Hong Kong, 2012
Hong Kong, 2012

If it weren’t for my blog I wouldn’t be anybody. I have my blog and the street photography community to thank for my “success” in life.

I’m lucky to be born in a age where one can easily build an online presence with a blog and social media. And of course, I have to greatly thank you, my dear reader, and the street photography for supporting my blog and the beautiful genre of street photography.

I have been insulted a lot when it comes to my blog, social media presence, and photography. I’m told that I’m a horrible photographer, but really good at social media. I’ve been told that I’m a social media spammer. I’ve been told that I’m a terrible writer, photographer, and human being. I’ve gotten all sort of negative feedback– don’t even get me started on YouTube comments.

However it is true that I’m not the best photographer. Nor am I the beat writer. Nor am I the best blogger. I’m not really the best at anything.

However, I’m passionate. I’m passionate about sharing knowledge, information and building a community around street photography. I feel it is the purpose why I was put on this earth.

One aspect of my social media/blogging success is that I am prolific. Meaning, I write a lot. I write everyday, and post something to social media everyday. I know that everything I write and post won’t be the best. However I like to simply “show up”. I love creating, not consuming. I try to spend as much energy and effort I can to create “value” in street photography– through my articles, videos, and images I share.

I often am asked on advice on blogging, social media, SEO and how to become a “full time” photographer. I wanted to write this post to share everything I know– as well as things which are overrated.

SEO and blogging

What is SEO? I’m sure you heard of it before, and how important it is.

To sum up, SEO stands for “search engine optimization” (ie, how to get on top of google search results).

For example if you google “street photography blog”– you will find my blog. Or if you google “Henri Cartier-Bresson”, you will find my article on him on the first page of google.

You can see why “SEO” is so important. It means people searching for things on google will eventually find you.

The tricky thing is that SEO is like black magic. Nobody really knows how it works 100% (or else people will be able to game the system and have an unfair advantage). However this is what I know so far about SEO. Disclaimer: I am not an SEO expert:

1. Content is king

Google is pretty smart. Google knows if the “content” (writing, images, videos) on your site is helpful and useful and not. To an extent, google knows if your website has “high quality” content.

So what does this mean? Well, if you’re blogging on photography– try to make the information as thorough, informative, and high-quality as possible. Don’t just copy and paste information from other sources. Create original, informative, and helpful “content” which will inspire and help other people.

For example, most of the articles on my blog aim to be helpful and informative. Ultimately this causes my articles to be shared more on social media. And Google knows (to a certain extent) how “important” your content is based on how many times it has been shared on social media.

2. Keywords and tags are overrated

One of the big problems I see is that people spam keywords and tags too much.

Google used to recognize more keywords and tags as more important and relevant. However nowadays I’ve heard from my SEO friends that it is overrated.

To a certain extent, keywords are important. If you want your blog or website to show up high on google, you want to add the phrase: “street photography” to your title. Similarly, when I write blog articles– I try to include “street photography” in the title.

But putting a million keywords, tags, and hashtags won’t increase your search results. In-fact, it might hurt you.

3. Write for human beings

The problem of SEO is that people try to write for google, not for human beings.

Remember, you first and foremost want to write for a human audience. Make content that inspires, informs, and emotionally connects with people. This should be your number one priority. Sooner or later “organically” your google search rankings will improve.

4. Consistency is important

One thing that Google favors is sites that are updated often. Unfortunately this is a problem: a lot of bloggers end up focusing on quantity over quality. I think it is possible to have both, but I know personally I focus on quantity more than quality on this blog. Unfortunately I don’t have the patience to edit articles as much as I’d like to – I just want to put out the information out on the web.

So realize that you need to be consistent with updating your blog. I read a statistic once that 99.9% of blogs aren’t updated after the first month. So the real secret to successful blogging is this: don’t die. This means, always keep blogging.

I try to personally write at least one blog post a day. I’m not always able to, so on certain days when I have more time and energy– I’ll write 2–3 articles. But I try to update my blog at least once a day.

