“For the Love of Challenges” Explained

Great teachers tell you what you are going to learn, then they teach you, then they tell you what you learned. Me? Maybe not in that order.

-Cee Neuner

Always Write Series: #Bloggers Hosting Writing and Photo Challenges

I’ve been asking some of you to participate in an interview about hosting a writing or photo challenge. Seven of you have already responded, and we have learned the back stories behind your great challenges. Through guest posts we understand how and why bloggers choose to participate in challenges.

Kevin Cooper asked me to send him a link to the post explaining my new series of interviews. I slapped my palm against my forehead. I hadn’t posted any reasoning for my interview series of the bloggers behind the writing and photo challenges. How dumb was that? (Rhetorical question)

So this post is to rectify that wrong.

My Thesis Questions

The most important question when I started on this quest was, who is hosting writing challenges? Are there as many independent writing challenges hosted by volunteer hobby bloggers as there are photo challenges?

The bigger question is why do hobby bloggers, not professional paid staff, take the time to create challenges? All the challenge hosts have great answers for this question in their interviews. I hope that you will read them all.

My Challenge Backstory

When I first started blogging in 2012, I quickly discovered photo challenges and awards. Both tools helped new bloggers like I was to make friends and create a presence on the blogosphere. It only takes a few posts written to empty air to realize you need friends.

I made some lasting friends through award giving on WordPress. However, the process of giving and receiving awards tired me out, took hours to complete, and didn’t add much to the overall purpose of my blog. Photo challenges molded my blogging style.

To up my game and my WordPress stats, I created several photo challenge pages. No sweat – post a picture and a theme, give participants choices, and thousands of talented bloggers would flock to my blog and share their stories. Right?

I should have stuck to it. Doesn’t this guy just make you want to say something?

Of course, no!

I got zero responses and gave up. Must be more to it than to leave it up on a page and hope someone saw it and wanted to join in. I didn’t know what to do, and I was so busy experimenting with just writing that I couldn’t focus on one thing. (That hasn’t changed over the years, which is why I still don’t host a challenge – yet.)

I participated in challenges that fit the stories I wanted to tell. I wanted to meet people. Then something happened and the photo challenges started to determine what I wrote, what pictures I took and published on my blog.

I got hooked. The challenges gave me a topic to fill up my blank screen, and new friends to read what I wrote. Impressed by people like Sylvia and Carol, I used challenges to tell the stories of my life.

Writing challenges are a new adventure for me.

Motivation Behind the Interview Series

This project got me excited about blogging after a long dry spell of not wanting to write. Let me tell you a few reasons I got so excited about interviewing other bloggers.

So what’s happened along the trail? That’s what I wanted to find out.
  • No one else writes the back stories, the history behind hobby blogger’s challenges. Aha, a new niche. Doesn’t T C History Gal have the responsibility to record some of these stories for posterity?
  • These bloggers develop communities. I want to be part of their communities. I like these people! I would love to see these communities intersect and reach out beyond themselves as a result of these interviews?
  • People have had such positive responses to doing the interviews and guest posts. Charli Mills said, “It’s nice to have someone take an interest in what I do and ask me these questions.” Awww
  • I wanted to collaborate more with other bloggers. Charli from Carrot Ranch invited me to host a challenge for her Rodeo Contest coming up in October. Norah Colvin and Irene Waters both agreed to judge for my week. I’m super excited about this.
  • I had a chance – an excuse really, to slow down and study my interviewee’s blogs. Slower is better if you want to have strong relationships.
  • I wanted to have more fun blogging. For example, here’s my limerick for Esther Chilton’s blog this week’s prompt – Zoom.

Does Zoom work better than Skype?
If not, then what’s the big hype?
It’s free, mercy me,
But all we can see –
Your scalp and the chat you type.

What Is Success for the Interview Series?  

It would thrill me if the blogger who writes a guest post or has an interview on Always Write had a sudden surge of visitors and people liking their work. My stats have definitely grown during this series of interviews, but I suspect that it will take time to realize tangible results.

