Social media continues to grow, and yet I find myself shrinking my presence there. Is this wise? I'm not sure, but I'm doing it anyways. Here's the scoop.Read More
some thoughts on photography, social media and the tragic brevity of time
The title says it all. Well, that’s actually not true. It really only says part of it. I do suck at Twitter - that is totally true. So if you follow me on Twitter...sorry. I don’t post directly there, and I’m not good at keeping up with anyone on Twitter. If you re-tweet my stuff, or include me in your #FF stuff...thank you, and again - I am sorry.
I do have my blog posts and my Flickr uploads feed automagically over to Twitter, but that doesn’t really even count, does it? I am on Twitter, so to speak, but never actually on Twitter. I’m really not even using it. I’m a Twitter ghost.
I logged into Hootsuite recently for the first time in a long while, just to check out my Twitter stream and see what I could be missing. (See, I use an interface to view Twitter - not even the real thing.) I had lots of Tweets direct to me from nice folks going back several weeks, commenting on my shots or whatever.
I didn’t even know it. I feel like a loser. Sorry about that, everyone. I feel like crap about that. I really do. And those folks think I’m an ass, probably. Here they are kind enough to send me a nice note, and I don’t reply for weeks? I told you I suck at this.
You know why? It has nothing to do with Twitter, per se. It really comes down to this:
THERE’S TOO DAMN MUCH SOCIAL MEDIA!
There, I said it. That’s the big one.
Am I alone in this? Am I the only one overwhelmed by all the social media madness out there? It’s crazy, and getting crazier all the time. There are WAY too many choices, and too many things you “have to do”. I can’t possibly keep up, and I have gotten to the point where I don’t really want to.
As a photographer you want people to see your work, which means trying to participate in all of (or most of) the various places where people might be, in order to reach a larger audience. So that means you have a blog or a portfolio site (or both, like I do), and then you post/share on multiple social media outlets, all in the name of “getting your work out there”.
Sound familiar? I bet it does. That’s what we are “supposed” to do. That’s the formula. Get your work out there in front of potential customers. Market yourself. Get attention by being in “all the right places”. Make a name for yourself.
But, really - who has the time?
It could literally take me a couple of hours a day (or more, really) doing all this “work”. I could spend hours posting my work out there in all these random places, then Liking, +1ing, Sharing, Commenting, Tweeting and Retweeting, Pinning and Repinning (and more) and never actually do anything that involves “Jim getting better at photography” - and that’s what Jim wants.
I want to get better. I want to improve. I have a lot to learn. If my photographic life was a book, I feel like I am on about Chapter 2 or so. There’s a lot still to write and shoot about this journey I am on...and I plan to write it! (insert a loud HELL YEAH here if you want to haha)
And by the way, I thought as a photographer that I was supposed to be out taking pictures? Or at the very least, I should be working on my post-processing skills, right?
In other words, I should be able to dedicate a reasonable portion of my limited "free time" investing in my skills. Yes, networking and community engagement (which is essentially all online these days) is important, but self-improvement is just as important in my opinion, and quite possibly more important.
So many sites, so little time...
In case you are not a photographer, or haven’t been counting, let me list all the social media and/or photo community sites and/or portfolio/blog options that are available to you, off the top of my head (and I am sure that I am missing several - feel free to list more in the comments section).
Sharing your work on these sites (or a subset of them) is the typical approach we all take to get our work out there and create awareness of our work. And, it can sort of work, but it can be a major time sink as well - and I would argue that the time waste far exceeds the benefit in the majority of cases. But it’s really the only way, so it is what it is. We have to do it, to some extent, if we want people to see our work. But where to start?? Well, you start by joining some of these and posting away!
Here’s a list of social options:
- Your blog, if you have one (Wordpress, Blogger, Squarespace, etc)
- Your portfolio, if you have one (SmugMug, Zenfolio. Photoshelter, etc)
- Facebook (personal profile page)
- Facebook Fan Page (if you have one - I do)
- Google Plus (and Fan Pages are an option here too, but appear to be rarely used)
- New MySpace
- Tumblr (I see lots of photographers also maintaining a Tumblr photo stream)
- HDR Spotting
- HDR Creme
- I am sure there are dozens of others...
See what I mean? That's a heck of a lot of sites you "have to" be on!!
So what this means is that except for a couple of notable exceptions, I suck at most of these other sites, too (though thankfully, I have the sense not to sign up for all of these).
It also means that you cannot possibly “get your name out there” by trying to focus on a bunch of these. By definition, focus does not mean “a bunch”. It doesn’t work like that, and you will kill yourself trying. I have heard of dying for your art, but that’s a ridiculous way to go! :-)
The 80/20 rule, or Feed the Strong
Other than Facebook (where I am pretty active) and Google Plus (where I am somewhat active), I don’t really have time to engage elsewhere. I get pretty good interaction on those sites, and plan to keep doing “the work” there. I enjoy it, actually. I really wish I could do more on those sites, but just don’t have the time.
