These days, it sometimes feels like photography is all about likes and shares and less about craftsmanship. Of course, the problem with likes and shares is that people get desensitized by the sheer amount of images they are seeing.
This, in turn, means that a great photo may well be scrolled past as it no longer stands out.
Standing Out In A Social World.
What’s the solution to this? Of course, to get the likes and shares back you need to make those photos stand out from the crowd.
While we are all on more or less a level playing field when it comes to taking the image, some of us are more prepared than others to edit that image too and very often beyond the limits in order to get an extra like or two.
This leads to a sort of image arms race where images are constantly pushed beyond the boundaries of what looks natural to a point where some of them would make Dali look a realist.
So why should we shoot more natural looking images?
Nail The Shot
Great composition will always win over excessive editing. Sure you can push a bland image in post to stand out, but that makes it striking, not necessarily great.
A great image will stand out even if posted with no editing. It may not get the likes and shares but as a photographer do you want self-satisfaction in your own good work or other people’s adulation in mediocre work?
If you shoot to get it right in camera, you will be improving your photographic skills much more than rescuing a bland shot in post-production.
It is not only about the composition, if the light is not what you had hoped, shoot a style appropriate to that light. For example shoot black and white on a dull day rather than over-saturating color in post to make it look sunny.
Subtle Is Beautiful
Sunrises and sunsets are one of the most common forms of images that are pushed in editing. The beauty of the open and closing hours of daylight is often in its golden diffused light and long pleasing shadows.
Often people reduce exposure and increase contrast to make the sky look deep red and the sun well defined. This, however, loses all the subtlety of the light, making the shadows merely black shapes and losing any definition in the rest of the image.
Much of the time, light is subtle, nature is subtle. We should try to represent that beauty by being subtle and paying homage to nature rather than imposing our own notion of what it should look like on social media.
The Film Look
Film and the film look is returning and that, in my opinion, is a good thing. Even the most saturated of film stock such as Kodachrome or Velvia gave much more subtle results than many of today’s highly processed images.
Even if not shooting on film we can still try to achieve the film look with digital. By doing so we will be creating a much more natural looking image and pushing our own creative boundaries with the camera and not so much in Photoshop.
The Big Print Test
One of the reasons for the proliferation of highly processed and composited images is that the vast majority of them rarely get seen on anything bigger than a few hundred pixels in a social media feed.
There they can look great but attempt to blow them up to a large format print and these images will fall apart. Artifacts, banding and noise will all start to rear their ugly heads making the image look a lot less impressive than it did on Facebook.
The irony is that one of the key driving factors of more megapixels is the ability to print bigger. The reality is, that very few people still print their creations. Even if you do not intend to print, you should still shoot as if you will. Nail the exposure, nail the focus, nail the composition and you know you will have a good shot regardless of the size it is viewed at.
I am not anti post-production, I do plenty of it myself. Where I feel we are going wrong as a community is to rely on excessive post production to get social media likes.
This has become a bottomless pit where everyone is pushing images further and further to the point where the unnatural look has become the norm.
Photography should be about being comfortable with your own abilities and creativity and not the need to satisfy some unknown social media user on the other side of the world.
Do you agree? Give us your thoughts in the comment section below.
For myself this is a very timely article. Being 60 yrs old I’m not involved too much in social media. And I still print 8 X 10’s of some of my favorite images. Not large prints I know but… Where your article hit home for me is recently I’ve fallen into the “I can always fix it later in post” trap.
Back in my film days I did not have that luxury. At least not to the extent available on the computer compared to the dark room.
Thanks for the reminder to slow down and get it right at the time of releasing the shutter.