on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

Social Media and Photography

A Pause for Thought

Tom White

Tom is a freelance journalist and photographer based in the North East, his work has taken him across the UK as well as around the world.


Likes, shares, views, hits – are these the final bullets shot into the almost lifeless body of landscape photography? Is social media an insidious virus that will infect us all and cannot be cured? Are vloggers marching towards us like an army of the undead, insatiably overwhelming all those who dare not to join their horde? And have I, in my quest to draw your attention, used one analogy too many?

Are vloggers marching towards us like an army of the undead, insatiably overwhelming all those who dare not to join their horde?
As you may have guessed I have taken on the task of writing down a few thoughts about social media. It seems like quite an unwieldy beast to take on as I sit here eating my strawberry yoghurt, but one I feel I want to address. My one disclaimer is this – these thoughts may or may not fully represent what I think, but it is a discussion I think we need to have.

As landscape photographers I’m sure we all feel the pressure to post our images online, to share them across various social media sites. That nagging pressure of keeping up with everyone else, that thought that if you don’t post something people will forget about you and anything you’ve ever done. That urge to keep churning out work, to better what you did last year.

To be clear, I’m not attempting to dismiss social media as a whole. I think there are some really good aspects to it, with the two main ones for me being exposure to images and styles I would otherwise have not seen and the chance to make friends with like-minded people. But there is one aspect that is increasingly making me feel uncomfortable and it is this – the perceived position and status afforded to certain photographers based on their following online rather than the quality of their work.

To expand on this, my issue is not so much with the photographers themselves, but more with the way the industry appears to be using them as cheap advertising, as an easy way to access thousands of followers and viewers but at the expense of highlighting meaningful and important work. Integrity is being sacrificed on the altar of commercialism.

So when magazines, brands or camera retailers feature these social media stars, are they really doing it because they believe in the photography they produce?
So when magazines, brands or camera retailers feature these people, are they really doing it because they believe in the photography they produce? Or do they do it because it’s a lot cheaper than paying to reach the same number of people?

And when a travel company pays for a social media star to travel around a country taking pictures for them is it really the photos at the end of the trip they are interested in or is it just the number of times their company name gets mentioned in the videos?

If it was the photos they really cared about, would they not be better-paying someone who has built a career on producing quality photography rather than on how savvy they are online?

If magazines are really interested in educating and expanding our horizons on the medium should they not be seeking out the people making challenging and intriguing work, rather than just the people who create the most digital noise?

I know what my answers are. And in fact, when I look at some of the photographers I respect the most quite often they have very little social media presence at all.

At this point, though I imagine some of you are thinking one of two responses (or both) – that’s just how business works and you’re just jealous.

To address the second one first, this is often the response I see when people dare raise their heads above the parapet and ask these questions, but it really couldn’t be further from the truth for me. And the danger is it’s used as a tool for avoiding actually answering the questions.
However, I think the first response holds more weight as magazines, websites, brands etc all need to make money. Ultimately they are businesses and can’t just indulge in things that are not profitable.

But I do think they have a certain responsibility to value the medium itself and not just chase after the latest craze. Photography existed a long time before social media did so there is no reason why it now needs to be held to ransom by it. As well I think a distinction between content that is produced for entertainment and content that is photography focused would also be helpful. Both have their place, my issue is more when the two get confused.

The instant nature of social media, immediately seeing how many hits, likes or retweets you’ve had, can also have a detrimental effect on photography. Images need to impress instantaneously, for the two seconds they are viewed in a timeline already saturated in content. Likewise, the titles of photography YouTube videos become increasingly banal and ludicrous – eg TRANSFORM YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY AND BECOME AS GOOD AS ANSEL ADAMS IN FIVE SIMPLE STEPS - all in a desperate attempt to grab your attention.

So what should we do in response? Well, you might totally disagree with me and therefore conclude nothing needs to be done. But if something in this resonates with you then I think there are a few things we can do. Firstly a few simple suggestions are these – continue to produce your best work and continue to champion those photographers you think are producing great work.

Secondly, I think we should be more selective with our time and money. So next time a big photography show is coming up and one of the main speakers is a social media star, ask yourself are they there because of their photography or are they there because they get lots of hits online? Similarly, with magazines and websites. Are you getting value for money?

And thirdly I think we should probably all spend a lot less time on social media.

PS Please be sure to share this article on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and maybe make a vlog about it.

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