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I started PhotoTraces in 2014 and, over a period of two years, it became the center of my photography business. I travel the world documenting my experiences on my blog in addition to teaching photography skills by publishing tutorials and guides on PhotoTraces.com. I also develop photography-related products and market them on my blog. Because of this, I have built an audience of over 100,000 people who are interested in travel photography and PhotoTraces, which has helped me earn a full-time living by doing what I am most passionate about – photography..
I strongly believe that any photographer, or any artist for that matter, will benefit from starting a blog. The era of portfolio style websites is over as no one needs a static online presence. Every artist needs a fluid and evolving organism that can reflect his or her personality while simultaneously working to promote his or her talent.
Blogging evolved from online diaries into large self-publishing platform that can be customized and molded depending on one’s goals (i.e. self-promotion, sales, clients, etc.) or activities (i.e. travel photography, wedding photography, photography education).
Regardless if you are a professional photographer, an aspiring novice or an enthusiast with a big dream, blogging is the best tool to assist in growing as an artist as well as establishing and promoting your personal brand.
1. Reasons for Having a Photography Blog
Before you start your photography blog, I suggest you define the reasons you want to do it. By outlining your specific goals, it will help you to shape the direction for your future blog.
To assist you with the process, I am listing the reasons I considered while planning to launch PhotoTraces.
Blogging will help you get discovered
Photographers communicate through a visual medium – photography. However, visual language is not enough to market our talents in the online world. Even I strongly believe that a picture is worth a thousand words but somehow Google was not informed of this fact. The simple truth is that you need a thousand words in order for people to find your art online.
Blogging will help you develop your personal brand
Personal brand is what makes someone unique. It goes beyond your artistic style and is the sum of many things like your personality, your values, and your talent. Blogging will help you find your own unique voice and share it with the world. Although, you must remember that it takes time to figure it out and even longer to establish it.
Blogging will help you to grow as a photographer
Your blog is less rigid and restrictive than your portfolio. Your blog will let you experiment with your art, take risks and see what resonates with your audience.
Blogging can show your human side to the world
People connect with other people. What happens often in the online world is that personalities are lost behind faceless technologies. Through communication with your blog visitors, it is much easier to reveal the real human being, the face, behind your photography.
Blogging will help you learn by teaching others
My favorite quote about learning is, “The best way to learn is to teach others.” Even if you are just starting your journey as a photographer, you are already a few steps ahead of other people who are only considering taking the plunge. Your advice can be more valuable to them than the advice of the established artist who went through that phase over 20 years ago.
Blogging will keep you motivated and organized
The moment your blog starts accumulating followers, it gives you a purpose. You do not display your art for abstract internet users anymore; you create content for real human beings who actually like what you have to offer.
Blogging will teach you about the confusing world of online marketing
Online marketing is not rocket science but it takes time to figure out all of its components and how they fit together. By starting your blog early, you can naturally learn, as your blog grows, and at your own pace without any pressure.
Ideally, your photography blog should be the center of your self-promotional activities. Your blog will feed various content channels (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, guest posts, print publications, etc.) with unique content and, in return, content channels will bring you exposure.
2. Choose a Name for Your Blog
Choosing a name for your blog can be a challenging task. The challenge comes for one single reason—that every photographer who ever decided to start a photography blog overestimates the importance of their blog’s name.
Over the years, I have met many aspiring photographers who decided to launch their own blog only to spend months and sometimes even years trying to find the perfect name.
I call this phenomenon the “analysis paralysis” and consider it another type of procrastination evoked by the fear of moving forward.
The goal here is to choose the name as soon as possible and concentrate on what really matter – your photography, your blog, and your business.
If you already have the name for your photography blog you can move to the next step. If not, click the link below to get help.
As a photographer, you can take two different approaches when selecting a name for your blog.
Choice #1: Name-Based Approach
Your name is your brand.
Example: John Smith Photography or Joe McNally Photography
If you are a local wedding, event or studio photographer, the name-based approach is a perfect choice. You build and market your photography blog and photography business around your name. It is very personal and gives you lots of freedom by not restricting you to one specific type of photography.
