The other day, David Bickley wrote a fantastic article on 365 projects. In the article he made some great points about how the project will sharpen the photographer's skills and even lead to work. And while I agree that projects like this are great for growing as a photographer as well as producing regular content for your readers, I know that it can lead to burning out, for both the photographer and the reader.
When I was doing my 365 project, several years ago, there were more than a few times where I had run out of time and posted an image that I was embarrassed to attach to my name. While posting regularly had definitely engaged my readers to a certain extent, after a while I started to notice that the comments on my photos fell off. It seemed like my followers were losing interest. And I didn't blame them. I was too.
For the next several years I blogged irregularly. And when I did post some new photos, I included little to no backstory with my images. Sure, there may have been some pretty pictures to look at, but most of my followers didn't know the subjects in my images. So my post on"Dick & Jane's Gorgeous Destination Wedding" wasn't as interesting to my readers as it was to the bride and her family.
I decided to buckle down and get really intentional with my postings. For any somewhat interesting shoot that did, I would shoot behind-the-scenes photos or a video, complete with lighting diagrams. I then posted them to five different social media accounts and sent them to every photo blog I could think of. While this did boost the traffic to my website, the only people I was really engaging were other photographers.
One day I was having a candid conversation with one of my commercial clients. She also happened to be the person who ran her company's social media. She told me that while she loved following my blog posts, she said the technical info that I was including went right over her head. All my efforts to be more informative in posts and better engage my blog readers had resulted in me missing my target audience: paying clients. Though I love sharing my technical knowledge and helping out fellow photographers, my hope was that the extra time I was now spending blogging was leading to new, paying clients.
Her comments did not fall on deaf ears. As I continued to blog my shoots, I considered how to better involve my readers. And then it hit me: I could have my readers give me photo assignments. I decided to give the idea a test run. I posted this message on my Facebook page on a Sunday night: "Let's play a game. Give me a photo assignment and I have until Friday to post the result of the chosen theme." I was so excited about the theme "urban supernatural" that a reader came up with that I had it shot and posted 24-hours later. My average post before this experiment averaged around 600 views and garnered around 15 "likes". This experiment reached almost 2,000 and had just under 100 "likes". The experiment appeared to be a success.
There was a wonderful, unplanned thing that also happened. This assignment was pushing me outside of my comfort zone. Since I had no control over the themes that were given to me, I couldn't just shoot what was conveniently around me. I had to do a certain amount of planning. This ranged from finding kids for the "nostalgia" and "fairtytale" themes to finding a blind person for "blindfolded". It also afforded me the opportunity to shoot outside of my normal style and try new techniques. I experimented with freelensing with "old fruit" and compositing with "badass saint".
I went on to do 12 of these assignments before I got too busy to continue. In that three month window I had not only gained almost 200 new page followers but also added several new, diverse pieces for my portfolio. To this day, my view-count on posts hasn't returned to the lower numbers they were at before the experiment.