The 5 Stages of a Social Media Photographer
Once upon a time, I called my day job (the one that made money) a rat race, whereas I enjoyed photography. When I first started with photography, I used to view it as getting away from the rat race. However, that all changed with the ability to post photos on social media. Today, you have an instant audience for your photos. So why not capitalize on it? Even it means trying to escape one rat race just to enter another different one with photography on social media.
This all starts with your mom (and/or your friends) making a comment about how you have an eye for photography.
Friends and Family Stage
I have just posted a snapshot on my favorite social media platform and my mom makes a comment about how great the photo is. If she’s feeling really generous, she even throws in a few more kind words about how she thought that I was very artistic even as a little kid when I was drawing stick dinosaurs. She shares the photos with all of her friends, your friends, and your relatives. In a few days I see few comments on my photo suggesting that I should really do this for a living.
Hmm… am I that good? I must be for so many people to think that I should be doing this for a living. It would be so cool to be a photographer and travel to amazing places. The best part would be the look on my boss’s face when I turn in my resignation. Yep, I’m convinced that this is my destiny calling. This is my fate.
The first thing I must do is get serious about photography. That means that I have to carry the same gear as professional photographers. I go on social media and join every photography group that I can find and start sending friend requests to all the famous social media photographers (real and self proclaimed) out there. Inevitably I come to a conclusion that the only thing that is holding me back is my two-month old DSLR. It is practically a dinosaur… I simply can’t live without my precious… a brand new mirrorless system. I engage in endless debates about megapixels, ISO, noise, and dynamic range even though I am still shooting in P-mode and bracketing every shot just in case.
There are only two problems: money and convincing my better-half (who has a more realistic outlook on life). Perhaps a massage at her favorite spa with her best friends would do the trick? In about two weeks I have worked out a strategy to acquire the new gear. This strategy includes a detailed plan (with timing, flow charts and backup plans) on getting my spouse’s approval, eating soup for the next two months, and giving up my visits to Starbucks. If these things fail, there is always that credit card to fall back on.
This self-promotion stage is my favorite; it starts after I get my hot new gear. I can’t really be blamed for this stage… it’s perfectly natural for me to capitalize on my 15 minutes of fame. When I have my brand new Sony A7rII or that Fuji X-T1, how can I resist taking a photo of myself on a beautiful island of Maui? And I make sure to include the camera… after all, my photography expertise is defined by my ability to go to cool places and by the price of the gear I carry.
Soon I have selfies of me in every place imaginable – in airports, from a plane, on a mountain, on a beach, swimming in a lake… and of course in a bathroom mirror. And all of these selfies are taken in my signature pose with some cool name. I am attempting to build a brand name for myself and nothing says #JayPatelPhotography better than a self-defined selfie pose. Ultimately in this stage, I end up taking just as many selfies as I take photos that matter. And all of my snapshots (most of them taken in the P-mode with that brand new expensive mirror camera) and selfies end up in every photography group that I’ve joined.
Going Pro Stage
Now that I have my new mirrorless system, there is no time to waste. It’s time to travel to cool places or get a new client lined up to take some spectacular shots. After taking about 200000+ photos, I discovered that two of my photos are quite good and I submit them to National Geographic or Google Chromecast to be published. I strike out there but am published on a little known blog that is making the list of top 50000 social media photographers. This is it… I am convinced that I am ready to quit my job and go pro!!
And now I am completely and utterly consumed with making this happen. I try to get clients, get a website going, print business cards, and I even try to recruit my mom (who started all this in the first place) to get photography clients. Moreover, I am obsessed with quitting my day job and becoming a full time photographer. I stay up late at night working on my website, learning Photoshop, sending emails to editors of Outdoor Photographer and trying to find new ways to promote my work by generating even more spam on social media….if that’s even possible after the selfie stage.
After spending every waking moment for last few months (some of do this for years…decades?) trying to become a full-time photographer, I realized that all my efforts to get thousands of followers, millions of like, and billions of photo views has resulted in less than 10% of my total income coming from photography. And most of that is from my friends and family purchasing my prints or hiring me to shoot their wedding. And one day my spouse (who still has better outlook on life) points out that in trying to get away from one rat race, I have totally immersed myself into another one. What the heck? I can’t believe that I am doing this to myself…. and with this realization, I welcome myself into the Nirvana stage.
In this stage, the best thing about photography is the experience. First, I love taking photos, exploring creativity, learning new technique, and even making mistakes. Second, I start looking at mistakes as opportunities to learn. Third, I am not afraid to share my mistakes on social media because I’m no longer driven to get into the social media rat race. It really feels good to pick up the camera and not worry about your performance.
I would love to claim that I am NOT your typical social media photographer, but that would be lie. I have gone through all of these stages. Do you see yourself as a social media photographer? Feel free to leave a comment below… if you dare. ;)
I have gone through stage 1 and stage two, working on the other three stages between the other rat race I live as a veterinary technician 🐩🐎🐈😸
Thanks Jay. Funny and some of it spot on. At 63 after realizing I had better keep my small food business, still need to save up for a mirrorless! I absolutely love putting on that ND filter and shooting in Manual to come up with something beautiful or shooting my guy peddling his bike through a mud puddle freezing the action. Life is at it’s best!
Jay – I am so not into selfies! I mean really? To me it is the epitome of self absorption. I had more than a few chuckles from your article especially the need for the latest and greatest but still shooting in P mode. And I think I was born in the Nirvana stage. My parents could never let me forget that my first roll of film developed had nothing but pictures of swans on it (I had to get that perfect shot) – and they were taken while I was on a school outing. I think they were worried I had no friends to photograph instead.
Brilliant! So funny Jay. I have for sure been at several of those stages a couple times. I usually talk some sense into myself. I figure it this way, I love being in nature and nature photography helps me do that on an intimate level. However, if it was a job and I depended on the money to raise my family it would probably turn from passion to, well, another job. I’ll keep my day job but pretend I’m a pro in my own little world…..hahaha.
Great article. I have gone through most of this, except I realize that I cannot make a living taking photos. I am keeping my “day” job :)
Loved this post, Jay, though I skipped a few stages (absolutely no selfies) before coming to the realization that obsession is a very bad state to be in. So am now just enjoying making memories with my little Sony alpha a6000. The Canons are sitting on the shelf except when I go birding. Life is so much more fun. Thanks for posting this.
Very funny and so true, I just posted something with a familiar ring to it this morning.
Nice post….I take photos because I love being outside with a camera. It is relaxing….and clears your mind.
Hahaha this post is absolutely BRILLIANT!! I love the confessions, and that first picture, inspirational… Well I can relate – as my Mum officially has one of my photos hanging on her wall – very large!
Also, one stage I cringe seeing is the ‘contrast stage’…