in front of me that I can stare at for as long as I want without the computer being switched on.  Sometimes, there’s little or no text, just pictures.  It’s brilliant, and inspiring.

If you are serious about taking your photography to the next level – buy books.  Buy lots of books, buy tutorial books.

Again I reiterate that having good equipment will help you create the images you seek, but it won’t make you a better photographer.

I hope that you’ve all had a happy and relaxing Christmas, and that the New Year will bring all you wish for – be it gear, or books, or both…….  enjoy……

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Photographic Skills

For a while now, I’ve been thinking about what we, as photographers, need to be doing to enhance our skill-sets.

We all need to be able to work the controls on our cameras, even in the dark, it should be second nature to change an ISO, or an F stop, or a shutter speed without even having to think how to do it – and the only way to achieve this is to practice.

We also need to know how to ‘see’ a photograph before we even press the shutter button, and it’s these skills that can separate the terrific, from the merely competent.

With the advent of new digital cameras, it’s actually quite hard to make a really bad exposure.  Even harder these days to achieve an out of focus image.  Cameras are very clever these days, and have built in exposure settings, and shake reduction in either the camera body, or lens.

However, on top of all these things, I think that photographers need another set of skills outside that of just ‘taking’ an image.

1. Computer Literacy – software is the mainstay of the post image taking process.  We need to be able to email images, to resize them, to compress them, and send them to storage sites such as Dropbox.  To do that, we need to be able to type, and express ourselves in a clear and concise manner.

2. We need to be able to competently edit, and select images.  These days, we don’t go out and shoot a roll or two of film.  We go out and come back sometimes with hundreds, maybe thousands, of images.  We need to be able to select which are the best ones, and the ones that our ‘client’ will like, and not just ones that are our own personal favourites.  We need to be clear that the sharpest images, are not always the best ones compositionally, and conversely the best composed ones, won’t always be the sharpest – we need to be able to make that distinction and choose wisely.

3. We need to be aware of art history, and photographic history.  If you are asked who your favourite photographer is – it’s not just going to be the chap down the  road who takes amazing bird photographs – he might be the one impressing you at the moment, but who in history influences the images you take?    Art and photography are inching closer and closer together, and soon, you will have a hard job telling the difference.

Melbourne Photographer Bill Gekas photographs his daughter in the style of all the old Masters.  Take a look here

https://www.boredpanda.com/5-year-old-daughter-classic-paintings-bill-gekas/

Google for photographic images of ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ by Vermeer, and see what others are up to.

you need to understand art now, to understand photography.

4. The art of conversation – There are times when you need permission to shoot.  Either a person, or a place.  The need for access can sometimes be smoothed over by a polite conversation with owners, or guardians.  After photographers have trespassed on land, you can’t blame the owners for being angry at finding ‘yet another’ on their property.  Go in first, ask the questions – I think you’ll be surprised how forthcoming people will be, just for asking.

5. And lastly – filing and organisation – there is no point in having the worlds greatest image if you can’t find it on  your hard drive.  So, keep your drives tidy, split your images into sections or groups, back them up externally, and don’t rely on your website either – if your provider goes out of business – you could be left high and dry with no images.

If you use Lightroom, avail yourself of the catalogue and make sure your images are correctly sorted, tagged, and keyworded.  Sure, it might take you a week (or more) of hard work, if you’ve not started yet, but in the long run I think you’ll be pleased you did.

For example – I sold an image at a craft fair 5 years ago – it was mounted but not framed.  The client decided to have it reframed, and the picture framer damaged the print.  He contacted me, and asked if I could supply a new one, so that he didn’t have to tell his client; and because I’d got a good catalogue, I was able, within an hour, to send him a file, so he could get it printed again.  Job done.

GWPE

SEO – Part deux……

Although there are many sites out there, and people who are willing to sell you their SEO expertise, I’m now of the opinion that with some careful reading, and work on your site, you can improve your ratings immensely.

Keyword research is very important – it acts as a navigator for your site and blog, and allows you to see what items are actually being searched for.  I suggest you head over to Google’s Keyword Tool.   Search each keyword to check how many websites turned out on the search engine result page (SERP) – these are your major competitors.

