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Photo Writing is the web version of the Photo Writing mini-magazine produced by Limephoto and Emil von Maltitz since 2010. As of 2015 it is now completely online. Feel free to browse through the articles and please leave comments in the comments section if you would like to engage with us.

Friday, January 10, 2020

The Shoot More share Less Idea

As the new year rolled past I found myself taking a significant break from the internet and the constant flood of imagery that scrolls through our lives courtesy of our numerous devices. The break was both refreshing and eye-opening and was also unintended (I haven’t taken a complete break from work in about twelve years as all breaks invariably involve writing, shooting, social media and marketing). The unintentional nature of the break - thanks to an inundation of family, the virtual Christmas shutdown and lengthened holiday due to the serendipitous days that Christmas and New Year’s fell on - meant that I never intended to be away from social media, or any of the usual photographic related writing that I usually do when ‘on break’. The sense of relief and lack of stress that resulted was both unanticipated and surprising. It is now becoming recognised that social media has a darker side, causing anxiety and depression in its users (see this article in The Independent). Photographers, by nature of the fact that we produce imagery, seem to have to stay lock-step in sync with social media…or do they?

The current modus operandi for many photographers is to push out as much content as possible on literally a daily basis. The thought is that if you don’t, you will be forgotten or overlooked in the stream of imagery that we see every hour and every time we pick up a phone or look at a computer screen. Unfortunately this is a real concern. If you are not on the internet and in people’s faces, you are to a certain extent invisible. This is the very reason that so-called ‘influencers’ have to churn out content in a virtual stream of consciousness display. The flip side though is (and this is just my opinion admittedly) that if you are pushing content every day (and in some cases multiple times a day) you are also invisible.

I have written before that we have become almost inured to the power of an image through the simple abundance of these images. The social act of ‘liking’ an image means that for many people the image is ‘liked’ more for social reasons than for the strength of the image itself. There are even photographer groups that form around the need to have as many ‘likes’ as possible - the idea being that by supporting the other photographers in the group by liking their images, they have a better chance at being noticed by potential buyers and clients. Of course this has been put to a stop now that Instagram has changed the way that ‘likes’ are displayed. The point though is that the ‘likes’ often have nothing to do with the image itself.

Which brings me to the potential ‘invisibility’ of the photographer who posts imagery on a near constant basis. Unfortunately when a photographer, even a good one and prominent one like Adam Gibbs or Thomas Heaton posts incessantly, viewers don’t stop to look at the work. It’s scroll, like, move on. So it’s no surprise maybe that the likes of Adam Gibbs and Thomas Heaton don’t post incessantly. Rather, they post at careful times that are spaced apart. Their’s is not an open tap flow of images.

The answer, at least if you want people to look at your imagery in a slightly more meaningful way is to NOT post all the time. An incessant flow of images into the feeds of our friends and followers starts to look a little bit like spam unless it is truly jaw-droppingly incredible all of the time. National Geographic can get away with this as they have a small army of incredibly talented photographers producing work year round which equates to thousands of truly exceptional images and an enormous historical database of equally astounding images to back it up.

So admittedly, there is a catch-22 in all of this. The likes of National Geographic, Time, even smaller labels like Africa Geographic post daily as they are required, as purveyors of content, to do so. As a professional photographer I also feel obligated to produce imagery incessantly for the social media vacuum. I didn’t quite realise the almost constant low-level anxiety resulting from the need to keep feeding the machine until my unintentional break from social media. Take away that low-level anxiety and I am happier, healthier photographer, I think.

Social media is a reality. To stop posting entirely isn’t the answer in my opinion. Taking a more considered approach to how one posts might be though. For a start, only post one or two images at a time as opposed to an entire glut or gallery of images. Believe me, the vast majority of people who see the images won’t actually look at all of them, and even if they do, only one or two. Realise that ‘likes’ are not a true indication of the worth or merit of an image. The photograph of an egg that racked up millions of likes (see this post) is a perfect example of this. I have become an absolute cynic when it comes to the likes of Instagram and Facebook. I take solace in the rather wise words of a friend of mine (and phenomenal photographer to boot), Myllo Menorah: “The problem with photographers is that photographers care too much about what other photographers think. They forget the clients and they forget the consumers of photography” (see some of Myllo’s work on Instagram @myllo_africa). A vast amount of the photography that I see on Facebook and Instagram is by photographers, for photographers. Not photographers, for potential clients.

Perhaps the best place to start is to ask ourselves why we post our images on social media in the first place. For photographers like Gibbs and Heaton above, it is to promote their brand in order to get more video views and potential youtube commissions. They specifically target other photographers because other photographers form the basis of their income (I do the same while wearing my NiSi hat). It also grows the possibility of selling another seat on a workshop. For many other photographers I know the goal is to get a gauge of their own photography vis-a-vis others and potentially some constructive feedback on the same. The problem with the latter is that the nature of social media is such that most people will not actually give that feedback, apart from positive platitudes (even if the image is terrible). On top of this I know several photographers who claim that they want feedback but get upset and angry when it is offered.

My personal view on posting imagery this year will be:
  • Only post what I know to be worth posting. If I don’t think it’s good, don’t post it (unless it’s to illustrate a point as to why it isn’t good).
  • One image is enough, two is too many if I actually want people to look at the image as opposed to scrolling past at the speed of a thumb swipe (unless I am trying to show a BTS shot as well).
  • Once a day is more than enough for a particular platform…in fact it’s probably overkill. More and it's the visual equivalent of spam.

Of course, some might take this article as being churlish in spirit. The argument is that social media is for ‘friends’ to connect and share. That’s a great argument, if only it were true. If it were true so many photographers wouldn’t feel compelled or obligated to post imagery constantly. Real friends don't require that kind of workload. Chances are they would be less wedded to their phones too. Every now and again over the last few years I would go through spates of online posting, reading the advice by digital marketers, carefully targeting and timing posts. I can’t say they resulted in an uptick in business or following to be honest. If anything, all they did was add to the stress and anxiety that social media is now known to produce. Nah, personally I would rather shoot more and post less.

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