An interview with professional blogger and photographer Marc Andre. Read about Marc’s experiences as a photographer and blogger, learn how he was able to make over $1.1 million dollars from his photography products, and get some inspiration while you’re at it.
1. How did you get started with photography?
For several years I ran a web design blog. Some web and graphic design blogs cover photography-related topics a little bit, so I starting seeing more about photography on other blogs during that time.
Some design blogs were giving away free textures that graphic designers could use in Photoshop for their own design work. This was usually things like a grungy concrete surface, wood floor, rusty metal, stone, or some other texture. I wanted to give away some textures on my blog so I needed to figure out how to photograph them.
I would go out to parks or other public places where I could find different textured surfaces to photograph. At the time I had no real experience with photography, but I started to learn how to use manual mode because auto wasn’t always giving me the best results with the textures.
Right around that time, my wife and I also started traveling more, so the combination of having a small amount of experience with photography and going to some amazing new places really led to a passion for photography.
I started reading a lot of books trying to learn the fundamentals, and then I would try to apply what I was learning with the photos I took on our trips.
2. What was your first “professional” camera? What camera do you use now?
It seems like everyone has a different opinion of what a “professional” camera is, and to be honest, I’m not even sure what I would consider to be professional. I got my first DSLR in late 2012. It is a Canon 6D, and I think I bought it shortly after it was released. I was looking for a full-frame camera, partly because I wanted to be able to create high-res textures.
I also looked at the Nikon D600, but at the time there were all kinds of reports of people having dust issues with the sensor, and Nikon wasn’t doing anything about it yet. I didn’t want to deal with that, so I went with Canon.
That’s actually still the same camera I use today. I’ve thought about upgrading, and I get tempted whenever I read about the latest releases, but I don’t think it’s necessary. My camera can do everything I need it to do, and I’m better off focusing on improving my skills. When it gets to the point that I feel my camera is holding me back, then I’ll upgrade, but I don’t feel that way yet.
3. What led you to start your first blog? How long did it take for you to start getting 1000 visitors a month?
I started my first photography blog because I saw it as a good business opportunity. I had been blogging in the web design niche for a few years and I saw that there were some digital products on photography blogs and websites that seemed to be selling pretty well. I didn’t have a ton of experience with photography yet, but I had been working in Photoshop for years doing web and graphic design. At times I did some photo editing as part of a design project, so I was a lot more familiar with the photo editing and post processing side of things than the actual photography.
I don’t remember exactly, but I think the site crossed 1,000 visitors per month pretty quickly (maybe 2 or 3 months). I was giving away some free downloads on the site, and getting traffic to freebies is a little easier than getting traffic to articles or product pages. I added images on deviantART that linked back to free downloads on my blog, got links from a few blogs as a result of that, and traffic started to grow without too much trouble.
4. What are your favorite photography blogs for inspiration?
5. Are there any tools that help you blog more effectively? What are they?
I always use WordPress as a content management system. It’s free, easy to use (especially once you have some experience with it), and there are a ton of great themes and plugins that make it possible to do just about anything you want.
My blogs typically use themes from Elegant Themes. They’re well-designed and can be customized without the need to use code.
I really like the free headline analyzer from CoSchedule. You can enter a headline or post title and it will give that headline/title a rating. I struggle with headlines and this tool helps to make sure that you’re using headlines that will grab attention.
I also use my own list of blog post title templates to come up with ideas for articles and decide on effective titles. Whenever I’m struggling, I can scroll through that list, find an idea, and fill in the keywords.
Over the years I’ve used several different email marketing platforms. For the past year I’ve been using ConvertKit, but I’ve also used GetResponse for many years.
6. What business skills do you think new photographers should focus on learning to help their careers?
There are a lot of different ways you can make money as a photographer. You can take portraits for clients, sell fine art prints, license stock photos, teach workshops or seminars, write ebooks, create online courses, write on a freelance basis for photography blogs, etc.
I think the skills you need will partly depend on how you want to make money from photography. Networking is a skill that can be extremely valuable regardless of what you do, so I would always recommend working on building a stronger professional network.
My experience with photography as a business involves blogging and selling digital products. If someone wanted to follow a similar path, I think some important skills include learning how to use social media to increase exposure and drive traffic, writing, and email marketing.
One skill I wish I was better at is using paid advertising to promote digital products. I have some experience with Google AdWords and Facebook ads, but it’s not really my strength. If you’re creating and selling products, paid traffic can be extremely valuable because you can get traffic at any time. If you can create profitable ad campaigns you can grow your business quickly.
7. Do you have any mentors or advisors who helped you? How did you find them?
Not really. I try to observe what other successful people and websites are doing and see what can be applied to my own work, but I’ve never had anyone that I would consider a mentor. I’m sure it would help, I’ve just never done it.
8. What is the #1 piece of advice you have for new photographers?
In terms of the actual photography itself, my advice would be to find an aspect or type of photography that interests you the most and get lots of practice. I like landscape, nature, and travel photography, but I don’t have much interest in any type of portraits. I’m still not a great photographer, but the thing that’s helped me the most is simply getting out and getting practice.
If you’re able to do it, attending a workshop can also be helpful. I’ve attended a few workshops and I found it to be really helpful to see the process that a professional takes.
In terms of business or making money, my advice would be to look to do a combination of a few different things. It’s not that easy to make a living as a photographer these days, and most professionals I know do a few different things. For example, I have a friend that leads several group workshops every year, does private workshops, has written a few books, licenses photos to businesses, sells prints from his website and in a few different galleries, and sells some stock photos. It all adds up to a full-time income.
Since I’ve had a few photography blogs in the past, I’ve worked with a number of photographers that I hired as freelance writers. That’s also a great way to make some money, although the amount you get paid will vary drastically depending on the blog that you’re writing for.
For me, blogging and selling digital products has been a great experience. There is a ton of competition for some types of products, but there is also a good bit of opportunity.
9. What is your favorite photography destination? What place would you like to visit that you haven’t yet?
Wow, that’s a hard question! I’ve lived in the eastern US since I was five-years-old, so the landscape of the western states really amazes me. I’ve been to a few places in Arizona and Utah that are probably the most beautiful places that I’ve experienced so far. I really like the red rocks of Sedona, so if I had to pick a favorite spot that I’ve been to, that would probably be it.
I actually have a spreadsheet with a list of places in the U.S. that I want to photograph, and it’s a huge list!. I also have some places outside the U.S. listed, but I know that I’m more likely to hit the places in the U.S. first. Running photography blogs, I came across new locations all the time, so I just kept adding to the list.
My goal is to visit all 61 of the U.S. national parks in my lifetime (there were 59 when I set that goal just a few years ago). If I could pick one place in the U.S. that I haven’t visited yet, it would probably be Glacier National Park.
Outside of the U.S., Iceland would be a dream location.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve tried to find new places to photograph within a few hours of my home, and I’ve found many great places that I never knew about. I’d encourage others who are interested in landscape photography to see what places they can find near them. You may be surprised.
10. What projects are you working on right now?
Right now my main focus is a personal finance blog, VitalDollar.com, where I write about topics related to saving money, managing money, and making extra money. For anyone who is interested, I’ve written an article that has more information about my experience turning a photography hobby into $1,138,610.