Hang on a minute I just need to scroll past these 50 images in super quick time, like, like, scroll, like, oh hang on that one deserves a comment "awesome work dude", like, scroll .. Oh there's one from that guy I really like, best double tap before I've even looked at the picture ….
And so it goes on ….
Sound familiar? Sadly I think it has almost become a way of life these days and what is more worrying is that the above is being perpetrated, quite often, by photographers themselves.
A Double Sided Problem
First and foremost can you please tell me what you, as a photographer, really get out those hundred likes and extra 20 followers gained after you have posted an image? And I'm not talking about potential engagement with brands here, I'm talking about what you, on a personal level, feel you achieve when you see someone has liked your picture? It’s an honest question and one I don’t think we really ask ourselves often enough. We simply watch the likes roll in and somehow convince ourselves we are heading in the right direction.
Okay you could argue that if someone who you highly respect clicks the like button on one of your images you may get a little warm and fuzzy feeling in the bottom of your stomach (I kind of did when Charlie Waite liked a few of my images)
Don't you want something more? I personally would give all of those up for at least 1 person to properly engage on even one of my images, to provide some proper critique, good or bad, as I really feel that is how we can grow as a photographer. And that's the critical point here. Social currency today is absolutely meaningless, in fact less than meaningless when you realise that a good percentage of those likes and comments, and even to a degree followers, are as hollow as an Easter egg .
And then let's reverse things for a moment. That image that you, the viewer, have just clicked the like button on and scrolled past in an instant. Have you ever considered what possibly went into the making of that image. It could be you are looking at an image which was weeks, perhaps months in the making. Meticulous planning of tide times, sunrise and sunset times, pouring over weather charts and OS maps, only to climb that mountain or walk that coastal path in the rain for yet another failed attempt. And then to do it all again the next day, and the next.
And we click like and move on, barley registering what we have looked at. I bet we would even struggle to remember that image a mere 24 hours later?
Arse or Elbow?
What I believe makes this problem even worse is that a good percentage of engagement on images posted by those with a large following (10k or more) are liked before the viewer has even considered what they are looking at. I remember browsing on YouTube one evening when a popular landscape photographer dropped his latest video. A few seconds later I clicked over to the video and was surprised, despite the video being 9 minutes long (And this being 30 seconds after the video was posted), to already see 18 likes and 2 comments (both of which said fantastic video, love your work, or words to that effect).
And the reference to arse or elbow? Well I would love to take a photographer with say 20k followers and setup an online gallery with perhaps 12 images, each an abstract image of their arse or elbow. No words, just images, all taken in under a minute with an iPhone, heck why not in poor lighting too. I bet you the love train would go into overdrive irrespective of the subject matter or indeed the overall image itself.
I have around 1000 followers on YouTube and around the same on Instagram. Personally speaking I'd like to keep it there as I believe as the number of followers grows much beyond this the true engagement you receive on your work starts to diminish.
I Have a Cunning Plan
So I've decided to eat my own dog food by ensuring that if I'm going to like a picture on social media, then I need to take the time to properly view it and provide thoughtful feedback to the photographer. I'm not quite sure how I'm going to do that given the combination of free time along with my dislike of writing too much via the mobile phone. Still, I think for starters I'll take between 3 and 5 images each week and look to provide my feedback on those. I’m hoping that the feedback I provide will encourage the photographer, even when that feedback perhaps questions the image or my own thoughts on potential improvement.
I'm going to assume that as I look to provide my honest feedback on images it may not go down too well and may even result in me loosing a few followers here and there. In fact thinking about it, perhaps this plan will actually help me to achieve my goal of having a constant of around 1000 followers on social media.
And in return I want you to be honest about my images. Don't just click like and move on. Take time to consider it, tell me what you like, and more important what don't like or what you think is wrong?
I believe, while it may be painful at times to hear, if more of us were doing this we could all take real concrete benefits from whatever social media platform we are posting our images to.