I think consistency is also important in street photography. I think the secret to a successful journey in street photography is to shoot everyday (even when you don’t feel inspired). This is because I think that routines and processes are the most important thing. I don’t recommend waiting for inspiration (then writing or shooting). I find that writing and shooting leads to inspiration.

Starting your own blog

I highly recommend everyone to start their own blog. The benefits are great and many. Here are some benefits:

1. You build a platform that you own

If you self-host a wordpress blog. I recommend bluehost.com for ease of setup.

2. You build up an audience

If you have a home for blogging, you can include your images, videos, words of inspiration, and articles that help and inspire others.

3. You become responsible

I find that what inspires me the most to blog is to know that I am responsible for an audience who is hungry to learn more about street photography.

4. You learn and grow

Everything I have learned on street photography, I have shared on this blog. I am still a student, and on a life-long journey. I personally find that when I share information I know and write about it, I better understand it. It’s like when you tutor someone in school, you learn the information better. So in blogging about something, you will better learn how to articulate your thoughts and processes– which will help your own learning process.

5. You will open up doors to opportunity

When I started my blog, I had no intention to do it full time nor did I have any aspirations to become a “full-time” blogger and photographer. I simply started it because I enjoyed it, and was passionate about it. Fast-forward – in 4 years I have written 1,000+ articles, got laid off my job, been able to teach workshops for a living, done international exhibitions, and collaborations with many photographers and companies. If it want for my blog, these doors wouldn’t have opened up. So realize if your own blog and have consistency and persistence– many doors and opportunities will open up to you too.

Some advice I have on blogging:

1. Don’t worry about what your blog is going to be about

It will always change and evolve over time. I know a lot of photographers who want to start a blog but don’t know what it will be about. But you will never really know what it is about. Even now, I’m still not sure what this blog is about– or what direction it is heading. When I first started my blog, it was just snapshots of my travels and some street photos. As time went on, I started writing more tips and tricks on street photography, started interviewing other street photographers, and also started to build up a street photography community. There is never a perfect time to start a blog, so start today.

2. Host your blog on WordPress.org

This will give you much more control, flexibility, and freedom in the long run. Tumblr is also a good easy platform to get started on, but the features are quite limited compared to WordPress. Other good options include blogger.com and WordPress.com.

3. Write with your heart and soul

When you blog, make sure to write openly, honestly, and with your heart. Let your words bleed onto the keyboard and unto the screen. Realize that your blog doesn’t need to include words, you can make it just focused more as a picture blog (of your ongoing work).

But make it personal, and emotional. One of my favorite blogs on street photography is Josh White because he is quite transparent. I follow his thoughts, his hopes, his aspirations. He really bleeds with his words and images. I have built a strong emotional connection to him, and he has been pretty consistent in blogging ore the years.

4. Realize there is never a perfect time to blog

I have a pretty hectic schedule. I’m always traveling, on a plane, on a friends couch, at the cafe, or in a library. I always dreamed of having my perfect dream office with lots of natural light and a fancy espresso machine. But reality sucks. I never have an “ideal” time to blog. Even now, I’m writing this on an iPad at a library in Saigon, while Cindy is looking for books. My hands are quite cramped from typing on an iPad (I’d prefer to use my laptop, but Cindy is using it). I wasn’t very inspired to start writing, but I felt this topic was important enough for me to start.

5. Drink lots of coffee

I’ve tried every “productivity” hack our there when it comes to blogging. The only thing that works reliably is lots of strong coffee. I find it helps because the smell and taste of coffee tells my brain: “Okay eric, it is time for you to get to work.”

Coffee inspires me to start writing, uploading images to share, and sharing the images of others. If you don’t like coffee, you can try drinking tea, listening to your favorite music, or having a beer or a glass of wine.

Anything that can be used as a “trigger” to start working. (As a side note, I highly recommend reading the book: “how habits work” to build bullet-proof habits).

