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Insights & Thoughts

According To Social Media, I’m A S**t Photographer And So Are You. Really?

By Max Bridge on June 2nd 2016

Social media is great. It’s also an annoying, disingenuous, time wasting, soul-destroying evil entity which can have a dramatic negative impact. Perhaps that was taking it too far? I’ll start again. Social media is useful, but it can have a detrimental effect. It’s why and how that impact occurs that I will be exploring today.

I wrote an article a while back about how our mentality can hold us back, and the post you’re reading stemmed from a fantastic comment on that post by Paul Barson:

“Great article and good advice. Ironically, I think that 500px and other social sharing sites can sometimes put people on a downward spiral and actually discourage creativity as they place too much importance on likes and scores, taking them as some kind of measure of worth. When in reality they are a measure of social popularity, which certainly does not always equate to value and a reliable gauge of how good work is. That’s a whole other discussion though lol”

It’s an idea that I am only too familiar with, and one which I certainly felt deserved discussion. I hope you’ll come away from this article feeling a little more positive.

[REWIND: COULD YOUR MINDSET BE HARMING YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY BUSINESS?]

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The Soul-Destroying Side Of Social Media

I’m not here to to dissuade you from using social media. As business owners, it is a necessity, but what I would like you to take away is a realization that everything you hear, positive or negative, must be taken with a gigantic pinch of salt, and that we are all in the same boat going through the same thing. When negative thoughts about our photography creep in, it’s very easy to isolate ourselves, to come to the conclusion that this is only happening to us, and therefore holds more validity, but it’s simply not the case.

[REWIND: MAX FACTOR COMMERCIAL PRODUCT PHOTOGRAPHY | HOW I SHOT IT]

I was so proud of the shot you see above; It was  laborious endeavor but had much personal satisfaction. Naturally, I assumed that by putting it on social media, it would be met with a reasonable amount of awe and perhaps even generate a decent number of shares, likes, and followers, and perhaps lead to getting me work if the right people saw it. These are probably the same thoughts we all get when we share images we’re proud of.

So, what happened? I posted it to Twitter and Facebook which garnered a very lackluster response. Cue immediately a questioning of one’s self-worth. Now, I have a very thick skin, and this sort of thing doesn’t bother me. I can also say that the lackluster response may have been, in part, due to the lackluster effort I put in on the social media front. There are reasons for that, but I may explain them in another article.

As Paul so insightfully pointed out in his comment, social media can be damaging as we judge a photo’s worth by virality. It’s the popularity contest element to social platforms, and while ever-present, it’s the only way to judge if an image has merit, and a quick glance at the IG accounts from Z-list celebrities will highlight this as their most mundane of images will get thousands of ‘likes’.

OK, I Already Knew This But Can It Really Be That Damaging?

Some of you might remember the photo above. I posted it to the SLR Lounge Facebook Group before I’d even spent the time to do a proper edit as I was so pleased to have caught such a unique moment, and you all loved it. Logically, in my mind at least, another photo community like 500px might have the same affection for it. Logical? I thought so.

I think we can all guess what happened: It received a pathetic response. So pathetic in fact, that I thought it must be because I’d posted it at the wrong time. That prompted me to post it multiple times to see if the reaction would be better. It wasn’t, and that can cause a little light bruising, and for some initiate contemplation of the idea they must just be a bad photographer.

Now, I didn’t think anything as dramatic as that, but subconsciously it did have an impact. I’ve posted all of my nature photography to 500px. Regularly, images which I love have an appalling response, another example being the photo above. Over time, the disappointment became compounded and I began to look at photographs I love, in a very different, and quite negative, light.

So you see, it may not be an instant reaction but feelings like this are often compounded over time, even if there’s no immediate effect. The result for me? I stopped posting anything to 500px and decided that my wildlife photography was not worth much. Thankfully that opinion was changed some time ago but it took intervention from a friend for that to occur.

This Is Not Restricted To Social Media

Social media has been the focus of this post, however, it’s by no means limited to it, just an obvious one and its open publicity drives the points home. The problem can be found everywhere, and, in fact, I wrote an article recently under the guise of ‘pricing’, when truly it was about knowing your worth. Some of us are great at this; Thick skinned, confident individuals who are able to let social media rejection blow over their heads. Some of us are of a different breed and cannot. If you fall into the second category, like me, remember that social media is not a good measure of your worth as a photographer. That’s the crux of the story.

[REWIND: WHEN ARE YOU READY TO RAISE YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY PRICING?]

