By Dave Kai-Piper. Images open in a lightbox

Let’s see what’s up.  

Right out of the gate, let’s be honest here. Everyone doubts their own work. Some of us more than others. It feels like it’s a weekly struggle, against self-doubt and some sort of imposter syndrome. Could Social Media play a part in my mindset?

A moment’s glance, we can be swarmed and suffocated with perfectly timed, perfectly posed and impeccable photography. The sheer abundance is daunting to everyone. From global icons Rankin

This article is a longer piece which was the research created for this article On DIY Photographer.

to seasoned professionals like Joey L. It’s hard sometimes to see where our work fits in. It was during research for this very article that I first saw Aakaash Bali’s The Shadow District project We were talking and he made the project sound like something that he had just thrown together. The concept is amazing, and the technical execution is perfect. I know these things should inspire us, but it just left me feeling inadequate.

The sheer volume of amazing photography created is only a small part of the larger problem, us. It seems we are programmed to over judge, over-analyze overthink and become over-attached to our work. Being able to stand off and be impartial about our work will help. In other words, how many of us are our biggest critics?

Why we take photos is another angle to bring into the mix. I would say 90% of the images I take and make are for my own needs, driven by my thought process. They are personal to me, taken by me for me and I will see things in those images that no-one else sees. Sometimes I forget that. Over the years I have learnt that the images I like the most are sometimes the least liked by other people, this is very much due to the fact, I am looking at something different in the same image.

We sit there, planning our posts. Saving the images we like the best for the key spots in the week when we know Instagram is most active. We watch the stats, wait for the right time, write a killer caption, tag the best tags, add the hashtag… we wait, wait, then click. Posted…. And nothing. The post bombs out and we delete it in a day… why… It got 30 likes less than yesterday’s post. If this is photography in 2020, I guess we have to find a way to make it work.

Image by Aakaash Bali’s & The Shadow District Project. Images open in a lightbox

Social Media is not all good news.

Social Media is bad news for the mental health of many creatives around the world. It sets unrealistic targets in a game that is stacked anyway. Unless you are paying to play, these days it seems there are glass walls everywhere. The demand to create and update daily is a race to the bottom. It seems quantity over quality is the order of the day, and when there are 95 million images uploaded to Instagram a day, you bet your ass there are some amazing images in there too, so, we are battling against volume and quantity. If you want to get noticed on Instagram, you better be doing something other than just posting amazing images.

So are your images bad or just being dulled by the volume of images being uploaded to the internet daily, it’s important to question to understand. Especially if you are using the internet as a yardstick to measure your level and worth.

What does this mean? Well, it means a few things but, before we go there I want to add some framework and context around what ‘Social Media’ is and where we, as photographers fit in. Let’s start with Instagram.

You must not ever forget that you are not the user, you are the product. Everything you upload to Instagram is helping them to make money. It’s business, the data you supply is the commodity they are trading. Instagram is for business, shaped for businesses and is very good at making money. “About three-fourths of Instagram users take follow-up action after they see a post published by a business brand.” I am not sure that translates in the same way for the producers of the content. The other thing to note is that people, in 2020 are expected to spend the same time on Instagram as on Facebook, which will be about an hour roughly.

  • 500 million Instagram users are active daily.

  • 38% of Instagram users check the app multiple times per day.

  • Over half of Instagram’s global user base is aged 34 or younger.

  • The biggest age bracket on Instagram is 25–34, which accounts for 32% of total users.

  • 21% of 50–64-year-olds say they use Instagram.

  • Those 25 years and underuse Instagram for an average of 32 minutes per day.

  • 39% of all women in the US use Instagram, compared to 30% of men.

  • Among Instagram’s active users, women only account for 50.3% of the total.

  • 16% of the entire world’s population is on Instagram.

Stats from https://99firms.com/blog/instagram-demographics/

Why is all this relevant, it’s fucking busy out there. Like, proper mental busy. But if it’s so busy, where is all the love for my photography? To answer this we must look at the way Instagram is used. Are you a creator or a consumer? The likelihood is that since you are reading this, you are a content creator and not a consumer. However, let’s define these two sub-genres.

A consumer is just that. They consume and explore the media produced without adding to it or curating it.

A content ‘creator’ is someone who uses social media as a way to share work, art, stories or sell products. Photographers are pretty much always going to fall into the creator bracket. We would much prefer to ‘post and go’. If you use a service like Later.com to plan, organise and schedule posts, you’re likely to predominantly share your work and grow your base.

I have two accounts on social media, both of them are creator accounts for different types of photography. The bit that comes into place is that to get people to view our content, it means having Instagram valuing us as consumers, not just creators. So, most creators spend more time scrolling and interacting with other people’s posts than most people who just use the site socially. This is why you can get lost down a massive rabbit hole trying to get your work popular on Instagram.

By Dave Kai-Piper. Images open in a lightbox

Just of interest, how people have checked their Instagram notifications while reading this article?

