Are You a Photographer or a FOMOgrapher: Part Two

Are You a Photographer or a FOMOgrapher: Part Two

FOMO, the fear of missing out, is seriously limiting your photography and you probably don’t even know it. Social media is the obvious culprit but we need to also acknowledge other key elements that play a part.

In the first article in this series, we looked at the role of social media in propagating FOMO in photographers.

The Gear Acquisition Syndrome

There used to be a belief that photography is an expensive hobby. But the truth is that regardless of whether you are an enthusiast or a pro, it is difficult to escape FOMO for long when it comes to new gear. But it is also true that technology has been moving quickly and the advancements in certain areas within a few years is mind-boggling. Consider the difference between the Canon 5D Mark II and Mark III. Roughly three or so years apart, the difference in the dynamic ranges and ISO in low-light shots was telling. But here’s the thing: if you were shooting in a studio with controlled lighting, did the increased dynamic range make a huge difference? If you were mainly shooting tripod mounted landscapes, did the improved ISO even matter? One can argue either way. The core of the issue is that often we photographers mistake our weakness in certain technical areas for weakness in our gear. And that is where the gear acquisition syndrome instills itself leading to FOMO.

“Everyone’s getting the new 85mm f/1.2 and therefore their photos look sharper! Should I sell my 85mm f/1.8 and get the new beast as well?”

Photography Awards

Let’s cut through the fluff and say it as it is: most photography awards, barring a select few, are meaningless. Every second blog seems to be handing out awards these days. Applying and winning awards is becoming a simple PR exercise. 

A few years ago, I was enthusiastically showing my dad the winning photos in the wedding category of one such award. It was a black and white small-in-frame silhouette of a couple on a hill. Beautifully composed and overall a striking image. He asked me if I thought the clients of this photographer would have been happy with this particular photo. It made me think. It was a strong image but was it an award-winning wedding image? Should awards become more transparent and consistent in their judging criteria? Should awards charge exorbitant entry fees?

"If I shoot small-in-frame couple photos, I might have a better chance at winning at award."

Awards have always been, unlike the more recent phenomenon of followers on our Instagram accounts, a measure of how good we are as photographers. The issue is that now awards are available dime-a-dozen. And this I feel is leading to more of us shooting for awards rather than shooting for our assignments. The upside may be that we are becoming more innovative as a community. But one of the downsides is certainly FOMO.

“Linda won three awards this year, Bob won two, and even HDR-Tom bagged an award. Maybe I should apply for some awards as well.”

Peer Assessments

We must realize the shortcomings of peers critiquing our work. Peer assessments are great tools to get feedback and connect with the community. But these are not stamps of rejection or approval. A few weeks back, I finally got around to uploading some photos for my Fstoppers portfolio. Naturally, I tried to put my best foot forward and uploaded my best work including some images that had won me some accolades at NZIPP (New Zealand Institute of Professional Photographers) and won me some clients as well. It has been fascinating to see a few of those images being rated “needs work.” Had I been a newcomer, my confidence would have been certainly a bit shaken.

What I realized is that an astrophotography shot which might be one of the current “cool” photos has more chances of winning me a 4 or 5-star vote.

 “Am I missing out on my peers’ affection because I don’t shoot astro shots?”

So what can we do as a community to reduce FOMO rising out of photography awards, peer assessments, and the newest gear in town? Here are some of my ideas.

Print

As a community, on the whole, we probably print fewer photos than a decade ago. Why is this relevant? Printing helps us see photos in sizes other than the screen in our palms. Printing photos makes them real; something you can touch and feel and associate your feelings with. I suggest we get back into printing photos with a new sense of purpose, even if it is just for ourselves. 

Put “Me" Back in the Equation

When was the last time you shot something experimental for yourself? Due to the fear of missing out, we are so consumed by what others want and the gear they have, we forget ourselves. Why not plan an amazing photo project or adventure, strictly to be not shared on social media? Also, let’s do more constrained challenges like shooting with one lens or one light only. Once in a while, let’s ditch our zooms (fear of missing out on a shot) and head out with an odd fixed-length lens.

Keep Learning

Often, it is not our gear or our imagination holding us back. It is a lack of education. The more we learn and grow, the more confident we will become in our craft and our gear. So let’s pick up those tutorials that we’ve been eyeing for a while and let’s invest in ourselves. 

It is important to get the physical feel of "community" back into the equation for photographers to learn and grow without going through FOMO.