There are sites that will generate keywords for you, but mostly these are not free…. a good one is Word Tracker – and they do offer a free trial.

As Google Webmaster Tools, crawl the Oaktree site – they are coming up with keywords – and I can now identify these and amend them within the site itself.  I’m slowly amending my keyword page titles, so that the bots can group pages into the correct categories. Search engines will put your keywords in BOLD in the listings, which is good, in that will attract extra attention from people who are searching.

Engines also pay a great deal of attention to inbound links to your site.  I see that Google is already finding a number of links from sites I didn’t realise were linking to mine.  The key here is not to have links from spam sites, or from other low ranking ones, but to have them from credible businesses where-ever possible  – emphasise quality over quantity when you are looking for these.

Lastly in this post, Robots.txt – I noticed this on the Google Webmaster pages. It tells search bots, what to search, and what not to search – it also helps prevent irrelevant items being linked to your own site, which is good.

Don’t forget that people search the web for information, and SEO is only the beginning … I’m moving onwards with this – but for the moment, it’s back to work, taking great images for next year.

Improving your SEO

A couple of weeks ago, I realised that my images were not showing up on Google searches as well as I would have expected.  I’d done a publicity shoot for a theatre, and though the client was pleased with the results, I wanted to publicise those images even more, and drive more traffic through to my website.  A frantic search revealed the odd one, but more from sources that were not mine !

Research through my site host (Zenfolio) showed me that a lot of the tools I needed were already available to me, and there was an excellent tutorial online, which I dutifully worked through.  My hit rate increased almost overnight, but there’s some distance to go yet.

Recently, I shot Keith Lemon in Blackpool, but images didn’t feature in the google search…. today, after 3 days work – it ranked number 1 on the first page….. the two images circled are mine…….

I’ve researched Google Webmaster tools, and Webmaster Bing – and though Oaktree has not yet been crawled by  Bing (they say it can take months sometimes for results to show), I’m hopeful that things will continue to improve.

On that basis, here’s what I’ve learned to improve traffic through the website

1. Add a blog – new content encourages more visits,  and Search Engine Traffic, especially if updated regularly.

2. Use Google Analytics – it’s free, and links in nicely to your site.  Sign up for Google Webmaster tools too.

3. Use lots of keywords – keyword every image on your site (something I’m still working on) and make your keywords relevant.

4. Use headers and footers where-ever you can.

5. Use Meta Tags – a great way to provide search engines with information about their sites. Meta tags can be used to provide information to all sorts of clients.

6. Make Backlinks to your site……..
Backlinks, also known as incoming links, inbound links, inlinks, and inward links, are incoming links from outside to your site – if you use firefox, the following may be of interest.

NoDoFollow Add-on for Firefox
Download new NoDoFollow 1.5 plugin by Jayce from here
Install it and restart firefox.
If you want to check a blog is do-follow or no-follow, right click on any part of your webpage in firefox and click NoDoFollow. Do-Follow links turns BLUE and No-Follow turns RED.

Wikipedia has this to say about backlinks….
Search engines often use the number of backlinks that a website has as one of the most important factors for determining that website’s search engine ranking, popularity and importance. Google‘s description of their PageRank system, for instance, notes that Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote, by page A, for page B. Knowledge of this form of search engine rankings has fueled a portion of the SEO industry commonly termed linkspam, where a company attempts to place as many inbound links as possible to their site regardless of the context of the originating site.

Websites often employ various search engine optimization techniques to increase the number of backlinks pointing to their website. Some methods are free for use by everyone whereas some methods like linkbaiting requires quite a bit of planning and marketing to work. Some websites stumble upon “linkbaiting” naturally; the sites that are the first with a tidbit of ‘breaking news’ about a celebrity are good examples of that. When “linkbait” happens, many websites will link to the ‘baiting’ website because there is information there that is of extreme interest to a large number of people.

I’ll be revisiting this again after more research – so you may wish to consider this a “Part 1”

Enjoy your SEO…. !!