Always Write Interview Series #7
#Bloggers Hosting Writing and Photo Challenges
Hi friends, I’m Marsha Ingrao, editor of my hobby blog, Always Write, a blog to serve like-minded bloggers and participate in my hobby of blogging.
Today I am thrilled to introduce the challenge hosts for the Writing and Photo Challenge Interview Series #6, the four-member team , Tina, Ann-Christine, Patti , and Amy that produces the Lens-Artist Weekly Photo Challenge. Welcome, Lens-Artists. It’s great to have you all here together.Marsha
Thanks, Marsha, we’re excited about the opportunity to participate in an interview with you about the Lens-Artists team.Tina
You make quite a team, spread out all over the world. My moniker and web address is TC History Gal, and I love history. I’m so excited to learn more about you all and how this wonderful challenge got its start.Marsha
This project has been a wonderful example of using blogging and technology to develop friendships and expand our audience. The team has come together beautifully. We plan our subjects well in advance and have evolved to include guest hosts every five or six weeks. More importantly, we have become good friends across the miles, although only Patti and I have managed to meet in person so far.Tina
I think meeting our blogging friends in person is part of the blogging dream. I know you know two of my favorite photo bloggers, Terri Webster Schrandt and Cee Neuner. I just met up with Terri in July when she stopped by and we took a short tour of the Sequoia National Park.
In addition to making friends in the cyber world, you’ve provided a much-needed service for other artists around the world. I am anxious to learn your motivation for this hard work.Marsha
Yes, it’s been quite a journey! Since June 30, 2018, we’ve hosted a challenge every Saturday at noon. Amazingly, we’re still going strong. A big part of the reason for that is the ability to share the workload between our four team members.Tina
So let’s explore a little of the history of how the Lens-Artist Challenge began.Marsha
How did you get together and what prompted you to begin to host a photo challenge?
Patti: I’ll start. I’ve been blogging since August, 2011 on Pilot Fish Blog as a way to connect to other creative people. That’s how I originally met Tina and Ann-Christine. Then, Tina introduced me to Amy.
I started participating in the WordPress Weekly Challenges for the same reason—to connect with other writers, poets, and photographers and share some of my creative work.
I wrote a series of articles on the craft of writing, which was highlighted by one of the editors at WordPress. As a result of her recognition, my audience started to grow. Then, I started collaborating with other bloggers on various short projects like the Pilot Fish Trailblazer Awards—in which I invited a dozen bloggers to write posts highlighting an inspirational person from their part of the world. We had 13 posts in the series, featuring trailblazers from Sweden, India, the United States, the U.K., and Australia. That’s how I got to know Ann-Christine, who wrote one of the posts on Astrid Lindgren, a Swedish writer.
Tina: I’ve been a photographer since my early 20s (I won’t say how long ago that was!), dropped it for the most part as I built my career in high tech, and picked it up again when my husband and I began to travel extensively after we retired.
I started blogging in 2012 when I was asked to photograph and develop a blog for an LPGA charity organization focused on young female golfers. I had no idea how much work was involved in addition to doing their photography but it was well worth the effort because the kids and their parents were thrilled and very grateful.
That project started me on my own blogging path sharing my thoughts as well as our amazing travels around the world.
We began the Lens-Artists Challenge June 30, 2018, not long after WordPress dropped its Weekly Photo Challenge, which so many photographers enjoyed. Somehow Patti and I engaged in an online conversation about how much we both missed it. We stepped up to the workload to try running with our own, very similar, version after expanding the team to include Ann-Christine and Amy. We hoped many of the WordPress weekly challenge responders would join us and happily many of them have. As of August 9, 2020, we’ve posted 109 Lens-Artists challenges.
Ann-Christine: I started blogging in 2011 on my blog https://lagottocattleya.wordpress.com/. The reason for me to begin with was that, working as a high school teacher, I only read and corrected others’ work and never had time for creating my own things. In the first two years…not much happened. I write poetry in Swedish – who wants to read poetry these days?
As soon as I changed to English and started blogging about my travels and art/architecture – everything went smoothly. For the first two years I didn’t have many followers. I can still remember the joy when I reached 200 followers. I never really had any goals more than reaching those 200.
Photography has been fun since I was a teenager, but not seriously interesting until my children appeared on the stage. First documenting, and then it developed – mostly since I started blogging and realized nobody would read much of my poetry.
When Tina and Patti asked me to join them, of course, I could not say “no”! I had been admiring and following these bloggers for some time and I also wrote a post for Patti’s Pilot Fish Trailblazer Awards.
Amy: I started using WordPress in 2010 as a convenient way to share my travel photos with my close friends. Back then the site was “private.” A couple of years later I began visiting other blog sites, and occasionally, joining in both the WordPress Photo Challenge and Cee’s Photo Challenges.
