A little more than 10 years ago, I had a realization that would one day change my life forever. During an evening stroll in the local woods with my camera in hand, I became aware of just how much I love photography and what it means to me; it was at that moment I knew it would be a part of me for a long time to come.
There weren’t many online resources when I began investing time in learning how to better utilize my camera equipment. Neither was there too much buzz about it on social media.
Or if there was, maybe I was oblivious to it as I was just getting started and didn’t quite know where to find the photography community. At any rate, it didn’t seem like the few photographers I found online had a sense of urgency to create a constant stream of content: they seemed to genuinely care about their craft and only shared their very best work with the rest of the world.
Is that still the case today? Do people genuinely care about the work that they post online? Or are many photographers (possibly unknowingly) competing in the game of photography?
The Game of Photography
Before we keep going let me first explain with what I mean about ‘competition’. In this article, I’m not referring to photography awards, challenges or competitions that you register to participate in.
What I’m referring to is the immense pressure of constantly uploading new content in order to entertain your ever-growing online audience. I’m talking about spending time and energy (and possibly using illegal/unethical tools) to increase this following.
I fear that I might come across as a grumpy man in this article (and I assure you that I’m not) but I think it’s a topic that needs to be brought up and if that means putting myself on the frontline, so be it.
I’ll also point out that different people have different aspirations with their photography (which I’ll come back to in a bit) and I’m in no way trying to make you feel bad about your decisions. What I hope to do, though, is to make you think about the ongoing situation and ask yourself if you’re doing what you love.
What is ‘The Game’?
So what is this game or competition that I speak about?
With social media becoming a bigger and more integrated part of our day-to-day life, as well as the human desire to achieve status or fame or ‘a better life’, it’s no surprise that this mindset also has influenced the photography community.
Since having millions of followers online instantly makes you a better photographer, a better person, a successful person, and an inspiration, it makes sense that this would be a bigger priority than developing your craft…
The Game of Photography doesn’t take art into consideration. It doesn’t care whether you’re an experienced photographer who’s been working at it for years or if you’ve just purchased a new camera.
There’s a clear correlation between the difficulty of earning money as a photographer and the increasing number of “photographers” out there.
This leads to two things:
1. Photographers become more desperate to find new income streams
2. Photographers becoming desperate to grow their online presence
1. The Need for New Income Streams
I don’t necessarily think it was easier to make a full-time income as a photographer pre-social media, but there’s no doubt that the income streams were different. For example, you could earn a very good living by selling your work to publications or stock agencies. Neither is very profitable today.
Stock photography is now at its worst from a photographer’s standpoint, so devaluated that companies expect to pay only a few dollars (or even less) to use your artwork.
The same goes for many printed magazines: since photographers are desperate to get more ‘exposure’, publishers get away with paying an insignificant sum to print your images. Even worse, some don’t even pay: the ‘exposure’ can obviously put food on your table.
This has photographers scrambling to find new income sources such as photography workshops/tours, Lightroom presets and online teaching.
But who is going to buy your products? How do you reach out to possible clients? How does your work get noticed in the ocean of photographers? That leads us to ‘consequence’ number two:
2. The Desperation to Achieve Online Success
Along with the need for new income sources also comes the pressure, practically an obligation now, to grow an online following. It’s at this stage I fear that the quality of a photographer’s craft drastically decreases.
A common strategy to get more followers is to publish frequently. Many claim that the ideal number of daily uploads is at least four images. Unless you’ve been a photographer for 50 years, how can you possibly maintain a high-quality 4 posts a day uploading schedule?
So you compromise and the quality becomes less important.
The thought behind this mindset is that once you reach a specific amount of followers, all your problems will disappear and clients pop up from everywhere throwing their money at you. Is that realistic though? Or is it wishful thinking?
Companies used to be eager to work with you because of your online following, but is that still the case today? Are companies starting to realize that many ‘influencers’ have purchased followers and that paying them to promote their brand doesn’t always give them much in return? I don’t know. I’m digressing.
I take my hat off to anyone who’s organically grown a massive audience and made a living off their online success. That does deserve respect and I appreciate all the hard work they’ve put into it.
But should this be the main focus of those who love the craft of photography? I think we need to distinguish between wanting to become a respected photographer or a known influencer.
“Influencer” or “Photographer”? Can you be both?
