The Pressures of Social Media on Photographers

As we only hit the end of the first quarter of the year, I feel like I have experienced more pressure to be big on social media in 2018 than any other year. Partly due to the fact that as I progress as a photographer my critiques of my work become more strict, but also due to the influx of content about “how to be big on Instagram” and how ‘competition’ is at an all time high.

As smartphone cameras become better and professional cameras become cheaper, everyone has the opportunity to take an amazing photo that gets recognised by the masses. This makes getting regularly noticed as a photographer increasingly more difficult nowadays.

Does fast-paced social media demands put unnecessary pressures on us?

Does fast-paced social media demands put unnecessary pressures on us?

When, and why, does the pressure start?

I remember when I first started out as a landscape photographer and how excited I was. I saw places like YouTube and Instagram as potential goldmines for sharing my work and meeting like-minded people. Every Friday after work would be “photo Friday” – I’d have my camera bag in my car, ready to race to the location I thought about all day and chase down the amazing sunsets. I’d explore, and maybe find something I’d never seen before.

As soon as this new craze started, I realised I wanted this to be my job. I quickly tried to consume as much about photography as I could. I wanted to be compared to the Australian greats like Mark Gray and Luke Tscharke. I did my best to stick to a weekly upload schedule and I was happy when I got 50 likes or more. But even still, I didn’t really feel any pressure. At least not until…

One of the first sunset photos I can remember taking – something like this would never make the cut now!

One of the first sunset photos I can remember taking – something like this would never make the cut now!

I cracked and started a new Instagram account.

At the beginning of the year I quit my job to focus solely on building a photography business. My theory was that if I am able to dedicate more time to photography I would be able to publish more quality work and increase the amount of content I produce. And, of course, thinking that if I was able to post more to Instagram my account would grow and therefore spread my name in the photography world.

I made a YouTube video about deleting a lot of the content from my Instagram account because I was adamant that Instagram needed to be an online portfolio of my work. If a company found my account and saw my not so great moments they might be turned off working with me. I ended up deleting close to half of my feed to clean things up but I still wasn’t satisfied.

I started doing the dangerous thing of comparing myself to my inspirations, and after studying the feeds of people like Matty Hopkins and Alex Spurway, I decided that I needed a brand new account to make sure everything in my feed was my best work.

I had a plan. I would post 2 photos a day for a few days, then post daily. Once I had my feed built up, I’d change it to 1 photo every 3 days – this is the schedule I still stick with today.

Are daily uploads the path to success?

As of 2017, 95 million photos and videos are uploaded to Instagram every day. Along with forever changing algorithms and trends, it’s more than likely your photo won’t be found after the first day. Sure, you may get a few likes and comments trickling in, but the masses have moved on to newer things. So if photos are being left by the highway after 24 hours, why wouldn’t you be posting daily? The answer for me is simple, no one can produce their best work every day. I take photos every day and am lucky to have 3 that I’m happy with at the end of the week.

Someone that really stands out for me is Julien Folcher. He uploads 2 photos every day to Instagram and it always seems like he’s producing his best work. I contacted Julien about this, and he had this to say:

“It’s for sure pressure trying to produce this amount of quality content…that’s just the way it is. People are now used to seeing Instagram accounts putting out amazing content twice a day or more… and we’re not going back to the Flickr days when 3 images a month would do it.”

I’ve watched Julien’s audience grow very quickly in a short amount of time, and I have no doubt that daily uploads are partly responsible. But I think that setting your own strategy that suits your lifestyle is far more beneficial, as this will still put you in control of what content is shared under your name.

How this guy can upload work of this quality twice a day is the sign of dedication and hard work... or witchcraft, haven't decided yet!

How this guy can upload work of this quality twice a day is the sign of dedication and hard work... or witchcraft, haven't decided yet!

It depends how treat your social media accounts.

I’m of the firm belief that any platform you post your work on instantly becomes a portfolio whether you want it to be or not. Somewhere for someone to go to check out what you can do. It’s because of this that I am very strict as to what I post on Instagram and Facebook, and even more so with my website. I don’t want to half-ass it and throw up something just to meet my schedule, but I also don’t want to disappear for too long. And thus, another pressure begins.

When I mentioned this to Julien, he responded:

“Portfolio-style accounts are too static for the current pace of social media. If I show only my best work I will put only 20 images or so up there…If I wanna have a portfolio I’ll do a website…Instagram was never intended as a portfolio.”

It would be stupid to assume all photographers think the same, especially when it comes to determining what is “post-worthy”. Julien’s take on this interests me, because there’s definitely elements that I admire. I would love to share more of my work, but the pressure of that perfect portfolio always seems to take over.

No one nails it every time.

While it may seem like my favourite photographers can produce banger after banger without fail, it’s impossible for every photo they take to be a winner. Not only will conditions quickly change for the worse, but creative ruts are still a thing. I’m willing to bet they still have days or sometimes even weeks where they’re not happy with what they’re doing.

To no surprise, Julien agreed with me. In regards to bad photo shoots, he said:

“Believe me, I have plenty. Most memorable one was my trip to the Yellow Mountains in China. I booked flights to get there from Sydney. Got a cabin at the summit of the mountain for those 3 days. Woke up for every sunrise, stayed up there for every sunset… and came home almost empty handed.”

Even as a daily uploader Julien admits that he doesn’t restrict himself to sharing only his best work, and different people will have different opinions. I’ve shared photos I thought weren’t my best and some have become my most well received.

It works the other way too – one of my favourite black and white images has the least engagement.

It works the other way too – one of my favourite black and white images has the least engagement.

Julien’s top tips for nailing your photo shoots.

  1. Learn how to read cloud maps to plan better sunrise/sunset shoots – Skippy Sky and Cloud Free Nights are his personal choices.
  2. Changing lenses during a shoot can give you vastly different perspectives, which can result in coming home with more than 1 photo.
  3. Know the area well, not only in location but how it reacts with time and seasons. He says Sydney has the right amount of moisture and weather patterns for amazing autumn sunrises.

Is social media pressure just a natural part of photography now?

In my experiences with landscape photography, unlike portrait or wedding photography, a lot of our work and partnership opportunities comes from companies discovering our online portfolios. You can’t just stick up a flyer on the local notice board and draw in some clients, the stakes seem much bigger.

As much as I’d like these pressures not to exist, I have to be realistic and admit to myself that it’s just going to be a part of my job now. But I’d like to reserve those pressures for those trying to make it professionally. It’s easy for someone starting out in landscape photography (or any type of photography for that matter) to hear about all this pressure and not bother, but I think that’s such a shame. Photography, for me, started out purely as a passion to explore, create and share content and experiences; and it still is. And really, pressures aside, I think that’s the only reason we need.