From the beginning, I knew I wanted to share my travel photos and introduce the culture/ history and beauty of nature captured along the way. These have also been my primary purpose for co-hosting the Lens-Artist Photo Challenge.
I learned photographic skills and tips from my blogging friends. I’m inspired by their beautiful photos and photography experiences.
Patti: As Tina mentioned, we got together after the WordPress Weekly Challenges were discontinued. We missed the weekly challenges and wanted to continue to support the community of photographers and writers who shared their photos/posts every week. We decided that the four of us would take turns hosting the challenges.
Being a part of a creative community is very important to me. It has been a necessary dimension of my life throughout my adulthood, even as I’ve worked as a college teacher, an editor, a writer, and an instructional designer. Creative people have a unique perspective, which is energizing and often thought-provoking.
What is your purpose in hosting the challenge? How does it help photographers?
Tina: Photographers, unless they are quite well known, often do not have an outlet for their work. Most of the time it sits unnoticed on their computer, or visible only to friends who see it in their homes. Blogging gives us an excellent opportunity to have others see our images and to enjoy those that they produce as well.
Unlike platforms like Instagram (which many of us also use) blogging gives us an opportunity to build a story around our images and oftentimes to deliver a message in a more subtle way. Many of our respondents, as well as our four team members, are also writers or poets who are sharing much more than their images.
Ann-Christine: I believe photo bloggers can help each other by sharing techniques, ideas and continuing support for each other’s work.
Patti: The photographers on WordPress have been generous in their feedback. They have encouraged me to grow as a photographer. They also have been very supportive of my writing. So, the Lens-Artists Photo Challenge is my way of “paying back.” It gives me a way to encourage new photographers. By creating the posts and selecting the themes, I’ve also been able to challenge myself and grow.
Together, the four of us also give our followers the creative space to share their photography with others. Best of all, being a part of this marvelous Lens-Artists team has given me a chance to collaborate with three wonderful creative artists.
How much time does it take?
Tina: As my husband would tell you, blogging, especially when hosting a challenge, is quite time consuming. First we develop our ideas for each weekly theme which we then share with our team members. We track all of the themes we’ve used from the very beginning (Patti is the much-appreciated keeper of our running list as well as our future planned posts). Once we’ve landed on a topic for the week we work to build our own response to it. The weekly host has her challenge reviewed by the other 3 prior to posting, and goes live at noon on Saturday. The other team members will follow within a day or two. I don’t believe any of us has ever missed a challenge.
For me, preparing a post typically starts with selecting the images that best meet the challenge and then developing a story around them. It sometimes works the other way but most often not. I’ve kept all of my Lens-Artists images in a week-by-week file since the beginning so that’s yet another step.
The biggest effort starts once the post goes live. We’ve worked hard to ensure that we respond to every post which has become quite time-consuming since our challenge has grown. Responding is easier when participants use the Lens-Artists tag in the WordPress reader but not everyone does. We’ve tried to encourage our followers to use it because it really does increase the number of bloggers who see and comment on posts but it still includes only about 50%. That said, the same was true for the WordPress Weekly Challenge participants so I guess it’s just an uphill battle.
Ann-Christine: Much, now with the Lens-Artists Photo Challenge growing, sometimes too much. Guest hosts help and brings some new vitality to the challenges.
It takes maybe 10 hours a week, several hours a day sometimes, as they have all week to share their own post and images. Much time goes to checking daily for new pingbacks and approve, comment and share. I do still participate in other challenges I like, but not as many as I used to.
How did you determine the theme or focus for the challenge?
Tina: We try to find topics that give respondents flexibility in their replies- ie broad enough to let each blogger illustrate something they’d like to share but always in some way related to the subject for the week. Nearly all of our participants work hard to make their posts relate to the week’s subject.
Sometimes we choose to address a particular aspect of photography or image post-processing to focus (pun intended) on improving skill sets or to practice something that’s not part of a usual routine. Those posts tend to get very good responses and feedback but we try not to overdo it.
We also work hard to remember that we’re an international community so we want to ensure that our posts and topics are of interest to non-US followers as well.
Patti: Sometimes, I try to pick themes that reflect what I’m focusing on in my own photography at that particular time. It could be a photographic technique or an area of photography that I want to improve (such as cropping a shot, macro, silhouettes or abstracts). By leading the challenge, I am pushing myself to develop that photographic skill and in return, I get feedback on my work from our community. I also get the chance to learn a lot from our participants who post their work for the challenges.
Amy: Some of my themes are inspired by my followers, many other themes by Tina, Patti, and Ann-Christine.