Sadly, those that fall into the second category though, are far more likely to be knocked back in a myriad of other ways. For example, if you write, your work may not be commented on, or perhaps you’re have a difficult client, not enough clients, or find yourself in a creative rut. There are loads of reasons we may fall prey to the negative side of our consciousness, and while I don’t think we’re able to completely alter that behavior but recognizing it certainly helps.

So If Not By Social Media, How Do I Judge My Photos

So how does on judge the worth of their images? Family and friends are usually useless, even the ones you trust to be honest. I’d say the first step to judging your work is to become your own critic. Pick some photographers that produce admirable work in your genre and try to be clear and honest when comparing your work against theirs. That’s a fantastic way to accurately judge your photos, but bare in mind, you are a work in progress and your imagery will reflect that, so best to understand the road may be long. (For more on the subject Check out this article)

[REWIND: OTHER PHOTOGRAPHERS ARE BETTER THAN YOU, USE THEM AS FUEL TO IMPROVE YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY]

The other way is to find a community of trusted photographers online who will give you honest and useful criticisms. SLR Lounge has an excellent area devoted just for this (find it here), where we encourage you to state the level of critique desired so as to guide the critique parameters. There are also very good community groups on various social media which can encourage you and your work. One such community I have been using a lot lately is the Photigy Facebook group. As most you know, I shoot a lot of product photography and this group is filled with product photographers of all levels who are attempting to raise each others standards. So social media isn’t all bad. It also goes without saying, that the SLRL Facebook Community is a strong one full of support from other users and staff.

social-media-photography

Summary

Don’t use social media as a benchmark for your worth as a photographer! Period. If in doubt, let me know and I can give you a list of some of the highest paid, most prolific and industry-admired photographers with hardly 5 thousand followers.

That said, be your own critic to a point, and seek out good and honest critique, and you can start that journey with us in the Critique section, where the aim will be to propel you up and forward. Finally, if you feel you do need some additional practice, head over to the SLR Lounge Store and get some education. My recommendations are for Photography 101, Lighting 101 and Lighting 201.

If you found this article helpful, I’d appreciate it if you could comment below and share this with anyone you might think it will benefit.

About

Max began his career within the film industry. He’s worked on everything from a banned horror film to multi-million-pound commercials crewed by top industry professionals. After suffering a back injury, Max left the film industry and is now using his knowledge to pursue a career within photography.

Website: SquareMountain 
Instagram: Follow Author

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Donna Macauley

    I have cut back my social media presence for reasons stated so well in your article and because it’s a lot of work for little return.

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  2. Chris Biele

    No comment… ;)

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  3. Gabriel Rodriguez

    So, so, so true, Max! A perfect example of this, would be my wife’s business page (nail tech). She struggles to get followers and likes, but the good ole word of mouth is kicking ass on her part. She’s now really starting to boom and making good money. She went from not having enough clients, to being booked for the next few months. But…she still stresses over the fact that her work is not getting enough likes. Haha, from what I’m seeing, I might have to sell my gear and switch roles pretty soon ?!!

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  4. Isaac Quesenberry

    Thank you Max

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  5. Simone Trice

    This read was definitely for me! Especially at a time I feel like giving up because I feel my work just isn’t good enough. But Thank you! I feel better knowing it wasn’t just me feeling as such. Now Im rejuvenated and ready to get back to shooting.

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  6. Frank Villafane

    Hey Max,

    Agree completely with your article. I post on 500px, Flickr and Instagram, and frankly I can’t figure out why some images are extremely popular while other superior images (imho) get “meh” reviews.

    However, I do believe that we photographers sometimes “overthink” things which can often lead to our resulting consternation. Most photographs, as art, are interpreted viscerally, that is, by “gut reaction”; the viewer knows nothing of our struggle to get the “perfect” image, nor the hardships we may ( or may not) have faced to get the coveted prize. Unless they are critics, they know little of leading lines, perspective and color – they just “know what they like”. Consequently they attribute a much different set of values than we would ascribe to the same image.

    Case in point: I captured what I would call a “normal” view of the Wonder Bar in Asbury Park on a wintry evening. As images go, it was ok, but even I was not overly impressed. As a matter of fact, I thought the colors were probably overdone. Nevertheless, Conde Nast licensed the image…say what?!? That’s right, Conde Nast. I would have licensed one of the many other better (again, imho) images I had of Asbury Park, but they chose THAT one. Was I happy? Of course! Am I mystified? Completely! (image below)

    As the saying goes…go figure!