The only negative of a name-based approach is that it can be challenging to scale when your business grows.
If, for example, you decide to distance yourself from the business by taking on a partner or sell your business to another buyer altogether, it can be challenging.
But, if your plan is to keep treating photography as a hobby or working on your own locally, the name-based approach is a perfect fit.
This would be my first choice when considering the name for your blog.
So, what if you have a difficult name or a foreign name?
When I was selecting a name for my blog, I was initially inclined to the name-based approach. I settled on “Viktor Elizarov Photography.” What stopped me was the realization that my Russian last name with the unique misspelling of my first name would be extremely difficult to both remember and spell for my English-speaking audience.
That was the deciding factor for going with choice #2.
Choice #2: Brand Based
Example: Photo Traces or Stuck in Customs
This approach presents more freedom and potential for growth, but it can be challenging at times to show your personality and distinguish yourself from the rest.
When you select a brand-based name, try to make it short, memorable, unique, and easy to spell.
Another piece of advice is not to make it too specific.
For example, if you name your blog “Montreal Night Photography,” it will become irrelevant the moment you move to another city or decide to explore another type of photography other than night photography.
Here is a real-life example. When Canon introduced video recording in its DSLR, Dave Dugdale started his blog “Learning DSLR Video.” Over the years, it became one of the most popular resources among the DSLR video community. But, when Dave switched to mirrorless cameras, the name of his blog became irrelevant. He had to rebrand it to something more generic like “Learning Video.”
In my case, the name “PhotoTraces” was not the result of a long and painful search. Instead, it was a natural choice.
When I was still treating my photography as a hobby, I realized that I had much better memories of our family vacations than the rest of my family. The reason for that was my photography. When I edited photos, I went through my old photographs and organized them in chronological order, which evoked some forgotten memories.
For me, photography is the traces of our memories. That is how PhotoTraces was born.
If you decide to go for the brand-based naming approach, I suggest using a Google Doc or a World Doc (or even a sheet of paper) to start listing your ideas. Ask your friends and family members to contribute.
Do not try to be too specific or get attached to any particular name because your choices will be limited by the availability of domain names.
See the next step.
3. Choose a Domain Name
Now that you have a few ideas for your blog name, you need to run it against available domain names, modify it if necessary, and make your final selection.
There are some general guidelines and requirements for domain name selection:
- Avoid hyphens, numbers and strange spellings
- Otherwise, every time you share the name of your blog, you will have to explain it.
- Make it easy to pronounce. If the name of your blog is difficult to pronounce and spell, there is a high chance that people will forget it and won’t be able to find it.
- Make it short, if possible. Shorter titles are easier to remember, to spell, to type, and to brand.
- Do not limit yourself to the .COM extension. Years ago, search engines gave more weight to .COM domains. Fortunately, that is no longer the case. You can select from a variety of extensions like .NET, .BLOG, .CC, .PHOTOS, .PHOTOGRPAHY. Another option is to use country-specific extensions like .CA for Canada, .DE for Germany, or .US for the United States.
But, having a .COM extension is still the best choice, not because of search engines but for the human factor. When people remember your company name but forget the exact domain, they always assume it is .COM and try it first.
Now, visit GoDaddy.com (they have the best domain search functionality in industry) to start checking the availability of your domain name choices.
When you make your selection, write it down but do not yet register it. In the following sections, I will show you how to get the domain name and the hosting in one simple step.
What to do if your name is not available
If your name is not available, modify it by adding a suffix or prefix.
For example, if your first choice is CreativePhotography.com, which is taken, you can try the following variations:
By adding a prefix:
By adding a suffix:
4. Choose Web Hosting for Your Blog
If you want to have complete control over the destiny of your blog, you should host it yourself.
Relax, you do not have to fear the word “hosting.” In simple terms, hosting is the space you rent to park your blog so it becomes accessible to the entire internet, 24/7.
Hosting is like the foundation of your house. It is essential for the existence of your house, but you don’t want to think about it every day. Instead, it works behind the scenes and quietly performs its function.