This seems to be a very touchy subject for many. What exactly is it that you are? Are you a photographer or an influencer? What am I?
The lines are a bit blurry. According to the Oxford Dictionary, the definition of a ‘Photographer’ is “A person who takes photographs, especially as a job” and an ‘Influencer’ is “A person with the ability to influence potential buyers of a product or service by promoting or recommending the items on social media“.
“… especially as a job” is what grabs my attention with the definition of a photographer. How many photographers can legitimately say that photography is their job? Is that where your income comes from? My main income comes from guiding photography tours and selling online resources, does that make me a photographer or a guide and teacher?
I think that many of us who look at ourselves as photographers might as well be influencers. I know many of you dream of growing your online following in order to be able to do campaigns with brands. But do the people who follow you for your photography really care about the free watch you received? I’m not convinced.
Now, is it possible to be both a photographer and an influencer? Yes, I absolutely believe it is.
However, it doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t happen through buying followers or using automation services. It doesn’t happen if your ambitions are to become one. It’s something that happens organically and authentically, through a body of high-quality imagery.
A photography influencer is someone whose work and ideology you admire and respect. Not someone who set out to be one.
So, ask yourself this: What are your aspirations as a photographer? Do you want to produce the best possible images or do you want a taste of the online fame?
Do YOU Care About YOUR Craft?
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying and dreaming of becoming a famous photographer, just as there’s nothing wrong with hoping to have many followers. But if you want to be a respected photographer, I believe you have to do it the hard way.
If you don’t care about the work you post online, why should others? If you post on Instagram just to maintain a daily schedule, what does that say about your art?
If you want to become a respected photographer, you need to first respect your own photographs. Be proud of what you share. Share the images you actually care about. Everyone isn’t going to love all the images you share but does that matter as long as you do?
I think it’s time that we take a big step back from the pressure of creating new content and instead take some time to develop our craft.
Do you want to be remembered as a talented photographer or a mediocre one who had many likes?
Do You Need to Participate in ‘the Game’ to Succeed?
Before I wrap this article up, I want to show you that it is possible to become a well-known, well-respected and even influential photographer without playing the social media game.
If you focus on your work, if you develop your style and if you truly connect with your work, it is possible to make a full-time income from photography (and even grow a big audience).
Let’s look at a few examples:
Alex Noriega has won several international awards, such as the renowned International Photographer of the Year title, and has more than 150,000 followers on his Instagram account. Yet, there are often months between his posts. In fact, since creating his account almost 4 years ago, he’s only posted 150 images, which translates to 0.10 images per day.
By focusing on only sharing high-quality images, Alex has become an influential landscape photographer and one who’s often mentioned as one of the best landscape photographers of today.
Marc Adamus is another landscape photographer that you’ve most likely heard about. He’s considered to be a pioneer of modern digital landscape photography. Again it’s high-quality and a unique body of work that has made him ‘famous’, not engaging on social media. In fact, he didn’t have an Instagram account until late 2017 and he still only posts periodically.
How about photographers not being on Social Media at all? Can they succeed? Yes.
Joseph Van Os runs a successful photography tour company and has been doing so for more than 3 decades. His trips sell out within hours or days and there are few places he hasn’t photographed. Will you find him on social media? No.
Do You Play the Game?
My intentions are not to diss those who put in the work and aspire to get more followers online. If that’s your goal, best of luck to you and I sincerely hope you make it.
What I want is to shed light on a topic that I feel is hurting the art of landscape photography. I want us to be more aware of what we aspire to do with our craft. I want landscape photography to be taken seriously in the art world. I want publications and corporations to value photography and pay the artist what they deserve.
I hope that I’ve been able to make you think and ask yourself these valuable questions. Have you unwillingly become a part of the competition and have lost the connection with your work? Have you forgotten why you started with photography in the first place?
No matter what your aspirations are: I hope you take the time to enjoy being outside in nature. If you’re not inspired to take an image, don’t! Instead, take a deep breath and reflect on how lucky we are to have such a beautiful planet.
About the author: Christian Hoiberg is a full-time landscape photographer who helps aspiring photographers develop the skills needed to capture beautiful and impactful images. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Download Hoiberg’s free guide 30 Tips to Improve Your Landscape Photography and open the doors to your dream life. Hoiberg is also the founder of CaptureLandscapes. You can find more of his work on his website and Instagram. This article was also published here.