After bonding over a mutual love for exploring and some crazy outdoor adventures during college, Berty and Emily Mandagie honed their respective photography and writing chops before starting their blog, The Mandagies, in 2016. In the past five years their eponymous brand has grown into one of the Internet’s leading Pacific Northwest travel resources, leading us to invite them onboard as our next B&H Creator of the Week.
In our conversation below, the Mandagies share their love for the Oregon coast, while describing how to thrive as partners in both business and marriage, discussing their favorite gear, offering tips for keeping current with SEO, and best practices in online user experience. Keep your eyes on B&H’s social media channels in the week ahead for even more engaging content and travel photography tips. Most important, remember their advice to mix passion with patience—so take it slow and live in the moment.
Jill Waterman: Where are you based?
The Mandagies: Spokane, Washington.
What are your most important social feeds/networks?
TheMandagies.com (blog), The Mandagies Instagram, Berty’s Instagram, The Mandagies Pinterest
What is your educational background, both photo/video and other studies, and how have you applied these studies to your current business?
Berty and I both graduated from the University of Washington in Seattle. Neither of us studied photography or video in college. Berty graduated with a history degree and I graduated with a degree in South Asian studies. However, Berty and I are lifelong learners, so after we graduated, both of us spent time learning our trades via YouTube, online courses, experience, and lots of patience!
Did you have a role model or someone who inspired your creative vision early on, and what’s the most important thing you learned from them?
I don’t think either of us had a single role model, but rather a community of photographers who taught us valuable skills. From our online community, we learned about passion, capturing new perspectives, but most of all, patience!
How long have you been creating content, and what inspired you to start your blog in 2016?
Both of us have been actively sharing online since probably 2012 or 2013. Berty was really active in the early Instagram community and gained a following from sharing landscapes and lifestyle images of the Pacific Northwest (PNW). With that he noticed, after posting images on Instagram, he would be flooded with questions like: “What trail is that?,” “How long is that hike?,” or “What time did you go hiking to get that light?” So, after we got married in 2016, we decided to start the blog to expand on PNW topics. We thought this would be a good addition to Instagram, allowing us to direct followers and expand on stories and experiences by sharing even more photos and information. Needless to say, it was a hit!
What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned about creating content since launching your blog?
Because we get to travel for our jobs, we have the privilege of returning to places over and over again. We used to put major pressure on ourselves to “get the shot” or capture all our content ideas in one destination, and that really ended up taking the fun out of traveling for a bit. Now, we’ve learned to take it slow and live in the moment, and that new attitude really shines through our images, too.
You are collaborators in your business as a husband/wife team. Please describe how you work together and/or divide up business tasks. Since one of you is a photographer and the other a writer, do either of you handle tasks in your partner’s specialty, or do you generally keep these things separate?
We’ve found that working on our specialties together has been a winning model. While both of us take photos, Berty is the only one who edits the photos. With that, I’m the only one who writes the copy for the blog. When things are in their final stages, we sit down together to combine the images and copy for the blog. This has been a great strategy for us, to focus on our strengths and combine them at the end!
How has working together affected your personal relationship? Do you have any advice or useful tips for work/life balance to offer other couples working together in photo/video or other types of creative partnerships?
I don’t know what it is about us together, but we thrive on being business partners. (If anyone cares, I’m an Enneagram Type 3 and Berty is an Enneagram Type 7). We occasionally struggle with the work/life balance, though, especially early in our marriage when we lived in a tiny Seattle apartment (the office and living room definitely blended together!). Now we have a home, with a dedicated office that has a door. Surprisingly, that does a lot to help shut out work at the end of the day. Our tip for creative couples is to set your own “business hours” so you can mentally tune out of work and tune into your partner.
In 2015, Berty was selected by Timex and Outside magazine to send you both on the expedition of a lifetime to Machu Picchu. What did he submit to the call for submissions that led to his selection?
Berty submitted a photo via Instagram to a contest Timex was running. The theme of the contest was: “How do you live adventurously in your day-to-day life?” To give an example of how fitting this was, just days earlier, a few friends spontaneously asked Berty to go camping in the Mount Baker area to shoot the sunrise the next morning. I couldn’t find the exact entry post, but this was the photo he submitted!
After reaching the summit of Machu Picchu, Berty proposed marriage. Were the sponsors of your trip aware this was going to happen? If not, what was their response? And what kind of response did this elicit from your audience?
Berty kept it a secret from everyone but the videographer! He wanted it to be personal, genuine, and without any outside influences dictating his proposal ideas. When Timex learned about the event, the response was really positive, and they were delighted to see that this trip had such a big impact. Our audience was pretty excited, too—it was just a good time all around!
