The art of landscape photography has drastically changed over the years with the onslaught of social media. The craft has transitioned from creating art of locations that speak to you, to chasing the latest trendy location that everyone else is posting on the internet. It feels like we are just collecting landscape photos of icons and no longer making truly meaningful art. So here is my question:
Do we recognize social media simply as a place to share our art and creativity?
Or do we let the number of likes and shares dictate what we create?
In other words, do we use social media as a tool or do we allow it to use and control our landscape photography? Don’t get me wrong, I think that social media is a necessary evil for landscape photographers. I wanted to share my thoughts on the philosophy behind our landscape photography and see if it changes your perspective.
How does Social Media influence our Photography?
First, let’s take a look at how social media influences our landscape photographers.
Social media inspires us to create and explore
When I’m sitting around the house scrolling though pages of other photographer’s work, I use it as a motivator to pick up my own camera and go outside. It’s fun to see what images others are taking around the world and places I would like to see. I have a very long list of places I have seen online that I want to visit one day.
I use social media as a tool to check on the conditions of a location. There is a beach on the other side of the island that gets mossy rocks a couple weeks a year. I have hopped on Instagram and reviewed the hashtags for that location to see if the moss is growing or not. That way it saves me multiple long drives and hikes.
Social media disconnects us from ‘the experience‘
I could still get in the car and go explore and spend endless days checking on that beach, but I don’t. I suppose I can blame the “laziness” on technological advances. Maybe it’s cheating the process of creating a photograph and the experiences/stories behind its creation. That’s part of what creating art is… the experience. Social media seems to be eliminating the trials and tribulations involved in creating an image compared to how it was years ago.
Social media drives online sharing
What happens to a particular photograph that you love? Instead of printing it, it gets shared on social media. Instead of seeing it everyday in your home, you see it online for two seconds, then it disappears into the masses and is forgotten. I fully understand the importance of promoting oneself via social media, but sometimes I think photographers are getting lost in digital land. They are forgetting about their art and the importance of expressing oneself though an image.
For some people, photography is a full-time business and I fully understand that the monetization of an art form changes our motivations. I rarely see people connecting a story or meaning with their work anymore. People are just uploading their images with nothing connecting themselves to their art.
Does the Number of Likes and Shares Drive Our Photography?
Now, with a full knowledge of how social media influences the behavior of a landscape photographer, let’s take a look at the next part of the question: Do we let the number of likes and shares drive our landscape photography?
To answer, we need to find out what makes a photo special and whether/not these special photos get shared on social media.
What makes a photo special?
Why do some photos have more meaning to you than others? Is it because of the unique experience finding a perfect location for landscape photography? Or what is a challenge that you really enjoyed? Did you spend hours wandering trails, getting lost multiple times, attacked by bats and a cactus, etc.? The journey getting to your location is the exuberance behind your photograph.
Are the people you were with when you took the photo the reason why the image is important to you? Shared experiences with others on your photographic adventures can create bonds and memories that last a lifetime. I have experienced strange confluences of events with my friends when I happened to have a camera along for the ride. It feels as though the only people that truly appreciate those images are the ones that shared the experience with you.
Photos that are NOT shared on Social Media
Are there really special photos that you keep tucked in your pocket and never intend to publicly share to the internet world? What do you hope to gain by sharing vs. not sharing a particular image? Some images just don’t translate well to the general public even though, as an artist, you love them. They might fail to convey an experience or a feeling and just get lost in the jumble of a daily feed, forgotten in ten seconds.
The general public has a tendency to react more strongly to iconic locations with vibrant sunsets and intense weather conditions. So the landscape photos that have a meaning to the landscape photographer are not always shared online.
The series of images in this article are all very precious to me because of the people that I was surrounded with. I was very reluctant to share the images online because it would be hard to express the feelings behind the photos. I can truly say that I am not alone in feeling this way.
There are also some landscape photography locations that I will never photograph. Those locations feel sacred to me even though they have been photographed and seen by millions of eyes. I would rather just respect nature and the location and be 100% present. I personally feel like I do not want to “take” anything from these places even though many others have. It’s a personal choice on what an individual considers to be sacred in nature. I don’t feel like I have anything to gain by adding an image of these places to my portfolio or posting them online. Nature is where my spiritual connection lies and sometimes it feels best to just put the camera down and not take a single photograph.
Photos that are shared on Social Media
So these special photos are not always shared on social media. Instead, what you do see on social media are photos that can produce a strong response. In other words, popular iconic landscape photography locations that make the viewers go WOW!! In my experience, landscape photographers get so buried into the monetization or popularity on social media, that they are losing touch with themselves and what makes their art unique. The flavor on Instagram this week is “xyz” , then everyone runs out to conform with the masses to be popular: This photograph of Horseshoe Bend got 20,000 likes. I better run out and take the same photograph to get the likes and views.
This is when social media becomes ugly and I want to cancel all my social accounts and go on a digital detox. It’s times like these when social media kills art. If playing the game to win likes and shares becomes the most important thing, then there is a problem.
It is time to be honest…What do you shoot when you go out?
Do you pursue landscape photography to chase the experience, capture the moments, and pursue challenges? Or do you shoot knowing it will get accolades from the world…even though you have millions of these photos in your portfolio? Who is in charge of your landscape photography? You or the social media?
I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.