An interview with Jenn LeBlanc, Photographer, Author, and Media Maven
I first met Jenn LeBlanc while getting my Bachelors of Arts, at Metropolitan State College of Denver. She was sitting at a desk, pouring over images so intently that she didn’t even look up when the rest of the students entered the classroom. Through our first class together, and many additional classes, I came to know and respect Jenn as one tough cookie, and an amazing artist. As we made our way through college, Jenn took on the job of editor at the college newspaper, The Metropolitan, where the paper won several awards. We graduated, and started looking for jobs, and Jenn created The Iris Photo Agency, consisting of seven hand picked photographers, coming together to collaborate and grow.
I will never forget the day she told me that she was going to write a book. We were watching our daughters play at a local Water Park, and discussing our enormous student loans. Jenn, true to her word, has written an amazing novel, complete with beautiful photographic illustrations. The Rake and The Recluse has broken new ground in the world of romantic literature.
Jenn has established her brand on-line, and consistently maintains an incredible presence. She and I chatted about her success, and how she’s gotten to where she is now.
http://jennleblanc.com/ is an example of hard work and dedication. You update your site on a regular basis, and you regularly blog. You’ve managed to brand yourself quite well. Can you talk about getting to the point where you are now, and how you manage to stay on top of your online presence having the busy life you have?
It isn’t easy. When I was building my brand I blogged at least once a week if not more. Now that I am secure in that branding and what I hope to accomplish with it my blogging is a little more sporadic, it is determined by my projects, instead of necessity. I share nearly every studio session I do, and try to include some insight into the shoot, what happened, where it went well, where it could have gone better. Little insights to entice my readers, bring my work closer to the viewers.
How have you gotten away from a group of readers/followers that are mostly friends, family, acquaintances and earned the following of people outside of your immediate circle?
Reaching beyond ones immediate social circle is never easy. You have to discover and develop your audience carefully. You determine what they are interested in, besides your work, and share that with them. You never push yourself on people via twitter or facebook. You want to be seen as an authority on a particular subject, then have people come to you about your work specifically. It’s important to know the tools as well, hash tags are your best friend. They are how your audience finds you when they have no relationship with you or your circle. They serve another purpose, they serve to show your personality. For example, as a writer my followers expect a bit of sass and snark. Some of my commonly used hash tags include #thatsWhatHEsaid and #thatsWhatSHEsaid #inappropriate and #alwaysProfessional. I’m also known for more eccentric tags like #edwardCullenInTheCornerWhileYouSleepCreepy and useful tags like #CastingPerry and #trainerDerek.
You have to not merely develop a brand but a persona to go with it, it will help with the tone of your posts when people understand how it is meant to be said or taken.
I also do blog tours. The job of any blogger is inherently master of social media, by providing them with content you are allowing them to promote you to their networks. It is an effective relationship in which both users can benefit a great deal.
My blog is a WordPress site. The only widgets I use are Twitter and Facebook. My author site has a few more widgets, including Goodreadsand other marketing widgets since the purpose is to drive people toward sales avenues. But I don’t like too many bells and whistles. I like it to be clean and simple, as little as possible to get the idea across. Like a photograph. One image, a million ideas.
Are you on wordpress.com or wordpress.org?
WordPress.com I will be upgrading to wordpress.org at some point this year.
As a photographer I have a million ideas for blogs. I have started and failed many times. It’s a trap that I see many photographers or creative people fall into. We get excited about something new, and work towards that goal and then get distracted, what helps you stay focused?
Focus is difficult, particularly for a creative brain with ADD. I think I keep my focus because I have several things going on so when I have a craving for reality I can shoot some freelance or documentary journalism, when I get a wild hair I can go to the studio or location and shoot something that isn’t paid or contracted and when I need to illustrate I can do that as well. But each facet provides the whole of who I am as a photographer and without one the others aren’t as strong. I need to be able to concentrate on the different aspects of photography at different times. Documentary keeps me grounded and honest, the illustration feeds my creative, controlling brain and the art lets me fly.
