I still remember the first time I came to PhotographyLife.com. Not the exact date I put my digital feet on the site but how I felt the first time I saw the big header with the nice “PL” logo and a clean layout. I felt relaxed and calm, not feeling the need to hurry up through lots of banners and links. I simply felt good and it was that very nice feeling what I remembered from my very first visit.
Feeling is a curious thing. Back in the eighties when I was young and naive I was a huge fan of guitar players like Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai and Yngwie Malmsteen. They played ultra fast and with great technique and melody. But whenever I had a discussion about guitar heroes with people older than me they always spoke about the likes of Hendrix, Mark Knopfler, Jeff Beck or B.B. King. “They had feeling”, I was told. “They had a feel for the music and the guitar. You only need a few notes to make the guitar sing. It’s not a matter of how fast you play, it’s about the feeling.” “Feeling my rear end!!!” I thought. Those guys were slow and their playing couldn’t hold a candle to my favorite shredders. That feeling thing they talked about was just a way to fool me and try to make me believe they were better. They had no clue, feeling didn’t matter!
Boy, was I wrong! Not about those old and slow guitar players, yeah, they could play and had “feeling” but Malmsteen, Vai and Van Halen were still miles better! I’m talking about the feeling. Feeling matters a lot! Do you know when you first enter a bar and you feel like you have already been there? Do you know when you first meet a new person and you feel as you’ve known him or her forever? Do you know when you listen to a song for the first time and right after the first couple of notes you’re smiling and you know you’re gonna love it? Things like that happen all the time and when that happens it is just great! Well, that’s exactly what’s happened to me when I first discovered PhotographyLife.com.
It was a couple of years ago and I was surfing the net looking for good reviews of the Nikon D7100. I wanted to buy a new camera and I was deciding between the brand new D7100 or the old but still great and heavily discounted D7000. My budget was tight so I had to make a decision carefully. I already knew the D7000 very well as I had used one for quite some time and I had already read a huge, detailed review of the D7100 on another site, full of technical data and lab tests and now I was looking for something different, something more, for the lack of a better word, real. I already knew the D7100 was a fantastic camera with an amazing sensor and a short buffer and I was more interested to know how it handled, how it felt on the hand, the ins and outs of the camera from the point of view of a real photographer that really had used the camera on the field, that tested it on real photographic situations and not just in a lab, someone who understands photography and not just cameras.
And so I opened a new tab on Firefox, made a Google search and found quite a few reviews. I visited lots of photography sites, some I already knew, others I had never visited. Most of them were OK but nothing special, most suffered from the same problems: so-so content and cluttered layout full of buttons, links and ads that made you uncomfortable after a while. You constantly felt like there were trying to sell you things, to push you to read more articles, to keep you clicking and spending time there. Sometimes it worked and I clicked on shiny headlines and kept reading more articles, but there was no joy, no fun in doing it. The reviews were a mixed bag, some of them were helpful, but others just rehashed the same basic info with nothing new to add, almost as if the reviewer just copied and pasted info from another source.
But in all that sea of mediocrity there was one review and one site that stood out from the rest. It was a long and detailed review, but very well written and easy to read. It had lots of technical info but even better, it had lots of helpful tidbits, real life tests and the reviewer seemed knowledgeable, clear and honest. And best of all, it was in a clean, uncluttered site, a site that just felt nice and where I didn’t felt the need to keep clicking to the next article and where I just could sit, relax and read. It was a nice change of pace from the other sites and I was very thankful for that!
I’m not going to lie, the name of the site nor the reviewer didn’t stick with me that first time. I went to quite a few different sites and after a while they were all a little mixed up in my head. I had a lot of info banging around my brain but I felt more confused than ever, I’m sure you know the feeling (that word again!). So I didn’t have a clue what to do and I decided that I needed yet more info! Yeah, great idea, I know! The problem was that I didn’t remember which sites had the better reviews but I remembered well that very nice site where I had spent quite a lot of time, it had a white background and a very clear and easy to read layout and a name related to photography and the owner/reviewer had a curious name but I didn’t remember the friggin’ name of the site! That’s usually not a problem as I am one of those guys that never bookmark anything. If I found something I like, I just let it open on a tab for like, forever! But this time I was surfing from my tablet and I didn’t have any tab to go to, nor the browser’s history at hand. So I went on another Google search and luckily I found myself back at that same site. As soon as I arrived there, I felt at home and I stayed there for quite a while, reading through the D7100 review again and then also reading the D7000 review.
