In the past few months I have been asked several times, and from different angles, what goes into the creation of my blog posts. I thought it was time to answer. I will try to be as thorough as I can, while at the same time make it as clear as possible.
Consider that what follows is based on my blog, with the variety of topics I like to cover, and the fact that I was a photographer long before I started blogging, thus I am the source of my own images.
Let me start with the summary of the main points, and we will then expand from that.
STEP 1 – IDEA/CONCEPT
STEP 2 – PLANNING
- schedule, category & timing
- image plan
STEP 3 – PRODUCTION
- equipment prepping
STEP 4 – POST PRODUCTION
- image downloading, meta tagging & back up
- image selection & initial tweaks
- image final editing
- blog-post-specific image prepping
- images for social media & other uses
STEP 5 – COMPOSITION
- title & tags
- photo uploading
- copy writing
- copy editing
STEP 6 – PROMOTION
- short link
- social media promotion
- follow up
- blog site refresh
STEP 1 – IDEA/CONCEPT
This is where everything starts. The idea, or concept for a blog post sources from the theme of the blog itself. In my case, I am spoiled for choices. With a title like Life Out Of Bounds there are no limits to the topics I can cover. That works for me, though it may not work for you, or for someone else.
That said, on a practical level, the next idea usually comes from something I see, or a new place I visit, or what is fresh at the farmers’ market, or an experience I have had and immensely enjoyed. That spurs the desire to share about it with my readers, which then spurs the blog post. Personally, I have a ‘blog post set list’ (blog posts I want to create) that is seven or eight pages long, with about twenty-five or thirty titles per page. And that is not to mention the other ideas I have in draft stage. Except that I either figure out how to clone myself a few times over, or slow down time, so I have a chance at getting to them all. Because, as you will discover, a hefty amount of time and work goes into one of my blog posts. I am working on the slow down time thing. I will keep you posted.
As an example, I am going to use one of my popular posts: Once Around in Mill Valley. This post is both photo rich and story rich. The way it all began is….
Not long after I moved to California, I found myself in need of some art supplies, mostly because all of mine were still packed in boxes, and I had no idea which ones. What did I do? Well, I googled of course! After I typed in “art supplies near me”, several options showed up and, among those, the one that popped out to me was one called Once Around. The name itself was very catchy, and a quick look at their website made me want to go and explore in person. From my browse came the desire to share about this wonderful store with my readers. I also had the idea that, with this post, I would start a new (sub) category: Treasure Troves. And I loved that!
Occasionally, coming up with an idea can take a little time and thought. But mostly, it is faster than you can say Quidditch! At least for me.
STEP 2 – PLANNING
This phase is also known as the To-Do List. This is when you sit down and write out all the steps and sub-steps required to produce the post you just brainstormed. Continuing with my chosen example, these were the steps I needed:
- Connections – since the store owner was not present during my first visit, I contacted her via e-mail introducing myself and my blog, explaining my idea, making sure that it would be agreeable, and then asking when would be a good day and time to take photos, while also giving a rough estimate of how long this would take. All of this took a little back and forth via e-mail, but it was received with much enthusiasm, as it is usually the case.
- Schedule – set up the date and time for the photo session; decide the date of publication (usually for me that is 4-6 weeks later); decide the category and, if relevant, sub-category for the post – though this usually becomes clear in the conceptual stage.
- Equipment/Props/Ingredients – depending on what your post is about, make a list of what you are going to need. In this example, all I needed was my camera gear, but had I been working on a new recipe, I would have needed to list the ingredients needed to create it, as well as the props for the styled shoot. Besides camera gear, other things I usually bring when shooting on location are business cards, patience, kindness, positive attitude, a bottle of water to keep me hydrated, and some chocolate-banana snacks to keep me upright.
- Image Plan – this means making a list of the images you would like to show. In a recipe, for example, do you want to show step-by-step images? Of which steps? How many styled images? Vertical, horizontal? In the case of the example I am using, I knew that I wanted a series of wide angle images showing the store and its styling, followed by close ups that would show the products, and completed by a portrait of the store owner.
The planning stage can take from one to three hours. These can be distributed over several days if you have to make arrangements with third parties like I did.