What are the biggest mistakes you see other photographer bloggers make? And in addition what mistakes do you see that other photographers make when creating an online portfolio.
I think consistency is a big faux pas in blogging of any kind. Consistency goes along with branding and once you figure out your audience and your voice you need to stick to some semblance of that because that is why people are following you. People follow David Hobby because he is the strobe master. People follow Vincent LaForetbecause he is innovative and has stunning video work. People follow my photo side for industry information and snark and they follow my author side for sass and sexy imagery.Online portfolios need to be concise. The mistake is when a portfolio is more broad than your brand. For example, mine is much too broad right now. My focus has narrowed considerably this year, but my website hasn’t kept pace because I haven’t had the time to update my site.
At this point my site should have three areas: Studio, Documentary and Art, the rest, while impressive, is extraneous. It only serves to confuse the viewer because I have left these things to the wayside. These specialties can still be found in my blog, and that is completely acceptable with a blurb of explanation about why it is here, but they shouldn’t be highlighted on my home page.
What social media platforms are important for photographer/artists to be a part of in your opinion?
The ones you are the most comfortable with. I use Facebook and Twitter because I am completely comfortable with them. They are the industry standard. I have attempted to work with Google+ but I don’t have the time to expend energy in figuring out exactly how to use it to my benefit in an efficient manner. That being said, whenever a new site starts up I reserve handles so that in the future, should those sites take off my brand is secure and I am already a part of it.
What about sites like flickr, and picassa?
I have never used picasa, and I used flickr pro for a year but did not renew. They are time consuming and provided no benefit to me. I think it depends on your particular business model. Flickr would be useful for uploading images that clients could use and download for free, that was my primary use for it last year, but I have moved away from that particular endeavor. The majority of the people contacting me through flickr simply wanted the rights to my images for little to no compensation. It’s a great site for sharing images, but it is not a great site for marketing a business, for the most part. I know some photographers have made it work, but it just didn’t work for me.
As you transition from wordpress.com to wordpress.org, you will be venturing into a different type of design experience. What are you doing to prepare yourself for the transition, will you design the site/blog yourself or hire someone to design it for you? What do you see as possible benefits and downfalls to each scenario?
As with the majority of my endeavors I will be doing it myself. It poses a few challenges, but I do have a few WordPress gurus up my sleeve. I haven’t done it yet because I haven’t had time for it, you see that’s a theme right? When you do everything yourself it all comes down to time. I worked with a designer last year on both of my websites and my author branding and overall was extremely happy with the outcome. If I’m in need of professional assistance again she’ll be the one I turn to.
You mentioned your site should be a bit more streamlined, do you have ideas in mind for your own site as you move forward that you are willing to share, and or advice to those creating creative online portfolios?
Most of my ideas for streamlining my site include simply deleting the extraneous information. I already refined my site for SEO and user friendliness, so all I have to do to keep up with my changing focus is simply un-publish certain pages, or alternately design pages to fit with new projects.
Where can we find you online?
I am on twitter as @JKLeBlanc as a professional photographer and @JennLeBlancas an author. They are very different personas. My websites are: JennLeBlanc.com for photography and IllustratedRomance.comfor writing.
One more note about Facebook. My facebook account is personal, I don’t friend random people and very rarely accept friend requests from people I have not met in person. It is my personal space for me to be a goof and celebrate my victories with my friends and family and not worry about who might see what. I recommend you do the same. I also recommend that you lock it down in the privacy settings. I have two pages where I interact with the rest of the web, those are sufficient for acquaintances and marketing. These are my Facebook pages: Photo and Author.
I love to help people but have limited time, there are many ways to contact me, ask questions or just socialize on the web, I have given you plenty of inroads should you be interested. I love to chat with other photgs, and with my readers and fans. Use the media that is suited to what you are interested in knowing.
ALL IMAGES in this post ©Jenn LeBlanc unless otherwise noted.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED NO COPYING, DOWNLOADING, or REPRODUCTION without the express permission of the owner.