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What I’ve Learned from Having a YouTube Channel

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In this episode of the Fine Art Photography podcast, truths I have learned from making videos of my photography expeditions for YouTube

Full episode transcript

Hey everybody, welcome back to the Fine Art Photography podcast. Let me say right up front, my YouTube channel is not super-popular. I’m not a professional YouTuber – not even close. I’m a photographer who started a

YouTube channel because it seemed like the thing to do, and a lot of photographers were doing it, and because I enjoyed watching photography videos.

So, if you’re hoping that I can tell you the secrets of a successful YouTube career, sorry — nope. I have a small but loyal — and even better — a kind group of viewers on YouTube. Maybe because I don’t draw a lot of the masses, I don’t attract a lot of hate or vitriol. I think it’s just because I present my videos with sincerity and I attract people with kind hearts who take the videos in the spirit they are intended.

I don’t have the boyish good looks or the polished presentation style of the most popular YouTube photographers. I never set out to become famous. So why start a YouTube channel?

That’s a very good question — and one I didn’t have an answer to until recently. It took a long time, but I have finally understood my goals for having a YouTube channel.

First, let me say that I naively thought early on that I could use video to find buyers for my photographs — I mean photography collectors. I’ve even made video portfolios for just such a purpose. I completely discounted the value of attracting the viewership of other photographers.

Here are a few things I’ve always known about my channel, even as I have floundered about looking for a meaningful reason to make videos.

1. I didn’t want it to be another gear reviewer site — I never had any interest in talking about camera stuff or shilling for the manufacturers.

2. I never wanted to be a vlogger — I have a face only a mother could love and I just never wanted the videos to be about me personally. A lot of vloggers will take viewers to the most beautiful places on earth, and the camera only points at their own face.

3. I didn’t want to be a guy who tells other people how to make photographs. I’ve been shooting seriously for 15 years but I don’t feel qualified to instruct others on how to shoot properly — I’m still learning myself.

4. I get bored easily. If you look at my Instagram page, you’ll see that I am all over the map with subject matter — I might post a photo of a rusty old car one day. An abandoned building the next, and a macro photograph of a bug or flower the next. Videos are the same way. Many of the successful YouTube channels focus on one thing and they do it well — hiking to shoot a sunrise or sunset. Shooting various film stocks with vintage cameras. You get the idea — I can’t stay with only one thing. Boring! But being too varied throws people off. They don’t know what to expect. 

But hey – I gotta be me.

But recently I have finally understood what I’m doing on YouTube, and how it fits into my interests and goals as a photographer. And do you know what? For the first time, the YouTube videos are beginning to translate into print sales.

I’ve finally understood that my videos are my way of communicating my experiences as a photographer when I go on road trips, or explore abandoned places, or simply when I’m hiking in the woods or to a waterfall.

My videos are about letting people “be there” with me. Oftentimes I simply roll the video and let the sounds of the birds, croaking frogs, or cicadas do my talking.

Other times, I do an extensively researched and carefully scripted narration that explains the history of a place, why it’s important, and why I decided to photograph that place. I try to help people feel my amazement and wonder at these special locations that I visit. In these videos, photography is only a cursory part of the experience. I might show my camera perched on a tripod as the shutter flips, and I usually present my favorite images captured on that location at the end, followed by my website URL as the closing frame, but otherwise, the videos are all about bringing viewers along.

Sometimes there is no photography. It’s just the sights and sounds of the place.

Again, yes — overall, the videos are about experiencing new and interesting places. I never use mood music. I let the sounds of the place come though — whether it’s traffic noise, birds singing, or the sound of a piece of tin on the collapsed roof of an abandoned building blowing back and forth in the breeze.

I’ve taken viewers to several caves. I’ve taken them around and through the insides of abandoned houses. I’ve walked them through entire abandoned towns. I’ve shown them placid rivers and rushing waterfalls. I’ve taken them to mountains, to the forest, to the desert, and to the great plains.

And on occasion, I might deviate on subject matter to talk about my favorite printer papers, or demonstrate how I shot a subject — sort of behind-the-scenes information. My videos aren’t flashy, but they are built with passion and a true love of the subject and a love of photography itself.

And people are responding. The channel is growing — albeit slowly — nothing close to a shooting star about this — but it’s an audience who is there to enjoy what I’m putting out and I appreciate every single one of them. They say thank you for the work put into the videos. They make meaningful comments. 

And because I incorporate the videos with further context and additional behind-the-scenes images onto my blog, other people are finding me who wouldn’t normally watch my channel on YouTube. Sometimes, those people are so compelled by or connected to the subject matter, they click through to my main website and order a print that they saw in the video.

People relate to storytelling. They relate to being entertained in an authentic way.

So in a way, I have achieved my goal of using YouTube to find collectors, only they may not even realize they are collecting photographs.

That’s all I’ve got for this episode. Thanks for listening, and I’ll talk to you again real soon.

Hosted by
Keith Dotson

Keith Dotson is a professional fine art photographer who specializes in black and white landscapes, cityscapes, and abstractions from nature.

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