We all want to improve our photography and gain recognition for our work. However, there are two big distractions we need to put aside to be successful in our art. The first hurdle is the biggest. Usually hailed as the key to photographic success, it has more drawbacks than useful attributes.
When I started my photography business, I took classes where the trainers insisted that it was important for businesses to have a good following on Instagram to be successful. This could be good advice for businesses looking to promote themselves. But is this good advice for photographers who need to improve their skills?
Most established photographers will advise you not to ask friends or family for feedback, as they won’t want to offend you. The same goes for Instagram followers. There are a few exceptions, but most people in this world are friendly, and they click to like a photo and praise the photographer, good or bad. Plus, most followers don’t even have the skills to see simple mistakes, like a wobbly horizon or oversaturated development. This praise gives the photographer a false idea of his talent. I’ve come across a few start-up photography businesses that failed because photographers had an inflated idea of their skills. Consequently, their reputation was quickly ruined.
It seems that getting a big audience is, for many, the be-all and end-all of photography. But I argue that this is the wrong path. Getting more followers on the platform they choose to use should be a result of success. Working to get lots of followers by any method means getting lots of followers, nothing more. It doesn’t automatically equate to being a fabulous photographer.
Since as far back as 2007, numerous research articles have shown that tweens’ primary desire is to be famous. Prior to this time, young people viewed acceptance as part of a group as most important. Previously, fame was far down the list. Fifteen years later, those who crave celebrity status are now adults, and that deeply ingrained idea of fame still drives their ambitions. Thus, they are looking for a large number of followers on Instagram, Twitter, etc. to meet this unstable need. Whenever there is a demand, companies create an offer to meet it. Hence, major social media platforms have made famous. But it’s superficial and meaningless, and those who yearn for recognition are simply played for fools.
Followers and likes have become a kind of currency. People want people to click on those little hearts and follow buttons. It’s like earning an award when that happens. Of course, Meta knows this, and their algorithms work, so the more we post, the wider the visibility of the image will be and the more likes we get. But, other than the short-lived endorphin kick, it has no real value. Those posted photos are quickly forgotten, lost in a sea of inane drivel. Plus, being followed by those who waste their days scrolling through their IG feed is worthless.
Social media owners want you to aspire to a large audience because they know it will generate revenue through advertising. They want your viewers to click on the ads they see when viewing your images. They’ve been so successful in promoting the idea that having more followers is paramount that it’s led to the ridiculous business of people buying an audience. It’s perverse. Once upon a time, the public paid to see art.
There is nothing sinister about their motives. Like any business, Meta, the company that owns Facebook and Instagram, is all about making money. Our photos are nothing more than a free asset for them and a way to generate income.
The second distraction holding us back is the idea of a new camera.
Over the past year, I have written a series of well-received articles on composition and the use of art and design principles in photography. I learned things by researching them, and I wanted readers to take something from that knowledge as well. Judging by the comments and the high number of readers, they succeeded. I also get a lot of satisfaction, more than ever likes on Instagram.
However, when I write a camera review, the readership is two or three times that of an educational article. Likewise, I had the privilege of interviewing fabulous photographers eager to share their knowledge. But they have even fewer readers.
What can I deduce from this? Maybe there are many people who want to buy a camera. Perhaps readers already know all there is to know about Itten’s contrasts or the use of armature in composition, or what successful photographers have to say. But I doubt it. I think it’s more likely that a lot of people will get addicted to the idea that gear is everything in photography. Manufacturers’ marketing departments have access to psychologists similar to Meta, and they know how to push our buttons.
There’s nothing wrong with being excited about the latest advances in camera technology. The new technologies that have arrived in the last couple of years are astounding. However, learning about it won’t make someone a great photographer. It might give them expertise in the new jiggery-pokery that comes with the latest cameras, but that knowledge won’t do much to improve their photography.
Albert Einstein said, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” This is true of all walks of life, including photography.
All great photographers have taken a journey of discovery. Early pioneers figured out which silver salts they should use, Cartier-Bresson explored the golden ratio and the decisive moment, and Ansel Adams worked with Fred Archer to design their zone system. They all learned as they went. Additionally, they also went out of their way to encourage and help others by generously sharing what they knew.
We have never had such a great opportunity to learn how to be better photographers than now. Besides the wide range of books available, there are countless articles and videos online, as well as clubs and organizations where we can share our knowledge. Indeed, Fstoppers offers a wide range of educational materials.
The opportunities to learn are endless. But like those IG scrollers, many photographers don’t focus their time in the right places. Instead of learning, they waste hours worshiping in the camera cult temple: All Hail the Canikony! Much like the false belief that Instagram will bring them fame and wealth, they hold dear the idea that obeying the scriptures of camera marketers will help them in that ambition.
Do you agree with me or do you dispute what I say? Do you think an Instagram account is the pinnacle of success? Is learning the latest camera more important than knowing how to compose photos? Which articles do you click on first? Do you think there are other barriers that prevent photographers from progressing? More importantly, where would you advise those new to photography to spend their time?
It will be great to hear your comments below.