This whole blogging caper

Note: This is a “work in progress” that may be modified, amended, changed, enlarged, shortened, hacked about or otherwise rendered incomprehensible. Or even deleted entirely. Without any warning whatsoever. So… er… be warned! All depends on how the mood takes me. Or how much abuse I receive!

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This whole blogging caper really is quite fun. I originally started the present blog with the intention of telling tales of my mishaps and general cock-ups (of which there have been many) in pursuit of this photography nonsense, thinking that in so doing I may in some small measure help uplift the spirits of other photography enthusiasts who become disheartened by all the things that can go completely wrong, or get totally screwed up, or otherwise embarrassingly demonstrate that the person behind the viewfinder truly is a totally incompetent fool.

After all, so many pro, semi-pro, and aspiring pro photographers take themselves so so seriously… don’t they? And would never dream of sharing the oh-so-many self-inflicted “hiccups” that litter the path to achieving one’s goals.

But then I found myself quite relishing the style I’d adopted to present these anecdotes, and carried on as much for my own entertainment as anything else. Even now I find myself occasionally re-reading earlier posts and giggling uncontrollably. Whether others find them equally as funny I don’t know. Perhaps it’s just that I have a really weird sense of humour.

Gradually though the blog seems to have become something more than just that. Its morphed into a platform for sharing some of the photos I appear to be amassing at a rather scary rate. To tell of many of the little photo adventures I enjoy, often alone but also (nearly as often) with mates. And as a place to air my thoughts (opinionated little sod that I am) on various photography-related matters. Plus share other snippets of stuff that I find interesting, that may or may not be vaguely photography-related.

Much to my surprise I’ve discovered that over time I appear to have acquired a little circle of folk that visit fairly regularly, and even comment sometimes. Why this should surprise me I’m not entirely sure… isn’t that one of the aims of blogging in the first place… the whole social networking thing? Nevertheless, surprise me it did, and does. Possibly because, despite my good intentions, I never really expected anyone to be in the least bit interested in my burbling.

Naturally enough, when such visitors have their own blogs I try to return the visits, although perhaps not quite as often as I should. But the spirit’s willing at least. And in the course of all this back and forth I like to think that some sort of relationship develops… calling it “friendship” is maybe putting it a bit too strongly, for how can real friendships develop without knowing someone “face to face” as it were?

But it’s certainly somewhere in that general area. And this is something I really enjoy. I’d far sooner have just a handful of contacts that are meaningful to me in this way and with whom I can exchange banter and toss ideas back and forth (and occasionally argue with maybe) than hundreds of “fly bys” who may well represent quantity… but sadly lack in quality.

So yes, I value and respect my few regulars. And although I still write largely for my own amusement and without feeling that I have to write, or must write in a certain way, in some manner this awareness of my visitors inevitably influences what I write; how I write; and even how I present the blog.

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The Art of Blogging

For that’s another thing y’see. In the course of doing all this I’ve also (hopefully) learned a bit about the art of blogging itself. Some things (especially in terms of page design, presentation etc) I already knew; others… well, there’s always new things to learn, new tips to pick up along the way, isn’t there? Lemme share some of this stuff. Of course, if you’re an old hand at the game you’ll probably know most of it anyway (maybe!), but if you’re new to all this blogging lark, or even at the point of just thinking about starting your own blog, well, here you go…

Information Architects: The 100% Easy-2-Read Standard
Not specific to blogging as such, but some really useful things to bear in mind regarding webpage presentation, readability etc.

Technogran’s tittle tattle
Want to know how to start a blog? All the nitty-gritty stuff? All the “behind the scenes” type stuff in terms of setting one up etc that may not be immediately apparent and can be utterly confusing, especially to the newbie? Then Technogran’s the person for you. A real techie wizz, and all the lowdown on blogging… along with loads of other stuff.

Life with a little one… and more
Moving away from the techie side, here we have someone’s personal blog… but with some really useful tips on blogging, and how to present your blog in a way that’s interesting/easy/readable. Well worth checking out, especially her “Goldilocks” post.

Finding your voice when writing for Web
This, from Moo, the folk that’ll print your pics on business cards and stuff (good they are at it, too). Some handy tips on writing style for blogs, and a few other bits and pieces.

I’m not suggesting of course that one should adopt all the hints and tips from the foregoing… or even necessarily any of them. After all, your blog’s your own sort of personal space on the web, to do with pretty much as you want. And the web would be a damn boring (and probably fairly unattractive) sort of place if we all followed the same guidelines; adopted the same approach.

Yes, it’s definitely right that we should all seek to convey something of our own personality and character through the way we present our blogs. That said however, I believe at least some concession also has to be made to our visitors, if for no other reason than as a gesture of consideration. Which is where issues such as readability, usability, navigation, and even just finding stuff etc all come into play.

Anyway, the foregoing sites provide plenty of material to chew over, and cherry-pick from. And it’s largely because I happened to stumble across most of them within a fairly short period (and I wasn’t even specifically looking… how’s that for coincidence?) that I was inspired to write all this. Guess that’s the way the blogosphere works.

