Robert Hall Photography

How the Editorial Photographer Boosts Possibilities on YouTube.

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September 24, 2020

Who are you and what kind of content do you create?

I’m Robert Hall, an editorial photographer in Michigan. I’ve been creating photography-based video content on YouTube and other social media platforms since 2016. While I could be a full-time YouTuber, truthfully, it’s never been a goal of mine. I’ve had my dream job as a full-time professional photographer for about eight years now, and I have no plans to navigate away from that. However, YouTube has been a fun way for me to connect with like-minded photographers, provide reliable information to a niche audience, and generate additional opportunities and income for my business.

For the most part, my entire operation is a solo gig. As a photographer, I capture, edit, distribute, and manage the library of an extensive amount of images. I handle all of the communication aspects with the clientele as well. As a YouTuber, I script, record, edit, and manage all the video assets too. There have been some periods, typically when making some type of workflow change, where I have hired additional help for various aspects of my business. I am sending a shout-out to @alexguyphoto, who has taken on an equally extensive list of tasks for me over the last two years.

I called my YouTube channel the same name as my photography business, Robert Hall Photography. It was an easy decision as the channel is an extension of my business. It’s a summary of the insights I’ve developed over my career. It’s a place where I answer my unanswered questions and a place for me to explore new skills.

Let's go down memory lane, tell us your backstory! 

In early 2016, I gave a presentation at a local college, where I had an extremely anxious response. Afterward, I decided to record myself on camera talking to get more comfortable with public speaking. I then uploaded the finished videos on YouTube to subject myself to the scrutiny of the internet. My first videos came purely from a place of personal excitement. I had recently made equipment (lighting gear for cameras) switch to an unknown brand, and I was blown away with the capabilities and pricing. More shocking to me at the time, was the fact that nobody else was using it. It was like when you go to an empty restaurant only to have the best macaroni and cheese you’ve ever had in your life. All you want to do is tell others about it.

And talk about it, I did. I began regularly creating videos on this gear and sharing them in niche groups on Facebook. As the product gained awareness, so did my channel. I began expanding into other topics and products that interested me and started sharing more details of my experience as a photographer—seeing the positive response from other photographers has always made me feel amazing. From the first videos that would get a couple “thank you” comments to videos that have reached 200,000 people, seeing people benefit from something I created has always been the biggest motivator.

How do you brainstorm ideas for your content and your advice in getting the creative juice flowing?

My inspiration for content has always been answering questions. When I see the same question repeatedly over and over across my industry, I see an opportunity to provide a more precise explanation. Sometimes it’s easy; all I have to do is share a previous experience that helps clear it up. Other times, it can take testing and comparing until I’m confident I can make a video on the topic.

Being aware of these questions and the opportunity they provide for content creation leads to countless ideas. Initially, I would jot these down on notepads, or type into notes on various devices. It became utterly unmanageable at one point, so I switched to a fully digital process for managing ideas. I now use the app Notion to list ideas, categorize them, and track their completion. There are currently 90 ideas in the queue. I think the essential thing is exploring processes until you find what works best for you. 

What are the tools and platforms you use to help with your brand?

Given that I was already in the imaging industry full-time before I became a content creator, the processes and tools came naturally to me. I was already comfortable with image editing software like Lightroom and Photoshop. I already had professional-level cameras and lenses. The only thing that I had to learn was Premiere Pro for editing videos. A big reason that I enjoy contributing to YouTube is that it’s been pivotal to me for learning new skills. I have absolutely no formal training in photography, video editing, or audio. Everything I have learned over the years has been from trial and error, or digital resources such as YouTube.

Facebook groups have been significant to my growth as well. If it weren’t for groups, I would have deleted my account years ago. To this day, I think Facebook provides the best place for people to gather around a niche topic. I use Instagram as a way to share my photography and echo my YouTube channel to a different audience. Apart from that, I’m not very focused on other social media platforms. I would rather focus my energy on a few platforms instead of trying to be everywhere.

What were your fears starting out? How did you handle it? 

I had so many fears starting. First, it was around when I first started shaving my head, which had me a little rattled about my appearance on camera. I also had little confidence in my voice. I have a speech issue (my bottom jaw is significantly wider than my top, and I’ve got a fat tongue), which I feared would draw a ton of negative comments. I simply decided I wouldn’t let things I couldn’t change that get in the way of my progress.

As is typical, my awareness of these attributes is far greater than anyone else’s. I rarely get a comment related to my appearance or my speech. Since I’ve started, I’d estimate there have been less than ten total comments on those topics. So, my fears were excessive, and I encourage anyone to move forward regardless of their worries. Chances are, you’re putting a microscope on your flaws, and other people will never notice them.

How did you build your brand to where it is now, take us through your process.

I’ve never had consistency in building my social media brand. I recommend consistency if you’re looking to do content creation full-time, as it will create a more stable income and reliable analytics. For me, I put effort into YouTube videos, podcasts, and social media posts when it is convenient based on my work schedule. If I have a light week of shooting, I’m more likely to fill the extra time making content. It’s a unique situation. I develop my video and podcast content in my time spent as a working photographer. While I carve out time away from work to write scripts and record videos, the time I spend capturing photos is where I develop the opinions and information that I share with others. 

