All this talk about marketing, making an impact on your website visitors with well-crafted “about” pages and other content, together with the need to engage your ideal clients brings us to a topic that I know most photographers hate more than almost anything else.
This is one of the biggest stumbling blocks photographers face judging by the reactions I see whenever I mention it.
- “I’m a photographer, not a writer…”
- “I don’t know how to write…”
- “I don’t want to write…”
- “Writing is a real struggle for me because I’m so visually-minded…”
- And so on.
In this chapter, I want to consider the question, “why do photographers hate writing?”, and equip you with some tools and ideas to make this process a lot easier for you.
You might be one of the lucky few photographers who enjoy writing, or at least don’t hate it altogether, which is great. But most folks run screaming for the hills whenever I start talking with them about writing marketing copy for websites, blogs, or emails.
They would rather wrestle snakes while blindfolded than face the blank page and the horrid blinking cursor that looks more intimidating than scaling Mount Everest in shorts and a T-shirt.
But why is this?
We know that professional photographers consider themselves to be storytellers, and they’re proud that their images capture the subtle narrative playing out in front of their camera.
On the face of things, it seems like only a short hop from powerful images to evocative words, each of which enhance the effectiveness of the other in a beautiful display of synergy.
Instead, it feels more like a gaping chasm that even Indiana Jones would balk at leaping across.
Despite writing and photography falling squarely within the right-brained artistic realm, there’s a surprisingly sharp disconnect between the two endeavors for most photographers.
I’m sure there’s a scientific explanation somewhere, but I think it mostly comes down to the individual photographer’s faith (or lack thereof) in their own writing ability—a case of self-belief, if you like.
Where does such a rampant epidemic of self-confidence come from?
Maybe we can partly blame our early schooldays.
If there’s anything likely to terrify youngsters about the art of writing, it must be the nightmarish experience of having their efforts torn apart in school.
The seeds of any potential love for writing is knocked clean out of most people at a young age.
As I recall (and it was a long time ago), we barely had a chance to explore and enjoy our new-found skill of reading before being subjected to the horrors and incomprehensible rules of correct grammar, sentence structure, tenses, and other abstract ideas that did more to get in the way of telling a story than helping.
Frankly, at the age of 10, I really couldn’t care less whether my infinitives were split or not. I just wanted to get my homework done, so I could play outside with my friends.
Opening my exercise book with my homework in it to find the dreaded words “see me” scrawled across the top in red ink didn’t help too much.
No wonder most people have a deeply-held hatred of writing!
Surprisingly, I did better at Latin than I did in English (mainly because it was more fun, and I was the only male in a class of six).
Then, in a weird stroke of irony, my first job after graduating from University was as a technical writer. I ended up working for my high-school computer science teacher, who had moved on to direct a government project aimed at promoting the use of computers in schools.
As it turned out, I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, and I learned a great deal about writing in the real world—probably more than I ever did at school.
The Good News About Writing
Despite being subjected to the trauma of learning writing at school, the great news is you can throw most of those old rules away because you don’t need them.
Of course, we should keep some of them, such as “good spelling”, because we need them, but most of the others can safely go out the window.
Why such a flagrant disregard for the rules?
It’s simply because you’re not writing to keep your schoolteacher happy.
In fact, if she would turn red in the face and emit noxious fumes from her ears merely from the act of reading your web writing, then you’re probably on the right track.
After all, you’re not writing a novel, or an important scientific paper. Nor are you constructing a legal document intended to bore the pants off anyone foolish enough to read it.
You’re writing marketing copy for a website and blog where people don’t read in the same way they might do elsewhere.
Welcome to the “Wild And Wacky Web”, where the rules don’t matter, and the only things that do matter are your voice and personality, and the emotional impact your stories have on your ideal clients.
If you’ve ever read anything by Ray Bradbury, for example, stories can be pure magic in print.
They have the power to transport you from your seat to the furthest reaches of the imagination in an instant without you having to move a muscle other your eyes and a finger to turn the page.
Your goal is not to be the most technically-accurate writer, but to inspire and motivate your intended clients to work with you or buy your photography.
For that, you need something far more powerful than perfect grammar.
You need to unleash the raw power of the words themselves, and I’ll show you some ways to do this in the rest of this chapter.
Your schoolteacher won’t approve, not one bit, but I won’t tell if you don’t.
Every Photograph Tells A Story
In a perfect world, a photograph would be all you ever needed to make an impact and visually communicate everything you wanted to say about the subject. For example:
- The unbreakable bond between a mother and child…
- The love that sizzles in the eyes of a newly-engaged couple…
- The unstoppable energy of an athlete at the top of their game…
- The elegance and beauty of a perfectly-designed piece of jewelry…
- The breathtaking power of an exotic landscape…
As the photographer who created the photo, it’s easy for you to see these elements in your own photographs because you were fully aware of them at the time you captured the image.