Let’s talk about Facebook, but real quick. This post is not about social media, it’s about why you think no-one likes your photography. Again, like almost all social media sites, you are the product, not the customer. If you are not paying for it, you are not the customer. So, Facebook has little interest in keeping you happy. They want you using the site as it’s your data they want, but, actively helping people find customers, they have little desire to do that, unless you line the coffers. Give them money and they will fill your pages with as many followers as you can afford. Are they ‘right’ people, or people that will aid the growth of your business?

Having a large audience or loads of followers used to be a sign of dedication to a platform and some hallmark of quality content, but, we all know that this is crap these days. I could buy 1000’s of likes for a fiver if I wanted. It doesn’t mean my photograph is better. Having super huge follower numbers will inflate your ego though. It makes me laugh when you see the first line of people’s bios stating their follower count. ‘Hi’ I’m Bary and I have 348k followers’…. Like… What does that even mean in 2020?

If other people don’t like your work, is that a problem for you? In my experience, it’s normally a case that your photography is fine, but the context and environment that people are viewing it is off. Again, Social Media won’t give you an accurate representation of quality. Places like Instagram and Facebook are brutally harsh and provide a difficult environment to get started. Usually, a great deal of time and interaction into a community is needed before you can start to take an accurate measure of your work. Even then, little is taken into account by people swiping down to get through the millions of notifications they have.

I personally believe social media is a great way to network with people, market yourself, and build an audience. However, viewing artwork on a small screen that fits in your pocket removes the magic from it that would exist when printed. I think the flood of new “digital” posts daily reduce viewers’ attention to a glance, whereas viewing a printed image in a gallery, book, or on your wall demands more attention and observation. It is, for the same reason, like the difference between watching a movie on your phone or television versus in a theater. It’s a diminished experience. – Aakaash Bali

By Dave Kai-Piper. Images open in a lightbox

More people like your photography than you know.

Maybe people do like your photography, it’s just that social media is bad at reflecting that. If you want proper feedback, in context, then you are going to have to do the old fashioned thing and go speak to people, in real life. Print some images and go for a review at a camera club or like-minded environment. If you are looking to learn about what the wider general public think about your work, try places like Adobe’s Behance community. If you are going to use FB, stick to the smaller photography specific groups and remember to post the context of the image or images you are sharing and what you are looking to learn.

Remember that when you are posting images online, anyone in the world can post something too. What I mean by this is summed up by looking at the work in Pratik Naik secret group. The group has about 630 members, and the standard of work in that group is insane. There is no way I would be posting any of my shoddy snaps in that group. There is a group on FB called Fujilove, it’s a group dedicated to Fujifilm photography. I find that group is pretty fun, but I hardly ever post in it as my style of photography is very different to the average user in the group.

To me, it distils down the question, ‘does Social Media give you an accurate reflection of your skill levels as a photographer? That answer has to be a hard no. So, quit holding yourself to a standard that is not going to give you back anything tangible.

Julia Boggio has a very good point though when it comes to marketing. “Social Media is a poor measure of your talent or skill as a photographer, but it can be a good thermometer of your marketing skills. In the subset of photographers with a lot of followers, there are indubitably going to be photographers who get new followers because they are doing stunning original work, but there are also those who buy followers or spend a lot of time shaping their online presence. Don’t fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others on social. As they say, you do you.”

There is a fine line between being inspired and being disheartened. Social Media is a double-edged sword. On one had your opening yourself to a massive and free network (4.5 billion images were liked (on Instagram) in 2019 alone). It’s the fastest and best way to get out there, but the demand to and pressure to ‘keep up with the Jones’s’, can be crushing too. Rebecca Bathory knows this all too well.

“There is definitely pressure to share all the time when everyone else is. Although what I’m doing at the moment by not sharing is frustrating and almost makes me feel like I’m not creating anything. I think it will be more special when I have been patient and show it exactly how I want it rather than in a rush – Two years ago when I was inspired and taking photos of amazing things and having amazing adventures social media was great I loved it. But the last two years I’ve taken a step back for Zeke ( my first baby) and my creativity kinda dried up. I’m making a new series but looking at what everyone else is doing kinda makes me upset as I’m not out all the time being creative, it all makes me disheartened. I have started a 52 week challenge, the Joel Robinson one. it has helped a bit, I guess it’s what kind of people you surround yourself with on social media too.”

Where does this leave us? Well for a start, most likely, your photography does not suck, but the world around you, with its fake likes, false truths and unreal expectations can sometimes cloud the mind into a negative mindset. Taking a break, creatively, re-aiming your focus and sometimes just shooting less can be just the ticket in to kick your work up a gear.

By Dave Kai-Piper. Images open in a lightbox

Keeping a positive mind frame for years on end is near impossible. The number of ways that doubt for your work can set in are numerous and often unseen. Surrendering yourself with a community that cares about you as a person is important. They are the people that will say, hey, that the last image sucked, but here’s why Ii think it sucked. If they can give contextual constructive balance help and reason, then great. If you’re getting annoyed that no-one likes your stuff on Instagram, it’s most likely a marketing issue.

