As photographers, no matter if we are beginners, enthusiasts, advanced or full professionals, we are living both interesting and challenging times. With the progress in science and technology and the way we work, interact with each other, buy, use and sell our equipment, all of these shape a totally different universe from what we were used to live, not so many years ago.
In photography, at least since I was very young, we started with old film cameras and, of course, manual focus lenses. The autofocus cameras came afterwards and then the first attempt to manufacture digital cameras, less than 1 megapixel in resolution. Internet was a technological marvel in keeping the whole planet connected. Then, you know the rest: real digital cameras, smaller and better memory cards with more and more storage space and faster speeds, more megapixels, more lenses, more speed, more products, the rise and fall of compact digital cameras, totally influenced by the smartphones with quality cameras and the arrival of the mirrorless revolution.
Back to our topic, with the development of the internet and its global reach, the social media networks were created. At the beginning, they were less flexible, like Hi5 and Myspace, but then they evolved into the shape we know them today: Twitter, Instagram, Google+, Facebook. More than that, virtual photography galleries were created, like 500PX, or Flickr. How are these digital assets relevant for photographers? Let’s start with the Good, where I try to synthesize the Top 5 advantages of using the social media networks :
You create a personal account on one, or several of those virtual social network platforms and you start to:
- Build a personal profile, where you can exhibit your work, show to the world who you are, what’s your style, your photographs and their message, your interests and intentions. Like a CV, but every relevant info on your relationship with photography can be tailored and displayed on your profile.
- Find your real friends in your real life being present on those social network and establish friendship relationships also in the virtual field, where you can extend the level of expressing your friendship with them.
- Get to know a lot of new people with similar interests and add them into your friend list, as this is useful for your inspiration, social needs of sharing questions and knowledge and other communication aspects.
- Get access to a lot of useful information related to photography, as workshops, exhibitions, photography contests, published books, relevant articles, tutorials that you can use to improve your skills and learn new techniques.
- Make this huge world a bit smaller, attainable and while having some level of control over your social interactions with a lot of interesting people you never met, or you might never meet in real life. The virtual space is able to add an extra dimension to our limited, physical synergy within the society, so with careful management, you can truly enrich your social life. It doesn’t matter so much where you are located, geographically speaking. If your photography pleases the people and you continuously work on reaching further within these virtual global networks, you could be known all over the world.
And it is a comforting feeling to see that people get to know you and you get to know interesting people, as you continuously keep on showing to the world your photographs, your plans and your achievements in photography. How does it work?
Phase one: You share with them your pictures, by posting them to your profile, adding them in an album, or virtual gallery, providing public access to them.
Phase two: You get a kind of feedback; Likes, comments, red hearts, yellow stars and some of your work is re-shared by the people who appreciate your pictures.
Then this becomes so addictive and somewhat the virtual flavour of this relationship with “the others” starts to show its unnatural feeling, that some of us might have the chance to reach a moment of enlightenment. This is when you slowly start to understand the downside of social media networks, that I wanted to discuss about, hopefully comprised in a coherent Top 5 disadvantages of using the social media networks:
- Your presence on the social media networks can easily become addictive; as each addiction involves an excess /abuse, nothing good, on the long-term, can come out of it. We need to keep control over our lives and stay out of both extremes.
- No matter how well you control the situation, it is still a virtual world, that many times will send you unrealistic impulses towards your true, instinctive need of human interaction and natural, healthy social feedback demands.
- It requires a lot of time and most of the time it requires is just wasted time, without anything constructive to add to your experience in photography. We live in a crazy world where there is not enough time for photography, as this should be the first priority and gratification for a photographer.
- The feedback you receive is most of the times unreliable. Who are they to “judge” your photos? How can you believe them and let them choose for you?
- It will twist the way you are, at least as a photographer.
The last two points need further explanations. As we, humans, organically need a feedback for what we do (and take pride in what we do, in photography), we psychologically rely on this feedback in order to adjust the way we do photography (in this case). We need the applauses and encouragements to feed our self-confidence that we are on the right track. And also, we need the critiques, so we could learn what to avoid and improve in the future to come. Feedback is essential and without it, you could simply put all your photos in a drawer (printed, or on both SD cards and external HDDs) and never expose them. But photography is made to be shared, shown and exhibited, thus, appreciated, commented and interpreted in its message. We cannot consider the existence of photographs without the impact and response they trigger.
So, you have 3 photos that represent your pride, joy and talent in photography and you make them public by all your means through the social media networks; a landscape, a street photograph and portrait. Later, your receive your virtual feedback: 80 Likes and 12 favorable comments for the landscape photo, 25 Likes and 2 comments for the street photograph and only 6 lousy Likes, without comments, for the portrait picture. This will tell your brain your worth and you will start to see personal photography according to this pattern of feedbacks. But who are “they” to tell you which picture is the best and why do you trust them? And more important and especially tragic, why do you modify your style according to the number of “Likes” in order to please “them” more, for more positive feedback, to show you how good you are as a photographer?
What to do?
You need to stay in control at all times. Sometimes it is best to spend less time on social media and try to extend your true relationships with relevant people who can be helpful in your real social life. Meet them, talk to them, show them your work. Go and meet an art curator, or an artist, a good photographer, famous, or not, that you respect and ask for a portfolio assessment. This is how you will get professional trustworthy feedback that will really help you. And you don’t need to change your style just to please the masses, as I believe your photography is an expression of your personality and it should be mostly done to please your spirit.
This is why it’s so important to be aware of the changes the intensive use of social media networks might inflict on your style. Back to our 3 photos, the landscape, the street photograph and the portrait. Let’s say you are the lucky one to meet a great photographer, or an art curator, to judge your photos and his / her answer is:
“The landscape is bullshit; the internet is full of red skies at sunset (80 Likes, remember?), the street photo looks decent, but you need to improve a lot on composition, maybe a different crop and try to get your subject at the crossroad of those guiding lines (25 Likes and 2 useless comments), but the portrait, the way you did it, so unconventional, so out of norms, is really interesting. You could be a great, original portrait photographer, so focus all your effort in this direction, forget about landscapes”
How about that? Wasn’t it all wrong from the beginning, to trust and follow the “trendsetting” virtual, unknown, unprofessional bunch of individuals that rated your photos in such improper way?
Social media is beneficial, but it can be a huge distraction, too. If you feel you spend more time that necessary on social media networks and it can distract you from more important things, like reading books on photography, participating in contests, meet other friends passionate about photography and share tips and experiences with them, or the essential thing (go out and practice your skills with your camera in new, challenging projects), than you might consider taking a break, or simply close your account on some of the social media networks. As you need to stay in control, Facebook and Instagram are not the real answer. Instead, you might build your own platform, fully controllable by you – your own website. There, you could spend time, writing about you and your style, posting only the best selection of your work and simply share a link to your content on the social media networks. Don’t listen to people’s opinion too much, especially the people you actually know nothing about (or not enough). Instead, you should trust your instinct, try to discover your style, uncharted territories and find challenging projects where you could learn new things and enrich your photography experience. Because photography is about discovering yourself, the world and enrich your life. So, Log Out, take your camera, get out and May the Light be with you!
All photos and text – © Sebastian Boatca 2018 / www.sebastianboatca.com