They’re so obvious to you, how can you not see them?
But, consider this.
Would someone who isn’t a photographer and wasn’t there with you to share the actual experience be able to fully appreciate the whole story and impact of the image just by looking at it?
Perhaps, if they were given enough time to study it in detail.
But time is one thing people don’t have much of when they’re searching the Internet for a photographer, especially when they have a multitude of distractions buzzing around them like a swarm of wasps.
There’s no way people can give your photographs the full attention they deserve because they’re too busy trying to get through this task so they can move on to the next one.
The sad conclusion to this is simple:
Your photographs will not sell themselves, or you as a photographer, without help of some kind.
Specifically, the needed help comes from the vastly underestimated power of words.
As a marketer, your job is to connect with your potential clients and inspire them to take the next step and call you on the phone, or to at least join your email list.
On a website, time and attention are at a premium, so you need something to put the mental brakes on and slow them down enough to pay closer attention to you and the stories embedded in your images.
Of course, a great photograph is one way to achieve that but it won’t hold their attention long enough on its own to make the connection stick.
But, if you accompany the photographs with a well-written and emotionally-compelling headline, together with an engaging story, you have a much better chance of drawing them into your world. Once there, you can get them emotionally involved with the stories you capture, who you are as a photographer, and the work you can create for them.
By telling the story of a photograph in actual words, you can create a strong combination of imagery and text that’s more powerful and persuasive than either of them by themselves.
Right now, I know you might not feel 100% confident about writing the stories of your photographs, which is totally understandable.
But, by the time you finish this short chapter, you’ll be able to do just that by using the ideas I share with you.
And, better yet, you can only improve further with practice. Yes, writing is an exercise where daily practice works to continually build and enhance your skills.
The important thing at this point is not to allow yourself to feel overwhelmed or to succumb to the nasty inner critic who says you can’t do it, because I believe you can.
Starting The Writing Process
With all the preamble out of the way, it’s time to look at the actual writing process, so roll up your sleeves and get ready to dive in.
But, first, a quick question: What does your current writing process look like?
For example, what happens when you decide to write a blog post or you need to produce a marketing piece, such as a landing page or a postcard mailer?
In most cases, you usually know you need to produce something, so it’s more than likely that you’ll jump straight into the creation process without going through much in the way of planning what you’re going to say.
While you can certainly do it that way, and it might seem like a faster route to get it done, there are a few disadvantages. For example:
There are no clearly-defined boundaries or scope to what you’re writing…
It’s hard to know where to start, what to include, or even where to stop…
The content doesn’t flow naturally, or it can end up feeling somewhat disorganized…
Left unchecked, these can all work against you to produce a final piece that fails to engage the reader and doesn’t generate the results you expect.
Not a good outcome, right?
What To Do Instead
I know it’s tempting to cave in to the desire to “get that blog post out as soon as possible”, or to “launch a marketing campaign so it can start producing clients quickly”, but doing so can be counterproductive.
Instead, I recommend you invest some time to plan your marketing piece, blog post, or landing page.
This needn’t take a long time, and there’s no need for a super-detailed plan.
As long as you do have a plan.
The natural thing is to start at the beginning and go from there, but I’ve found that starting with the end in mind can often work more effectively.
In short, know what your business goal is for every piece you write.
In fact, I wouldn’t advise writing anything for your website, blog, or marketing that doesn’t have a clearly defined business purpose. Doing so may not lead the reader in the direction you want them to go, or it may conflict with other marketing pieces you’ve already created.
Purposeless content, or marketing without a goal, risks being merely a distraction.
A clear goal for your writing simply makes the effort of writing much more productive and worthwhile.
Know Your Boundaries
Once you know what the business goal is for your intended piece, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what the call to action will be, which is already half the battle.
Next, you need to create the boundaries and scope for your content.
What will you talk about? What things will be relevant to your piece, and what can you leave out? Where can you infuse some emotion, or bring testimonials to bear in the content?
This is where the power of an outline can help you tremendously.
All you need for a simple outline is something like this:
- Write a title, but don’t stress over the details of it because you’ll refine it later…
- Identify the broad topic areas and then create subheadings for those…
- Consider the thought-sequence of the reader, and then arrange your topics into the most appropriate order…
- Know what your call to action will be…
There’s nothing more complicated to it than that, and you now have a working outline.
More importantly, you’re no longer forced to stare at a blank screen. The empty screen is one of the most daunting obstacles in writing, and it can present a big hurdle when you start the writing process, so filling it up with a few topic areas and headings immediately eliminates that problem.
Try this out for yourself on your next web page or blog post. I think you’ll be amazed at how much easier the writing will become for you.
Filling In The Blanks Of Your Outline
Now you have an outline, you can start to fill in the blanks with actual copy (text).
