Are social media platforms devaluing the very art and business of photography?
I guess it depends on your personality and age group as to how you view social media, as the love hate divide seems to run deep. As a long-standing photographer I have to say that I very much lean towards the latter stance.
Sure, there are certain benefits, and even more perceived benefits to using social media as a photographer. After all every so called influencer and self certified social media guru will tell you that you simply have to be the various platforms, especially if you happen to be a photographer – otherwise you simply don’t exist.
Well, although I have persevered with numerous platforms ever since the early days of social media, and have tried every trick in the virtual book, it just doesn’t sit well with me.
Personally I have to conclude that while it may well hold value for some that for me it’s nothing more than a frustrating waste of time and effort, and one which impacts my photography in a negative way.
No, this isn’t some gripe because my images don’t get the all conquering aspired to likes, it’s founded in personal experience, much of which goes completely against the never ending and rarely questioned mantras of social media addicts.
Go back a few years and perhaps there was some value to be had for working photographers through social media, although even then I would question it’s true value in terms of ROI, even when it comes to the so called “brand building.”
The amount of “content” being “consumed” and posted on social platforms by those who proudly hip up to the title of content creator is simply astounding, and not in a sustainable or quality way.
Ten years ago people would most likely pause and look at a decent image online or on the then fledgling reels of Facebook. They may even watch a 3-minute video that someone had gone to great lengths to produce – but oh how things have changed.
Nowadays even the most creatively and technically amazing images will often fail to hold most people’s attention for any longer than it takes their thumb to scroll past it. In all likelihood they’re more likely to pause and like a phone picture of someone’s favourite cake or of a rat on a motorbike.
Of course there are those photographers who’ve done really well out social media – as there lottery jackpot winners too. There are also certain genres of photography that do benefit from it in a round about way due to the nature of their business, and even those who enjoy chasing the likes – but I’m not one of them.
There are all sorts of social media platforms out here, many directly aimed at photography. All are determined to mine your emotions and attention by toying with your dopamine levels and to create a need for validation – which really is quite concerning.
When you consider that most images are now viewed on screens the size of a matchbox it really makes little sense in spending weeks getting up at sunrise to capture that perfect picture and then to pour your heart and time into processing it only to be seen that way. The chances are that some teenager’s iPhone shot burger will get more applause than your lovely GFX shot image.
And then there are the dedicated photography social media sites; like 500px and YouPic. These platforms play similar games but under a different guise. All are still playing on your need for likes and applause, which in real currency terms amount to zero. Oh, and of course then you’re bombarded with sales pitches and potentially concerning changes of terms. After all, make no bones about it they’re after your attention and money, however that may achieved.
You’ll hear many an offer of great fortune making exposure from these platforms, and that can be a real hook to an aspiring photographer. There are also many great fables of how major photo editors and buyers no longer look for photographers or images through conventional methods, and that these busy people would rather spend their days scouring through social media platforms in search of the chosen one.
Whoever is selling that line could do with something of a reality check. Sure, it may have happened once or twice, but very few photo editors even bother with such channels, apart from perhaps, connecting with friends.
In what must be more than 10 years of pursuing that social media promise I can honestly say that it’s caused nothing more than grief for me.
Yes I have sold a couple of images – to an existing client, who would have reached them by other means anyway. That’s a long way off being a viable time investment. Sure, when I shoot a race or event I do get a lot more love during and immediately after it. This is usually followed by endless request for free images, along with those images simply taken and reposted without credits (which also don’t pay bills).
I do admit that I too am hooked, and at times I have to force myself to stop aimlessly flicking through Instagram and yearning for more likes, or checking my other social media accounts. It’s the great FOMO (fear of missing out), which is exactly what these channels prey on.
Last year I forced myself not to post on Instagram for a whole month. Guess what? The world didn’t stand still. I found myself far less stressed, and nothing at all changed. I missed out on absolutely nothing, and gained a little peace back in with the deal.
The speed at which these platforms move is ever increasing. At times it’s hard to avoid being lured in to producing “content” rather than true and meaningful images, that simply doesn’t happen every day.
When it comes to social media it’s easy to get drawn in to shooting and showing images that are perceived to work on these platforms. It’s a sad reality that when someone is flipping through a palm sized phone screen that unless the image immediately resonates in terms of bold and bright colours, or offers up the latest “hero” ideal and kisses the elusive algorithms rear end then it’s unlikely to gain any real attention.
This can lead to disappointment and disillusion. I know, because I do get lured in and do that; wondering why my epic monochrome landscape didn’t get the likes that some over saturated and bland sunset shot taken on an iPhone did.
If these platforms do tick your personal boxes then that’s all good. However, for many photographers (like me), stepping away from them and focussing on shooting the images that you want to make rather than those that may be deemed as popular, and then slowing down, maybe printing them, and also posting on your own blog in a larger form could be the way ahead.
FROM THE EDITOR
I definitely do agree with some but not with all of Steve’s sentiments. I still believe that – if used wisely and with intent – social media platforms can be of an enormous benefit to the inspirational side of our photographic growth. Myself, I am continuously discovering amazing photographic artists both on Instagram and Facebook, connecting with new photography friends and learning a lot as a photographer.
Having said the above, I definitely agree that the danger of overwhelm and social-media-burnout exists. Using this moment, I would like to make you aware of the FRAMES photography mobile app I am currently working on. Compared to 8.95 million photos being shared on Instagram every single day, there will be 2 (“two”) photographs being presented in a very unique way in the FRAMES app. I will leave it at that.
We are currently raising funds for the development of the FRAMES app on Kickstarter. You can learn more about the app and support the project here. I would be really grateful for your pledge. I think you will love this app.
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