Photographers, the Internet desperately needs what you have to offer.

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I write to you today, because there is something important that I would like to share with you, that I want you to know. And it's not about product updates or developing features, it's not about selling software or promoting The Turning Gate. Today, I bring you a message of positivity. I want to talk about you. Yes, YOU.

YOU are the Internet's most vital resource.

Well, who are you? Why do I think so, and why am I pointing my figurative finger at you? Settle in. This one gets long.

You are self-hosting your own website, rather than swelling the pustule of social or crowdsourced media. You're more interested in carving out your own space and identity, than you are in piling onto the landfills of Facebook, Buzzfeed, or Medium. You may get fewer hits overall, but the hits you do get will probably mean more.

You've chosen to utilize The Turning Gate's tools, likely because of the diversity of the feature set and our plugins' malleable design, which pertains to your wanting your website to be an extension of your expressive self. You want to do things in your own way, and we give you a lot of options to define your individual path.

You are photographers, which implies so many important things. Among them, ...

... You are personally and financially invested in your acts of self-expression. You have put time and effort into honing your craft, and have perhaps made sacrifices for it.

... Photography does not get made at a desk, behind a computer, and you know it. You get up and get out, and the farther afield you go, the more you return with. By its very nature, photography broadens your horizons, invites you into experiences outside of yourself, involves you in the stories of other places, in the lives of other people, and in the forge of these experiences, you are constantly reshaped into something new.

... You create original visual content, and do so in a modern era where originality is in such short supply. On the other side of that coin, it is incredibly unlikely that you would turn to generic stock content to promote or adorn yourself or your expressions.

And it's these attributes that are at the core of this discussion.

I've lately been working on CE4 Theme for WordPress, our WordPress theme creation utility for Lightroom. Blogs and blogging are much on my mind at the moment.

There's no dearth of WordPress themes to be had, free or premium. You might pick the white one with the headlines in the fancy script. Or maybe the black one with the yellow accents. It's a lovely shade of yellow, you think, and sits nicely on that nearly black, but not quite fully devoid-of-tonality background. And it's a thought likely shared by the 150 people who purchased and installed that theme before you, and the 150 people who will do so after. And probably 95% of them won't personalize that theme at all, beyond typing their names into WordPress' required boxes.

You don't want to run a website identical to 300 others. By and large, photographers are nonconformists. If that were not the case, then we'd all be fully sated with office jobs and cubicles, and would have no use for photographic machinations or malleable Web frameworks.

You put a lot of yourself into your photography, into your stories, and as much as we're able, we want you to be able to showcase your work according to your own preferences. We've built our business on personalization features.

CE4 Theme for WordPress is good, and given time I can make it better. I can give you new and better ways to tell your stories, to show your photos, to share your experiences with the rest of us. And I really, really want you to share. I've built the sound-system; you setup the mic, then spill yourself into it for all the world to hear; we facilitate, you go crazy. That's the deal. And I say again:

YOU, photographers, are the Internet's most vital resource.

Your horizons are wide, your experiences run deep, and you don't make things up. Photographers live, feel, record and share their worldliness with others. Through photography, we know our past, and those things which lie beyond our personal boundaries and experience. We live vicariously through the lens, non-photographers through photographers, and photographers through our friends and peers in other places.

You might be wondering, why do I think that the Internet hinges upon YOU in particular?

The short answer I've already stated, that you are a creator of original visual content and a purveyor of genuine experiences, many of which are probably worth sharing.

Social and crowdsourced media are conformity, a steady, unending drip of blandness. We should all make social media a part of our outreach strategy, but that doesn't mean we need to live there, and we certainly don't have to like it. There's still space on the Web for individuals to produce standout content. One of my favorite things to read on the entire Internet is the blog of Canadian photographer Patrick la Roque, because he's brilliant, takes wonderful photos, and always tells the truth. I don't follow him on social media, because I don't want him to become just one more dude on my wall. I make a point of visiting his blog regularly, and every time feels like a refreshing break from routine.

At the other end of the spectrum ...