But, before you do, there’s another tip I want to share with you that will make all the difference between your writing being simply okay, and it being great.
This one trips up even seasoned writers, and will certainly affect anyone new to the art of writing their own marketing.
The huge pitfall here lies in trying too hard to make your writing sound or feel “professional”. Yes, you do want your message to be clear, it should make sense to the reader, and it must be easy to read.
A lot of people suffer instant anxiety at the mere thought of writing anything more formal than a shopping list. As soon as they start, they’re faced with a bunch of inner demons messing up their heads with thoughts like these:
- I don’t know how to make this sound super-intelligent…
- No one will want to read this…
- It sounds boring and too ordinary…
- Maybe I need to look up some fancy words…
- People will get mad if I break too many grammatical rules…
- How many sentences do I need in a paragraph?
And so on.
Your Secret Weapon
Such insecurity about writing is totally normal, especially if you’re not used to it, and it can even be tempting to quit the task altogether.
Because you have a secret weapon at your disposal. In fact, it’s so secret you might not even be aware you have it, but I assure you, you do.
It’s a powerful combination of two things: Your personality and voice.
These two elements, when used together, are as unique as your fingerprints.
Remember, you are the only copy of you in existence, so there’s no need whatsoever to feel like you must write like someone else in order to be good at it.
The Web Is No Stuffy Boardroom
Better yet, the Internet is a gift to the photography business owner because it’s the perfect platform for “loose” writing that feels natural.
The web is an informal place where the only things that truly matter are what you say, and the impact it has on the person reading it.
The key here is to simply write as you speak.
For example, when you talk to a family member or close friend, do you go all formal on them and use fancy words just to sound “professional”?
Of course not, they’d think you’d gone a bit funny in the head, or that you’re being aloof or offish with them.
The same principle applies to writing for your website or blog.
You want your blog posts, articles, and web pages to feel more like a genuine conversation with your prospects than a corporate diatribe because this is the best way to connect with them.
The way to achieve such a connection is to write in the same voice and tone you use when you speak to them in person.
Consider this page as an example.
As I write this, it’s as if I can hear my own voice in my head dictating what I want to say. I simply write it all down, as if I were talking with you personally, and I try to resist the urge to “pretty it up” too much with flowery language.
When I first started to use this practice, it felt a bit awkward to begin with, but has since become second-nature. Hopefully, it won’t progress to the point where I start mumbling incoherently to myself in public.
The key takeaway here is to infuse your writing with as much of your own voice and personality as you can. By “voice” I mean the words you would normally use, the rhythm of your speech patterns, and the emphasis you place on certain words.
It’s hard to explain in this medium, but if you try reading aloud what you’ve written you’ll immediately know which parts sound natural and those areas where you need to loosen up a little.
How Many Words Do You Need?
One of the first questions people ask when we talk about writing photography blogs, or any other marketing content for that matter, is this one:
How many words do I have to write?
Both the way the question is phrased, and the despairing tone in which it’s usually asked, indicate a general reluctance to write a single word more than necessary.
It’s as if they’re facing a grade-school homework assignment where the teacher demands a seemingly-unattainable minimum word count for an essay. Remember those days? Enough to make you shudder, right?
And here it is again.
The undeniable mental trauma from being forced to learn “good” writing skills in school, which then tries its best to frighten us away from the task at hand.
I’ll make this one easy.
There is no minimum number of words, nor any maximum.
There are no gold stars or prizes waiting for the person who writes the most words in marketing. Simply write as much or as little as you need (not want) to get the message across as clearly and as succinctly as possible.
Some stories may need only 100 words, or less, while others might require 750 or 1,000 words. For example, I didn’t start this post with the goal of writing 5,000 or 10,000 words. I just wrote the words needed to tell the story as completely and clearly as possible.
There’s never any need to add unnecessary filler just for the sake of it, so you should always focus on clarity and impact. If that requires a few extra words, so be it, but you’ll often find that fewer words make for clearer writing.
A Word About SEO And Word Count
One of the worries about word count for articles and posts on the web stems from concerns about search engine optimization (SEO), and it’s true that Google does favor longer-form content in the search results. However, word count isn’t a ranking factor on its own. More important is whether the article satisfies the intent of the person reading it as a result of their search.
However, and this is important, most of your content will not be written for SEO purposes.
This includes the majority of your blog posts.
If you think about it, there’s only a small pool of keyword phrases you can draw from anyway, so you might as well save those for specific pages where you can go into a lot more detail on the topic.
As for the rest of your posts and content, I recommend you forget about trying to manipulate Google with too much SEO. Instead, write specifically for your readers and ideal clients.
Attention Begins With A Headline
Before you can get anyone to read what you’ve written, whether it be a blog post, a sales page, an article, or an email, you must first get their attention.