The hosting for your blog should be the same. Without hosting, your blog cannot exist. However, it should be something that you set up only once to allow you more time to concentrate on creating content for your blog and promoting it. The only time you should think about hosting is when you need to upgrade your hosting plan due to an increase in blog traffic.
I use a web-hosting company called SiteGround to host PhotoTraces.com. I highly recommend it because it is reliable, offers the latest web technologies and provides top-notch support.
I also like SiteGround’s pricing structure. Unlike other web-hosting companies, you do not have to sign up for three years to get the best price at SiteGround. All you need to get started with your blog is 12 months at $3.95.
My Reasons for Choosing SiteGround (Extended Version)
Finding reliable and cost-effective hosting is not an easy task and, paying a premium price, does not always result in better service.
I’ve been dealing with hosting companies for 15 years, first as a web designer and later as a photographer. What I noticed is that each hosting company has its own lifespan.
Related: Best Books for Travel Photographers
If a hosting provider does not do well, the services suffer because they cannot upgrade the hardware and provide decent support.
But, on the other hand, when your hosting provider becomes successful does not always mean good news. This happened to me twice in recent years. For a long time, I used Hostgator to host all my websites and sites for all my clients. It was reliable and, even more important to me, was its outstanding customer service especially since I had to take care of a few dozen sites. Unfortunately, Hostgator became too big at some point and the first thing to suffer was customer support. I could wait for days before my support ticket was answered. I knew I had to move.
I found a new, up-and-coming hosting company called Bluehost. It was a small, private company with outstanding service and customer support, which made my decision to move an easy one. Everything was perfect until they became so successful that they were bought by one of the big corporations and that was it. They stopped concentrating on their service and spent all their efforts on marketing to sell customers more stuff we really didn’t need. Although Bluehost is a popular choice among bloggers, I highly suggest reading the comment section of this article to read some Bluehost horror stories.
This is when I knew I had to run. I contacted my old friends from the web development world and asked them to recommend a reliable host with good customer support.
This is when I discovered SiteGround. I opened an account there, tested it for a month and, when I was happy with everything, I moved PhotoTraces.com.
It’s been more than a year since I moved to SiteGround and so far, so good.
I do not want to get too technical here, but SiteGround built their own caching system plus they support Cloud Flare, which is a content delivery network. This means that PhotoTraces uses two levels of caching; it simply flies.
Let me show you how you can register the domain name you selected earlier and reserve a space to host your photography blog. It only takes 5 minutes and hassle-free.
Go to SiteGround.com and select the WordPress Services option from the top menu. Then, click the “Learn More” button.
Select StartUp option by clicking Get Started button.
You will be taken to the second and final page of the signup process.
From the “Choose Service” box, select the “Get a new hosting account” option.
From the “Enter Domain” box, select the “Register a New Domain” option and type the domain name you chose for your blog.
Scroll down and confirm your Hosting Package. When you begin, there is no point in paying for the more expensive option—the StartUp Package is all you need. You won’t need to upgrade until you reach 10,000 visitors per month to your blog.
Next, scroll down to the “Purchase Information” box.
Make sure the correct plan is selected.
For the location, select the SiteGround Server Center that is closest to you. For example, all North American residents should choose Chicago (this is where PhotoTraces.com resides). In Europe, you have two choices—Amsterdam and London—either are fine. For Asia and Oceania, select Singapore.
Scroll past the “Extra Services” box. You do not need any additional services when you initially sign up. Later, if you feel the need for something more specific, you can always upgrade.
The final step is to enter your payment information and click the large green button.
You should expect to pay around $60 depending on what promotion SiteGround is currently running. For 12 months of reliable hosting and a new domain name, $60 is a bargain. Trust me!
After your payment is processed, you will receive a welcome email with the login information to your web-hosting admin portal.
Then, you will be ready to move on to the next step—installing WordPress.
5. Install WordPress
There are multiple online solutions designed specifically for photographers (SmugMug, Zenfolio, Photoshelter) with blogging functionality built into them.
Then, why choose WordPress?
My position is that using somebody else’s platform for building a personal brand is like building a house on rented land.
