Many of us have been there, some are on their way—the race for excellency. Invariably, we compare ourselves to other photographers and try to imitate or improve on their pictures, leaving our own vision on the sideline.
Often we seek the approval of other photographers, even if we don’t know them personally. Social Media is THE way to go and present your pictures, get approval and show you are better than the competition.
Or is it? (crickets…)
For a while now, I have sat back to contemplate what I like about photography. Is it the satisfaction of being seen? Is it the fame and glory? Is it the knowledge that I am a better photographer than someone else?
Outlook on the future
These are all questions that stifle the pleasure of photography for me. When I started in photography, some 45 years ago as a kid, the only approval I was seeking was that of my parents. I was the one taking the vacation pictures, so they better turn out “good”. I took the pictures, but they paid for them.
A legitimate separation of responsibilities . Once I started paying for my own pictures, film, paper, chemicals and gear, I felt I could do what I wanted until the money ran dry by the end of the month. My pictures started to change subjects. Things I would never try with regular shots now became a goal.
Photographical prowess (1982)
Pictures of waterdrops, closeups of electronics and whatnot. Nothing my parents would have any interest in. Or anybody else for that matter. The pleasure of photography was there in full force. Just trying to get that specific shot of that “something” that seemed out of reach.
Never had this one before…
Fast forward to a few years back, when Social Media reared its (ugly) head. Suddenly it was possible to get a large audience for my pictures. As any “good boy” would do, only the best pictures were to be posted there. Waiting for the millions of “likes” from the world.
The road to Social Media fame
Pictures garnered just a few views and even fewer likes, hearts or thumbs-ups. I was devastated that nobody cared for the wonderful pictures I had crafted. A real existential crisis followed. How was it possible to not have anyone even like those pictures? I had spent so much time creating them!
Tied to others’ standards
So I started to imitate other photographers. Their style, their subjects and their gear. My gear was somewhat underpowered, so upgrades were necessary on a regular basis. Only the best for my pictures, right? I invested in programs (ok, the pirate bay helped out quite a bit too), gear, books and more.
I was “following” other (successful) photographers as well, trying to see what they did that I did not. They took pictures, and so did I. So where was the difference?
Creativity under pressure
Then I posted some throwaway shots, I had no intention of doing anything with them. The likes on those shots just kept pouring in! Apparently, that was the key to success. Until it wasn’t. A few more throwaway shots and my “audience” was as invisible as before.
That was a few years ago. By then, my doubts about my photography were immense and I was ready to throw in the towel. I went on vacation and just took pictures for myself. Things that I liked, that I wanted to remember. The pleasure was back.
The pressure of pleasing others and seeking their approval was gone too. That was the time when I decided to ignore what went on on Social Media. No matter the platform, I started on Flickr, then a bout of Instagram, Vero, Facebook and more, and none of them mattered anymore.
The only allowable pressure
Today, I take pictures for my own pleasure, pictures that may give me some pleasure in a few years, remembering the moments and the effort going into taking those pictures. Remembering standing in icy cold water for a shot, or staving off the hungry vampires in the night. The situation may not have been very pleasant on the spot, but the result was well worth it.
The right place for my “competition”
By now, seeking anyone’s approval for my shots is not gone, but very low on my priorities list. The top is my own pleasure in taking the shots. The race to the bottom has ended.
Until next time…