But, with millions of other distractions trying to direct their attention anywhere except where you want it to go, you need something powerful to grab your reader’s attention and hold it long enough for them to become interested in what you’ve got to say.
Your headline, post title, or email subject line is the perfect tool for the job.
A Headline Has One Goal
It’s been said that the only purpose of the headline is to grab attention and then compel the reader to read the first line of copy, whose job it is to get them to read the next line, and so on until they reach the end.
I couldn’t agree more.
If your headlines are generic and, frankly, uninteresting it doesn’t matter how amazing the rest of your content is because most of your potential readers won’t make the effort to read past the headline.
On the other hand, hyped-up sensationalist headlines that fail to deliver on what they promise don’t fare too well either. We tend to refer to these as “click bait”. They enjoyed a brief surge of popularity on the Internet, exploited by such websites as Buzzfeed, but they’re rapidly falling out of favor because people have become fed up with being misled in most cases.
Click bait aside, let’s start with some of the qualities of a poor headline, and go from there.
What NOT To Do For A Headline
Time and time again, I encounter blog posts written by photographers with titles such as:
- Baby Portraits Of Newborn John Smith By Chicago Baby Photographer
- Wedding Photography For Jane & Bob Smith by Chicago Wedding Photographer
- Real Estate Photography by John Smith | Chicago Real Estate Photographer
Not only are such titles obviously designed primarily to keep Google happy (they don’t!), they’re horribly ineffective at capturing anyone’s attention.
Instead, choose a title that makes it clear what the subject is and (more important) involves some emotional context.
What Makes A Good Headline?
The headline or title you choose will vary tremendously according to the content you’re creating, but the qualities to look for include such things as:
- Never been used before on your website or blog (duplicate titles are a big no-no)…
- It should create a sense of curiosity in the reader’s mind without being too cryptic…
- Appeals to your ideal client’s emotions…
- It should be easily and quickly understood…
- It’s devoid of ambiguity or any chance of misinterpretation…
For example, here are some possible alternative titles for the “bad” ones listed earlier:
See How Baby John Giggled His Way Through His First Portrait Session
3 Amazing Ways Jane And Bob Celebrated Their Love With Timeless Portraits
5 Incredible Chicago Houses You Must See To Fully Appreciate
You can also find numerous tools on the Internet for creating headlines, so it’s worth trying some of them out to see if they work for you. However, the best headline generator of all is your own imagination and intuition, combined with experience.
Another thing you can do to continuously improve your own headline writing is to keep a swipe file of interesting and inspiring headlines as you encounter them, and then refer to them whenever you need some inspiration.
For example, many of the headlines created by the true Mad Men of the 1950’s and 1960’s are some of the best, especially anything penned by the master himself, David Ogilvy.
Photographs Are Only Half The Story
One of the amazing advantages about being a photographer is you already have the ability to create some inspiring and eye-catching marketing assets.
That’s right, your photographs.
Most other businesses struggle like crazy to find the right images to use in their marketing, so you have a distinct advantage on that score. But, as you know from making it this far, your photographs are only half the story.
The other half comes from what you write about your photographs.
Words, like the photographs you create, have tremendous power. They can ignite the imagination, motivate people, inspire them, and invoke compelling mental imagery in the reader’s mind.
Words can magically transport your readers from where they are into your creative world, allowing them to more deeply understand what you do and, more importantly, why you do it.
In this section, I’ll show you five steps you can follow as you write the meat of your content.
#1: Setting The Stage
Beginning a story (or any important piece of content) is like traveling with Doctor Who in the TARDIS.
Your reader is being transported to an unfamiliar place, and they don’t quite know where they are until they step outside to assess their new surroundings.
Unless you properly introduce them to the scene, they can feel a little disconnected and they won’t fully relate to the rest of your story, so this is an important first step if you want to keep your reader interested.
For example, consider this scene:
It’s a dull day with a gray sky and threatening clouds. Looking down, you see wet streets, and smartly-dressed people hunched beneath wind-blown umbrellas as they hurry about. A loud splash is followed by the growl of a red double-decker bus making its way through narrow streets. Looking up again, you spot a tall, graceful pointed tower with a large round clock near the top…
Even if you’ve never been there yourself, you probably have a picture of the city of London in your mind’s eye, right?
How might the feelings you got from reading the above passage compare to something less enticing, such as: “we went to London and took some great photos around the city…”?
Quite a difference, isn’t there?
Helping your readers to get a sense of where the story takes place is an important first step. This, together with your opening featured image will also help to solidify the mental picture you create in their mind.
It’s All In The Details
You can set the scene for your readers by describing where your photograph was taken, the details of the event (if appropriate), the time of day, the smells in the air, the sounds you could hear, and any tactile sensations of the environment around you.
- What was the weather doing on that particular day?
- Who else was around?
- What took place before you took the photograph?
- What happened after you took the photograph?
- Why were you there?
- What qualities defined the location?