There is nothing wrong with renting somebody else’s platforms (Facebook, Twitter, SmugMug) for promoting your brand but your brand itself (your blog) should reside on a platform that you actually own.
Why WordPress is the Best Platform for You Blog (Long Answer)
There are many advantages of WordPress, which I will list later, the primary advantage being the factor of CONTROL. You are in complete control of your blog content and its functionality.
- No one can tell you that, because of changes in service agreement, you no longer own your content.
- No one can tell you that you have to wait another year to get a new feature implemented.
- No one can tell you that if you are not happy with the service you cannot move your blog elsewhere because of the proprietary platform you are using. You and only you decide what is best for your blog.
Some of the advantages of running your photography blog on WordPress platform include:
- It is free. It is an open source project with thousands of professionals around the world working to improve it. It cannot be shut down or discontinued.
- It is easy to use. You can add a new page, a blog post, a photo or video in a few easy steps. No technical knowledge is necessary
- It is Google friendly. Search engines love WordPress because of its SEO (search engine optimization) friendliness. With WordPress, search engines have an easier time finding your blog.
- It is flexible. You can customize and extend its functionality by employing thousands of plugins. If you want to turn your blog into a membership site, there is plugin for that. If you want add the Facebook-like social component to your blog, there is plugin for that; or if you want to sell your photography directly from your blog, you guessed it right, there is plugin for that too. Actually, there is a WordPress plugin for pretty much everything.
How to Install WordPress Using SiteGround Wizard
Installing WordPress used to be a very technical step that required database creation, FTP transfer, etc. It was too complex for most non-technical people (artists, photographers, etc.). SiteGround streamlined the entire process by making WordPress installation extremely easy with only a few clicks using SiteGround Wizard.
To install WordPress using the SiteGround Wizard, first you need to login to your Customer Area. After you signup for SiteGround WordPress hosting package you will receive all the necessary information you need to login by email.
Once you login to your Customer Area for the first time, you will see a popup asking you if you want to have WordPress preinstalled on your account. Select that option and click on the Proceed button.
The next page has two parts. In the first one, enter the login information for your new WordPress blog.
Next, pick one of the free WordPress themes available in the Wizard and click on the Submit button once again.
It does not matter what theme you choose here, in the next step we are going to change it.
Finally, you will see a quick summary of your WordPress installation, including from where to access your admin area, your username and your password.
That’s it! You can now go to the front page of your site and check out the newly installed WordPress application.
Your photography blog is live.
6. Get a Professional WordPress Theme
WordPress theme is what makes your blog unique. A theme defines the design of your blog, its layout (the position of the elements on your blog) and its functionality (mobile friendliness etc.).
Choosing the right theme is a crucial step in the process of building a successful blog. My experience with WordPress themes started a while ago when I created my first photography blog and picked one of the free themes. I customized the design myself and was a happy blogger for three to four months. However, with the next major update to the WordPress platform, my theme stopped working and I spent a week trying to repair broken code.
Since then, I am very careful with whom I trust with my blog. These days I mostly use premium themes. What I realized after working with free and paid themes is that when you buy a premium theme you do not only pay for its design or functionality, you also pay for support and future updates.
After years working with the WordPress platform, I narrowed down my selection of theme providers to two companies: Elegant Themes and StudioPress.
- If you are just starting with your photography blog, I suggest beginning with Elegant Themes. For $89 you have access to 87 themes and you can install them on multiple blogs. Also, when you are just starting and still looking for a visual identity for your personal brand and your blog, you can experiment with different theme designs to see what works the best for you.
- If your blog is growing at fast pace and you know exactly what type of design your brand requires, I suggest considering StudioPress themes. The StudioPress platform is more robust and very customizable. It requires more expertise but, at the same time, there is no limit with what you can do with it (membership sites, online stores, social media etc. ).
Elegant Themes for Photographers
A unique theme with the Google Map as the main element of design and functionality.
Explorable is a location-based theme that pins your posts on a map. Listings become part of a journey, and exploring your website has never been so fun.
Origin is a grid-based theme that tells a story through imagery. The theme creates a truly engaging experience by saturating the screen with your beautiful photos. It works on a wide range of devices thank to its responsive design.
