Feeding the Beast: The State of Photography & Social Media in 2023

· 23.February.2023

It’s really quite staggering just how much social media has taken over so many aspects of so many of our lives in recent years, and despite the known and potential pitfalls, photographers still keep feeding these greedy beasts. Is it time for a well overdue Metaverse detox?

It’s been a couple of years since I last touched on the fiery subject of social media, and particularly on that of social media and its impact on us as photographers and on photography as a whole. I guess that a lot has come and gone during that time; after all, in social media terms that’s a virtual millennium, and yet really and truly nothing much has changed much overall.

Straight up front: I am no fan of social media and its impact on society as a whole, almost as much as I despair at those behind its seedy ways of operating and the blatant liberties they take, which are often taken with blinding small print and with seemingly no recompense, which could lead you to wonder just how exactly they manage to get away with certain things that do come out in the wash down the line, not to mention those that don’t.

Sadly, yes, I do still partake of the digital hard stuff, as much as I hate doing it and I do limit it as much as possible. We all have our own reasons for using these apps and platforms, although when you get down to it and question the validity and whatever it is you aim to gain of achieve from using them then perhaps the balance is a little one-sided, to say the least. Naturally there are those who claim to have no aim, which seems even more futile.

I’ve little doubt that a fair few photographers out there have done rather well out of their presence on these platforms, and many do enjoy the experience, too, but much like with playing the slot machines, the odds of winning (however you perceive that) are extremely low and, apparently, they seem to be getting ever slimmer as the dreaded AI takes over. As for the social aspect of social media and these platforms, I’ve always found that to be something of an oxymoron, although once in a while there are those who do get some form of social interaction and value from them, although I can’t help but think that this would be a lot more rewarding if achieved in person or even via a phone call (remember those?).

The RTF effect & great expectations

A while back I wrote here about the evils of rapid thumb flipping (RTF) and of people’s ever shortening attention spans, something that just gets shorter with the ever-increasing saturation of images and ‘content’ online, which especially when viewed on a mobile device via Instagram has an ever-diminishing presence. Instagram (and many other platforms) are places where even a classic image from a past master would most likely get little more thumb time than a hot dog and probably receive a whole lot less love than a snap of a poodle forced into a tutu, and this really is quite sad in photographic terms.

Why do we keep posting on these platforms? Is it habit, a strange form of peer-induced obligation or addiction? I don’t know but I expect it’s a nasty and unhealthy cocktail of all of these. Sure enough, as sure as eggs is eggs, the value (in every way) of photography has fallen through the floor, and there seems little logic in continually spending time and emotional effort in patronising and feeding these greedy platforms, which, in turn, is helping that process. They are, after all, there simply to make money, which is fine, but at what hidden cost to the end user?

Not being a content creator

When flipping through these platforms it soon becomes apparent that everyone with a selfie stick and a mobile device now considers themselves as a ‘content creator’, (aka an ‘influencer’) and there are even apps out there that proclaim they produce content for you (haha!). What exactly is content and how does one become as a creator of it? It’s a strange one, as to me content has always been something that is there to pointlessly take up space, to fill the bland gaps between the good stuff, much like shredded paper use to pack out a huge box. Sadly, it seems that ‘content’ has flooded the social media platforms, drowning out the many quality images that we do post in with that padding, which is just another reason why I see little value in social media and joining the race to the bottom.

Most of us can go out and ‘create’ a decent image each day and post it online (if we wish to), but to actually ‘make’ quality images that mean something to us and that we enjoy and appreciate capturing, that takes time and personal investment and not necessarily the immediacy and frequency of social media platforms, or at least not in the way these nail-polishing ‘creators’ often tell us that we have to do in order to get the mythical benefits bestowed on them.

Yes, posting images each day can be a motivator to shoot and progress for some, although perhaps there would be more personal reward in slowing down and focusing on your deeper and longer photographic goals and progression. Could you imagine the likes of Ansel Adams going out there and creating ‘content’, making Reels and dancing for TikTok every day? Sure, we live in a different era to Ansel and co., but it doesn’t mean that we have to get drawn into creating what is increasingly termed as content just for the sake of it.

The alternatives

What’s the solution? Personally, I can only see the situation with the mainstream platforms spiralling downwards, much as it has done for a long while. There will always be a new offering out there and photographers will always chase them; the FOMO and early adoptor demons may also be at play in this process. I have indeed tried even such things as TikTok (as an early adoptor), and that was one room that I left faster than I did Twitter. Then, of course, there’s the much hailed and controversial Vero, also (after playing with it) not a place I personally see as worth investing my time or effort. I’m interested to see where Frames goes; it clearly has a more photographic and slower approach, which is welcome. Flickr is an old standard and a far more pleasant place to spend time than the Metaverse, and as for 500px, well, I’ll just leave that one in the dark room with a flickering light on.

My own personal preference has always been to have my own website and to invest my efforts there, as it’s a place where I have full control over what, how and when I show my images, as opposed of being at the whim of some strange algorithm. Yes, this is what I do to keep the wolves from the door, but even so I do strongly believe that any photographer out here who does value their images or time and wants them to be seen in a better light and on their own terms should take control and create a website.

Naturally websites do cost money but what is all of the that time spent of social media platforms worth to you? There are countless platforms out there now where you can create a really nice website for around $100 or so a year and with many of them you can also use them for online backup of your images. Over the years, I’ve created a few websites and blogsites; they are far from the simple drag and drop approach they hook you in with (at least if you want them to be personalised, that is) but once you get to grips with it, it’s reasonably straightforward to make and manage a basic website.

If you happen to have an Adobe Creative Cloud account then you do also have access to their portfolio templates, which (apart from a dedicated URL if you want one) means that you can create basic websites for free (or, rather, included in the price of your subscription). If you don’t have an Adobe account then there are still the old standards such as Blogger out there; they may not be as pretty but with a little effort and for no fee you can create your own basic photography site/blog, which in my opinion is a far better way to invest your time and to show your work than on social media.

Of course, you don’t get the fleeting hit and miss likes and comments (interactions), but do you really need or want them? Or would your efforts be better spent in simply pointing those who you do want to see your images to your own slice of internet real estate?