Social Media – loved by some and hated by others – and not used often enough in the right way to benefit your photographic growth.
Seven years ago, I was issued a challenge by one of the most gifted photographers I know. I was whining about how I couldn’t identify a genre to focus on – how I felt my work was stagnant – like I said – whining.
He issued me a challenge that utterly changed my photographic path – accelerated my learning curve – and set me free to explore my own potential. I won’t issue that challenge to you but you may decide after reading this article to issue it to yourself.
He had been ‘working’ this challenge himself for several months and was very impressed with his results. He was hoping I would take it on to see if it worked for me as well.
His challenge was for a one-year period. Every single day.
I also expanded the challenge to include other lessons I had learned that I felt contributed to my own growth in photography in surprising ways.
The challenge was to post ONE photograph a day, every day on a social media platform. It had to be a photograph that I was extremely proud of and I had to understand why I liked it and write a short summary. It had to be the quality of photograph that I was proud to share with the world.
Note – ONE photograph a day. Not a series of snapshots but a quality piece of work. Don’t dilute it with numbers. Give it the importance it deserves.
Here’s an example.
Conversation: I love the strong backlight – how it creates a glow on the walkers. The shot is well anchored with a series of vertical lines that repeat in reality and by implication in the people walking. Burnished colors compliment the scene. Strong feel of energy – people in motion.
It’s been interesting over the years how people who follow my work and read the descriptions assume the words are for them. I’m happy to share them but the words are an important part of this growth path and are written for me. In analyzing why I like the photograph I am posting, I am reinforcing within my mind what is important to me.
As I did this, over time, I found I had specific things I looked for regardless of what subject I was shooting. I learned from my own work and my own preferences what to look for when I was out shooting.
Conversation: I love the curiosity this shot creates. The frame is weighted nicely on the bottom with a soft pattern that helps throw emphasis on the bright area at the top that frame the subject. Sharp focus also draws my eye. Nice lines and shapes strengthen the frame.
I found giving verbal voice to my visual image was a terrific learning tool. I found a way to expand on it. Instead of giving my voice to just my own work, I decided to have personal conversations with myself when looking at the work of people I admired. What was it they were consistently doing that made me pause and gaze in wonder at their captures?
These conversations taught me more about what it was that drew my eye. And the best part is that they inspired me to weave new ideas (not copy) based on these preferences into my own work. I started clarifying and distilling to the heart of what I loved seeing in a photograph.
Here’s an important aside. When studying other people’s work, it’s vital to study only work that inspires you. This can be found on social media but it’s a very small sliver of the photography that is posted.
Be careful with scrolling on the internet. It’s far too easy to feed your brain junk food by looking at photo after photo of inferior quality. This may sound snobby, but it’s not.
What we shoot every time we raise the viewfinder or screen to frame a shot, is a compilation of everything we have felt and seen in our entire lives. It’s what makes photography unique. None of us has walked the same footsteps and we all see differently based on our own collective personal experiences.
If you scroll through endless junk, you are making that part of your experience.
Other places to find inspiring work are specific webpages belonging to stellar photographers and photography art books. The libraries are full of them. Spend time with masters and have those verbal conversations. You’ll be amazed at what you learn.
Conversation: I like how the receding columns on the left pull my eye back and into the image. The blues and yellows make a nice contrast and add energy. The big X is a strong pull and anchors the shot which is really about motion. I like the slight blur of the people – the wisps left over from a passing car. Another thing I like about this shot are the patterns – they are everywhere and enhance the strength of the shot.
Words are important. In sales, it has been proven that words and visuals combined add up to much more than 1+1=2. The combination accelerates the power of each. When I first started looking at the work of others, I actually wrote down bullet points about their work to see how often each of their images ticked off a point. I found the most inspiring work to carry a lot of commonality across the multiple genres they shot. It opened my eyes to possibilities.
I did this for three years. It was hard but I learned so much. I still do it although I cut myself some slack. I skip vacations and occasionally post without a comment.
But I find I miss the exercise. My subconscious knows it’s incredibly valuable and I’m not ready to stop growing. I hunger to explore and improve. So, I post and converse – out loud for emphasize. I look at the work of others and converse – out loud for emphasis. And I stay away from junk – do not evaluated negative things – all of my emphasis is on the positive.
This isn’t my challenge to you. It’s your challenge to yourself should you choose to accept it.
Conversation: I like how vibrant and natural the colors look. I like the contrast they provide coming from opposite sides of the color wheel. I like the horizontal bands that move my eye across the image from side to side – it has an endless feel. I like the interruption of shape in the foreground where the water meets the sand – a lazy curve line that lets my eye explore.