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On July 7, 2012 my photography mentor Cindy Dyer told me that I needed to start a blog. She had been blogging for several years already and was familiar with WordPress. She helped me choose a theme, craft an “About Me” page, and prepare my first posting. That posting was entitled Blue Dasher dragonfly, featured a single photo, and had a short text that simply stated, “I photographed this Blue Dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis) at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens this morning.”

I remember feeling a mixture of excitement and fear when I pressed the “Publish” button for the first time. Inside I had all kinds of concerns about my inadequacies as a photographer and about not being ready to share my images with a broad audience. Was I ready? Perhaps I was not, but having been pushed into the deep end of the pool, I quickly learned to swim.

From the very beginning, I found myself surrounded by a community of people who have been overwhelmingly supportive of my efforts and that has pushed me to to improve my skills and to find my “voice.” I started this blog at a time in my life when I had decided to stop working full-time—for the first seven years I worked three days a week and now I am fully retired. This blog and my photography have helped me to forge an identity separate from my job, to reignite a curiosity about the natural world, and to unlock a creative side of me that had long been dormant. My blog has become an integral part of my daily life, though I no longer freak out if life circumstances cause me to miss an occasional day.

According to WordPress, over the lifespan of my blog I have published 4068 postings (a few of which have been re-blogs of postings by others) that have had a total of 306,436 views. Is that a lot? Like most things in life, it depends on what you use as a measuring stick.

I do not write my blog to make money or to grow a large audience or following. My goals are much more modest—my blog is a tool to express myself as authentically as possible by sharing my thoughts and photos and connecting with others. I appreciate all of the support, feedback, and encouragement that so many of you have provided to me throughout this lengthy journey. Thanks. It is overwhelming to think about the diversity of the group of people who read my posts, people from all walks of life scattered throughout the world. Wow.

Today I am featuring a photo of a Gray Petaltail dragonfly (Tachopteryx thoreyi) that I encountered yesterday in a seepy area in Fairfax County, my home county in Virginia. This species of dragonfly originates in this kind of perpetually wet habitat, where skunk cabbage is likely to be growing. I like to visit seeps with the hope that someday I will come across a Gray Petaltail as it is emerging.

As you can see from the photo, the coloration of the Gray Petaltail allows it to almost disappear in this kind of habitat. I spotted this perched dragonfly because I know that many dragonflies are drawn to sunny spots, so whenever I am in the forest or other dark locations, I will look for sunlit patches to explore.

So, I am now starting my tenth year. I suppose that I should update the WordPress theme of the blog, which I have not changed since I chose it nine years ago, and my “About me” page, which also has not been touched in a really long time. Beyond those possible cosmetic changes, I expect to continue on in my journey into photography, wandering about and sharing my experiences with all of you. Thanks again for sharing in this experience with me.

Gray Petaltail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Like most guys, I have trouble remembering anniversaries, so it is a good thing that WordPress sent me a reminder that three years ago today I started my blog. I still recall my feelings of doubt and uncertainty when my mentor and muse Cindy Dyer sat me down in front of a computer and told me that I was starting a blog. We had just finished reviewing and editing some shots that I had taken earlier in the day at Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens. Cindy helped me through the mechanics of setting up the blog and shortly thereafter I made my first posting, Blue Dasher dragonfly.

Once I started, I couldn’t stop. I grew to look forward to writing the postings and taking photos to feature. As of right now, I’ve made 1638 postings and had 78743 views—that’s a lot of words and a lot of photos.

I was struck from the outset by the sense of community and mutual support that exists in the blogging world and there is a small group of fellow photographers with whom I feel a particular affinity, including Sue, Gary, Leanne, Ed, Lyle, Emily, Allen, and Chris. The amount of encouragement that I receive from them and countless others is overwhelming. Closer to home, Cindy continues to be a constant source of inspiration and instruction and Walter and I help to push each other as we explore remote areas of our favorite marshland park.

When I started this blog, I didn’t really think of myself as a photographer. I was taking a lot of photos and knew that I was improving, but there was a kind of psychological barrier that kept me from thinking in those terms. Now, I can confidently say that I am a photographer.

My journey into photography has been full of highlights, but two moments from 2014 really stand out. In November, I witnessed the rescue of a bald eagle at my local marsh and my photos and links to my blog posting were featured on the websites of several Washington D.C. media outlets, resulting in a total of 3344 views of my posting Rescue of an injured Bald Eagle. A short time before that incident, I was really honored when I was featured in an Introductions post by noted Australian photographer Leanne Cole.

