Is Social Media Destroying the Art of Photography?

Elise Lévêque
Elise Lévêque Freelance Writer, GKBC

Posted on February 6th 2013

Is Social Media Destroying the Art of Photography?

Last time out I wrote an article about how to boost your business with the use of Instagram and that post got me thinking recently about something all together more fundamental – that being, the art of photography. Specifically, what impact is social media having on it?

 social networks photography

The Canon’s gonna get it. Finally, a real KODAK moment.

Funkychesta

Photography has always been fundamental to social media. Let’s take Facebook for a start, where in the beginning your profile picture was everything. ‘Here’s what I look like. Whaddya think?’ exclaimed a proud user’s carefully chosen avatar. (Although in most cases most people’s profile pictures should come with a disclaimer which says: Here’s what I DON’T look like. This photo took me ages to do).

But then photographs and social media took on a life of their own – people felt the need to document everything in film. So much so that a night out on the tiles almost didn’t really happen unless you woke up the next day to find you’d been tagged in 36 photos. Each one as similar and vapid as the other.

And there’s my point: photographs used to be something to cherish.  A good piece of photography even more so. It seems people are no longer buying photo albums to house pictures of their children cross dressing because they want to ‘be a girl when they grow up.’ What next? Will parents be unable to embarrass their children by showing them photographs of them aged four dressed in drag? I certainly hope not.

And - what about bona fide photographers? Now, with Instagram, photography has become the actual medium of social communication. What’s more, Joe Bloggs has convinced himself photography is easy. Just take a photo, set it in sepia, blur a few bits here and there and whack on an edgy border. 58 likes? Why, you’re a modern day Ansel Adams.

You certainly are not.

But let’s rein it in a bit: social media won’t destroy the art of photography. But for me, social media is damaging my attitudes towards photographs. As I’ve said, the market is saturated with crappy photographs. And photographers are in agreement that social media is encouraging lazy photography. The ones I asked all said that the only defining aspect of an Instagram photograph is that it is an Instagram photograph. But do we need better policy makers? Or a better electorate? I’d say a combination of the two – social media needs to find a way to champion good photography and people need to upload fewer photographs of themselves stumbling home after a wet Wednesday night out.

In fact the decline in Facebook usage for example, estimated to be about to be about 8% in the last two years, could be down to this. The ‘Facebook Fatigue’ as it has been dubbed is perhaps because people are tired of the seemingly unending stream of bland, indulgent photography.

Also, is what’s happening to print photography social media’s fault? Print photography and print in general is unquestionably declining, though we can say that this is a response to the digital age in general and let social media off the hook here. However, social media as a platform means we don’t need to print things to show people our photographs. Though, I want people to print more photographs. More to the point photographs that mean something to them and not a photograph that is going to get lost amongst the 312 others in the Facebook album entitled ‘Turkey ‘09.’

It’s about now people always cite the fact that printer ink is pretty pricey and Facebook’s flipping free. This complaint is a little outdated, as places like Cartridge Shop now offer easily-affordable printer ink, but more importantly the freedom of Facebook is largely illusory. When all of your data is mined and used for advertising purposes, you're actually giving away rather a lot of privacy for this 'free' service.

So at the end of this long, admittedly self-indulgent, rant about social media and photography in general I want to know what people think. Is merely the platform that social media provides photography a good thing? Or do I sound like an old fart and you wouldn’t be surprised if my next three words were the phrase: back in my day...

Do let me know in the comments!

 

Elise Lévêque

Elise Lévêque

Freelance Writer, GKBC

Elise Lévêque is a bubbly freelance writer who loves blogging about everyting social media. She’s utterly addicted to online shopping and  amateur photographer in her spare time.

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Comments

"Is merely the platform that social media provides photography a good thing?"

yes, it's a great thing, it provides a vast avenue for professional (that being people who make ore than 50% of their income from photography) photographers to expose their images/photo essays to those who may never uncover their work and it does so in a very inexpensive way that requires a very small investment of time & effort

in terms of quality of work, well, there's a huge difference between a frame exposed on Acros 100 b&w 35mm film inside a Leica and through incredible glass (for example) and a shot taken w/ an iPhone, no filter either on IG or Hipstamatic (for example) is going to be able to reproduce the depth of tones and the subtlety of content and sheer photographic presence like film and dslr imagery, no matter how many new filters are developed for photo apps


but images taken and shared via social media are a great avenue for everyone to get addicted to the photography bug, to express themselves artistically and provide a jumping off point to immerse themselves in the art and skill of photography...me, I use Instagram as my visual diary, a place to document and share very quickly and easily what I see and experience, and mostly with friends who are photographers, most I've known for 5-7-10 years, and most of them are "purists" in terms of what camera equipment they use and their love of film

Craig – Thanks for the response. I suppose the next logical question is: do you feel that, as a keen photographer, you can take better photographs on an iPhone (say) than the average man in the street? Are you ‘exposing your images’ in a way that is reflective of you as a photographer?