Maybe two weeks ago, a friend from photography school shared a link on Facebook. I clicked and was swept off to Medium, an unmoderated publishing platform populated by crowdsourced, self-styled bloggers with more asperations than substance. The article in question quickly lost its own plot, but there were three or four images embedded and I took notice of the photography. The image leading the article was this one:

photo by Jacob Walti

photo by Jacob Walti

Not something I'd hang on my wall, but it evokes a certain feeling and was appropriately matched to the article's gist, which was something about setting yourself adrift from the mundane life and chasing your dreams. You know, the sort of pseudo-inspirational fluff that people like to share on Facebook. Whatever. I finished the article, felt disappointed by its ending, then went about my business, probably returning to my text-editor to work on TTG development.

A few days later, I clicked another thing on my wall, read another article, and there was the very same photo. "Well, that's the Internet for you," I thought, and carried on with my day.

Days after that, I landed on another article, with this image:

photo by Joshua Earle

photo by Joshua Earle

... which had also appeared in that first article I'd read, along with the other. I began to scratch my head ...

The third time I ran across the underwater image, I ran it through a Google Image Search:

Life, I'm quitting you.

And the page scrolls on and on ...

Cutting to the chase, the source of both of these images is the same: Unsplash.com, a site promising free high-resolution stock photos, at a rate of 10 new images every 10 days. From what I can tell, the content is crowdsourced. Photographers can submit their work through a link on their website.

UNSPLASH LEGAL STUFF

All photos published on Unsplash are licensed under Creative Commons Zero which means you can can copy, modify, distribute and use the photos, even for commercial purposes, all without asking permission.

For giving up the rights to their photos, contributing photographers are compensated with momentary viral glory.

From my perspective, Unsplash.com is contributing to the homogenization of the Internet, the flatlining of the Internet's peaks and valleys, giving self-styled bloggers access to reasonably compelling imagery, at no cost and with very little effort, with which to buoy their typically unconvincing blather.

The upshot might be that if more bloggers are pulling freely licensed imagery from sites such as this, it may result in fewer bloggers pulling work from photographers' websites for illegitimate use. But that is perhaps a tangential conversation.

In less than two weeks, I've seen the two images above at least three or four times each, in different places. Just this afternoon, I ran across that second image yet again. I now close these sites immediately. Because how authentic a message can these people possibly be providing, if they're cherry-picking widely spread stock imagery from a free website that barfs crowdsourced images at 10-day intervals? Are they really even trying?

At that time, in that place, they were not there; what they're showing and what they're telling are disconnected things, thinly tied together by strands of the World Wide Web. Rubbish.

And that's why the Internet needs YOU. You were there, you photographed it, and you can tell us about it with the sort of authority and authenticity that most social bloggers simply cannot muster.

I am proud to say that the vast majority of the images I use here on The Turning Gate are my own work. Occasionally, I borrow images with permission, such as when I need a nice panorama for a demonstration, because Rod Barbee's panoramas are nicer than mine, and because he's a friend.

The image leading this article is one of my own. And you know why I'm using it? Because it's mine, and because I can. That's more than most bloggers can say. We should aspire to be the fascinating old lady in the awesome, incredibly functional hat, peaking out from amongst the clutter.

I'm working on CE4 Theme for WordPress because I know that you have stories to tell, and I'd really like you to tell them. If I can create a tool to make the telling easier for you to do, then I want to create that tool. But whether you use my tools or not, please tell your stories. The Internet needs more of you, more of the original, compelling, authentic content that you create, and less of the crowdsourced garbage that it's got in spades.

You know who crowdsources material? Fox News. And now we all turn to comedians to get real world perspective.

Now, because I am a photographer and not Average Joe Blogger; because I can, I leave you with another original image.

Hanoi, Vietnam.

Hanoi, Vietnam.


Are you a photographer who already blogs? Drop your link in the comments, because we'd love to read you.

You're a photographer and not blogging, but would like to get started? We'd like to help. Ask us your questions.

Or comment below to let us know your thoughts on the matter.