If the challenge hosts tell me that the interview questions gave them a chance to reflect on their work and examine their own motives and practices, then I have done my job.

Primarily, this project is to honor the hard work bloggers do as challenge hosts and give them a little recognition and hand clapping for their many hours they pour into their blog and their challenge. If they feel encouraged, I am fulfilled.

If the interview itself is something the challenge bloggers can use on their own blog to promote their challenge or use as part of recording their own history, I feel useful.

If I make some new friends and reconnect with bloggers with whom I lost touch, I’ll be over the top happy.

Challenge hosts invest hours of time and tons of passion. They don’t offer participants cash prizes. They aren’t from huge photography studios or literary magazines. But their success is worldwide. Let’s celebrate their hard work.

Do You Know a Challenge Host?

This has to be a community project. Maybe you already participate in a writing or photo challenge. Write a guest post about why you chose the challenges. Refer one of your favorite challenge hosts to me for an interview.

Help me update my list and create a new one. Photo challenges are already listed on my menu. I did not have the same resource for writing challenges, and so this series was born. After I started, I found that Cee Neuner had developed an excellent Writing challenge resource on her blog.

Related Posts

How Four Strangers from Around the World Coordinate a Popular Weekly Photo Challenge

Have you wondered what might happen if you brainstormed with your blogging friends? See what happened when these four virtual strangers put their good ideas together.

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.  

Brunelleschi’s Dome in the daylight – Patti

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.

Umbrellas for sale in Laos – Tina Schell

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.

Fluela Pass in Switzerland Ann-Christine

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. 

Amy

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. 

Ann-Christine

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.

Day’s End, Petra – Tina

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.

Shrimp boat at sunrise in Kiawah Island – Tina

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. 

Amy

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.

Exploring Rome – Patti

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.

Ricefields, Longsheng, China – Tina

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.

Bhutan – Ann-Christine

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. 

Amy

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. 

Sunrise Botany Bay in South Carolina – Tina

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.

In the setting sun – Patti

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.

5000 participants flying kites in Fanö, Denmark Ann-Christine

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.

Vancouver skyline – Patti

Amy: I don’t have a Facebook group or page or use any other social media. 

Amy

Photographers, unless they are quite well known, often do not have an outlet for their work.

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.

Regal leopard, Botswana – Tina Click for more safari pictures

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.

giant Beech tree in my forest Ann-Christine

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. 

Amy

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 tchistorygal@gmail.com.

Marsha

The Writing and Photo Challenge Interview Series

Why One Blogger Chose to Participate in Rather Than Host Photo Challenges

Has your blogging schedule consumed your life?Find out how one blogger relaxed her posting schedule.

Always Write Interview/Guest Post Series #6

#Bloggers Hosting Writing and Photo Challenges

Today’s guest post takes in a different perspective than all of our former interviews and guest posts in this series. Welcome to one of my new California blogging friends, Susan Gutterman on her blog, Musin’ with Susan. She’s a former talented photo challenge host turned participant and has the enthusiasm and boundless energy to go with her skills. See what she’s doing since she gave up her challenge.

Presenting Photo Challenge Opportunities to my Camera Club

by Susan Gutterman

I was very honored when Marsha asked me to write a guest post about my experience of doing a presentation about Photo Challenges online for my Camera club, the Friday Foto Fanatics, or FFF.

At our monthly meetings, and online, I often talk to others about the numerous challenges that I participate in and back in April my friend, Pam, approached me with the suggestion of delivering a presentation to the group, via Zoom, as we were already locked down. She thought that most of our members might not be aware of all of the photo challenges in the blogosphere and on social media and might be interested.

My Photographic Background

I was introduced to blogging in 2013, at about the same time as I began to get serious about photography. I started to read about photo challenges which sounded like a good way to improve my photography skills and keep myself motivated. 