Ann-Christine: My themes are often inspired by what is happening in my own life.
What steps do you take to get your challenge ready?
Tina: Once I’ve created my post I step away from it and come back to edit at least four or five times over a few days before going live. I tend to find some little error or an additional thought to add or something to take out every time.
I also try not to overwhelm readers with too many images or too much text. In most, but not all posts I try to use only four images because that is what displays in the WordPress reader. I learned from a visiting professional photographer that limiting your choices is an excellent exercise in self-critiquing, forcing you to evaluate your own work for it’s merit and its applicability to the theme.
Amy: Tina, Patti, and Ann-Christine have been very supportive. They have given me valuable feedback and suggestions and helped polish my posts. It does take time to choose photos and decide on how to present them with stories.
Patti: My process is very similar to Tina’s. I create several drafts over several days and then share my post with Amy, Tina, and Ann-Christine. After getting their feedback, I revise and finalize the post.
Ann-Christine: I create the posts from my images first, then I set the text and sometimes fit quotes. The draft goes to the other members for feedback before going live.
How do you follow up with your participants?
Tina: We make a point of responding to every comment and also of visiting the blogs of all of our responders. We also choose a few posts that caught our attention during the week and include links to them at the end of the weekly host’s post. We hope our followers choose to visit the posts we highlight to give them a bit of extra attention. After all, at the end of the day the goal for most bloggers is to grow their following. We hope we’re helping our followers to do that.
At this point our followers know to watch for the new theme on Saturday at noon EST. We work to that schedule consistently, even when we have guest hosts – a concept we introduced more recently. It’s been nice for the team to have a new “voice” now and then and I think also that our followers have responded well to the idea. It also tends to generate new followers who may be part of the guest host’s community that weren’t previously aware of Lens-Artists.
Patti: I view their posts and comment on them throughout the week.
Amy: I visit my participants’ posts and reply to their comments throughout the week. I also visit the blog sites that I follow.
Ann-Christine: I visit and comment like the others.
How did you attract people to participate? How would you describe a profile of your participants?
Tina: Our participants are primarily people who, like us, are photography enthusiasts and oftentimes also writers. Most are interested in an audience for their work and their stories, and in being part of a like-minded community.
Also, as photographers we are for the most part all interested in others’ creativity. I love coming across a response that surprises me with its creativity, or makes me laugh, or has especially high quality images. Many of our followers were also participants in the WordPress Weekly Challenge if they’ve been blogging since that time. I think once you reach a certain size the community tends to grow on its own. Combining four bloggers like those on our team, each of whom had a good-sized following before we began our group challenge, gave us a reasonably-sized community from the start. Adding Guest Hosts has also helped to expand our community.
Any time I interact with the local community, I have my blog address on my business card for opportunities like these. I am also co-editor of a local magazine for the Kiawah Island Conservancy and often include my photography in stories I do for the publication so of course I have my blog address included there as well. But none of those activities specifically promotes the Challenge, rather they start conversations that promote my blog which is part of the challenge.
Amy: Many of the participants have been our followers for a long while. And, I enjoy “meeting” new bloggers through our weekly theme. I am sure our participants have inspired their followers to join us.
Patti: My posts are simultaneously posted on Twitter and Facebook. I also upload photos to Instagram. It’s very satisfying to build a following and have relationships with bloggers all over the world. Our participants are a diverse group of writers, poets, and photo enthusiasts, as well as people who like to travel and share their travel experiences.
Do you determine winners and award widgets or other identifying emblems?
Tina: We don’t use an emblem or a widget, and we certainly do not feel we are in a position to judge any of the responses. We are simply a community of bloggers who enjoy photography and telling stories.
We choose our guest hosts based on their commitment to our challenge, their willingness to work within the constraints of our “rules” and their like-mindedness to our approach. We were thrilled for example when Cee Neuner, who is one of the most revered bloggers in our circle, was willing to guest host which meant posting on a different day/time and following a somewhat different format from her norm.
Ann-Christine: No, everyone is a winner!
Amy: We are open to participants’ interpretation for the weekly theme. Every week we get to enjoy their creative responses. This is the fun and exciting part of co-hosting a weekly theme.
I constantly find learning opportunities from among my blog friends and participants. And, I do believe every blogger is a shining star in the blogosphere.
Patti: We aren’t identifying “winners” each week when we highlight three or four blog posts from the previous week’s challenge. We are just calling attention to noteworthy posts because they are very creative or unique or come from a new participant to the challenge.
Do you ever publish collaborative photo books with your participants?
