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?”
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?
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.