18 Responses to “Photographers, the Internet desperately needs what you have to offer.”

  1. Tom Owens says:

    Well articulated Matthew. The Internet is much more significant impactwise than say the Brownie was with respect to serious/ proAm/ Pro photographers. We are faced with a sea of mediocrity that seems to satify the short attention spans of many people posting images on the World Wide Web

    · October 16, 2014 @ 10:10 am

    • Matthew Campagna says:

      Agreed! Thank you, Tom.

      · October 16, 2014 @ 11:49 am

  2. Mark Harris says:

    Back when I was young and fun (in the 90’s), I blogged about ski touring and kayaking and climbing, and since there wasn’t much else on the web back then I got a lot of readers.
    Now I think my occasional blog about photo jobs has about 3 followers : http://frozentime.se/blog

    · October 16, 2014 @ 10:21 am

    • Matthew Campagna says:

      Hi Mark,

      Thanks for sharing. I don’t know whether you’re looking for advice, but I’ve got some if you want it.

      You’ve got good diversity of content, but you should blog more often, and choose a more modern theme to present it.

      You’re only posting a few times a year, it looks like. If you want to maintain an audience, then you’ll need to post article more frequently. I’m guilty of letting Campagna Pictures languish; I travel every few months, and I should at least be posting once per trip, but haven’t even done as much as that. At least partial, it’s because I stay busy with The Turning Gate, developing, blogging and writing newsletters, so I have that excuse. I try to blog on TTG at least once a month. When in the think of development and churning out updates, that’s easy. When development slows down, I try to come up with tutorials, conversations such as this one, ebooks reviews, or even just pulling together a list of interesting reading from other publications. A steady flow of content is essential to keeping your followers invested.

      As for updating your theme, it’s really easy to do. I see you’re still running the old TwentyTen default. That one was never very good to begin with, was not designed for use on modern devices. Nowadays, people expect to be able to read on their phones. I do most of my blog reading in cafes, or when commuting on buses or trains, using my iPhone or iPad. Because people are mostly consuming their content on smaller devices these days, responsive design — or having a site designed for mobile — is essential. Of course, I’d love for you to use CE4 Theme for WordPress. But you could also look around for free alternatives, or use WordPress’ newer TwentyFourteen theme. Just whatever you decide to do, TwentyTen has had its time in the sun, and it’s now time to send it into retirement.

      · October 16, 2014 @ 11:49 am

      • Mark Harris says:

        I was absolutely looking for advice, and thanks for yours.
        It seems like only yesterday that my fancy new ‘2010’ blog theme was the most modern part of my web site, but I guess the years have gone by. Probably 4 of them.
        So today I continued the TTGification of my site, and now have the blog nicely integrated with the rest of the pages.
        I know I should update more, but also want to keep the quality and interest of the posts high, which is a balancing act. But I guess with my current frequency it’s not so much a blog as a handful of static articles. Must do better. Maybe I should blog on the marvels of TTG next.

        · October 17, 2014 @ 8:56 am

        • Matthew Campagna says:

          Ha! We always welcome that.

          You can always pick out a couple of favorite images and talk about them, one per post, between other types of articles. It’s what most photographers do when they give presentations.

          · October 17, 2014 @ 9:46 am

  3. I added a blog to my photography website a few years ago when I realized that I typically find other photographers’ websites when searching for reviews or tips, rather than actual photos. Blogs typically have more words than photos which make them show up in Google a bit easier. πŸ˜‰ I have a full-time job outside of photography so blog articles are few and far between, but when I write something it’s because I think I have something unique to say. I take my time to write something that I’d like to read, rather than just get something out quick. I also use my blog to announce when I post a new photo gallery. That way, newsletter subscribers get the information.

    I’m using a TTG WordPress theme which I’ve customized to do some things that the theme didn’t do out-of-the-box. I like that my blog is completely integrated into the rest of my TTG-created website (which has its own customizations here and there) for a seamless feel. It just seems clunky when I see websites with features shoehorned in with no coherent look–especially on a photographer’s site!

