Taking pictures is just the first step. Whatever you decide to do afterwards will most probably involve publicising your efforts. Whether to reach a wide audience with the intent to sell, or just to express creativity, you have to get your pictures Out There. Photo blogs are one way of doing this, with a number of options currently available. Here we will be discussing a number of free blogging platforms at our disposal, and what factors you should take into consideration when deciding between them. These are the most popular options: Google’s Blogger, Wordpress, Tumblr and Posterous.
Blogger fits in nicely with the Google products and is a just a click away on the top bar in Gmail, so if you already are a Gmail user, no additional sign up is required. When a photo is uploaded to the blog, it is actually being hosted on another Google service, Picasa Web, which has a 1GB storage limitation. Before you cry foul, consider this: an image 1200 pixels at its longest side, saved at 72ppi would clock in at an average of 500kb. That’s 2 million 2 thousand photos. Probably more than enough.
This actually brings us to one of Blogger’s limitation as a photo blogging option. You can upload images of any size, but if they are wider than the blog placeholder, they spill out in a very awkward fashion. Each image’s size can be scaled to fit in the blog properly, but I think this produces poor visual results, in terms of a photoblog. It’s more suited for having images accompanying a text-based blog. At least there is the gallery option: when you have more than one image in a post, clicking on any one will bring up the gallery, a full screen image view, from which you can scroll to the next images.
When it comes to other functionalities, Blogger falls short again. Theme options are limited, but at least the layout of each theme is then customizable. Sharing to Google Plus is the easiest thing to do, however if you want to include sharing to Facebook and Twitter, it’s another story. You can install widgets that show up in the sidebar, but these look more like an afterthought than anything else. In my test blog with a dark colored theme, I found out that the sharing widget kept its white background. Not nice.
Blogger has one ace up its sleeve that none of the other platforms can boast of (if you can generate a sizeable readership, that is). Through its AdSense program, Google will serve ads to the viewers of your blog, earning you something in the process.
Wordpress comes in two versions, wordpress.com and wordpress.org. We will be talking about wordpress.com, as wordpress.org functionality is a situation in which you download the blogging software to install on your own server.
What will immediately become clear when going through the dashboard, is that there are a lot more behind the scenes options than in other blogging platforms. This may be daunting for some, or an incentive for others, it all depends on personal preference.
Wordpress has a much larger selection of themes to choose from, some of which are specifically designed for photo blogs. One of the things to watch out for when selecting themes is whether they are fixed width or variable width. The latter will widen up according to image size. My suggestion is to test them both, and see what works best for you.
Wordpress also offers more space, clocking in at 3GB. Actually this issue of storage space can be overcome if you host your images elsewhere and just link them in the blog, instead of uploading them to the blog itself. This can come in useful if you already have a Flickr account.
One cool feature which I found out using Wordpress, specifically a theme called Duotone, is that it can display the main fields of the photo’s EXIF data (metadata): aperture, ISO, focal length, shutter speed and camera model. This avoids the need to look it up and type it out each time you post. The only caveat is that the data is only available when the image is uploaded, not linked.
I found the sharing features on Wordpress to be the most complete from the platforms reviewed here. You can link your blog to Facebook, Twitter and a number of other services, so that each post is automatically published to them once posted. Then there are a slew of sharing buttons which can be displayed underneath each post, giving the reader the option to share the content they like on their social network of choice.
If all the above sounds unnecessarily complicated, then Tumblr is for you. It’s the easiest to use platform and has nice photography themes that give prominence to the content. It has no storage limit (so far), but there is a limit on the number of posts per day. I couldn’t find an official figure on the site’s help pages, but the general consensus seems to quote a figure of 75 photo posts per day.
If you’ve slanted your head in puzzlement (as in: why would I want to post 75 times a day), keep in mind that Tumblr is part blogging platform, and part social network. All the platforms have some social features promoting interaction between users, but Tumblr’s is the most popular and heavily used. So the limitation is in place to avoid people using it like a Twitter account and spamming their timeline with posts.
There are no sharing buttons under Tumblr posts. Instead users can “reblog” content they find onto their own Tumblr blog. However you can still set up an automatic post to Facebook and Twitter.
I had been using Posterous for a while as my definitely-not-serious photo blog, posting images of quirky or bizarre things I came across. The main feature was that you could just email the image to a specially coded email address, and it will be launched as a post and automatically posted on Facebook and Twitter. Other blogging platforms have since implemented this “post by email” as well.
Then came some sort of rebranding exercise, and Posterous Spaces was born. I had received the email notification, didn’t understand what was going on and lost interest. For the purposes of this write-up I investigated further, and all it turned out to be was that you could have different blogs (which they labelled “Spaces”. I don’t know why.) which could be either public, or assigned to different readers. It is a bit what Google Plus did with Circles, where the content you post to a Circle will only be viewable by members of that Circle. I have yet to determine how this could be useful from a photo blogging perspective.
Posterous Spaces doesn’t have the level of options that Wordpress has, and yet is not as intuitive to use as it could be. A fair amount of head scratching was involved in understanding what goes where.
I was rewarded with a couple of nice, customizable, variable-width photography themes, the best auto-post functionality out there (it sends posts to a number of other social services, and even posts to other blogs!) and one of the most interesting features a photo blog could ask for. When viewing images in gallery slideshow mode there is an option at the bottom left of the screen, whether to include images from this post or from the whole site. How cool is that? Fine, it’s up to the blog viewer to “discover” this feature, but for a free platform it’s a brilliant proposition.
Posterous also comes with 1GB of storage space, but what I found peculiar is that it does not allow images to be linked from another location. All the other platforms allow this.
The Fine Print (not ours)
If you are researching other photo blog options than the above, it pays to dig deeper and have a read at their Terms of Service (ToS). This is where you’ll find the legalese that governs your use of the platform, and (more importantly) what happens to the copyright of your images. All the above platforms have made it explicitly clear in their ToS that the user would retain complete ownership of the uploaded content, as long as it is yours to start with.
There isn’t a clear winner or loser here, all the factors have to be weighed in the light of what’s important for you, the prospective photo blogger. I would definitely recommend testing out all of them first, because:
- (a) there’s nothing to lose, they’re free
- (b) you get the hands on feel, and see what works for you and doesn’t, and
- (c) you get to see how your pictures would actually look. Maybe you like what a platform has to offer, but cannot find a theme that you like.
Bonus tip: once you’ve made your choice and set up a photo blog, get a few posts up there before you tell the whole world to have a look at it. As a viewer I wouldn’t like following a link only to find there’s only one image up.
Raised in Malta and living in Dubai, Andrew took up photography in July 2011, when he upgraded from a point & shoot to a dSLR. He is still negotiating the learning curve and has not pinned down a specific style yet, but will share his experiences and pitfalls along the way. Andrew lurks on Google+ http://gplus.to/iles