PhotographyLife.com – that was the name of the site and this time I made sure to remember it for good and I bookmarked it on my tablet. After reading the reviews a couple more times, I made my mind and decided to buy a D7000. But that didn’t stop me from visiting the site and I spent quite some time surfing through all the sections. I was very happy to find that there were lots and lots of Nikon gear reviews because the owner, Nasim, was a Nikon user. Good for me! In the beginning I stuck mostly to reviews and gear articles, as I was looking for some new lenses and as most of you, I love gear! The articles were detailed, filled with useful information and always written in a clear way. The clean layout was easy on the eyes and made me want to keep reading and soon I was looking around in other parts of the site. If the fantastic reviews were that brought me to the site, now I was reading more and more photography articles and guides. We all love to talk about megapixels, dynamic range, IQ and high ISO performance, but sometimes we can get lost in all the geeky stuff and we forget that photography is more than bits and pixels, photography is about emotion, communication, feeling and touching other people’s brains and hearts. That’s not the case in PhotographyLife.com as the site has insane amount of photography-related contents of all kind, basic and advanced, for every type of photographer, written in a clean, informative style. I for one especially spent and keep spending inordinate amounts of time on the “Photography Tips” section of the site, where I learned a huge amount of tips and tricks that have made my life much easier, like the fantastic tip to adjust the EXIF time and date with Lightroom, that was a life saver!
Time passed and I found myself typing PhotographyLife.com in my browser 2 or 3 times a week. I realized that I just didn’t had the tab open anymore, I didn’t need it as the name of the site was well ingrained in my brain. Then one day I realized that most of the names of the writers had become familiar. I was opening the site with joy and anticipation to read a new Romanas article or a new Nasim review, not just a random article from a random guy. Nasim, of course, was the first name I learned. He wrote the most articles and reviews, he was the owner of the site and we had something in common, he shared his photographic passion and work with his wife, just like me. But soon more and more names like Romanas, Thomas or Lola were becoming familiar. I found that every member of the team had a distinct voice but all of them shared some common ground, they were all photographers, not just gear junkies. They were people that enjoyed photography and not just playing with tools! And all of them spoke from their experiences, always in a clear, easy to understand, way. And specially, always in a personal, honest, humble, unassuming manner. And as an avid reader and aspiring writer I liked that a lot! I like when someone’s personality comes clear on the text, I like when someones puts his/her heart on his words and I like when someone uses a little sense of humor to get a point across. And curiously, all of those traits started to appear more and more on my own writing, no matter if I was writing a blog post for our site or a Facebook rant. I was letting more of myself show on my posts, going away from the straight-to-the-facts style that I used to write in and putting a bit more personality and humor in my writing. It was a little difficult and imposing at the beginning, but I found it refreshing and rewarding, sharing a little bit of me with the world.
And then another thing happened, I can’t point the finger to the exact moment, but suddenly I realized that I was spending quite some time reading the comments. And that’s something that I rarely do these days as the comments sections of most sites are… well, let’s say they’re annoying to read, full of hardheaded people willing to fight any argument to death with barely any good or interesting stuff to say. Like most of you I visit a few sites on a regular basis but I avoid the comments on all but 2 or 3. Go to the comments section of any journal or most sport sites and it’s easy to lose all your faith in humanity. Photography sites are not much better, with lots of people defending their brands as if their lives depended on them, or speaking about test, lab data and mostly nonsensical stuff that barely matters when you’re out there doing what we all like the most, taking photographs. And don’t get me started on Twitter or Facebook posts! But the PhotographyLife.com community shockingly is exactly the other way around, a big group of people speaking in an educated and civilized way, sharing tips, telling helpful stories and helping each other. In this place, the comments are a must, you can’t NOT read them. I have found lots of useful tips in the comments section of articles! And what’s even better, the Photography Life team spends a big amount of time speaking with readers and even answering direct questions! And man, to have an extraordinary community like that speaks volumes about the quality of a site and the quality of the team that’s behind that site. The guys dedicate so much work, time and effort to build not just an amazing website but a great community, and they had done an awesome job!
I have never posted on forums or even in comments sections – I’m one of those lurkers that read (almost) anything but barely says a word. But even if I had never spoke to anyone on the site, you guys, both the PhotographyLife.com team and the amazing community, have made me feel at home, being part of the community, as if this is my place. I’m incredible thankful for that and that’s the reason why I’m getting out of my cave to say thank you to all of you.
To have a fantastic community like this, I just can’t think of a biggest feat for any site. That’s why I love PhotographyLife.com. This site has helped me to buy the right tools, has made me a better photographer, has made my life easier thanks to some of the tricks I learned, has helped me become a better, more adventurous writer and specially has made me feel well, comfortable, at home. And feeling matters. A lot. Specially now that I’m into my 40’s, the world is in a strange place, Malmsteen is a jerk and Van Halen is a joke and I’m becoming more and more of a cynic every day as I see how things really are around me, feeling at home is something I really, really value. A lot. Every little piece of happiness and joy is welcome and PhotographyLife.com has given me quite a few of them and keeps delivering every day!
That’s my little story. Thanks for sticking with me up till the end. Now it’s the time to hear yours in the comments! :-)
This guest post was contributed by Fernando Barreiro Búa, a professional photographer from Spain specializing in wedding, portrait and fashion photography. You can see more of his work at his website.