    All that said, I totally agree with you Matt–we need more original stories and content. Everyone has a unique voice and perspective. It’s sad when the Internet turns into just copy and paste. I don’t follow many blogs myself, but the ones I do consistently have quality content that I can’t find elsewhere. That’s what bloggers should try to do if we want more followers!

    http://www.jasonwaltman.com/blog/

    · October 16, 2014 @ 11:33 am

    • Mark Harris says:

      Nice blog and pictures ! And of course you’re right, a photographer’s site should be visually perfect.
      I just got my TTG site finished last week, and now have to integrate the blog.
      Your site also reminded me I should travel more.

      · October 16, 2014 @ 11:40 am

    • Matthew Campagna says:

      You’ve done a great job, Jason. A friggin’ love that picture of Bangkok. The colors are fantastic.

      And you’re totally right about the search benefits. Search engines weigh more heavily towards blogs, especially those kept up-to-date. It’s a great way to be found.

      Well I’ve now got you in my feeds.

      Feel free to let me know some of the customizations you made to compensate for what our theme wasn’t doing for you out-of-the-box. Maybe I can work some of it into CE4.

      · October 16, 2014 @ 11:56 am

  4. Mark Hoffman says:

    I’ve had TTG websites running for a number of years. They are jammed with hundreds of photos in dozens of galleries. My aim was to have the work speak for itself. Some does. But sadly, a lot of it doesn’t. No fault but my own as I work to become more articulate with a lens. My blog was something of an afterthought. It seemed to me a “complete” website should include a blog. It was to help the photos speak. So I added one. Scary part was I discovered right away that I had almost nothing to say, or nothing I thought anyone would be interested in. Tried kicking around things that just popped into my mind but that began to sound like stream of consciousness rambling. Then I just started writing about the photography which meant I didn’t have to think about it very much. Turns out I had a bit more to say than I thought. Anyway, when I first started blogging it was like going to a restaurant naked. Now I find people do actually read the stuff sometimes and very few people have nasty or negative comments. But there are a few, and for those I’ve discovered my skin has gotten a bit thicker. I’d say that’s a good thing.

    · October 16, 2014 @ 8:40 pm

    • Matthew Campagna says:

      The meanies, that’s what commend moderation is for. πŸ˜‰

      · October 17, 2014 @ 9:47 am

  5. Joel Schnell says:

    Thanks, Matthew, nicely presented.
    Here is my blog about photography and video. It’s a mix of work assignments and personal work that interests me. Over the last 3 years I’ve done 112 posts. I post something new every month, sometimes twice a month.
    http://schnellphoto.tumblr.com

    -Joel

    · October 20, 2014 @ 10:01 am

    • Matthew Campagna says:

      Thanks for sharing, Joel. I like the consistency of your posts. A photo or a few, a handful of paragraphs. The brevity makes is all very approachable.

      · October 24, 2014 @ 9:54 pm

  6. Carol Ellis says:

    Matthew,

    You have passion for your work, and your words tell me even more, that you care about the people you serve. Thank you.

    I started a blog in June, made a few entries, then whether out of fear, or rather because the blog felt like not so much in the moment, I stopped. During the time I was uncovering much about my authentic self, and was not sure if I needed people inside the process.

    I want to be real, but I’m not too sure the world is ready for this.

    Moving forward I think I need to do some tweaking on the WordPress, since many folks said they only read one post?

    Thank you,

    Carol

    · October 24, 2014 @ 3:38 pm

    • Matthew Campagna says:

      Thank you, Carol.

      I think it’s important to blog in whatever way makes you comfortable. Some people get very personal and introspective, and some people go to great lengths to keep themselves out of what they’re writing. Both are viable approaches.

      In can also help to lock onto a handful of blogs that you find interesting or inspirational, to get a sense of how others approach the medium of blogging. For finding ones authentic self, I’d definitely follow David duChemin, and Patrick la Roque, whom I’ve already mentioned, strikes a great balance between personal life and experience, and photographic craft.

      · October 24, 2014 @ 9:51 pm

  7. Hi Matthew,

    Wonderful article and thank you!

