There have been strong issues presented on the negative effects of social media, primarily dealing with the decline of social skills and the lack of privacy. I’m going to approach the subject from a professional nature photographer’s point of view. Social media has taken off in the photography industry with the simple premise: the more of an online presence you have, the more you grow your customer base.
The most inspirational photographers today have very little online presence at all. There are two reasons for this. The first – they have built a strong enough audience that they don’t need to rely on social media to build their client base, and second – they are photographers, not social media gurus. Their passion is to push their craft as far as they can and to produce art, not talk endlessly about it.
The simple reality is this – the most popular photographers on social media rarely produce compelling work. There are two reasons for this. The first – their photography alone is not enough to entice clients and thus, they have to build a persona to become a celebrity, if you will, to grow their client base. The second – they are no longer photographers but social media gurus. They have a new job description. Social media is a full-time job. I think it’s extremely difficult to be a great nature photographer and a social media guru at the same time.
I do want to point out that my statements do not apply to ALL photographers. They are generalizations that apply to many. My intention is not to offend an individual, and I will not be naming names in the article. There are always exceptions to the rule, and certainly it’s possible for a great nature photographer to have a strong online presence.
As a nature photographer running my own business, the more hours I put into it, the more I get out of it. I often will work 100 hours in a week, taking clients into the field, working 16 hours a day. When I return home from being in the field, there are images to process, websites to be updated, newsletters to put together, blog posts to write, clients to communicate with, emails to respond to, etc. It really is a job that you have to consciously take a step back from and create balance in your life, at least for me. I try to be the best spouse that I can be, and a present member of my family as much as possible. I’ve given up friends, other than photography friends where I can work in the field and hang out at the same time. The reality is – if I’m able to get a free night, I’m going to spend it with my spouse. Then there’s the health issue, eating right, working out, these things take time to do right. And of course… any other passions you may have. I’m a hardcore traveler and hiker, which in some cases, doesn’t always mix with photography. There’s the consumption of art – looking at peers’ images, reading books, watching film, watching quality TV, listening to music – I love multiple forms of art and consume as much of it as I can.
With all that being said, where in the scheme of things am I going to do a facebook post? How about a tweet, a Google + entry, a linkedin whatever, a flickr upload, a 500px upload, a pinterest pin, or an NPN post? Imagine participating in most of the above? How about multiple times of day? Welcome to the life of a social media guru. No thank you.
And here’s the worst part of all – most social media works off reciprocity. If you want comments, tweets, +1s, faves, etc., you have to do the same to others. Now we’re talking hours and hours of hard work commenting on other people’s images, most of it uninspiring.
This brings me to my first real social media experience – flickr. I joined flickr and followed a recipe laid out by previous flickr experts: make contacts, comment on their images and repeat. The more involved you get with others, the more they will be compelled to reciprocate and comment on your work. This formula is tried and true. Your comments grow from 10 to 20 to 30 and on up. The amount of time it takes to comment on others without saying: “nice work!” on each image, takes a great deal of time. You have to ask yourself this question – what’s it all for? Is this the most productive use of my time? Am I becoming a better person as a result? While it can lead to profit, I ultimately decided to back off, leaving zero comments. The result: reciprocity kicked in and my comments spiraled downward. I still post to flickr when I can and the best I can hope for is 20 – 30 comments. If it’s one of my best images I’ve ever created, the comments could push 40 – 50. If I was handed the greatest nature image ever made and posted it under my account, the comments would never push past 50. The same applies to all social media outlets. For Google +, each image is good for 2 – 5 comments and a + 25-30, regardless of the image. This is an incredibly important point. The work is not what carries your online presence, it’s the TIME you invest in it that does.
Facebook. Absolutely, positively, my least favorite social media tool out there. The interface is a nightmare, I get 100 friend requests a day from strangers, and despite having a fanpage with over 1,000 fans, I don’t believe I’ve ever received a client from facebook. One thing I do consistently across all social media platforms is unsubscribe from email notifications. I despise my inbox being flooded with social media junk. Yet despite unchecking every option in facebook, if someone invites me to a group, I don’t get the option to accept or decline, I’m automatically in and the first group update goes right to my email account whether I want it to or not. I then have to go into facebook and leave the group. I don’t look at feeds or other people’s pages, I only update when I have a new image to share. I receive 2 “likes” and that’s the end of it. Facebook has to go. After I post this article, I will delete my account from facebook and smile.
Google +. Did we need ANOTHER social media entry? Of course not. Photographers can’t help but gush over Google +. The main reason I believe this to be true is the opportunity to get in on a social media platform from the ground up. Try to become large on flickr right now. Good luck. Not going to happen. But Google + is so young that you have a huge opportunity to even the playing field. Google + even had a conference for photographers. People paid a lot of money to hear photographers (or social media gurus) tell them how Google + has benefited their business. Isn’t social media by nature transparent? Can’t you go to anyone’s Google stream and see what they’re up to? This seems like another way for social media gurus to cash in on their celebrity status.
Twitter. I like twitter. It is one of the best sources for news out there. I follow feeds that provide me information I care about as fast as possible. I’ve had to stop following photographers for the most part though. Tweets like – “become a fan of me on facebook” or “in case you missed it this a.m….”. Ultimately it’s photographers trying to build clientele. That’s not me, I’m not their market, and I shouldn’t be. I only tweet when I have something new to present to fans, primarily new images. I have no idea if 10 fans, 20 fans, 100 fans, or 0 fans follow-up on the tweet. And so it goes.
Blogging. I’m a huge fan of blogging. I think the creation of an article discussing one’s work, passions, travels, etc., is a rewarding experience and something I absolutely need to do more of. I have great admiration for the quality photographer bloggers out there, especially the ones that are constantly on the road. It takes a great deal of dedication to keep a blog going, and it’s something I strive for.
I’ve come back to this article a few times in the past couple of months and I’m anxious to finish and create a blog post. These last few paragraphs are being written on a flight from Boston to Seattle, returning home after two weeks of photographing fall color in New England. I get two days at home before hitting the road for a month. My schedule includes a group workshop in Leavenworth, a private workshop in the Southwest and back to back workshops in Zion National Park. I won’t participate in social media while I’m gone but instead, will focus all of my energy on my clients in the field. I wondered when the day would come when social media would be a choice for me, when being a professional photographer would bring a healthy income and building a client base would no longer be a great challenge that I relied on social media for. It’s been a great year for my business and the clients are coming. I strive to run the best nature photography workshops in the business, and my hard work is paying off. I still aim to get the word out and have people read my testimonials and inquire about my workshops and I recognize social media is one strategy. My short term goal is to delete my facebook account, post on flickr, 500px, and Google + and notify with Twitter. I believe building a strong blog will have the most benefit to my online presence, and allow me to create through writing.
For those of you that found your way to this article, thanks for taking the time to read it. I don’t imagine there will be too many of you for after all, I suck at social media:)