One aspect of Berty’s work is wedding photography. How long has he been shooting weddings and how much of your business currently comes from this type of work?
Berty started doing PNW wedding photography back in 2017, and at that time nearly every weekend was booked with weddings and events. It was a main source of revenue for us as we were getting the blog off the ground. Now that the blog is a stable source of income and we are increasing our commercial work, he doesn’t shoot as many weddings. Berty still does them, but in a much more limited capacity, about four to five per year.
How do potential clients find out about Berty’s wedding photography? Have his methods for finding or cultivating wedding clients changed over time or remained consistent?
Google (through the blog), Facebook, and word of mouth are generally how clients find Berty’s wedding photography. He doesn’t focus a lot on marketing his wedding work.
You are based in the Pacific Northwest, but you’ve also done road trips across the Southwest, throughout the Plains states, into Canada, among other destinations. What are the most important factors you consider in planning a road trip, especially if it’s a new destination for you?
When planning a trip to the Pacific Northwest or other new destinations, the most important factors for us are weather, time of year, and content possibilities. We’ve also been planning trips based on our upcoming self-published photo book—we want to showcase the Pacific Northwest through our photography, and we have a shortlist of destinations to visit before publishing the book.
The list of destinations you’ve photographed includes 13 US states, two provinces in western Canada, and two international destinations. Do you have a favorite of all the US locations you’ve visited? What is it about this destination that makes it special to you?
We’ve traveled around western North America, but honestly, the Pacific Northwest has our hearts. More specifically, the Oregon Coast. Not one trip to the coast is the same, and there is always more to see. We’ve also been able to celebrate quite a few milestones on the coast, so it’s just a special spot for us as a couple.
Is there any one state or location you’ve covered that proved most challenging to photograph? How did you overcome whatever issues you faced?
Funny enough, the Pacific Northwest is our favorite place to shoot, but it’s also the most challenging. The weather is so variable, conditions are challenging at times, and lighting is always a gamble. I wouldn’t say we’ve overcome any of these things, but we’ve definitely learned patience, how to embrace the weather, and how to shoot it in variable lighting conditions. And don’t get us started on keeping our gear dry!
How much time do you spend reading or researching on other travel blogs and what, if any, strategies do you use to differentiate yourselves from these other creators/sites?
While we understand there is a benefit to researching other travel blogs, we generally like to stick to our own lane and not focus on what others are writing. Rather, we continue to blaze our own trail, listen to what our audience wants, and constantly innovate to improve our content, post after post. I think what really makes us stand out among other creators is that we are two people, who each individually excel in photography and writing, making our website elevated in both categories. Many creators are a one-person show (honestly, kudos to you workhorses!), wearing all the hats (photographer, editor, accountant, social media manager, etc.). We are thankful we can split these tasks among the two of us.
What is your approach to SEO and what are your go-to sources for keeping up to date on this aspect of your business?
We definitely keep up to date with the latest SEO strategies and try to make our website as search engine friendly as possible. We subscribe to SEO newsletters and belong to Facebook groups that actively share tips with members. My two favorites are the Make Traffic Happen - SEO + Social Media Support Group, and the Mediavine Publisher Group. We’ve also invested in a few SEO courses over the years to stay fresh on what is working on the Internet these days. I was able to try out Local Adventurer's course "How To Make Money Blogging," which was a huge help in learning how to price our work and negotiate budgets.
Generally speaking, how much time goes into writing blog posts and preparing your work for publication vs. everything else?
Because we split tasks, the copywriting workload is all on me and I spend about 50% of my time writing blog posts. It’s more than just the copy, too—I’ve got a big checklist of pre-publishing tasks I need to get done before a blog post is finished and ready to be shared.
What cameras and lenses do you work with, both digital and analog, stills and video? Do you have an absolute favorite camera or a preference on focal length?
Berty: My favorite cameras to shoot with are the Leica Q2 and Leica M6. My preferred focal lengths are 28mm or 35mm, such as the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM, since it feels the most natural to the human eye. When shooting with film I use a medium format Pentax 645N or the M6 with a Leica Summicron-M 28mm f/2 ASPH. And, here are some examples of my favorite film stocks to use in variety of situations.
Emily: I really like to shoot with our Leica Q2, or the Canon 5D Mark IV with a 16-35mm f/2.8 lens. I’m a sucker for those big, expansive shots so I enjoy shooting landscapes with a wide-angle to show how big things are!
According to your Media Kit, your relationship with B&H extends to testing gear. What’s the coolest piece of gear you’ve tested to date?