I had developed a love for macro photography and could not find a macro challenge on WordPress, so, in 2016, decided to start my own.  I called it Macro Moments and the weekly challenge developed a small, but loyal following.  I loved running this challenge and learned so much, but a year later decided that it was time to move on and spend more time participating in challenges moderated by someone else. 

Criteria for Joining a Photo Challenge

My criteria for joining a challenge is that participants are serious and that it will encourage me to learn and grow. I look for challenges with technical themes, for example; macro, high key, bokeh, long exposure, and the like, as well as those that are just fun. I often try a new skill which fits with a theme.  I have worked with water splashing, smoke, painting with light and tiny railroad figures, to name a few.

I wanted the club members to learn about online challenges and get them excited about joining in some themselves.  I started with this slide and briefly discussed each point–

A screenshot of a cell phone

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I then described  a number of the challenges that I participate in regularly and shared a photo or two that I had submitted to that challenge along the way, as seen in the slides below. 

52 Frames 

  • Each week has a theme. The purpose of 52 Frames is to turn YOU into a truly awesome photographer.
  • When you join the group, you get your own page on the site.
  • The Photo must be taken the week of the challenge and is due by Sunday at 12:00 am Eastern time. 
  • They have over 2,000 submissions per week.
  • The pictures are published in an album each Tuesday.
  • A select small album called “52 Picks” is published each Thursday.
  • There are small groups of 10-12 that offer each other constructive criticism within the larger group.
  • The website hosts local photo walks through their partners.
A picture containing underwear, pink, purple

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52 Frames Theme: Inverted by Susan Gutterman
Food on a table

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52 Frames Theme: Not What You See by Susan Gutterman

The Trevor Carpenter Challenge

  • This challenge is in a public Facebook Group.
  • Submissions are posted on the Facebook page or on Flicker
  • The photo must be taken the week of the challenge. 
  • The themes are often technical.
Trevor Carpenter Photo Challenge Theme: Triptych by Susan Gutterman

Self-Taught Photographers

  • This daily challenge is in a private Facebook group.
  • Photos may be new or from archives.
  • Submissions are posted on the Facebook page.
  • Administrators choose one photo a day to be used for the banner in the next day’s announcement.
  • The banner winner chooses the theme for the next day.
A close up of a flower

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Self-Taught Photographers Theme: Insects by Susan Gutterman

Sunday Stills

  • This weekly challenge is on Terry Webster Schrandt’s WordPress blog, Second Wind Leisure Perspectives.
  • To join, create your own blogpost and link back to Terri’s post.
  • Photos may be new or from archives.
A close up of a flower

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Sunday Stills Theme: Fantastic Florals by Susan Gutterman

Macro Mondays on Flickr

  • This weekly challenge is in a Flickr group.
  • Each entry must be a macro (defined as no larger than three inches.)
  • A photo must be taken during the prior week and posted on Monday.
  • Submissions are posted to the album on the group page.
A close up of some shoes

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Flickr Theme: Zipper by Susan Gutterman

PhotograpHER

  • This weekly challenge is a local group Facebook group out of Berkeley.
  • It is for women only.
  • The photo must be taken each week.
  • It is added to a weekly album.
  • They take local field trips.
A person standing next to a body of water

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PhotograpHER Theme: Rule of Thirds by Susan Gutterman

Lens- Artists

  • This weekly challenge is hosted on WordPress blogs by four rotating hosts.
  • To enter you create your own blog post and add a link to the original challenge.
  • Photos can be recent or from archives.
A cat sitting on top of a leopard

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Lens-Artist Theme: Distance by Susan Gutterman

The final slide in the presentation was also my handout, emailed to the members.  It is a list of the challenges that I regularly participate in, with links to the sites.

Exploring Online Photo Challenges

  • A Photo A Week Challenge: 

https://nadiamerrillphotography.wordpress.com/

  • Self-Taught Photographers: 

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1441617732734316

  • Macro Mondays on Flickr: 

https://www.flickr.com/groups/317988@N20

  • PhotograpHER (women photographers only): 

https://www.facebook.com/groups/photographywomen

Conclusion and Responses

After my presentation, several people contacted me to tell me that they had enjoyed the presentation and that they were going to look into the challenges.  I don’t think anyone was already participating.