6. Don’t wait for inspiration to hit you

Inspiration is overrated. If you wait for information, you will never get anything done. This applies both to writing, blogging, and photography. I feel it is the opposite way around. Inspiration follows action. What I mean by this is that when I start writing, then I feel inspired. Rather than me waiting for inspiration, then start writing.

Same is for photography: I photograph then I feel inspired. Rather than I feel inspired, then I start shooting.

Social media advice

There are so many social media platforms out there now. But what are relevant and important? Here are some of my personal views and thoughts:

Facebook fan page:

Probably the most important one. Facebook has the most users, and most people I know check Facebook several times a day. So having a Facebook fan page is quintessential if you want to build up your online presence a photographer. Ideas you can use on Facebook: share inspirational quotes, photos, photos of other photographers (link to their website), asking questions (to start discussions or debates).

I recommend updating Facebook 1–3 times a day. Anything more than that seems spammy to me.

Twitter

Good to have to connect with other like-minded photographers. Imagine twitter like a public text messaging service. I have met up some cool photographers this way. But twitter is a bit overrated in my opinion.

Tumblr

At first I thought tumblr was just a fad. But I think it is a quite robust social media platform in terms of the mix of simplicity and number of features (you can write blog posts, share quotes, videos, images, etc).

Also I find a lot of street photographers are quite active on it. Tumblr doesn’t have the amount of users as Facebook or flickr (in the street photography community) but I think it is the best platform to share your work on. This is because you can create sets, change the order, and lay them out beautifully.

Instagram

One of the most important but “incorrectly” utilized social media platform. Everyone is addicted to mobile. I think most people check Instagram more than Facebook now. However, I think most photographers use it wrong. They put too many photos of their cappuccinos and food, and not enough images about photography.

Whenever I post something to Instagram I ask myself: is this image useful, informative, funny, and will it build “value” in the life of my viewer? Things which I personally try to post: covers of photography books I’m reading and recommend #buybooksnotgear, urban landscapes I shoot on my phone, street photos that I shoot on film (and I use an application like “squaready” to turn into 3:2 aspect ratio), or interesting photography-related things I find in my daily life.

I personally try to limit the amount of “gear porn” I share– which is sexy photos of cameras. I think this just propagates more “gas” (gear acquisition syndrome). But I am a sucker for vintage film cameras.

Flickr

I still find that flickr is the most dominant platform for street photography. A lot of this has to do with the fact that “hardcore street photography” is the most active online group/forum/curated gallery on street photography. So in this sense, I feel flickr is quintessential for photographers.

The big downside of flickr is that you can’t change the order of your images after you upload them– which means flickr is much more about single images than it is about sets and story-telling. Also I have personally fallen into the trap of being obsessed of the number of “favorites” and comments I get.

So use flickr to connect with other street photographers, but try to avoid the hype on how many followers, views, and social media “pats on the back”.

Conclusion

Phew, I’m pretty exhausted after typing this all up. But I hope it is helpful and informative to you.

I have a lot To thank blogging and social media for. But also realize it is overrated in many ways. I think ultimately we should focus on making photographs that please ourselves. We should put little to no importance on what other people think of our work.

In the past, I have fallen victim to “social media syndrome”– in which I crave likes/favorites/comments/views like a cocaine addict. Don’t get me wrong, I still love it– but I purposefully try to not look at my stats. This has brought me much more happiness.

Ultimately my advice on social media is be yourself. If you are the type of person who likes to share everything (like myself) go for it. If you don’t like to share, don’t feel forced to (it is okay to be offline). But at the end of the day, stay active, passionate, and consistent with your work and photography. Leave all the SEO and blogging to the nerds (like me).

I wrote this on Facebook a while back, and I use it as a constant reminder what’s important:

Social media fame is a fruitless thing to chase after; will it really matter 100 years from now that you had a million followers on Facebook, Twitter, or Flickr? Will these networks still be around then? Enjoy the present moment when you photograph in the streets, and remember to shoot only to impress yourself.

If you want to learn more on the philosophy of blogging and social media, I recommend reading these articles I wrote in the past:

Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Photography Entrepreneurship

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Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Mastering Photography

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