If you have read this far, you may be wondering about my reference to “cannibals” in the title of this posting. What do cannibals have to do with my blog? Well, if I set aside the abnormally high number of views of my eagle rescue post, for the longest time my most popular post was one with the innocuous title of Fuzzy white caterpillar. There is not a whole lot special about the prose or the photos, but it has had 489 views to date.

Earlier this week the caterpillar was passed in the stats by my post Red-footed Cannibalfly, with 492 views to date—the cannibals have taken over the lead. As a guy, I feel happier that a more macho sounding insect is now leading the field of “normal” posts. As far as I can tell, the post’s popularity is a function of the search engines. The post was not particularly popular when it first appeared and has only 36 likes. Now, though, it even shows up on the first page of Google results if you type in “Red-footed Cannibalfly.”

So what’s ahead? I hope to be able to keep improving my writing and my photography. I have certain aspirational shots in my mind of different subjects or different locations.

Yesterday, when I was taking photos of water lilies with Cindy Dyer, I mentioned that I had always imagined taking a shot a frog on a lily pad, but had never even seen a frog perching on one. A short time later, Cindy excitedly pointed out a partially submerged frog on a lily pad and I managed to snap a couple of shots before he dove into the water. (Check out Cindy’s blog posting to see her beautiful shot of this frog.) Dreams do come true.

Thanks again to all my readers and supporters, whose encouragement has helped motivate and sustain me this past three years. I look forward to sharing my journey with my fellow travelers.

 

Frog on a lily pad

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I recently experienced a sharp increase in the number of views of my blog and went from 628 to 4723 views in a single week.  One of my posts has had an amazing 3235 views to date. What happened? Have I learned a secret to boosting my viewer statistics?

As you might have guessed from the photos that I have reprised below, the post in question is my 4 November posting Rescue of an Injured Bald Eagle. Within my WordPress world, the post was reasonably successful and sixty viewers “liked” it, but that’s not enough to account for the boost.

The most important key to getting more viewers, I think, is finding viewers from outside of WordPress. I sometimes cross-post on Facebook account and in a few Facebook groups to which I belong and will get some additional views, but generally only a few.

I’ve looked back at all that transpired and here is the “formula” that led to my “success.” First, take photos of an event that is newsworthy, has broad appeal, and preferably has police involvement. The police departments, it seems, are always looking for good news stories, and I sent copies of my photos to the officer who made the rescue. The Fairfax County Police Department posted my photos (with attribution) on their blog on 5 November and included a link to my blog posting. This got the ball rolling, it seems.

The next step is to enlist the aid of the mass media in publicizing your blog and keep them updated. I suspect that news outlets troll the police sites for stories and suddenly I started receiving requests from reporters to use the photos in the on-line versions of their television or radio stations—I don’t think the photos appeared in print. I gave approval each time that I was asked, but requested attribution by name and, if possible, a link back to my blog.

The local Fox station and the local NBC station were the most cooperative and did articles that used my photos, excerpts from the text of my blog, and included links to my blog. The Fox article brought in more than 750 viewers and the NBC article brought in over 100 viewers. WTOP, a local news radio station, was similarly cooperative. I made sure to keep these reporters in the loop when I first received information that the eagle was euthanized and all they did updates on the story.

What about the others? Several news outlets, most notably The Washington Post, used my photos with attribution, though they did not request permission or link back to my blog in any way. It was really cool to see the Post use one of my photos in articles on 5 November and 6 November, but it had no effect on my blog statistics. The local ABC station WJLA also gave attribution when they used my photo in an article. I ran across a couple of instances in which my photos were used and they were attributed to “a park visitor” or to the police department.

I came across the photos, with attribution, in several local community news sites and in a couple of other Fox site as well. The euthanization decision was carried by the Associated Press, but, alas, they did not use a photo.

I think I understand better now how I had such an increase in viewers, but I realize that the experience is not easily replicable and the results were short-lived. After the temporary spike in views, I have returned to more normal levels. I enjoyed the brief moment in the spotlight and learned a lot about how stories enter into the news cycle, but I am content to return to my smaller world of walking the trails, in search of new photographic adventure.

 

Bald Eagle rescue

Bald Eagle rescue

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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