Is social media training your photographic eye?

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No one ever taught me photography, at least not formally. When I was in high school my parents bought me a point and shoot (film) camera and I started taking pictures. At the time, I couldn’t have explained to you the difference between an f stop and shutter speed. I was such a novice that I shot ISO 800 film for a good two years because I assumed more ISO was better. It wasn’t until a lab guy at Walmart asked me why I was shooting 800 speed outdoors in the middle of summer that I even looked into it.

Back then all I did was pick up my camera, take some shots, and have them developed. Later I would also get CDs to look at them on my computer. Out of a roll of 24 or 36 shots I would maybe get a handful of pictures that I liked and maybe, occasionally one that I loved. I rarely shared shared these pictures with anyone but my parents, so I didn’t have any kind of critical feedback.

Toledo Art Museum

It was during this time that I learned what I liked and what I didn’t. I learned how to get the shot, how to better compose, and how to move beyond the automatic modes. Most of my formative photographic education came simply by shooting and looking at the photos. I didn’t have a class, YouTube videos, or even books to help me along the way.

I don’t write that to say I’m a prodigy or that I’m a good photographer. It probably would have helped me had my high school had offered a photography class. I probably should have shown more people my work, entered contests, or even tried to find other photographers to shoot with. I was a hermit, for better or worse, and that mostly continues to this day. I shoot what I want, when I want. I post things on this blog and Instagram mostly to share the things I like, not for any kind of criticism.

Zehnder's of Frankenmuth

I kept that same camera through high school and college, all the way until my first child was two years old. At that point I got a digital camera but I kept up my old ways. I rarely shared, only shot. I would post the occasional photo on Flickr but the only people who ever saw them were my family members. For me, photography had always been about myself, shooting what I enjoy for my own pleasure. I was never much interested in what others thought about my pictures.

With the rise of social media I’ve noticed this has slowly changed, I’ve started to care what other people think about my work. I hate it when I post a picture and there isn’t an immediate response. I know what kinds of photographs will get more likes, what kind of style people seem to enjoy, and the hashtags I need to use to get more likes. Social media is training my photographic eye, changing what and how I shoot to suit others.

Statue

I don’t blame this change on social media. It’s not the internet’s fault, it’s my own. At first I didn’t realize what was happening because the change was so subtle. But now I’m fully aware and I still battle against it. The desire to be loved is deep in all of us, and wanting other people to approve of what we make is part of being human.

But I want to shoot what interests me with no thought of what other people might enjoy. I’m my own primary audience, not anonymous people on the internet. If I’m shooting just for the likes how can I be truly proud of what I have created? Should I keep a screenshot of the 25 likes so that I know which photo is meaningful to me? Maybe I should just quit social media for a while.

What are your thoughts? Have you found your photography has changed because of social media? How do you stop it, or is it irreversible? Or maybe is it a good thing?


(Note: all photos in this post were shot on film with the camera mentioned in the first few paragraphs.)