    I picked up especially on something you said that recently struck a chord with me from another angle. You said, “For giving up the rights to their photos, contributing photographers are compensated with momentary viral glory.”
    There is another venue now that is also capitalizing on that very idea of exploiting the works of the photographers in exchange for ‘momentary glory.”

    This venue I speak about is the new age trend to the proverbial photo contest. Few old school contests required payment to submit, they didn’t base winning on peer votes, and they offered real rewards. Though I have never been one to spend a lot of my time entering even those contests, I recently had a facebook friend share a link to a contest that she thought would be right up my alley.

    Upon reading the fine print, this line was a no brainer decision maker for me. “NO WAY” would I enter this contest!
    “License of Submissions: By entering, you grant to the Promotion Entities a non exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free license to edit, publish, promote, republish at any time in the future and otherwise use your Submission, along with your name and likeness, in any and all media for any purpose, without further permission, notice or compensation (except where prohibited by law).”

    But if that isn’t bad enough, here is the ‘prize’ for the winner of this contest:
    Grand Prizes: Each Grand Prize Winner shall win: (i) a one-year photography contract with Great American Country for $5,000 (additional terms to be determined by Great American Country in its sole discretion); (ii) a photography profile in Popular Photography Magazine; (iii) a five-year subscription to Popular Photography Magazine; and (iv) a Great American Country prize pack. Approximate retail value (β€œARV”) of the Grand Prize: $5,250.
    Runner-Up Prizes: Each Runner-Up Prize Winner shall win: (i) $500 cash (presented in the form of a check); (ii) a one-year subscription to Popular Photography Magazine; (iii) Great American Country apparel; and (iv) a photograph feature on GreatAmericanCountry.com. ARV of the Runner-Up Prize: $520.

    Its all well and good that they spell out the cash prizes for runner up winners, but as far as the Grand Prize goes, what does a one year contract for $5000 encompass? There is no explanation given, no terms spelled out for a contract. As stated, I don’t know anyone who would work a year contract for only $5000. However, once you check that box to enter the contest, you give up the rights to your photo and if you win you have an evasive contract to honor.

    .. Thank you for your article. I shared this information to show another way in which so many companies are creating business ideas to obtain photos from photographers that will give up their rights for their ’15 minutes of fame’.

    By the way, this contest is the Hunt For Americana Photo Contest and I quoted the above rules and prize information from this website: http://www.popphoto.com/photo-contest/GACAmericana/official-rules

    · October 25, 2014 @ 9:42 am

    • Matthew Campagna says:

      Thanks, Kristen.

      I agree, that contest sounds pretty sketchy. With the boom in the photo market, there are more people taking photos than ever before, many dreaming of the photographer’s life. Photographers are now a market into themselves, and they spend money. Lots of it. I think there are a lot of businesses looking to exploit that market.

      We make our money selling things to photographers also, though we’re not looking to exploit photographers; simply to provide them a service and product.

      It’s really important to read the fine print.

      · October 26, 2014 @ 3:00 am

      • Hi Matthew,

        So true, photographers are a market into themselves as there are no more amateura with jobs to support their hobby than there are professionals who’s lifestyle of photography must support them (me, us).

        Many of us market to other photographers like you do with products or services such as workshops, critiques, etc. But like you said, those are all aimed at helping others. And I certainly appreciate the Turning Gate software!
        The companies that exploit seem to be those that in the past paid (or would have paid) big money for stock photography. Now they simply run a contest and get to use every photo that is submitted. The only cost to them is the sum of their prizes to winners which is peanuts in comparison to what they’d pay if they were legitimately buying stock.
        The sole purpose of a contest like that is to obtain stock photography and they do so under the guise of a contest and gear it to amateurs that romanticize the life as a photgrapher.

        You’re right in your article in that it’s only the photographer who has the stories and the experiences behind the photos. It seems to me that to sign ones rights away on an image dilutes the intrinsic value when the story is disconnected from its source.
        Any photographer should always consider whether the gain (or potential gain) is worth the cost.

        · October 26, 2014 @ 3:40 am

Comments are now closed.


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