I sent an email to the group yesterday asking them to let me know if they had joined any challenges and what their experience had been.  One member responded that he joined 52 Frames right after my talk and he has been submitting every week.

He commented, “It’s a great group”! 

This made me very happy and I immediately looked him up in the group. 

Biography

Susan Gutterman was a diabetes educator before she retired.  She counseled people with diabetes and worked for LifeScan, a Johnson and Johnson company which manufactures blood testing products. During her last years with the company she traveled for them to Europe and Asia and her love of traveling took off from there.”

Susan is married and she has two children and four grandchildren. In addition to her photos and travelogues, you can expect to occasionally hear about her life with Gabby, her yellow Lab, her family and friends, and her home and garden.

She hosted a weekly photo challenge called “Macro Moments” for a year and now regularly submit photos to various challenges on WordPress and other social media sites.

She loves “meeting” her fellow bloggers and photographers, and connecting with family and friends in this space.  She meet Pat, from Chronicles of an Anglo Swiss, live and in person in Basel, Switzerland and Nicole, from Nicole Pottier Une photo, un poem from Normandy on recent trips.  Lunches together were highlights of those trips! She can’t wait to read your comments and learn from each other.

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How Responding to a Photo Challenge Focuses Your Writing and Increases Your Followers

How many pictures do you have that sit unused and unseen in your files? Hundreds, thousands? Be creative and put them to use where you and others can enjoy them time and again.

Allow me to introduce you to my friend Terri.  When I started this series on hosting challenges, the intent was to focus just on writing challenges. However, many bloggers do some of their best writing in response to photo challenges. 

If you host a writing or photo challenge, please contact me. I’d love to set up an interview/guest post with you.

Please, give Terri a huge Always Write welcome with tons of comments and likes. Don’t forget to participate in her challenge, Sunday Stills

SundayStills_blogbanner

Guest Post by Terri Webster Schrandt, Second Wind Leisure Perspective

Ⓒ 2020

My Blogging Journey 

I began blogging consistently in Fall 2014, as I neared retirement from my 32 years with a public parks and recreation organization. Like any blogger, I wanted to write interesting content and meet other bloggers. As I neared retirement, I thought I would start a consulting business and blogging seemed like a good fit for promoting it. Once I went back to university lecturing, teaching 15 units a year, I found I lacked the time to sustain a side business. 

I blog on the WordPress hosted platform which sponsored several blogging how-to’s and challenges. Some readers may remember the Blogging University which taught new bloggers about the basics of blogging (Blogging 101) and Photography 101. In 2014, not only did I meet and follow new bloggers, but I also grew a set of followers as a result of the community that developed around the challenges. 

It was during this time I realized I had a knack for photography and used my background in art and journalism to write posts about recreation and leisure using my original images. 

I learned quickly that including an image with a blog post created visual interest and attracted more readers. Over time I was inspired to write my first short book Better Blogging with Photography which continues to sell worldwide on Amazon. 

Better Blogging with Photography cover
Better Blogging with Photography

Like any blogger, I wanted to write interesting content and meet other bloggers.

What prompted you to begin to host a photo challenge?

Challenges bring new readers, interest, and engagement to any blog. Challenges fit well within the framework of hobby blogging. 

I always enjoyed the WordPress Weekly photo challenge early on in my blogging journey and I discovered other challenges and participated in link parties. This was during the time I was building my readership and meeting new bloggers. I enjoyed the Sunday Stills Photography Challenge, but the original host announced he was through with blogging and called it quits. 

My own blog morphed into photography with emphasis on fitness, leisure, and recreation. After a lengthy blogging break in early 2018, I woke up one night with the idea that I could reinstate and host Sunday Stills myself. The timing was rather interesting. I jumped back in with Sunday Stills in May 2018 just as WordPress announced the end of its ridiculously popular weekly photo challenge. 