Building the channel has been very tough at times, especially in the first two years. You can easily get discouraged by low views, algorithm changes, and adverse reactions to the things you make. But as I stuck it out, better opportunities came about that made all the difficult times worth it. When you keep moving forward, eventually, something you put out will have increased traction. One of my early “breaks” was a video that I thought nobody would watch, and it ended up being shared all across the photography community.

One thing that has helped me a lot is ignoring my subscriber count. I’m more concerned about connecting with the right people than connecting with everyone, which has allowed me to stay laser-focused on the things I find most important to share.

For someone who wants to get into content creation, what is your advice?

I think the best content creators will always be those that stick to what’s important to them. There are opportunities for appealing to the masses, and it may be a more natural path to money and a significant following. However, as soon as you start creating content outside your passion, you’re merely beginning another 9-5 destined to become unsatisfying.

If I started today on YouTube, I would put way more effort into SEO with a tool such as TubeBuddy. I ignored it for the longest time, thinking I had enough of an understanding of SEO to do my own. It took me almost three years to discover that I had been doing most of it all wrong. While SEO isn’t sexy, and I doubt it’s why anyone gets into making videos, it’s a necessary step to being seen by the right people. 

If you are just starting and are already making videos, but dissatisfied with the result, I recommend watching yourself repeatedly until you can find out precisely what you don’t like. In my first videos, I had little eye contact with the camera, loads of filler language, and lots of unclear statements. I started scripting videos to make sure they were clear before I ever hit the record button. I began starting over sentences if I let a filler word slip out. Eventually, the filler language significantly reduced, and I could deliver much longer blocks of cohesive statements to the camera.

You have to be ruthless in your self-assessment to find plateaus that you can breakthrough.

Once you identify a problem with your content, I guarantee there are dozens of resources online that can help you solve it, whether it’s editing, camera skills, or hating how you sound on camera.

Tell us your best milestones in being a content creator.

My two most significant milestones occurred in 2019. First was when I paid off my wife’s student loan, making us completely debt-free. While this was a personal finance milestone, the income increase generated from YouTube made it possible. The second milestone was when my content creation income surpassed my photography business income, which also happened for the first time last year. This moment was never a goal or focus; it just happened organically over time.

In terms of subscribers, views, going viral, I’ve never been too concerned with any of that. It’s merely a race I’m not running because I think it can be unhealthy to view your success in terms of how many people perceive you. I will admit, I was incredibly proud of a video that received 600 likes before it received a dislike. With the level of scrutiny that exists on the internet, having that response to a video felt like hitting a grand slam.

What are your marketing strategies to grow your brand?

I build my entire “marketing” strategy on finding the right people to show it. I never make a video and try to push it in every photography social media forum that I know. Instead, I share it only with the niche groups that are very interested in the topic. I think this has been critical to my growth. My audience knows I’m not clickbaiting them. They know I’m not trying to drive sales. I’m in it to give accurate information that can help them make their own decisions. I feel like rather than building 1 million “fans,” I’ve found 100,000 peers, and this has been crucial to my growth.

I have never done anything “blackhat” or unethical to build my YouTube channel. I experimented with buying followers on Instagram long before I started on YouTube. It burned me badly. My posts were only reaching bot feeds, and I lost the opportunity for my posts to enter the real people following me because engagement algorithms were convinced my posts didn’t matter. In 2017, it took me four months of running an app to remove all the fake accounts and start fresh. It’s plain as day who buys followers. With every platform using engagement analytics rather than numbers, it’s a pointless pursuit that will only harm your social media reach.

How do you handle brand deals and sponsorships? 

I think a majority of marketing is annoying. I would love to remove YouTube ads from my content, but unfortunately, you reach way more of your subscribers and search results when YouTube can profit off your videos. While I do a substantial amount of affiliate marketing, I don’t look at it as a successful salesman. I look at it as a result of the quality of the information in my videos. I often tell my viewers not to upgrade, or to stay away from new products, unless they have a specific demand. 

All goes back to being transparent, honest, and making the content that I would be the most receptive. I avoid ambassadorships from the companies that I use and talk about in my videos, partly because those relationships often come with contract stipulations about what you can do. For instance, if you are an ambassador for a major camera brand, you cannot compare their cameras to another brand. Additionally, it’s difficult to talk about products in an unbiased manner when they are directly feeding you marketing and expect you to deliver a positive response to their product. The only sponsorship I have accepted was from the camera store Adorama during the year 2019. It was a great relationship, and it didn’t affect my content because I could still talk about any products freely. It’s always the place I recommend people buy their equipment, but I decided I didn’t want the ad roll in my videos anymore, so I did not continue this arrangement for 2020. 

I have had hundreds of offers for relationships with brands and retailers. A lot of them are retailers looking to make a quick buck distributing knock-off accessories. Those emails go straight to the trash. A lot of brands will message you, offering their products in exchange for a positive review. I won’t do that either, as I can’t trade my opinion of something in exchange for products. I find this to be a significant issue on social media platforms that only leads to misinformed consumers. Everyone will have their tolerances here. I’ll say that I’ve compared my affiliate sales with other photography content creators who have 5x the social media following. I’ve yet to see someone with higher affiliate earnings. I think my methods of focusing on trust have paid off in a big way.

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