- What could you hear, see, touch, or smell?
Thinking about the intricate details of your locations in this way involves all the senses, and it can also help you fine-tune and develop a strong ability to observe everything happening around you.
Remember, no detail is too small or unimportant, and you’ll find yourself noticing things other people simply ignore or miss altogether.
Focusing on describing these things helps to create more context for the reader because you can bring to life much of what’s happening outside the frame of the photograph, an aspect that’s often forgotten by many photographers.
#2: Introduce Your Cast Of Characters
Every photograph, or set of photographs from an event, that tells any kind of story whatsoever has a cast of characters, not necessarily all of them being people.
- The bride, groom, wedding party, family & friends at a wedding…
- Mom, dad, and kids in a family portrait…
- The family pet…
- Executives posing for a headshot…
- The people in a journalistic image…
Regardless of the type of photography, there is always a subject.
Sometimes, of course, the characters in your story are not actual people. They might be pets or wildlife, mountains or lakes, the beach, the sky, commercial products, buildings, or any of a wide range of subjects.
Whatever they happen to be, remember they can still have a personality or presence of their own. In fact, I would go as far as to say any subject worth photographing must have some compelling aspect to it that inspires you to capture it, otherwise why bother?
Even an abstract fine art image usually starts with a subject of some kind, which is then abstracted to the point of being barely recognizable, yet the character is still there.
Your subjects are the characters in your story, the people (or things) responsible for breathing life into your photographic tale.
Therefore, number two of these five storytelling tips is to introduce your cast to the reader.
Naturally, you might be thinking, “that’s a lot easier said than done”, so if you’re stuck for words on how to introduce your subjects, it might help to ask yourself some simple questions. For example:
- Who are the people in your photographs?
- What are their personalities like?
- What topics did you converse about?
- What made them laugh?
- What made you laugh?
- What are their hopes, fears, and dreams?
- What was the inspiration behind the one favorite photograph of yours, or theirs?
- Why did they want you to create these photographs for them in the first place?
- Why did you choose a certain viewpoint or subject?
- In the case of a fine art photograph, where did your inspiration come from?
- What message might a commercial photograph be trying to send?
Let Your Subjects Speak For Themselves
If you photograph people then ask them how they felt before, during, and after the session or assignment. You can add their own words to your own as a means of introducing them to the reader, which can then make the story feel even more real.
These don’t need to be testimonials at this point, although they could certainly lean in that direction, but simply the feelings and thoughts of your subjects that your readers can then relate to.
Your writing will take on a whole new dimension if you work to implement this tip alone, so give it a go.
#3: Tell The Emotional Story
We’ve already talked about the idea that, as a professional photographer, you are a storyteller. You take pride in creating imagery that encompasses a narrative, and you might even use the phrase “photographic storyteller” in your marketing to let your clients know you care about them.
But don’t stop there. If you fail to properly communicate the stories you work so hard to capture in your images, you’re doing your potential future clients a great disservice because they won’t be able to visualize the depth and meaning expressed by your photographs.
Without the actual stories, your photographs will become mere two-dimensional shadows of their true selves.
Remember, your photographs are not going to sell themselves without help from you. The stories you capture for your clients are full of emotion and human interest. There’s always some wonderful narrative that tugs at the heartstrings lurking behind almost every photograph you create.
When you show a prospective client a photograph, or they view it on your website, you can accompany the photo with its unique story. Because you experienced, firsthand, the emotions surrounding it when you created it, you can infuse your story with those same feelings.
By actually telling the story that goes with the photograph, rather than assuming that the image will speak for itself, you can transport the person you’re talking to into the world of the photograph.
As a result, they might then feel as if they were there and experience the same emotions, through empathy, that were present in the moment.
Here’s an example story of a photograph I captured at one of the weddings I photographed.
The photo of a bride by herself was taken a few minutes before the wedding was due to start. There had been some earlier delays in the schedule of events and we were running short on time, but I wanted to take a portrait of the bride kissing her engagement ring. So, I quickly positioned her near a window, and asked her to lift the ring up to her lips. Without warning, she started to cry—certainly not my intention, and quite unforeseen. I asked her if she was okay, and it was her maid of honor who gently explained why this had happened.
It turns out that the bride was wearing a bracelet on her wrist with a large ring threaded onto it, which happened to be her Father’s own wedding ring. Sadly, he passed away suddenly, only a week before the wedding. He’d been brimming over with excitement about walking his daughter down the aisle, but it wasn’t meant to be. Since he couldn’t be there, his daughter wore his wedding ring on her bracelet as a symbol of his presence.
None of this would be immediately apparent to any casual observer of the photograph without the story actually being told to them.
Do you see how powerful such a story could be when talking to a prospective wedding client?
By communicating the raw emotion contained in the stories you tell, you can truly show how much you love what you do, how much you care about your clients, and how much you understand and value every story, no matter how small or insignificant it might seem.