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  7. David Altabev

    I agree with the sentiments of the article completely.

    However I wonder if had you posted the nature shot on Instagram which is more about capturing moments and stories, and the product shot on 500px where a photography community would have recognised the effort that had gone into the shot, would you have received a different response rate?

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  8. Ramon Acosta

    I agree with Paul Wynn “Personally I think its important to shoot for yourself.” The “likes” are an extra for me, if people like them, great!, if not, oh well! I have decided that I will not stop taking pictures. I enjoy it. I like the results I get. I try to get better. And if nothing else, I have pictures I love of my children..
    If photography is not a business for you, hang in there! If it is, well, I wish you luck! My nephew, I got him not goofing off, which is why his grandmother loved this picture.

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  9. Emilio Savov

    First of all … Paul Barson for president!!! :) Then back to the article, the problem with less likes on 99.99% of social media websites is due to their algorithm of showing your images to the others. I absolutely agree with what you wrote on your article, be your own critic and enjoy what you do, whether it’s a hobby or work, enjoy it and have fun :)

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  10. Benjamin Burner

    This is great advice for all creative endeavors! I find myself constantly judging my work by it’s lackluster response. Unfortunately, this is a destructive rather than creative process.

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  11. Al Richardson

    Excellent article… A very enjoyable and insightful view of social media and its often destructive whims. I’ve experienced exactly the same thing – shots I love absolutely tanking when posted to flickr, facebook, instagram and the like. I’ve thought about this for a decent while since the first time this happened (ironically with a stag picture in Richmond park!) The thing I realised about that particular shot was that it was in no way immediate – it needed a bit of thought as to why I’d framed it as I had, and took a bit of time to understand. I’m content to get lots of positive feedback on more generic “oooh, like a sunset, a pretty landscape, some tasty food…” shots to keep a feed topped up, and then print the shots that I actually think merit it because they move me. Confidence in your own work is key, seconded by opinions of other ‘makers’ you trust – be they photographers, artists, sculptors or others who work with and understand images.

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    • Max Bridge

      Great comment, thanks!

      You make a very good point. I have found over the years that there are certain types of images which do get instant positive reaction; anything with vivid colours, subjects that fill the frame (perhaps better for thumbnails), silly photos, sunsets (as you mentioned), the list goes on. However, while it can happen, it is far more rare for an image to become popular due to its photographic merit. They need to have some kind of instant wow factor.

      Considering the instant nature of social media, it’s no surprise that viewers want / react to wow photos. They simply don’t spend enough time viewing them to make a proper judgment.

      Funny that you’ve also had the same experience with a shot from Richmond Park. I so rarely get there these days but maybe we’ll bump into one another.

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  12. Paul Wynn

    Hi Max you raise a number of interesting points, I’m totally with you on the social media perspective. Personally I think its important to shoot for yourself. I would advise anyone who uses photography as a means of income, to find clients who are excited by the style of images they shoot and the way they approach relationships. If someone seeks constructive critique do not use open forums and social media sites, develop friendships with like minded photographers and support each other.

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  13. Edward Hubert

    Very timely as I am thinking about giving it up. But with this article I might just continue a little longer! Thank you!

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    • Max Bridge

      That’s sad to hear Edward. If you are referencing photography as a hobby, then don’t give up! Find a subject you enjoy shooting and keep going. After all, that’s usually the catalyst for many of us in the first place. Maybe you could use it to spur you on and encourage your development.

      If you mean as a business, then again, I feel for you. It’s tough and there is no point pretending otherwise. Only you can make the decision here but if it is something you love then I do hope you can find a way to succeed.

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  14. Karen Borter

    I was JUST having a conversation about this today. There is someone that I know that joined Flickr after me and has gotten explored NUMEROUS times. I have been explored twice, in 2 years. I have another friend who is explored once or twice a week. I was starting to think maybe I should sell the gear I have and give up. Then picked up my chin and remembered that Explore on Flickr really amounts to nothing as it’s an algorithm, nothing more. I will be posting more of my photography here in the Critique section as I want to get better and knowing what to fix, what works, what doesn’t is the only way to do that. Great article and, again, timely

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    • Max Bridge

      I’m not a big flickr person myself. Never even heard of being explored, which I must say sounds a little odd. Couldn’t they have come up with a better name! ha ha

      To your point. Much of the “notoriety” that can be gained from social media means nothing. That does depend upon the scale of the notoriety but few of us reach those levels. I’m really happy that you were able to pick yourself up, and that I may have helped direct you in a positive direction. :)

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