Let’s Get Physical

Do you remember joining a photography club in school or university? This is where enthusiasts of all levels would come together and share their physical work and often discuss photos and techniques. Why not bring that culture back?

Let’s have some photographer friends over and rather than asking them to “bring a plate,” ask them to “bring a photo.” The idea is to give our peers a chance to understand contexts, discuss challenges and learn from each other with a dash of kindness. 

Another idea for online peer assessments could be to have a weighted vote system where for example, the vote of a more experienced pro from the same category as the photo could have a higher weight than a newcomer. Just a thought that probably “needs work.”

What are your thoughts on FOMO in photographers? Have you reduced or increased a particular behavior to help? Please share your experiences and suggestions in the comments section below and let’s begin a movement towards a happier photography community.

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8 Comments

Kyle Medina's picture

I don't see FOMO in any of these articles but more monkey see, monkey do and that social media has shown that a lot of people are a little narcissistic. Could even say just say Copy Cat Syndrome. Social media has accelerated everything, trends come and go so fast nowadays. We are trying to get ahead/recognized and copying is just the easiest but its short lived.

Shawk Parson's picture

agreed but the world has always worked on a "copy cat" basis since even before the advent of languages and alphabet, which are both the 1st and 4most means of communication since ancient times btw ... (hence the so many boring cliches' we get in literature for example! there's nothing wrong with the copied/repeated text itself in the majority of cases ... it's the repeat / rerun that makes it a cliche', don't you agree?)

so, 'copycatism' (to coin a silly phrase) cannot be avoided ... but with a little optimism, it can surely be 'guided' somehow, so the 'originals' wouldn't be neglected, or worse, be promoted under the copier's name instead of the original creator's ... and eventually even the copiers would / may learn how to be creative themselves instead of just copying ... (after all, isn't copying master painters artworks one of the 1st things art students HAVE TO do in art schools in order to 'learn' their own craft?)

all that said, however, i believe even 'creation and creativity' are both limited notions in the end and some people SHALL remain copiers their entire lives no matter what ...

yet, as long as they are aware of this 'sad' fact and are comfortable with it, and as long as they don't claim the rights of the original creator(s) they're copying as their own, i see nothing wrong with that really ... in fact, if when i copy some idea or even image style directly from someone else and mention it to the viewers of my own 'copy' too, i'm actually promoting and endorsing the original's creator and if that guy or gal is a truly open-minded person, s/he'd actually welcome the idea instead of feeling hurt about his/her copyrights having being infringed or something ... (that's why some artists and authors in particular, say it in their copyright notices that spreading their work around is allowed if the original source is also mentioned ...)

Phillip Breske's picture

This is one of the reasons, though not the primary reason, that I deleted my Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts last year. What was the point? I wasn’t getting any paying clients from those sources and I wasn’t selling any prints through them, and the vast majority of my time was spent checking to see if anyone had “liked” something I had posted. The privacy concerns and the never ending stream of drama were what really pushed me over the edge, but now I’m much more likely to grab my camera on any given morning and go out looking for something I want to shoot instead of something I think other people will like.

user-156818's picture

Exactly...And the majority of followers are other photographers with a case of FOMO. ;)

Shawk Parson's picture

understand your point perfectly ... but if you do have you own 'unique' website(s) then there's no harm in having a 'free backup' social media account as well ... (i use only one: Facebook as i can't handle more than one really ... not right now at least ...)

Phillip Breske's picture

There’s no harm in having that backup social media account ... unless, like me, you feel that Facebook et al are really doing more harm than good by selling the personal information of the users to anybody willing to pony up the cash to invade your entire life. Always remember that the business model of social media is to take money from advertisers in return for everything they know about you. And in order for that backup account to be useful in any way, it needs to be seen by your customers. If you don’t offer more and more information to the entity hosting the account, the algorithms they use to show you to your customers will keep you completely hidden from them.

Agree big time on the award section. Most of them are just money making schemes and some even allow judges to enter (forget which one as I haven't entered in a while and the excuse is we use blind judging).

Shawk Parson's picture

agreed with most points mentioned here ... and the award thing in particular, may sound a little too shallow or something ... but when the awards come from viewers like yourself (other photogs of any standing and NOT from a special board of 'pseudo-elites' or celebrity figures who often barely even qualify for their undeserved titles!) i'm not against it really simply it's based on the viewers' hearts rather than anything else ...