Now imagine writing the story out, simply and clearly, alongside a powerful photograph in a blog post or a marketing piece. The strong connection will you can make with such a story cannot be overstated.
#4: Spice Things Up With A Sprinkle Of Drama
Every writer (or reader for that matter) will tell you that no story is ever complete without at least a little drama to keep things interesting. For example, in fiction stories we expect to find a good dose of drama and conflict, including twists and turns.
The question to consider is, “is it possible to add some of elements of drama to your own writing and blog posts?”
Okay, I know what you’re thinking.
Conflict? In a photograph, or as part of a photography assignment?
What does that mean?
As I already alluded to, every great story has a challenge of some kind for the main characters to overcome as part of the plot, right?
I mean, Harry Potter might not have been such a successful franchise had he and his wizard friends spent their days simply waving wands about and turning people into frogs just for fun.
There had to be more to the story than that, some challenge, which of course took the form of defeating “he-who-should-not-be-named”.
Obviously, there’s not always a handy Voldemort around when you need one, so where’s the conflict in your photographic stories, you may ask?
It is there, you just have to look for it (actually, most of the time it comes looking for you, but let’s not get too technical about it).
What I’m saying here is, have you ever had a photography job or assignment go exactly according to plan from start to finish, with no surprises whatsoever?
When I photographed weddings, for example, I can’t recall a single one where something didn’t go off script at some point. Some of those departures more spectacular than others!
And, whenever I talk about my experiences as an underwater photographer, people seem far more interested in how many times I almost suffered the bends (twice), saved someone from drowning (once), or came within inches of being eaten by a shark (never, although I did swim within inches of many sharks).
While there were few real disasters, there was always some surprise waiting around a corner, and everyone had to adapt to it. This principle applies equally to underwater photography, portraits, weddings, or any other genre you care to mention.
Take a family portrait session as an example.
What did it take for the mom just to get everyone together, dressed and well-groomed, in the same place at the same time, and with happy faces for the photographer? Did things stay all nice and harmonious for the entire session? Probably not.
Even commercial sessions can often run into snafus and gotchas. It’s a simple fact of life in business that something unexpected is bound to happen sooner or later.
What can you do with these small “gifts” (we’ll take a glass half-full approach here)?
Use them in your stories to add interest, dimension, and excitement, of course!
The key point here is to not leave out all the juicy details. Obviously, you don’t want to make stuff up, or embarrass anyone needlessly, purely for the sake of adding drama and excitement.
Like salt and pepper in a delicate dish, a little drama goes a long way.
#5: End With A Bang, Not A Cliffhanger
I’ve already alluded to this in a previous chapter, but one of the biggest mistakes I find when reviewing photography blogs and other pieces of marketing is a weak ending to the story.
It’s almost as if the photographer is afraid to ask for something in the mistaken belief that they’ll come across too much like a salesperson.
But the truth is, a weak ending to your story doesn’t help anyone.
Not you, the photographer, or your prospective client.
Going back to our storytelling framework, nobody enjoys a book or a movie when they find the ending is little more than one big let-down. I’m sure you can think of more than a few of those where you got to the end and felt cheated.
I don’t know about you, but I hate watching movies that suddenly fizzle out, as if someone forgot to include the final reel of film, and we’re left sitting there with mouths half open, thinking, “what? Really? That’s it?” No one likes that, so why the director thought it would be cool to leave people guessing is beyond me.
The same principle applies to your blog posts and other marketing, and it’s easier for you to end a blog post appropriately than it is to tie up all the loose ends in a complex movie.
All you need do is bring your story elements together and wrap up the narrative with a happy ending—one that inspires your readers to want to experience a similar adventure for themselves.
This is where you want your readers to feel the emotions you wanted them to experience, so it’s important to choose words that evoke those emotional responses. Testimonials are a great vehicle for this, as they can say great things about the experience and add credibility, as we’ve already seen.
Stories Change The People In Them
There’s one more important factor to remember when you tell stories:
The people in your stories emerge from the experience changed in some way.
If the main character (or the way the character is seen by others) isn’t altered in some way by the story, then something’s missing.
- In a wedding, two single people become a married couple…
- A family portrait can remind people of just how close they really are…
- The realization of a commercial ad concept creates confidence and success…
- A fine art study of a beach or landscape motivates and inspires the viewer…
- The split-second capture of someone winning a race highlights a life-changing moment…
And, don’t forget you are also one of the characters in your own story. As the photographer, you’ve also been changed by the creative experience, whether you consciously realize it or not.
For example, you may have grown as a creative professional, graduated to a new level of visualization, developed a new skill, or gained a refreshing perspective on something you didn’t quite see before.
This can become a powerful transformation you can communicate through more stories to you prospects in the future.
But what about the ending?