The next question that this prompts is about people learning photography, I asked Dr Peter Day, Does Social Media have a positive effect on your students?

“It’s an interesting question. I would say there is a case that it does exactly the opposite. The simple stuff like sharing and publishing, yes, blogs and diaries excellent and feedback to a point are really positive – in that, a much wider (international) audience can be reached quickly. The problem is that social media creates skewed positive and negative cabals, inward-looking ‘likers’ that have no representation outside of the group. There is to a limit to this shared view and it creates its own oxygen, so why listen to anyone else – as long as these people are the zeitgeist then that’s ok but if it’s just your mates unless your mates happen to be important enough to get you established then it’s self-fulfilling – why listen to anyone else especially in education. I think there are a number of short courses and online courses that good use of Social Media to share stories and blogs and expertise.

Dr Day brings up some great points, mostly centred around context, something Rebecca also hinted at. Being aware and being around the right people online can be as important as doing that in the ‘real world’. Jonas Rask Reminds us that “SoMe (Social Media).. gives you an accurate reflection on how good you are at playing the “SoMe game” – that is all.”

So, if the social world is to blame, what can we do? Investing your time in good social network sites is a good option, if you can find them. Even then, when you do find them they tend to have a shelf life. Sites like Flickr were hubs of people talking, sharing, and inspiring each other. 500 PX was awesome for a time too & who remembers Deviantart (just logged back in – the site looks like it has had a major revamp? ) Either way, it feels like these sites were not made with the same philosophy as Facebook has these days. This brings me to SmugMug and the purchase of Flickr. It’s an interesting side note in the story of photography & social media.

“We didn’t buy Flickr because we thought it was a cash cow. Unlike platforms like Facebook, we also didn’t buy it to invade your privacy and sell your data,” says Don MacAskill. “We bought it because we love photographers, we love photography, and we believe Flickr deserves not only to live on but thrive”

I for one, really do hope that Don and the team at SmugMug are able to breathe some new life back into Flickr, I feel like I missed out on it the first time round. For anyone wanting to read more about the ongoing story and where SmugMug come in, SM’s CEO Don wrote a public letter at the end of 2019. It has some pretty interesting stuff in it.

By Dave Kai-Piper. Images open in a lightbox

At the end of the day. You’re in charge of your own speed, your own output and level of work. Not overloading your self is a key aspect of longevity. 

Sometimes we have to pause, take a moment shuffle our deck in order to see what the next steps are. The important thing is that this is totally normal, no matter what you think. We all go through it. Positive thoughts will get you where you need to be most of the time, the rest of the time a sheer determination will see you through. Getting back to what brought photography to you in the first place can be important – This is why I love personal projects & I seems like I am not alone. I asked my good friends Jens Krauer & Olaf Sztaba for some more thoughts regarding personal projects.

“Photography in itself is empty as a canvas is for a painter. Neither the colour nor the brush defines the character of the work. Tools don’t add any character to your output. To me, it is the amount of raw personality and self-injected into the work. The depth of true personal involvement of a photographer into his / her own work, to a large degree, defines the level of impact of the work to me. Make it personal, remove the filters. While in street photography, the personal viewpoint of the photographer and the overall body of work forms over decades, in documentary photography we are given the opportunity to compress this process into a much shorter timespan and work much more precisely and deliberate. I found that, as a storyteller and observer of life, I like to balance the hunt of street photography with the unfiltered honest narrative-driven approach in documentary photography. It allows me to form and shape my visual language and storyteller skills in much shorter intervals to speak in a much more defined voice. I can speak for others trough my observation and understanding of their reality and I am morally obliged to do justice to the trust that is given to me by my subjects. I find purpose in subjecting my photography in transmitting a message or tell a story that is not mine and deserves to be told. Purpose matters.” – Jens

“Commercial projects are a must-do—after all, this enormous effort is to put bread on the table. On the other hand, collaboration with others brings us closer to our photographic community and gives us a much-needed social experience. However, these are personal projects that allow us to BE and SEE photographically. It is the only way to go deeper and uncover our seeing without any interference or pretentiousness. Without personal projects, we are easily swept around by multiple tides and our seeing is ripped apart by market demands and the pressure to fit into current trends. Therefore, when working with my students and other photographers, I always urge them to work on personal projects, the more personal and closer to home the better. It always leads to a revealing moment, a glance at our photographic soul, the true photographic ‘me’. This is priceless.” – Olaf

You can check out Jen’s work here & this is a link to Olaf’s work.

Credits & Links:

Rebecca Bathory:https://www.rebeccabathory.com
Dr Peter Day: http://wlv.academia.edu/PeterDay
Aakassh Bali: http://www.aakaashbphoto.com
Julia Boggio: https://boggiostudios.com

Author: https://www.davekaipiper.com

More Reading:

Images by Dave Kai Piper

© 2020, Professional Photo Magazine and Respective content owners.. All rights reserved.