Why do you photograph? What compels you to raise a camera to your eye, compose a scene and press the shutter?
If you’ve never asked yourself this question, I think you owe it to yourself to do so. It’s something you should really sit with for a few moments, and then revisit in subsequent days, weeks and months.
The question of why anyone does photography has always had merit, but I do believe that the implications are much different for modern photographers than they were for those who lived and worked prior to the existence of social media.
Social Media And The Psychology Of Likes
Everyone likes Likes, it’s human psychology 101. People enjoy feeling validated, that their creations are valued, that what they present to the world has meaning to someone other than themselves. Of course this idea of validation isn’t a 21st century concept — it would be crazy to think that photographers in the 1950s didn’t care if no one liked or respected their work.
But a shift in consciousness accompanied the advent of social media (and technology in general). The sudden accessibility of photography allowed everyone to be a photographer. The ubiquity of social media gave every photographer a lane to seek validation in the form of Likes.
The stakes are higher than ever as Likes have become something of a status symbol and social media math equates Likes and followers with photography skill. The more Likes and followers one has, the better a photographer one must be.
In reality, it doesn’t add up. Most people understand this. But the way social media works can quickly turn people unreasonable, which can have a profound impact on the way they answer the question, “Why do you photograph?”
The Problem With Shooting For Likes
When you post a photo online and then sit back and watch the Likes come flooding in, it’s a great feeling. You feel…validated. There’s nothing wrong with that. The problem arises when you begin to cater to those Likes.
Placing too much value in the opinions of total strangers who may or may not have a decent grasp of what constitutes good photography can muddy your perception of your own work.
That is a problem.
I have always been and will continue to be a strident proponent of trusting your own creative vision first and foremost. Yes, it’s important to glean inspiration from others; yes, there will be times when you have to consider the needs and wants of clients. But no matter what/who/where you’re shooting, your work should always reflect you in one way or another.
Once you fall into the trap of shooting for Likes you lose yourself — each time you raise your camera to your eye to compose a scene, you’re composing it for someone else. Each time you press the shutter button, you’re pressing it for someone else.
When you photograph for the sole purpose of garnering the likes of others, you’re surrendering your creative integrity to an algorithm.
Never do that.
As Shakespeare’s Polonius says in Hamlet, “This above all: to thine own self be true.”