Should I post it if I don’t love it? (some thoughts on sharing)
Being a photographer can be tricky these days. There are a million people out there with cameras (actually, probably a lot more than that), all with varying degrees of skill, and all billing themselves as “photographers”. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. In fact, it’s a good thing. And to be clear, I include myself in that description. I don’t work as a photographer fulltime. Though I love it, I can’t afford to.
Anyways, back to my point. It is a very crowded marketplace, and that means it is harder and harder to get your name out there, get some sort of recognition, and rise above all the “noise”. Think about all your friends who take photos and share them online. Some of those shots come out pretty great, right?
Now multiply that by a million or so. That’s a lot of nice photo work out there…and that’s just from the “amateurs” (or “hobbyists”, or whatever you want to call them). There are many actual working professionals who also have their work out there (which is where it should be – what good does it do if they keep it to themselves? Share that beauty!).
The fine art approach
So how do you rise above the noise? How do you get your work recognized? How do you become known as a great photographer? One argument would be to post/share only your very best work. That way, your very best is all that is ever seen, and that is all that is associated with you. It potentially marks you as a consistently awesome photographer which, depending on your goals, might be what you want to be known as. This can be a great approach, possibly.
This method is employed by those that I call “fine art photographers”. Usually, this is someone focused on grand landscapes, often from spots around the world. As an example, I would put Peter Lik in this bucket. He produces incredibly beautiful photos of landscapes, mostly. It’s gorgeous work, but it is not something that is produced or shared frequently. There are only so many incredible shots you can create at a time. They just don't happen everyday. But when they do happen, it's something magical.
I think that this approach makes sense, and it definitely works for some photographers – but it doesn’t work for me. There’s nothing wrong with it, of course. I admire those who can make a living at it, and respect them immensely. I just find it a bit limiting for my tastes. I have way too many photos that I want to share, but few of them would be classified as "fine art". And obviously, I don’t classify myself as a “fine art” photographer. I suspect that most of you reading this do not classify yourselves that way, either. (And by the way, I am not sure what I call myself. I'll be talking about that later.)
So, what is the opposite of fine art?
My opinion is that you should post a lot of various types of shots – some will be winners, and some will not. But the truth is, although you can sorta guess which ones will get a good response and which ones may not, you never can tell with any degree of accuracy. It’s impossible to predict the whims of the market. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, as they say.
As a counterpoint to Peter Lik, I would offer up the photography of Thomas Hawk. TH is also an incredible photographer (and in my opinion, a modern master), but instead of what I classify as “fine art” photos, I would classify his work almost as documentary in nature, mostly focused on Americana. He takes photos of things that people see often (maybe even every day), but he presents them in meaningful and beautiful ways. I love his work, and if you aren’t familiar with him, I will let you know that his life goal is to publish 1,000,000 photos. So this is a guy who clearly believes in shooting and sharing a LOT. He is almost a factory for photo-making. The guy creates, and creates, and creates. It’s impressive.
Now I am not saying you have to be like Thomas Hawk and chase 1 million photos, and if your goal is to be one of the few “fine art” masters then more power to you. Both are worthy goals, and I suspect they are equally challenging in different ways. But I do absolutely think that Thomas’s example of shoot -> share continually is a worthwhile endeavor for most of us who seek to improve. That’s how we learn and better ourselves - by doing.
A recent, personal example: Proof that it’s all unpredictable
I recently shared a photo that I thought was good enough to share but not what I would call an awesome photo. It was a nice photo, but I didn’t think it was going to be a huge winner, or get much attention. I liked it, but didn’t love it (and still don’t). I wasn't even sure about sharing it. It sat on my hard drive for months, while I passed it over in favor of other shots. Here it is:
What happened? It hit Explore on Flickr and got over 6000 views in 3 days (which is a huge amount for me), and then Getty asked me to allow them to license it. It got a pretty good response in some other outlets as well. Now, none of those things means much, in and of themselves. I am hoping this doesn’t sound like I am bragging - I am just stating what happened. It received considerably more attention than I could have predicted. Frankly, I was surprised. I still am, honestly. Like I said, I don't think it's that great of a shot. But of course, I'll take what publicity I can get. :-)
On the contrary, I have posted photos that I love, that I thought were sure winners, and that I thought would meet with resounding success (at least in terms of an online response) - and they fell flat. Literally, a very limited response, not many “Likes” or “+1”s, etc. No print sales or license requests (yet). Nothing.
You never can tell
So what’s my point? My point is that you never can tell. You cannot predict these things. And if I had only ever shared what I consider my very best photos, many of my photos would still be sitting on my hard drive, collecting virtual dust. In fact, the vast majority of them would never see the light of day. They might as well never had been taken. It's like Schrodinger's cat - do they exist if no one sees them? (ok, that's not exactly like the Schrodinger's cat thing, but I think you know what I mean)
So that’s why I think that as a photographer, it’s important to share a broad spectrum of your work, whether you think it’s a sure winner or not. You can never guess who might like it, and you definitely never know who is looking. I have sold and/or licensed many photos that I think are only pretty good, not outstanding...and I have shared many that are only fair in my estimation. But I keep putting them out there, regardless.
If it fits what someone is looking for, then it’s worth having it out there. Besides, how can you judge someone’s taste, especially when everything is done online, and all your viewers are anonymous? I once sold a photo of an old fire alarm - seriously. It fit exactly what someone was looking for. How could I ever have guessed that? I only shared it because it was something that caught my eye, and I found it interesting. Who knew that someone else would be interested in it?
Sharing and the feedback loop
You know what else I have found? There are some other benefits too, which are much more tangible than “someone might like it” (which in the scheme of things is not important). For example, the greater variety of work you share, the more likely you are to get feedback on it, which you can take into consideration next time and use it to improve future shots. Shooting and sharing is the fastest route to improvement.
Consistently sharing your photos forces you to improve, really. Not just from the feedback you get, but also you start to figure out what works and what doesn’t…you start to determine what appeals to your market…maybe you even start to recognize things in the field that you can change to improve your shots. It’s that continual loop of Shoot -> Share -> Get Feedback -> Utilize Feedback -> Shoot again that makes you a better photographer over time.
So the next time you are on the fence about sharing a photo, just go ahead and put it out there. There’s no harm in it, and the worst thing that may happen is that no one really notices. Is that a big deal? Instead, you might end up benefiting yourself in both tangible and intangible ways. And a funny thing might happen along the way - namely, that more and more of your photos become “winners”. Heck, you might even make a little money by accident. :-)