 

I do agree with your point about social media being a good platform in terms of getting people involved with photography. I hadn’t considered that so thanks!

Everyone's subjective, we all have opinions, but do I think I take better shots w/ an iPhone than someone else, not really...the images I snap w/ my iPhone are only intended to be memories of a particular moment, like I previously said a "visual diary".


I've never set out o make incredible images w/ a mobile phone, IMO it's just not the vehicle I'd choose to make indelible images, I do catch moments and scenes for example that happen in a moment's notice that I'm lucky to have a mobile phone with me to capture.  I muck around an add filters when I like what it renders on the screen but I don't make a point of it to think I make "great photographs" with an iPhone or any mobile phone.  It just doesn't sound sensible to me.  I feel confident that I could be subjective and critique an image taken w/ a mobile phone and be fair and honest with my judgement, but honestly, I cannot fathom being critical of images taken w/ a mobile phone.  To me, they're just not meant to be judges critically.

Lastly, I can remember starting up my own photoblog about 10 years ago, photoblogs were the original social media of photography and not a lot of people were sharing their images online at that time.  The trend grew and grew when automated social blog templates came into fashion and more and more people started sharing their imagery via photoblogs.  I've met quite a few people, photographers, who started 6-8-10 years ago posting online and sharing their work via their website/photoblog, quite a few long-lasting friendships have emerged.  I still follow a handful that have been posting for 6-8-10+ years and still meet in person when possible with some of those folks.  That rarely happens with people I follow on IG for example, and rarely (if ever) does it happen with those folks I remember from the days of Flickr in 2005/6 when I started there.

 

Love this post! Thanks for bringing this issue to the fore. A good friend of mine is a professional photographer and she feels her value being undermined by Instagram just as many journalists I know feel undermined by the blogosphere. I don't know if the tide can ever be changed back, but I'm glad writers like you are out there making a stink about it!

"Is merely the platform that social media provides photography a good thing?"

I cant complain. It provides a great marketing platform for a photographer if used wisely, and encourages other people to experiment and develop their photographic skills. Not all of them sure; plenty have vast albums of terrible photos, but it certainly has driven some to seek out ways to develop their skills, interact and partisipate that previously didnt exist.  Awareness of the value of high level photography is only going to benefit me, not harm me.

I enjoy using it as a platform to share my top end work, and my basic iPhoneography.  Successful photographers always have to market themselves well, so they should really apreciate social media as a cost effective platform to do so. Im tired of hearing other photographers complain about 'competition' from people using instagram and iphones - do they really see that as competition? If your client doesnt understand the difference between your skills in planning and delivering high quality work then either you need to educate them about what is involved, or perhaps you are not very good at photography! ;-)

I'd be the first to admit that im lazy at marketing myself, but doing things like running photo walks as domestic tourism activities to sort of 'give back' to the enthusiast comunity by giving them access to photographic education for a token fee, has actually been enjoyable, and a by product has been increased marketing and networking and opportunities for work. Most of my comunitiy interaction though is initiated through social media, and maintained through social media.

Anyway, im going off point. Tired from spending all night on a bus across Africa! Enjoyed the article, oh, and in response to your question to Craig about 'taking better shots on his iphone than others' i bet he is just being modest :-) Im pretty sure I take better photos than some others on my iphone because I have a better grasp of composition and exposure, and have invested huge hours in iphoneography, because its the camera I always have in my pocket (used to be an S95 in my pocket) and i enjoy how discreate i can be with it in public. Its even better when 'photographers' come over to correct me for using it in the wrong way such as shooting into sunlight! that always makes my day! :-)

https://www.facebook.com/danhartwright

 

Interesting article.  Social media has changed online photography contests to be more similar to drunken karaoke contests in a bar.  Basically whomever brings the most friends win without any regards to ability and quality.  Many of my photographer friends have stopped participating in online contests for this very reason.  It's too bad because many of them are quite good.  By refusing to maximize their exposure they limit their earning potential.


The one thing I would tell people to take away from the iphone images, pay attention to those that get the most likes.  Selling and marketing your photography is a business and the business end of things dicates to give people what they want.  Your audience tells you in "likes" what they want.

My online gallery if you would have a moment to look >http://2-james-meyer.artistwebsites.com/

Have a great day!

Interesting article.  Social media has changed online photography contests to be more similar to drunken karaoke contests in a bar.  Basically whomever brings the most friends win without any regards to ability and quality.  Many of my photographer friends have stopped participating in online contests for this very reason.  It's too bad because many of them are quite good.  By refusing to maximize their exposure they limit their earning potential.


The one thing I would tell people to take away from the iphone images, pay attention to those that get the most likes.  Selling and marketing your photography is a business and the business end of things dicates to give people what they want.  Your audience tells you in "likes" what they want.

My online gallery if you would have a moment to look >http://2-james-meyer.artistwebsites.com/

Have a great day!