We all want to improve our photography and get recognition for our work. However, there are two big distractions that we need to push aside to achieve success in our art. The first obstacle is the largest. Usually hailed as the key to photographic success, it has more disadvantages than helpful attributes.
When I first set up my photography business, I went on courses where the trainers insisted that getting a good Instagram following was important for enterprises to succeed. That might be good advice for businesses wanting to promote themselves. But is it good advice for photographers needing to improve their skills?
Most established photographers will advise you not to ask friends or relatives for feedback because they won't want to offend you. The same applies to Instagram followers. There are some exceptions, but most people in this world are friendly, and they click to like a photo and praise the photographer no matter how good or bad it is. Moreover, most followers don't even have the skills to see simple mistakes, like a wonky horizon or an oversaturated development. This praise gives the photographer a false sense of how skilled they are. I've encountered a few photography business start-ups that have failed because the photographers have had an over-inflated idea of their skills. Consequently, their reputations were quickly ruined.
It seems like that getting a big following is, for many, that is the be-all and end-all of photography. But I argue that is the wrong way around. Getting more followers on whatever platform they choose to use should be a result of success. Working on getting lots of followers by any method means that one has a lot of followers, nothing more than that. It doesn't automatically equate to being a fabulous photographer.
Since as far back as 2007, numerous research papers have shown that the primary desire of preteens is to be famous. Before that time, youngsters considered acceptance as part of a group most important. Previously, fame was a long way down the list. Fifteen years later, those hungry for celebrity status are now adults, and that deeply-embedded idea of fame still drives their ambitions. So, they seek a big following on Instagram, Twitter, and so forth to meet that fickle need. Whenever there is a demand, businesses will create a supply to fulfill it. Consequently, big social media platforms have delivered fame. But it is shallow and meaningless, and those that crave recognition are just being played for fools.
Followers and likes have become a kind of currency. People crave people clicking on those little hearts and follow buttons. It is like winning a reward when it happens. Of course, Meta knows this, and their algorithms work, so the more one posts, the wider the picture's visibility will be and the more "likes" we get. But, apart from the short-lived endorphin kick, it lacks any real value. Those posted photos are quickly forgotten, lost in a sea of inane drivel. Furthermore, being followed by those who waste their days scrolling through their IG feed is worthless.
The social media owners want you to yearn for a big following because they know it will bring in revenue from advertising. They want your viewers to click on ads they see while viewing your images. So successful were they at promoting the idea that having more followers was all-important that it led to the ridiculous business of people buying an audience. That is perverse. Once was a time when audiences would pay to see art.
There's nothing sinister in their motivations. Like every company, Meta, the company that owns Facebook and Instagram, solely aims to make money. Our photos are nothing more than a free asset for them and a means to generate revenue.
The second distraction that holds us back is the idea of a new camera.
Over the last year, I have written a series of well-received articles on composition and using the principles of art and design in photography. I learned things when I researched them, and I wished that readers would, in turn, gain something from that knowledge. Judging by the comments and the high number of readers, they have succeeded. I get a lot of satisfaction too, more than I ever get from likes on Instagram.
However, when I write a camera review, the readership is twice or three times that of an educational article. Similarly, I have had the privilege of interviewing some fabulous photographers willing to share their knowledge. But they get even fewer readers.
What can I deduce from that? Maybe, there are a lot of people wanting to buy a camera. Perhaps, readers already know everything there is to know about Itten's contrasts or using armature in composition, or what successful photographers have to say. But I doubt it. I think it is more likely that many people become hooked on the idea that gear is everything in photography. The manufacturers' marketing departments have access to similar psychologists as Meta, and they know how to press our buttons.
There's nothing wrong with being excited about the latest advancements 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 bundled with the latest cameras, but that knowledge won't do much to improve their photography.
Albert Einstein famously said, "The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know." That is true of every walk of life, including photography.
Every great photographer went on a voyage of discovery. The earliest pioneers worked out which silver salts they should use, Cartier-Bresson had his exploration of the golden section and the decisive moment, and Ansel Adams' worked with Fred Archer in devising their zone system. They all learned as they went along. Furthermore, they also went out of their way to encourage and help others by generously sharing what they knew.
We have never had such an excellent opportunity to learn to become better photographers as we have now. Besides the vast raft of books available, there are countless articles and videos online, plus clubs and organizations where we can share knowledge. Indeed, Fstoppers has a vast array of educational materials.
The opportunities to learn are never-ending. But like those IG scrollers, many photographers don't concentrate their time in the right places. Instead of learning, they waste hours worshiping in the temple of the cult of the camera: All Hail the Canikony! Just like the false belief that Instagram will bring them fame and riches, they hold dear the thought that obeying the scriptures of the camera marketers will help them in that ambition.
Do you agree with me or dispute what I say? Do you think an Instagram following is the pinnacle of achievement? Is learning about 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 stop photographers from progressing? Most importantly, where would you advise those new to photography to spend their time?
It will be great to hear your comments below.