You see, I have a day job so that keeps me really busy. And truthfully, I really enjoy my day job. It’s awesome. But like all jobs, it takes a lot of time, and that’s ok.
As I mentioned in a previous article, I recently took a hard look at Google Analytics to determine which sites are sending traffic my way, and which ones are not. Facebook and Google lead the pack, so I plan to continue to feed them. They are strong for me.
It’s like the 80/20 rule in business: you get 80% of your business from 20% of your customers. Well, my blog is “my business” in this sense (and for me, it’s the center of my digital universe), and so I am focusing on the 20% of sites that generate 80% of my traffic. Everything else is an afterthought (though more like a “no thought”).
And yes I realize that you get out of something whatever you put into it. I completely agree. I am not saying all these sites are bad. Far from it. Some of them are probably incredible. I just don't have time to invest and "grow a following" there - I've already done that on other sites, and am sticking with them.
And by the way, you might decide on two (or more) completely different sites, and that's ok too. I am not saying these are the two best sites for everyone, since we all want different things, and we all have different likes. It's just that these two work for me, right now.
In the old days...
When I first started sharing my photos online (which is coming up on 5 years now), of course I tried posting to a lot of sites in a feeble attempt to “grow awareness” of my work. My opinion: it’s a waste of time to post to a lot of sites. I really think it is. I think you should pick one or two places and just do that. Focus and go deep. You can’t possibly do justice to several sites...it’s too much. Trust me. I tried. It’s ok to experiment and see which sites work for you, but after that...make a decision and go all in.
I used to interact a lot on Flickr, and though the new layout is causing me to interact more now than over the last couple of years, it’s still pretty minimal. I used to post photos to HDR Spotting, but again haven’t done that in years, and I don’t care. I used to try and keep up on Twitter, but how can anyone do that? All that crap scrolling by, 24 hours a day...makes me crazy.
Instagram? I never even signed up, and I LOVE to shoot with my iPhone and share it (but the pics go on Facebook and into a Flickr set and sometimes here on the blog). Pinterest? I have a few galleries there (or whatever you call them) but I never log in and look. I can’t even remember my password. 500px? Don’t get me started. It's a beautiful site, but I feel like they have stumbled. Just go read this and then this. New MySpace? Forget about it. That one’s a waste. As the old joke goes: "the founders of MySpace aren't even on MySpace".
See what I am saying? There’s just too much, and most of it is pointless.
And guess what else? I don’t use most of those sites, and I feel absolutely zero remorse about not being there. I used to think that I “had to” be active everywhere - and felt bad if I wasn’t - but I don’t think that way anymore. I just don’t care about being everywhere, because it doesn’t work.
I see some photographers who seem to be everywhere (and there is nothing wrong with that, to be clear), and I see others that only seem to be in 1 or 2 places online. I used to think it was a sign of success or broad awareness if you are on all these sites, with followers here and there. It looks like you are well-known, and maybe it really means that. In other words, I used to want that.
But not anymore. I now have greater respect for those that I see in just 1 or 2 places. I think they figured it out, and aren't wasting their time. So I quit caring about that and trying for it, and have realized that the value of my time is worth more than what I get back from the majority of those sites. I can't keep up, I don't want to keep up, and I am using my leftover free time for myself.
Will I ever post to these other sites again? Possibly - just not very often.
Guess what else? I also think that if someone wants to see my work bad enough, they will find me on whichever site I am on...because let's be honest, I'm on the two big sites with a decent presence, and they probably are as well. And of course, all my work is always sitting right here on my blog. That's an easy click too.
I also feel a whole lot better now. It’s like a monkey is off my back. There are a million sites that suck (and plenty of good ones too, I admit) - and can suck your time away - and they do nothing for me in return. So I don’t go there anymore, and I don’t miss them. There’s a certain amount of freedom in that. I’m starting to feel better already. :-)
Anyways, this is sort of like my apology letter to all those folks on Twitter, or Flickr, or Pinterest, or wherever that are kind enough to leave a comment, or repin something, or whatever. I am sorry that I don’t reciprocate. I have to pick where I can engage, and those sites didn’t make the cut.
So...I am really sorry about that. I really appreciate that you took the time to interact with my photography in some way - seriously, I really appreciate it...and I apologize for not having the time to interact back with your content. It’s not about you, or even about that site. It’s about time.
Speaking of time...it’s about time for me to go take some pictures so that I feel better about myself. I’ll see you next time. Thanks for listening.
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. :-)