What is your purpose in hosting the challenge? How does it help photographers?

The purpose is simple: to inspire others to create images related to a weekly theme. I am challenged, too, as I select each month’s themes in advance. Many photo challenges out there are very specific to photography techniques and their hosts are not only a wealth of information about photography techniques, but accomplished photographers in their own right. 

Photobloggers help each other in this way by sharing techniques, ideas and continuing support and enthusiasm for each other’s work. 

One photographer in northern California went so far as to recommend a camera to me. For that I am eternally grateful for his advice and support. 

I also believe that images help create the idea for the story when inspiration is lacking. 

Bloggers are not limited to posting only on Sundays, as they have all week to share their own post and images.

How much time does it take to create a blogging challenge?

It can take 5-10 hours a week. Just creating my own post and prepping my images for publication often takes me 3-5 hours. Being that this has a weekly theme, I first decide on each month’s set of themes. I publish this on my Sunday Stills page so the planners of the blogosphere can plan their images and posts in advance. Of course, I must find my own images for each theme, post-edit them, and write a post that not only showcases my images but provides examples for other participants. I comment and share each post on Twitter and Facebook when possible. Bloggers are not limited to posting only on Sundays, as they have all week to share their own post and images. Some of the time spent is checking daily for new pingbacks and approve, comment and share. 

What steps do you take to get your challenge ready? 

At the end of each month, I choose themes and post them one month advance on my Photography page. I choose photos that highlight the theme while writing a title and post that is general but inspiring to other bloggers.

How do you follow up with your participants? I post every Sunday at 7:00 am Pacific Time and bloggers read and many link to the challenge. I approve links, read and comment on each post and share on social media.

How did you attract people to participate? 

I have a good following and many folks seem to enjoy my photography. Sunday Stills had been popular, and many were excited to see it come back. As I join other challenges, other bloggers find my blog and participate in my challenge.

Is your challenge like a club where you put a widget on your website or embed something on your post? 

Not really, but I have a Sunday Stills image widget on my sidebar where bloggers can click to the page for more information.

Do you determine winners? If so, how? 

No, everyone is a winner! I share posts of new bloggers in the first day of the month’s post with links to their blogs. 

I also grew a set of followers as a result of the community that developed around the challenges. 

Do you post or promote the results or links anywhere? 

I share Sunday Stills posts to my Facebook Page or Twitter, sometimes on Pinterest.  When I began Sunday Stills, I hosted a link-up on INLinkz for a few months. Not as many linked to it, so I stopped after a few months.

For my favorite photos, you can see more at  https://secondwindleisure.com/2019/11/24/sunday-stills-your-favorite-photo/

Bio

Terri is a writer, self-published author and retired recreation and parks practitioner living in Northern California. As a university lecturer teaching various courses in the recreation and parks major, Terri takes leisure very seriously because it involves one-third of our lives…really!

Her active lifestyle involves stand-up paddling, camping, hiking, reading, writing, gardening, walking the dogs, traveling, and photography.

Second Wind Leisure Perspectives is her blog about leisure, fitness and photography.

Connect with Terri

Blog: https://secondwindleisure.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SecondWindLeisurePerspectives/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/windigenredhead
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/terri.websterschrandt/
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/aquachica/

More about the images I chose:

I added five of my favorite images that represent milestones on my photography journey and some good luck!

This one titled Autumn in Quincy, taken with a point-and-shoot digital camera in 2010, was the first image where I received many compliments and suggestions for entering it into contests.

I captured the plumeria with my galaxy edge mobile phone. It was the first plumeria I grew in 2019.

The sunflower with the bee was also captured with the same mobile phone in 2019, truly a lucky shot!

The windsurfer and my dog Brodie were taken in July 2017, with my Lumix FZ300, my beloved bridge camera with a long travel lens. Both represent action shots that were taken in major zoom mode but details still stood up to the wind and action.

Thank you so much, for participating in this series on writing and photo challenges, Terri. It was great having you here.

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