Blogrolls

On a not entirely unrelated matter is that whole “blogroll” thingie. Every blog and their uncle seems to have one, and I’ve never been entirely sure how they work. Um… yeah, I know how they work from the “technical” side but that’s not what I mean.

How do folk compile their blogrolls… and why? Is it a sort of status thing, like saying “Look how well-connected I am”? Is it attention-seeking reciprocal linking, just to boost page rank with search engines or whatever? Or is it to share links to sites that are relevant?
Do folk compile them on the basis of what they enjoy, or what they think their visitors would find interesting, or what? And how big should they be? Is there some sort of “optimum number”, beyond which they’re just filling up space and become far too much for visitors to want to scroll through?

Dunno really. How I’ve approached mine is to basically split it into a number of different sections. There’s the tiddly little “steer clear of” section (a label nicked from, or influenced by at least, previously mentioned Technogran!) where I’ve put the links to some of my other sites. Then there’s the almost as small “quite so” section where I link to humorous/sarcastic/facetious photography-related blogs cos I think they fit so admirably with my “don’t take yourself so seriously” ethos.

There’s the rather lengthy “boring stuff” section, where I’ve tried to provide links to some useful or informative stuff around the web… that’s my token gesture to being helpful.
And then there’s my favourite, the “keeping an eye on” section. This is the one I take especial interest in cos here are the sites that I try to visit as often as I can. The sites of some of my “regulars”. The sites where I really enjoy browsing, reading the posts, even (occasionally) commenting. And sites of other photographers whose work I truly admire. This is the section that I try to keep as short as possible. Sort of “exclusive” like!

Dead Sites

Now there’s a thing with these sites, and the blogroll in general, which is how it ties in with the “art of blogging”.

Few things irritate me more about websites than clicking on the links they contain only to find the links are broken, or that they lead to sites that haven’t been updated for absolutely ages.
Exceptions can be made for “static” sites, like for example some of the sites in my “boring stuff” section. But if the link goes to another supposedly live blog? Well, what’s more disappointing than re-visiting a blog from time to time, only to discover that nothing new has been added? When that happens to me I’ll just give up on clicking that particular link.

However, there’s another dimension to this. If I come across a blog where the links are either broken or go to “dead” sites and these links never seem to change, what that tells me is that the blogger can’t be bothered to check them. And that further tells me that the blogger isn’t really concerned about the “user experience” of folks visiting their blog.

Hmm. That’s not very courteous, is it?

The way I try to deal with this, particularly with my “keeping an eye on” section, is by checking all the links fairly regularly to a) make sure they’re still working, and b) make sure they link to blogs etc that are still active. How do I determine that? Well, its guesswork really, but as of time of writing (July 2010) I’ve decided to implement my own little rule… if the newest content on a blog to which I’m linking is older than two months then I’ll remove the link. Nothing personal in it. Just that I don’t think it’s fair to point folk in the direction of a blog that rarely has fresh content.

That only refers to blogs of course. Obviously static websites and specific or “info” pages are a different matter entirely.

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[Oops… that image looks a bit wonky. I think it must have slipped!]

Photography

Ok, so here’s my nod of the head to the fact that this is supposed to be some sort of photography blog.

A tip, suggestion, plea (call it what you will) that applies not just to blogs but pretty much any sort of website, expecially if it’s one that’s photo-intensive. If you have lots of photos on a single page, it demonstrates real consideration for your visitors (who may not possess infernal machines as super-duper as yours; who may not even have broadband internet access) if you use reduced size web-optimised versions.

Stuffing a web page with full size pics, or ones that haven’t been optimised for the web, can dramatically reduce the time it takes for your page to load in a browser… and some folk (like me for example) simply won’t have the patience to wait for it all to finish but just move on elsewhere.

You may want folk to see your pics at their best… but you do want folk to see your pics don’t you? And they won’t if their browser freezes with the load (as can happen) or they lose patience.

So please, please don’t do it.

As you’ve made the effort to take photographs in the first place, and clearly wish to share them, then just a little bit more effort in resizing and optimising them for the web will demonstrate that you’ve given at least some thought to the people with whom you wish to share.

For example, the largest size I’ll ever upload is 1024px along the longest edge, and very frequently it’s even less than that. 500px seems to be the most useful size for web usage, though I’ve now started uploading 640px to Flickr as that seems to fit their new look quite nicely. And quality-wise (web optimisation), I generally go for around 85%-87%, although I’ve been known to knock that back to 70%.

If you really must upload the full-size pic, then at least don’t include it on a web page with a load of other full-size pics. Link to it with a smaller version or something so that at least folk have a choice whether or not to view it. Not necessarily a thumbnail, but definitely something smaller (that 500px 87% version for example).

Most (if not all) photo-editing apps offer ways of resizing and optimising. Failing that, there are plenty of free and very good apps available. My current personal fave is the FastStone Photo Resizer. It’s easy to use, does the job without fuss, and it’s amazingly fast. Plus it includes a few other useful little tools. It’s also free by the way.

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Page last updated 08 September 2010 @ 17:30hrs