Vertex is beautifully designed, multi-purpose them that could be used as portfolio site and art blog.
Flexible is a sleek and minimal portfolio theme packed full of some awesome features. The theme puts your work first, keeping the design elements to a minimum while still maintaining a definitive modern style.
StudioPress Themes for Photographers
This is my favorite theme from the StudioPress collection. It is very neutral and, as result, extremely customizable. Your photography becomes the centerpiece of your blog as your photography defines its appearance.
All you have to do is to replace the background image with one of your best photos and the theme design becomes unique.
Not surprisingly, I picked Metro Pro theme for my Photo Location Guide blog.
Fully Responsive design
This is the theme I am using to power my PhotoTrace.com blog. I did some custom tweaks to tailor it to my needs. The most important change was the increase in layout width, I wanted to make sure my photography gets enough exposure.
Fully Responsive design
The Generate theme aims all the power and flexibility of Genesis at your most important asset. It’s designed to elegantly lead your site traffic to one action – join the email list.
Fully Responsive design
- 4 color styles
- 6 layout options
- custom header
- custom menus
- mobile responsive
If you decided to start with a free WordPress theme, then the WordPress.org website is your best option.
Please note that you absolutely do not need to buy a premium theme to stat using your freshly installed blog. Every initial WordPress installation comes with the default theme created by people from WordPress. It is very basic but it is ready to be used out of the box.
Another very important point when selecting a theme for your blog is to make sure it has responsive design (mobile-friendly) out of the box. According to Google Analytics, 50% of my blog visitors use mobile devices, which is industry standard these days. If your blog is not mobile-friendly, you are risking losing half of your potential visitors. This is HUGE.
7. Get Essential Plugins
Think of WordPress plugins like apps for your mobile phone. Plugins are what make WordPress such a dominant web platform.
The core installation of WordPress has all the essential functions of running your blog. But, with plugins, you can extend your blog’s functionality by customizing it based on the specifics and needs of your business.
You can select from hundreds of thousands of plugins created by developers from all over the world. However, while the variety is nice, you also have to be careful to only use plugins from reputable sources. Otherwise, they can ruin your blog.
Below is a list of essential, free and 100% safe plugins for your new blog:
Jetpack—Jetpack is the Swiss knife of plugins. It is a collection of useful plugins that you can activate and deactivate depending on your needs. The folks from WordPress created it, so it is absolutely safe to use.
Yoast SEO—SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is a critical part of internet marketing especially when it comes to blogging. SEO allows our blogs to be discovered by people using search engines like Google. For SEO, Yoast SEO is the best plugin around.
Disqus—Dealing with spam comments is often a time-consuming and painful process. Disqus is there to help and easily takes care of spam.
WP Smush—Recently, Google started penalizing websites for using unoptimized, oversized images because it affects the user experience (especially for mobile users). This plugin automatically reduces the size of images published on your blog without sacrificing quality.
8. Learn How to Use WordPress
WordPress became popular for its versatility and ease of use. You do not need to know HTML or any other kind of programming to run a WordPress blog, but you will definitely face a learning curve. Set a goal to familiarize yourself with the basic functionalities of WordPress as soon as possible.
The best way to learn WordPress is to start using it. Visit the WordPress.org website and take advantage of the first section of free tutorials titled “WordPress for Beginners.”
When you learn how to create a blog post, page, insert an image into a post, wrap text around the image and publish it, you will be ready for the first blog challenge.
First Blogging Challenge
Create the first blog post on your new blog! Insert a photo you recently took, add a 300 to 500 word description and publish! This will be your “Hello World!” blog post.
The second task will be a bit more challenging—to create an About page for your blog. Your “About” page is probably the most important page of any photography blog and is, undoubtedly, the most visited. If a new visitor likes your photography, article or tutorial, he or she will visit your “About” page to learn more. If a potential client is considering hiring you for a job, he or she will absolutely visit your “About” page.
Take your time to craft and publish your “About” page.
That’s all! Your photography blog is up and running. Next, learn how to promote your blog, build an audience and make money. For now, these are topics for another guide!