The internet has become instrumental in how we share and access photography. Pictures once reserved for high-end galleries, accessible only to those with money, are now available for anyone with an internet connection. That’s a good thing. I do wonder, though, how has consuming photography online impacted the way we create. Has it, in many ways, made photographers lazy?
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Before you go on, please check out Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.
“I shoot photography for myself” is a statement many of us like to profess. It sounds good, and while there’s an element of truth to it, it’s not entirely accurate. Unless you’re Vivian Maier, you’re likely sharing your pictures with others, either indirectly or directly, asking for feedback. An overwhelming majority of images we share today are via the internet. The feedback we receive–seldom long-form–shows up through likes, love hearts, and lazy comments. The more positive feedback we gain, the more validation we get that we’re doing something right with our photography.
Such behavior creates an issue. Receiving praise is addictive, and it’s more attainable than ever. 30 years ago, a photographer was lucky to get affirmation of their talent. Hobbyists would be praised by friends and family. Pro photographers would get it from their clients and peers. And on rare occasions, photographers would get praise from a member of the public who sent in a handwritten letter to a publication. In 2022, a photographer can get positive feedback from Jenny in Portland and Praven in Bangalore at the same time. The more people praise you and the further you reach, the more your brain releases dopamine.
How Does the Internet Make Photographers Lazy?
How does all this lead to photographers becoming lazy? In this dopamine-fueled society, where people are constantly looking for their next hit, there’s no incentive to put in extra effort when it comes to the type of photographs one makes. I see photographers who were winning on social media five years ago still making the same type of images. Although the amount of followers and likes has increased, their standard of photography hasn’t evolved. That’s not a criticism. Dopamine is powerful and addictive, and that combination makes it difficult to avoid the urge for instant gratification.
I firmly believe that with anything we dedicate our life to, it’s important to improve, expand, and push ourselves as time moves forward. I don’t raise this point to shame others. I raise it because I see talented photographers limit themselves because both they and their audience want to feel rewarded as quickly as possible. And while I’m not suggesting photographers stop taking the easy route, I propose they do other things to ensure their work remains fresh and consistently improves.
Develop a Long Form Photography Project
I think it’s a good idea to work on a long-form photography project every three to six months. Concentrate on developing a body of work with images can’t stand alone, but must come together to tell a powerful and meaningful story.
Your creative process will feel far less copy and paste. And it will challenge you to make images that stands out from the everyday silhouettes or mountains we’re so accustomed to digesting. Likely, you won’t receive the same amount of admiration (meaningful stories seldom become as popular as “man walking past a colorful wall”), but that’s not the point. The goal is to develop your photographic style and push yourself to do something long-form and challenging.
Create Pictures That Are More Complex
Most of the photography we see online requires a camera, a lens, and a comfy pair of shoes. If that’s your style, try and do something that requires more input. Hire a studio, create a mood board, think about props, and learn about studio lighting. Do something that necessitates multiple attempts, that will leave you pulling your hair out but give nothing but joy when you get the shot. These photographs may not be worth sharing online, but who cares? You’re pushing your creative boundaries and seeing what you’re capable of doing as a photographer and creative.
Shoot for Yourself
Going back to that old cliche: create photographs that don’t require the validation of others. Shoot in a style you enjoy, make type of images you like to consume. Tap into the liberating feeling of being satisfied with your work regardless of what others think. In time this will push you to be more creative, develop better photographs, and tell more meaningful stories.
As wonderful as it may be, the internet certainly does make photographers lazy. It’s not their fault. It’s unfortunately the state of all creative fields. But once you realize you’re not pushing your talent far enough, it is a good idea to act quickly. Because when all is said and done, you won’t want to say, “I got the most likes possible,” you’ll want to say, “I became the best photographer I could be.” For those who genuinely love the craft, there’s far more value in that.