When someone reaches the end of your blog post or email, don’t just leave them hanging there wondering what they should do next.
Cliffhangers are for TV shows.
Instead, make the effort to present the reader with a way to convert their inspiration and emotional energy into direct action by taking the next logical step in the journey.
Just as important, make it easy for them to take it.
I’ve already talked about the concept of your “call to action”, but there are a couple of extra points worth making.
For example, the more relevant your call to action is to what they just read, the more likely they are to take it, especially if you make it simple, such as clicking a button or entering their email address into a convenient form.
In general, your call to action should be clear, concise, unambiguous, inviting, and obvious.
If you have a button they need to click on, for example, make it as large as possible and use a high-contrasting color and clear font. The text on the button should complete the sentence “I want to…” instead of the usual (and ineffective) “submit”.
Look at all the pages and posts on your website, and the emails you send out, where you have a defined call to action (hint: they should be everywhere), and see if you can reword them to make it stand out more.
The Best Stories Are A Product Of Great Editing
By this point, you’ve completed the process of writing the actual words of your story, so the next step is to publish it, right?
Whoa, not so fast!
You’re almost there, but you should probably invest some time to edit your writing before you commit to publishing it, to make sure it’s as polished and as effective as possible.
Editing is a powerful tool in the writer’s bag of tricks, and it can literally make or break the results you see from your writing, but there are two sides to it, almost like a double-edged sword.
Obviously, failing to edit at all or only doing a cursory edit, can lead to missed errors and text that doesn’t flow the way it should.
On the other hand, over-editing can lead to procrastination or sterile copy that feels clinical or robotic where your voice feels like it was surgically removed from the piece.
The solution is to find the middle-ground where you do enough editing to weed out all the problems and tighten up the flow, while not stripping out any of your vital personality, or adding in unnecessary filler.
To help with this, you can follow what’s known as the “rule of 24”.
No, it’s nothing to do with Jack Bauer, it simply means leaving your finished writing alone for at least 24 hours before coming back to edit it.
If you have the patience and discipline to do this, you’ll return to your content with a fresh eye, able to find the problems you need to address more easily and quickly.
Next, I recommend you run your writing through the Hemingway App (you should be able to find it with a simple Google search). This incredibly simple tool highlights most of the problems you need to fix and scores your writing on a readability scale.
You’ll be amazed at the difference in your writing from this one tool alone!
Another piece of advice is to try to reduce the number of words. Yes, your ornery schoolteacher might be unhappy with you for this, but not your readers!
Try to edit and reword your sentences to make them a bit shorter, but make an effort to keep the original meaning of what you want to say…
Try to reword sentences to make them shorter, while retaining the meaning.
While many of the traditional grammatical rules can safely be broken, you do want good spelling. With today’s spellcheckers, there’s little excuse for bad spelling, but it also pays to eyeball this as well in case something was missed. Remember that you should also look for correctly-spelled, but incorrectly-used, words.
- “My Uncle asked me to feed the hoarse…”
- “Its a nice day…”
- “There kids are playing over their…”
- “I should of known this would happen…”
By the way, if you can’t spot the deliberate mistakes in those examples, you have some work to do.
You will also undoubtedly find that you missed out some words here and there. A good way to identify them is to read your writing aloud to yourself, or have someone else read it for you.
In contrast, you may also have extra words trying to stowaway in your text, but these are usually easier to find.
An important last step is to review the formatting of your content to see how it looks on both a desktop computer and a mobile device.
If there are any links in your content then make sure they work. You’d be amazed at how many broken links there are out there, and they can seriously hurt your user experience or even damage your credibility.
I suggest you go through the main editing process two or three times at most. Any more than that, and you risk being caught up in “tinkering” mode where you start nitpicking and begin to strip out the personality.
How Typography And Structure Can Make Or Break Your Writing
The effectiveness and success of your web writing don’t depend only on what you write. Your choice of words, and the content are obviously important in conveying the meaning and emotion of your story, but there’s also another critical quality that many photographers overlook.
I’m referring to how you present your writing to the reader.
In other words, what’s the overall impression? Does it look easy and quick to read, or will it require in-depth concentration? Essentially, I’m talking about the formatting of your writing, and there are two main factors involved here.
The typography you use, and the structure of your document.
The term “typography” refers to the font characteristics, such as font choice and size, color, contrast, style, letter and line spacing, and paragraph spacing.
I often see mistakes with these areas, so here are some guidelines that will help you avoid such errors.
#1: Typography Guidelines
Try to avoid decorative fonts, especially those designed to look like handwriting. Instead, stick to the more commonly-used fonts, such as Arial, Verdana, Georgia, or Helvetica. No one looks at your website and wishes it looked more like a fancy spell from Harry Potter, but they will certainly notice if the font choice hinders their ability to read it.
