If you are reading this article in the week or so just after it has been published, chances are you have arrived here due to a social media referral (otherwise, our SEO process is doing it’s job correctly). You have discovered it either on Facebook, Instagram or any other platform we use here at Project RAWcast to help drive traffic towards our content. And herein lies one of the massive benefits of social media – instant exposure and traffic for those that know how to use it effectively. Social media is also one of the biggest driving factors behind the consumption of photography and other imagery. We shoot, edit and then share. That is the three step process many of us use to get exposure for our imagery and work.
Now I have a question for you – as a consumer as well as a producer of imagery, has the consumption of imagery from other photographers on social changed or impacted on your own creative process? Now this could either be the overall look and feel of your style, the locations you choose to visit or the subjects you choose to shoot. Let me give you a few examples of this – take a look through any of your local official tourism hashtags on Instagram and look at the locations that are regularly being shot. Then take a look at the style and actual content of the images from those locations. I know myself when I look through our local Tasmanian hashtags it is extremely hard to find something that is truly unique. We see other images, we seek out those same locations and then social media has already put ideas into our heads about what is possible at those locations. A little tiny person standing on a rock on top of Mt Amos in Freycinet National Park at sunrise? It sounds quite specific doesn’t it? But no worries! Take a look for yourself and I can guarantee you you won’t have any issues finding that.
Let’s talk about the overall editing style now. Have you personally applied an Orton Glow (gaussian blur) to your sunrise images with some nice water flow at around the half second shutter speed captured at a beach in the eastern suburbs of Sydney? Or have you taken your black point up on a tone curve and reduced the contrast in what I tend to call “crushed blacks”? We have all done these types of things. And in all honesty, we have probably done them because we have seen that style of image processing consistently being produced and shared across social media and then taken that process and used it ourselves. And that’s where social media impacts on the creative process, whether it be in a positive way or a negative way. We see images and then try to replicate something about them ourselves. Of course that process can also help improve your skills, but taking those skills and creating your own style is going to make you stand out from a crowd of very similar images.
It is extremely hard to now find images that are truly unique in terms of location, style or subject. Social media has created a flood of imagery that we all have access to. And if a location or style is unique, I can guarantee it won’t be for long! Any imagery that is even remotely different and of a high standard will be copied in no time at all. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with getting out exploring and being inspired to visit locations because of other imagery you see, how many of you have taken a trip to Iceland, New Zealand, Patagonia or elsewhere recently to capture those “trophy” images you have already seen on someone else’s social media accounts? We discussed this exact thing in episode 44 of the podcast, and went into it even more in an interview with Ken Duncan in episode 45 of the podcast. To hear such a successful photographer in Ken discussing how seeing images from locations leads to him not wanting to visit them reinforced our opinion of the overall impact of social media on the photography industry. There’s the incredible benefits of exposure for those that know how to use social media successfully and work at it hard enough, and there’s the downsides of the negative impact on true creativity because of conforming to styles of images that seem “popular”.
It is almost impossible to not be impacted on in both a negative and positive way by the availability of imagery on social media. Many of us have been inspired to get out and explore more and continue the drive to improve our skills. That is a hugely positive thing! The overall standard of those that work really hard and focus on continuing to improve their skills has lifted as we all continue to share our work with each other. The downsides though can be a flood of very similar content from the same locations or of the same subjects all shot and processed in the same way. To stand out as a photographer in a hugely competitive industry you need to offer something different to others. Conforming to social media expectations by using popular post processing techniques and shooting the same locations you have already seen elsewhere is limiting your own creativity.
Truly successful photographers are those that push boundaries and create their own styles or shoot things differently rather than following what everyone else is doing. It can be very hard to achieve that with pre-conceived ideas and expectations because of what we see as “popular” on social media. We base that popularity and success on the level of engagement we either get ourselves or see others getting on their posts. And that is not a healthy way to use social media. It’s great to be inspired by what others are doing. But it’s even better to be an individual and create images that are different. It is hard work. I am guilty of all of the things I have mentioned above. I am sure many of you reading this are too. Maybe next time you are out shooting ask yourself “am I creating something truly unique, or is it very similar to what I have seen elsewhere?”. Those that choose to be unique and produce a high quality of imagery will stand out from a crowded market. And that will most likely lead to success as a photographer.