Note: because a blog post of this kind is usually a good promotion point for the business you are featuring, no release form is usually required.
STEP 3 – PRODUCTION
These are the physical (as opposed to theoretical) actions you take once all of the above is organized. In case of my example post:
- Reminder – a couple of days before the scheduled shoot, e-mail the store with a reminder of your plans. Everyone is busy, especially small business owners, and a kind little reminder will spare everyone wasted energy.
- Equipment prepping – make sure the camera has a freshly charged battery and an empty flash card, with spares of both in the bag. Make sure to pack also any lenses that will suit your needs (in my case I had a wide-angle zoom and my 50mm), as well as tripod for indoor shots. Don’t forget the business cards, water, snacks and all those other good things I mentioned. If your car in parked securely in your garage, you can load everything the night before.
- Action – drive to the location and start shooting. Make sure you take all the photos on your list, plus a few extra, and alternate verticals and horizontals, though this will depend on the style of your blog. In this case, I walked around the store doing details, then did another round for wide angle shots – including the outside, and finished with the portrait of the owner.
The production phase took me about 30 minutes of prep time, almost four hours on location, plus driving time.
STEP 4 – POST-PRODUCTION
This is the part when I work on the images, and these are my steps.
- Image download & backup – downloading the images into the computer (I currently use Aperture, but am about to switch to Lightroom), a step that also includes naming the file folder and adding metadata; then I immediately back up the original files to an external hard drive and/or cloud
- Image selection & initial tweaks – this is when I add a title and description to each image, as well as a rating. I then select the best one, or ones, among two or three similar images. I always edit at least one vertical and one horizontal version of the same. The first round of tweaks follows: white balance, exposure, color tones et such. I keep this to a minimum and do this in Aperture.
- Image final edits – each selected image is taken into Photoshop for the main and final edit. Once this is done, I export the edited images as 300dpi jpeg files into a folder on the desktop, then back it up to an external hard drive and/or cloud. Copies of these jpegs will also later be prepped for registration with the Copyright office, but that is another process.
- Blog-post-specific image prepping – full resolution 300dpi jpeg files are too big to be uploaded on the web, so the images need to be resized appropriately and saved as 72dpi web optimized files. This is an image-by-image type of process during which I also add a watermark and, if relevant, text. (I will prepare a step-by-step blog post on how I do this at a later time). There are automated systems some people use, but they do not satisfy the kind of image quality I like.
- Images for social media and other uses – selecting and prepping the image(s) I will use for social media and optimizing them for this use. Facebook, for example, has a specific optimal image size before the image gets scrunched or pixelated, thus losing quality. Therefore, I prepare a base image (with watermark, always!) to Facebook’s specs, and use it also for Twitter and Google+. For Instagram I use a higher resolution image prepared in another way. I pin to Pinterest directly from the blog, so there is no need to create an extra image for that. Always best to pin a vertical shot on Pinterest. Because of the layout, vertical images are more visible. If I decide that the new blog post warrants a new masthead image, this is when I prepare that as well.
The image post production process can take from as little as 3-4 hours to several days depending on the number of images. When you see one of my photo rich posts (like Once Around), you know it took me 4-5 days to complete this work phase.
Note: registering my images with the Copyright Office happens later, as I do those in batches to save money. Publishing on your own blog is not considered the same as getting your image published (for money) in a third party publication. Therefore the requirements of the Copyright Office are different. Nevertheless, at some point or other, prepping the images for uploading to the Library of Congress’ website is one of the work phases I go through regularly as a photographer.
This is the log in page for electronic registration with the Copyright Office. From here you can find more information without logging in.
STEP 5 – COMPOSITION
This is when I access my blog’s dashboard (mine is set up on WordPress) and put things together.
- Title & Tags – the first thing is to type in the title for the blog post which, if you did not have from the beginning, I am sure you do by now. Next I select the main category and any sub as applicable, and insert the tag words, often selecting from ones I have used frequently already.
- Photo Uploading – next I upload the images. In a shorter post I usually upload all the images right away. In a longer one, where also more text is involved, I upload as I go in order to match images with text. For each image I also type in a title, an alternative title and a description. This is a time consuming, but necessary process that helps your blog’s SEO immensely. I copy and paste as much as I can.