Regarding font size, I see too many websites and blogs using small fonts (12pt or smaller). Modern web design trends have moved towards using larger, more readable font sizes in the 16 – 18pt range.
Font colors and contrast should also be chosen for maximum readability. Avoid light text on a dark background at all costs because it makes reading very tiring on the eyes. Black or dark gray text against a light background work best and offers a good contrast level. If you plan on using different colors for headlines, try to keep the variations to a minimum and use muted colors.
Italicized text and bold should be reserved for emphasis, speech and quotes, and headings.
Some fonts have smaller letter spacing than others (the space between the letters, not just between words), and between lines of text. You can increase these using CSS styles to give your text more breathing space. The same applies for spacing before and after paragraphs. For example, note the text spacing used in this post.
#2: Content Structure Guidelines
The structure of your writing also has a large impact on readability. While there are no hard and fast rules on this, I’ve found several best practices that can make a significant difference.
First, avoid using justified text (a straight right-hand edge) in your blog posts, articles, or emails. Justified text is okay for printed materials and books, but not on the web, and is particularly annoying for anyone with dyslexia.
Next, the left-edge of your text is called the “reading line” and should remain unbroken throughout the content, except for paragraph breaks and subheadings. If you want to insert an image where the text wraps around it, align the image to the right of the content, not the left.
Wherever possible, use short paragraphs with no more than 3 sentences.
Break up your content with appropriate subheadings to give the eye somewhere to rest for the people who like to scan the content.
After a while, you may notice that your writing starts to fall into a rhythm.
For example, a long paragraph is followed by a medium one and then a short one, with the pattern repeated in various ways throughout the content. This is normal and helps to define your personal writing style.
You can learn a lot more about this by studying the structure of online content and the emails you receive to see which ones are easier for you to read.
The last thing I’ll mention is to always check your content on a mobile device, to make sure it’s easily readable and that it has a structure likely to help the reader read it comfortably.
General Writing Dos And Don’ts
To finish up this section on writing, I’ve got a short list of dos and don’ts to help keep your writing neat, clean, and on track.
#1: Avoid Exclamation Points
I see exclamations used and overused far too often, and it can make your writing look like it’s shouting instead of emphasizing a point.
If you feel like a sentence needs an exclamation in order to add a sense of surprise or drama, then it’s a sure indicator that the sentence needs more power words instead.
And never, ever, use multiple exclamation marks!!! (Yes, like that).
#2: Practice Makes Perfect
I understand that writing might feel awkward for you at first, but I promise it will improve with time and practice.
Make a point to write something every day. It doesn’t always need to result in usable copy, you just need to exercise your writing muscles.
Even as little as 10 minutes of writing per day has been shown to work wonders, and I can attest to this from my own personal experience.
#3: Plan For Success
To get the best from your writing time, you may need to carve out room in your schedule to allow you to focus all your attention on it.
I recommend working in 20-minute blocks with small breaks in between, and you should aim to remove as many distractions as possible from your work environment.
Turn off the phone (or silence it and place it upside down), shut down your email and social media browser tabs, and make a contract with yourself to focus solely on writing for the time allowed.
Use a simple timer if that helps you to stay focused.
Multitasking is truly a myth and does not make you more productive.
#4: Some Words To Avoid
When talking about your photography in your writing, avoid any words that might cheapen the value of what you do.
For example, use “session” or “assignment” instead of “shoot”; “investment” or “fees” in place of “price”; and never use the word “picture” or, worse still, “pic”.
#5: Watch Out For Commonly Misused Words
This could be a huge list, but here are a few commonly misused words and phrases:
- Should of… (correct use: should have)…
- Its instead of it’s…
- Their instead of there…
- To instead of too…
- Irregardless is not even a word…
- “I could care less” should be “I couldn’t care less…”
Minimize your use of nuisance words like “very”, “that” and “really”. We’re all guilty of this one, and it can be hard to break the habit, but removing such words makes your text easier to read.
#6: Avoid Slang
Slang has no place in professional writing, so be sure to avoid it, especially some of the many terms we find in common use from the world of texting.
Obviously, you should aim to keep your writing sounding professional, but it still needs to be conversational, informal, and friendly.
Always write emails as you would a physical letter with proper salutation and sign-off.
#7: Use The Correct Type Of Dash
There are actually three kinds of dash you can use in your writing but many people (including myself) seem to get them confused now and again.
The three dashes are:
Hyphen (short dash or -). These are used to connect words together, such as “well-oiled”.
En-dash (medium dash or –). En-dashes are used to represent a range. For example, “10–15”.
Em-dash (long dash or —) These dashes can replace a comma or semi-colon in some cases to join two phrases together. For example, “Writing can be a challenge for some people—especially photographers—but it’s much easier than you might imagine.”
Undoubtedly, there are a lot more writing tips out there, of course, but these should be enough to cure most of the problems I typically see.