A very insightful interview with Canadian photographer Paul Kerins. With a vast work experience, Paul is also good at building and managing his photography website, and shares his thoughts on ways to improve yours.
After I recently featured his website as an example in my article on Minimalism in photography websites, I thought it would be great to follow-up with him and learn more about his work and photography business:
Please tell us about your photography background
I started photography as a hobbyist when I was a teenager. I then worked as assistant for two different photographers. Both photographers were excellent in their respective fields (one was fine art portrait photographer and the other was a commercial photographer). I was able to learn much from the two of them over a two year period. When I first struck out on my own I joined a co-op studio, and shared studio-time with eight other photographer. It was an interesting experience to see the all the different photographers’ methods of working. I opened my own first studio when I was 22 years old, in Vancouver, Canada.
While I grew my business, I focused a lot of energy on developing my own personal photographic style. My work in Vancouver was a mix of portraiture, catalogue, and commercial work, but the majority of the work was centered on photographing people. After eight years of working in Vancouver I felt that my photography had begun to plateau, and that I needed a new challenge. To continue growing as a photographer I needed to work in a market that had a large concentration of the best photographers in the world, so I moved to Europe and for the next 12 years I lived in Paris, Milan, and Hamburg. In Europe I mainly did fashion and beauty editorial work for women’s fashion magazines.
What are all the components of your online presence now?
My online presence is my website www.paulkerins.com. There are three different sections to my site. My main portfolio, my blog, and my print store.
At what point in your career did you start using a website and what effect did the website have on your business?
The first version of paulkerins.com went live back in 2001, and currently my website is in its sixth version. The main benefit of having a website for me is having a online portfolio that is readily available 24 hours a day for potential clients to view at their leisure. Having the site makes it easier to market my work, and to get appointments with clients that might otherwise be impossible to meet.
“A good website, with good content, opens doors.”
What is your take on social media?
I have always been a fairly private person, so I never got into social media. I have always felt that the TOS (terms of service) that these social media companies have their lawyers make, gave them too much control over individuals’ private information. There has been too many documented abuses from the many different social media companies on the web to warrant my trust.
As a creative I think you should be extra careful posting your work on social media sites, it is important to me that I retain complete ownership of my photographs and the written content I produce for my blog. By running and maintaining my own site I am better able to control my content. That said, I do understand the power of social media, and how it can drive a lot of traffic to a website, so I made it easy for people who like my work and want to share it with their friends, by including sharing buttons on my website to the more popular social media sites, like Facebook, Twitter, Tumbler, Pinterest, and a few others. It seems like the best compromise in that it lets me control my content while allowing my visitors to share my work with their co-workers, friends, and family.
How do you manage your time to write for your blog regularly?
I am not a natural writer, it is something that I have to work on constantly. I try and make it easy on myself by writing what I know. I write when I have something to say, or when I am in the mood. I never force a article, and I do not put any time limits on when it will be done. I publish the article when it is ready, and not before. My goal is to post an article once a month, but that is not always possible.
How difficult was it to get featured in popular magazines as you did?
Very difficult; it took many years of shooting every day to build up my portfolio and to develop a style that was strong enough to be taken seriously by the better magazines. I also moved to several different non-English speaking countries in order to be able to work for these magazines; learning new cultures and languages was a big part of my journey as a photographer. A lot of it was fun, but it was never easy.
Many photographers are looking to transition more from services to products (prints, books/eBooks, workshops/seminars etc.) Do you plan on creating more products (as opposed to blogging & prints)?
I have completed a book on landscape photography, and I am researching possible publishers. I thought about self-publishing, but I am concerned about the high cost of self-publishing, but more importantly the quality control.
The idea of holding workshops does appeal to me, and seems like it would be a nice fit, since my blog is more of a technical how-to/information blog that does quite well and people seem to like it (judging from the majority of the feedback I receive from my readers).
What is your least favorite aspect of managing your photography business?
Dealing with late-paying clients. Models and/or crew members that are late. Suppliers/vendors that are late. Pretty much anything late related.
With over 25 years of experience in professional photography, do you sometimes struggle with your work/life balance?
I think for most photographers, work and life are one and the same. Every production has its challenges and some days are better than others.
What inspires you? (now, in the industry)
I am very rarely inspired by modern photographers. I can be inspired by a image, certain music, by light, or someone’s face. I still draw inspiration from the analogue photography masters. The digital era is still too young for it to have any true masters in my opinion.
What do you think are the qualities of an effective photography website?
Content is always king of course, but having a site that is easy to use, and has a clean layout is also very important; so your photographs can be displayed in the best possible way.
In your experience, what mistakes are people usually making on their photography sites?
- Using a flash website (it is bad for SEO)
- Side scrolling
- Camera motor-drive sound effects
- Popups asking for likes on Facebook
- Popups asking the reader to subscribe
- Navigation that is not easy to find, or use
- cluttered or busy website
- Poor photo editing
- Badly written blogs
- Photographers using their blogs only for blatant self-promotion
What website metrics do you track and what informed decision do you take based on them?
I keep track of a few different things. Keywords, organic search terms, how many visitors new and returning, countries, direct traffic, browsers, landing pages, what kind of devices are accessing my site and there percentage, plus a few other metrics.
Moving my site over to a responsive platform was the biggest and most recent decision I have made based off of metrics tracking.
What are your plans for improving your site in the next year?
As I just mentioned I did a major re-work of my website to make all sections of the site responsive. My website went from a static HTML site to a new CMS (Koken) for my main site, because my site now has about 20 percent of the traffic coming from mobile phones and tablets. It is not perfect, and I have a few bugs to work out, but building, maintaining and running your own site is always a ongoing process. My shop for example currently has a theme that is basically a responsive hack, since the backend of the CMS I use for my store is not fully responsive yet. Opencart (the CMS I use for my shop) just released an alfa version of the next generation of their shopping cart CMS, which I am hoping will be completely responsive.
My blog is WordPress and they have already jumped on the responsive bandwagon, so I switched to a new theme to make my blog look better across all platforms.
So all I can really do now over the next year will be to tweak the site, to make small improvements when the need arises, and to continue to create interesting content for my visitors.
What’s something you’re still actively learning?
Colour management, Colour may seem to be natural to our eyes, but our brains often like to trick us when it comes to colour, but I have to say digital colour is much easier to work with compared to analogue. Good colour photography is something that always needs work.
What was your first camera?
Countries you’d like to visit and why?
I would really like to visit the Scandinavian countries and Finland. I have met so many nice people from those countries. Also I would like to see Iceland because of its raw beauty.
Great having you on ForegroundWeb, thanks for taking the time. Where can people get in touch with you if needed?
Thanks for having me, Alex.
Anyone that wishes to contact me can by going to my website www.paulkerins.com, there is a contact section with all my contact information.