During our latest Southwest road trip, we tested the Canon EOS R in the desert. We took it all over on Sedona hiking trails, shooting with the RF 28-70mm f/2. That lens is a beast! We were also able to test out the EOS R in 2018, flying over New York City in a helicopter, and over the Grand Tetons in 2019.
Besides the photos published on your blog, do you earn income from image sales and/or licensing? If so, what are your primary outlets (i.e., editorial, weddings, licensing, advertising, etc.) and, generally speaking, what percentage of your earnings do these things represent?
Yes, we earn income through several outlets. Our primary income streams are website advertising, image licensing, and commercial work. Because our work is often based on the seasons, none of these outlets are ever the dominant income stream, and they fluctuate constantly.
What methods do you use for connecting with and/or cultivating clients and/or sponsors for your work?
We strive to connect with clients and sponsors that align super well with our outdoor-loving, Pacific Northwest audience. If possible, we love to meet clients in person. If we’re on a shoot, we try and grab lunch with clients, or even go hiking with them. Another way we like to connect with potential clients is during trade shows, such as Outdoor Retailer. The ultimate goal is to have recurring clients, so we try really hard to make sure we’re easy to work with by communicating well and delivering exceptional work on time.
How much of your business comes from pitches you make vs. having clients come to you with a commission or an assignment idea?
That answer has changed over time. In the beginning, we were eager to travel and shoot as much as possible to start creating content for the blog. I’d say in the beginning we probably pitched 75% of our projects. Now, we have such a huge backlog of photos and content that we don’t need to rely on new projects all the time. Now, about 75% of our clients come to us, and the remaining time we are pitching passion projects or working passively on the blog.
What’s the most successful vehicle you’ve used for promoting your brand to date?
The blog is definitely the best vehicle to share information with our followers and readers. It’s the place people go to find all the details about the destinations we visit. In the past year, we have received more than 3.5 million page views and helped more than 2 million web users plan incredible trips in the western US. However, we also have to acknowledge Instagram as the primary place where we connect and chat with people.
Your website includes a print shop page. Do you make your own fine art prints or have prints made at a service bureau? Please describe your processes for making and/or editioning prints.
Yes, we have a print shop, and it gets updated about twice a year with fresh, new landscapes. We work with the fulfillment service White House Custom Color to do the printing and shipping, and we sell images through Pixieset. We found this is the easiest way to give our customers quality prints in a timely manner.
How much was your travel limited/impacted during COVID? Did this change your approach to content creation and/or your overall business plan?
We lost about 40% of our business during COVID last year, and it was a little bit scary to see such a drop in revenue at first. Thankfully, we are good savers, so we were able to weather the deep lockdown portion pretty well. We still had the blog we could work on, so instead of creating more content, we decided to pivot to improving the user experience. We invested in revamping our blog’s web design, improved page speed times, and updated blog posts with better information. It felt a little risky to spend money when we weren’t making any at that moment, but looking back it was definitely the best choice we could have made. It’s paid off big time now!
Did the increased isolation of COVID during 2020 lead you to discover or invent any new creative solutions or subject matter to incorporate in your blog?
Because travel was pretty limited during 2020, we spent quite a bit of time focusing on evergreen content for the blog. We never really leaned on affiliate marketing before COVID, but it was fun to learn about it and create new gear guides for our readers during that time. Affiliate marketing definitely helped expand our income into new avenues, and it benefitted readers who wanted to learn about items and products we recommend. You can find our gear guides here!
As described on your website, you are an exclusive member of Mediavine Travel. Please tell us more about this relationship. What is Mediavine, how long have you been associated with them, and how has this affected your business?
Mediavine Travel is a premium advertising service for high-traffic blogs and retailers to connect and provide a quality ad experience. We’ve been working with them since 2018, and it’s been a really positive experience. Mediavine not only helps us generate income, but it’s also very focused on creating a great ad experience for readers. Ads might seem less-than-ideal at first, but they are a passive way to help us make money, and continue to provide high-quality content for our readers.
What destinations that you’ve not yet visited are at the top of your bucket list, and why?
We’d love to go to Iceland! It’s such a rugged, beautiful landscape, and taking a road trip around the Ring Road is definitely something that’s on our bucket list. We’d also love to explore places like Scotland, Japan, and New Zealand.
Do you have any upcoming road trips or future plans on the horizon that you’d like to tell us about?
We are stoked about an upcoming backpacking trip to the Wind River Range in Wyoming!
Do you have any questions for our B&H Creator of the Week? Please ask them in the Comments section, below. And, to view all our B&H Creator of the Week Q&As on Explora, click here.