Creativity, Social Media, And The Voices In Your Head
In 2007, I captured my first photographs ever on a beach in Oregon. I did not personally know any photographers and had no history of photography growing up. Honestly, I only became one myself by chance, fate or blind luck but that’s a story for another day. I lived in Portland at the time and a swell of landscape photographers, many whom you may follow on social media today, was just beginning to take shape and gain momentum on a website called Flickr. For those of you new to photography related social media, the word Instagram had not been invented yet in 2007. Without 500px, the last place you and your creativity were rated by your peers was most likely your high school yearbook. Moreover, the only colored thumb people were proud to have was a green one.
Those first few years as a photographer hold very fond memories for me because my personal vision, creative process, and motivation were all pure. I photographed exactly what I wanted, when I wanted for no reason at all. My only measurement of success for one of my images was my own personal experience creating it and how it made ME feel. Maybe you remember that feeling too. If you feel that way today, hold on tight with both hands for as long as you possibly can.
It would be difficult to argue the fact that the world of social media has brought incredible advancements to photography and photographers alike. For many of us, without it, our entire audience would be comprised of close friends and family members. Some of you would simply be charging up the stairs of your parents basement yelling Mom! Check out this composition! Thank goodness for Facebook….am I right?
If you are like me, finding joy in photography has changed your life. Your excitement and search for knowledge evoked by this creative outlet has led you to try to absorb all the information you can find. And social media happily force feeds it to you at every turn. As a new photographer, it is natural to seek out the work of others who are more experienced than you. What you find will either motivate you further or begin to water the seeds of self doubt in your mind.
It is important during this process to remind yourself that you are just beginning to scratch the surface of your own creativity. Those you look up to now doubted themselves as well in the beginning. Today, thanks to social media and the relentless barrage of high quality imagery we face daily many are afraid to show anything but their very best work, once again placing restrictions on their creativity and their art.
The one most important piece of advice I can give a new photographer is the following. Never allow anyone to tell you that you can’t, you won’t, or you shouldn’t. And believe me, they will try. There are a large number of photographers on social media today who seem to think that THEY know how YOU should express your art and creativity. They speak as if the opinions and ideas that they have are concrete fact and share them openly. This is done many times at the expense of a photographer who has yet to find their own artistic voice. Pay absolutely no attention to these often egotistical people. Understand that because they have placed these limits on themselves that they are often unsatisfied with their own work.
Create exactly what you want to and how you want to regardless of how you think others may perceive it. The greater the level of freedom and creativity you allow yourself in your art, the more personal and rewarding it will become. It is crucial during this period that you follow your own vision. Do your best to filter out the noise.
Finally, regardless of your status on the social media ladder, or where you are on your path as a photographer, please do not allow yourself to believe my last note. The value of attention you receive online should never be greater than your own personal experience and happiness. Receiving praise through likes, thumbs up, high fives or fist bumps may make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside in the short term. However, these forms of “click and run” praise offer little value in the real world. Often, they inflate egos to the point of no return. Do not allow yourself to believe that your popularity online directly equates to the quality of your work. Furthermore, it doesn’t equate to your value as a person.
If you see imagery online that you enjoy, take the time to understand WHY you enjoy it. If possible, share those honest feelings with the artist who created it. Participating in this process will help your creativity. It will help you as an artist more than any award, accolade, or praise you will ever receive online.
If you would like to see more of my work, please visit my website and until next time..Happy Shooting!
Well said Aaron, you mirror my feelings exactly. I publish my amateur work on 500px and from the beginning made a point not to chase likes and not to exchange votes with whom liked my images, unless their work really moved me. As a result, my galleries are now full of carefully selected images that never fail to inspire me; I may not have lots of followers, but really hope those that continue following me do so because of the quality of what they find … I sure do like what I see from the photographers I carefully chose to follow myself. You are one of those, by the way :-)
Aaron, great article mate. Said some things that definitely needed to be said.
P.S. ripper images :-)
Thank you for taking time to write this beautiful piece. You have articulated these thoughts in such a lucid manner. Looking back at journey I made over the last few years within the context of your articulation makes so much sense, and hopefully makes way for a better journey in the future. And I believe this applies equally to photography as well as anything else that one may pursue in life.
Well said Aaron! As someone who recently decided to ditch my corporate life and become a full time photographer, I feel fortunate to be shooting what I want and that my love of photography has led me to discover so many great places. I view social media as a frustrating double edged sword. It’s great to interact with fans and find new inspiration (I did see this article shared on Facebook after all), but there’s also the constant need to grow my audience with the end goal to simply get more eyeballs on my work, whether they hit the “like” button or not. What I have learned is that their seems to be no rhyme or reason what people will like on the interwebs (especially instagram) and that also carries over into the stuff I sell at art shows. It always surprises me what people will buy. Hence, I get to keep shooting what I want and not worry too much about what others think cause right now I simply cannot figure it out!
This para sums up most of social media “Professional” Photography pages and groups.
“…Finally, regardless of your status on the social media ladder, or where you are on your path as a photographer, please do not allow yourself to believe that the value of attention you receive online is greater than your own personal experience and happiness. While receiving praise through likes, thumbs up, high fives or fist bumps may make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside in the short term, these forms of “click and run” praise offer little value in the real world and often inflate egos to the point of no return. Do not allow yourself to believe that your popularity online directly equates to the quality of your work or your value as a person. If you see imagery online that you enjoy, take the time to understand WHY you enjoy it and if possible, share those honest feelings with the artist who created it. Participating in this process will help you as an artist more than any award, accolade or praise you will ever receive online.”
Never let those “experts” and all bubbly images with thousands of like pull You back with the way You make images, Whats makes You happy, that’s all that matters.
Thank you Xain, I am happy to hear that this article struck a chord with you and that you enjoyed it. Have a great day!
Great article Aaron, and I love your work! Thank you for writing it.
Thank you Mr. Metternich! I appreciate the compliment and your time taken to read the article.