Tina: Again, we do none of the above for our audience. Personally I’m a very big proponent of photography books and have done one for every major trip my husband and I have done. My blog includes a link to my Blurb site where I often refer others when they’re struggling with what to do with their travel or family images, and I teach an annual class in book-making for photographers locally.
This year for the first time I decided to create “blog-to-books” for each of the years I’ve published Travels and Trifles. It was very easy and I’m happy with the result. After all the time and energy I’ve invested in my blog I wanted to be sure it doesn’t just disappear one day when I stop blogging. It’s something I’d recommend to anyone who is serious about their blog.
Ann-Christine: I too have made some photo books. I have also started on one book a year.
What about a Facebook Group or Page, or a group in other social media?
Tina: I have a personal Facebook page and always post my weekly blog there for non-WordPress users. I have a relatively small number of Facebook blog followers so it’s not worth a great deal of effort but it’s quick and easy to add it so I do. We’ve not thought or talked about using other social media to promote our challenge. It’s quite enough work already.
Ann-Christine: No, nothing. I used to connect my posts to my Facebook, but left it some years ago.
Patti: We don’t have a Facebook Group or Page. I have a personal Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram account. I post my photos and links to my posts on those sites.
Amy: I don’t have a Facebook group or page or use any other social media.
Photographers, unless they are quite well known, often do not have an outlet for their work.Tweet
Do you post or promote links to your participants’ entries anywhere?
Tina: We don’t promote our participants except through the challenge itself. As I said earlier without photo challenges, most of the time an artist’s work sits unnoticed on their computer, or visible only to friends who see it in their homes.
Participating in this challenge has been helpful for me personally as I hope it is for all our participants.
Both Amy and Ann-Christine somehow find the time and energy to participate in several other challenges, some of which are run by individuals who also participate in Lens-Artists. I admire their commitment but don’t feel I can add to the already large time commitment. Also, I prefer that my personal followers receive my blog only weekly, and on a regular schedule.
Amy: To me, blogging is about connecting with people, anytime, anywhere. I remember I used to promote other bloggers through my posts on a regular basis. Back then, I also took time to participate in new photo challenges just to show my support for their efforts.
What else would you like to tell my readers?
Tina: For me, the interesting and unique thing about our challenge is the collaboration between the four team members. We began as complete strangers and have evolved into good friends across many miles. We’ve shared each other’s joys and challenges, and very much appreciate the work, effort and time that each of us commits to it. Any success we may have is a direct result of our shared sense of responsibility and our mutual commitment to maintaining a high level of quality. More importantly, we hope our followers know that we appreciate every one of them and their commitment to our challenge. We hope they will continue to participate – to share their images, their thoughts and their stories with all of us. We hope it has helped them, as it has us, to find an outlet for their creative energy as well as a positive alternative to the frustration we all feel with today’s challenges.
Ann-Christine: Hosting a challenge is a tough job – but so much fun! Through blogging you get friends all over the world, and you grow as a person while you exchange knowledge.
It is very rewarding and I am so grateful for belonging to this team. Some bloggers I have met in real life, and I hope life-after-Corona will give us team members the opportunity to meet over a cup of coffee or tea – somewhere in the world.
Amy: It is such an honor to team up with Tina, Patti, and Ann-Christine. Their talents and commitment have taken the photo challenge to new heights. I admire each one of them.
Most of all, many thanks to our followers and participants for their support. Together we have cultivated a community to which we can all belong.
Patti: I’d also echo what Tina said—that it’s been a great experience to work with Amy, Tina, and Ann-Christine, as creative partners. We’ve also become friends over the past two years, which has been an added bonus of our collaboration!
Finally, we all thank you Marsha, for your interest in our challenge and our team. We look forward to seeing the final product and sharing our experience with others!Tina, Ann-Christine, Patti, Amy
The true thanks goes to Terri Webster Schrandt who told me about your challenge. Thank you so much for taking part in the Challenge Interview Series. I hope it will be a constructive tool for you to use to promote your challenge and attract more guest hosts, so spread out the workload.
As a reminder, Always Write as a resource page for Photo Challenge lovers, and Cee Neuner has a resource page for Writing Challenges, as well as for Photo and Music Challenges. If you read this post and know of someone we’ve missed, please send me an email at email@example.com.Marsha
The Writing and Photo Challenge Interview Series
- Suzanna Burke Flash Fiction Interview #1
- How to Lasso a Wild Carrot in 99 Words-No More-No Less Interview #2 – Charli Mills of Carrot Ranch
- How Responding to a Photo Challenge Focuses Your Writing and Increases Your Followers – Interview #3 Terri Webster Schrandt Sunday Stills
- One-Word Writing Prompt Challenges Interview #4 Esther Chilton
- How to Run a Successful Writing Challenge for Four Years Counting Interview #5