- Copy Writing – writing the text to go with the post. Depending on the post, this can take from one hour to four or five, without editing.
- Copy Editing – before editing I do my best to take as long a break from the post as possible. So let the post simmer and go take a walk with the dogs, or have a cup of tea, or do something completely different. The longer the break, the better. If you can give it a whole day, that would be ideal, but an hour or two is a minimum, or you will not see the mistakes. After the break, I re-read the post out loud to myself. Reading it out loud helps not only find typos and grammar mistakes, but also feel the flow of the copy. As it is, I can re-read a post three weeks later and still find mistakes. The only fool proof way is to have someone else edit, someone grammar-smart that is. I have already read this one four times, and I still find tweaks I need to make.
- Scheduling/Publishing – once all of the above is done, it is time to schedule the post for the selected publishing date and time. Or, if I am running late and complete the post on the same day, then I publish right away.
The post composition phase can take from two hours to a whole day, and sometimes you need to add a half, depending on the post. This one, being a type of post I had never done before, took me a whole day to compose & edit. That is without image prepping, which, in this case, were screenshots and composites created in Photoshop.
STEP 6 – PROMOTION
Once the blog post goes live, whether because you publish it manually, or have it scheduled, it is time to let the world know about it. Your subscribers will get it directly in their in-box, but everyone else will need to be notified.
- Short link – most blog post URLs are rather long, so I copy and past the relevant long link into a URL shortener service (I use goo.gl) to get a short link. I will also save this link in a file I have created, so I can re-use it later on as needed, and google will track how many direct clicks that link gets. I then use the short link for social media, especially Twitter and Instagram. In Twitter the benefit is that it will take up less letters (you can even drop the http:// part and it will still be clickable). Since Instagram does not let you insert a live link within a post (only in your profile), the benefit is a shorter link an interested viewer would have to remember.
- Social media promotion – once I have created my short link, I use the specific images I have created and share about my new blog post on social media, which in my case is Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest and Instagram. I then boost the Facebook post as needed so it actually becomes visible. I am not going to delve into the reasoning behind this or I would end up in a major rant. I also tag any person or business that is relevant to the post, and only them. Relating to the post used as an example, which is about another business, I also send them an e-mail to let them know the post is live, and inviting them to share about it through their social media.
- Follow up – this is the part where I keep track of any comments, both on social media and the post itself, and respond in a timely manner.
- Blog site refresh – I try to keep things fresh on my blog, and also rotate older articles, so I usually do a refresh once or twice a week when I publish a new post. This is also the time when I upload the new masthead image as relevant. If, through the new blog post, I have created a new category (or sub), I also update the main menu navigation.
Depending on how glitchy Facebook and Google+ are, this phase takes between one to two hours, including the site refresh. Then you are done and can run away from the computer for a few hours.
A lot of work? Definitely.
However, not all bloggers do it this way. Many bloggers borrow images from sponsors, or license stock images. It all depends on what the blog is about, what the blogger wishes to accomplish, and also how far they are willing to go to create a post.
For example, the blog of, say, a psychotherapist would not really require any images, just well written text. Fashion and design bloggers very often use images provided/borrowed from the designers they are writing about. Even then, the top blogs in these categories, use a blend of borrowed images and ones they create themselves, depending on the topic and structure of the blog post. Most food bloggers, whether they share about recipes or other food related topics, use their own images by necessity.
Most blog posts are planned ahead. It does happen that something catches my eye one day, and I blog about it a couple of days later. But this is rare. For as itching as I am to share about something, there is too much work involved, at least for a perfectionist like me. Also, if I have something else already scheduled, I tend to keep to the schedule.
That said, I will also share that, depending on what is going on in my life – like moving, which I seem to have been doing frequently in the past few years – I sometimes get behind with my blog prep work, and find myself scampering around for something to post that will be quick for me to prepare, but still worthwhile. On my side I have my seriously large stock of images, but that is still not my favorite thing to do, and it is not a good feeling. Still, life does get in the way sometimes. Don’t be too hard on yourself when it does: if you are anything like me, or the majority of people I know, you are already dealing with a lot as it is.
I hope I have covered everything. If you have any questions, do let me know in the comments. Others may have the same question and benefit from the answer.