Photography, Social Media and Being True to Yourself

Photo of Statue from the Louvre, Paris. The photo has been processed with a faded polaroid-like look and a subtle texture similar to that of an oil painting
Photo of Statue from the Louvre, Paris. The photo has been processed with a faded polaroid-like look and a subtle texture similar to that of an oil painting

When it comes to understanding color and print quality I'm quite well placed. And that opinion is a result of 9 years tertiary study, 30 plus years industry experience and many years of darkroom work and teaching printing (color and black-and-white) at a tertiary level. I'd like to think this background and my own love of light has provided me with a good understanding of both the aesthetic and technical aspects of traditional printing.

For better or worse, there's very little I do in my life that is not deliberate. But how does that statement affect my working life. Frankly there's what you like and then there's the commercial reality that, for better or worse, determines your degree of success. That statement, I'm sure, is true for most of us.

For example, when it comes to color, vivid saturation has become the industry standard since the days of Fuji Velvia and high impact glossy magazines.

Now the question is what do your images look like and, regardless of how good you or I think they are, what chances do they have of selling? Thousands of photographers are trying to display and sell their work online, via sites such as Flicker. Now, assuming you decide to join the rest of the fish in the very large Flicker pool there's some questions I want to ask. Are your photographs better than 95% of the other photographers on Flicker? If they are, why put yourself into the same pool? Don't you think its possible that, by being surrounded by lesser quality images, the water will be substantially muddied in your small corner of the pool?

My advice is to separate yourself from the hordes. Chances are you'll enjoy the freedom and room to frolic far away from the annoyances and dangers associated with the deep end.

Actually, I'd give the same advice whether or not your photographs are better than the majority of players over at Flicker. If they are, you'll find it hard to get the traffic and charge the prices your work deserves when surrounded by mediocrity. That's because your work will be swamped by the majority of lesser quality images that surround it and, as a result, will be perceived to be of a lower quality and deserving of a lower price than it otherwise would be.

Marketing and a more exclusive form of presentation are the answer. Though of course it would be wise to simultaneously improve your photography skills.   

Its worth noting that, with wedding photography as a case in point, the best photographers are not always represented in the list of the most successful. So making great images, including Lightroom and/or Photoshop skills is, maybe, 10% of what you need to do to be successful. Many photo sharing sites provide little more than a template and, possibly, a way to collect money for images sold online. Let's say that's another 10% of your business plan covered. The other 80% is, ultimately, what matters. And that my friends is much the same as it was 30 years ago.

Marketing remains King

. The advantage of course is that marketing can be far more cost effective than it used to be. It still takes a lot of time and energy, literally 80% of your time. But social media, when used properly, does allow you to market your work to the masses or, alternatively, to target sub-groups that offer a better match for your product, sales and profit projections. And, unlike the Flicker concept, visitors to your site are looking at your images in isolation. Your work remains unsullied by that of the masses. What

Fawlty Towers

character Basil Fawlty referred to as

riff raff


Now please don't get me wrong. I think its great that folks want to get there work out into the world. And the internet is arguably the best way to do that. I also know that there are very, very few people who actually make big money selling prints online. In many cases selling landscape prints online is not so much a major revenue source, but a way to create a greater sense of prestige for the business in question. And that business might be based upon the sale of books, photo tours, workshops or, believe it or not, portraits. 

In any business we have to be clear about what the outcome of our endeavor is to be. In my case I enjoy blogging, but it is not my business. It is a vehicle by which I'm working to establish a customer base to which my various photographic images, products and services are marketed. My market will be largely consumers and enthusiasts, and more than 50% will be women. That doesn't mean that the information isn't also for guys. Quite the contrary, I just feel that my style of writing will be particularly appreciated by a female audience. 

One things for sure, to be successful on the web you need to be in it for the long term. But to survive over the long term you have to be doing what's in line with your hearts desire.

Guys often tell me that I'd do even better if I did more technically oriented camera and lens reviews. But is that suggestion totally objective? While I agree that equipment reviews are very popular, I feel these folks are more likely to be saying "make your site more like what I want to read". And there's nothing wrong with that, its very useful feedback. I just make the point that they may not understand the motivation behind their advice.

I've tried to explain that my demographic is likely to include more women than men. Of course that tends to leave them somewhat dumbfounded. Why? is their usual response. The fact is that, as a generalization, women are more likely to enjoy my style of writing and teaching than those folks, usually men, who seek to understand the world via a more technical, logic-based approach. This is, of course, a generalization, and there are plenty of men who are intuitive (me for one).

The fact that there are a lot of guys who visit my site, on a continuing basis, means that I'm doing quite well producing content that's appropriate to a diverse range of folks in a way that fulfills a variety of needs. Improvements to the look and functionality of my site, recent ventures into YouTube and an upcoming range of Podcasts should be evidence of my own desire to engage with as many (types) of people as possible. So, while I value and will act on suggestions to add more technical-based articles and equipment reviews, I won't do it at the expense of my other viewers and the philosophy that underpins this site. What's more, I'II do it in my own way.     

As a case in point, there's this whole thing going on with YouTube involving movies of dudes unwrapping new products (iPhone, iPad, camera or lenses). How is that a review? How is it technical? Why anyone would want to view such a video is beyond me. We all seem to be time poor, yet why would you choose to spend your time watching someone unwrap a product? How does that help you determine if that is the product you should purchase to solve your problems or fulfill your needs?

So, why this type of social media can draw attention to my site, it's just not who I am and, wanting to be true to myself and my upbringing, I simply won't waste anyone's time with such trivial activities.

So, whether you're a Facebook user, a blogger or a photographer employing a website to promote and potentially, sell your work, content remains king. The effort and hours involved to produce quality content, on an ongoing basis, is taxing in the extreme. And whether your objective is based upon financial or more personal goals, to be successful your endeavor must be lifestyle driven. For me it's an ongoing work of art into which I strive to provide inspiration, enjoyment and education for and ever growing audience. Several years into the project I'm happy to report that the experience, thanks to you, is well worth the effort.

Your ongoing support will enable me to continue to improve the quality and diversity of the content offered on this site. As a case in point, the above image is based on a photo of a statue I made at the Louvre in Paris during July 2011. While working on the image in Lightroom I started to remember some of the incredible paintings on display at this incredible gallery. Earlier in the day I was thinking about my early days in photographic retail, which included selling Polaroid film and cameras (and, dare I say, the Kodak equivalents). These thoughts led me to bring the processed image from Adobe Lightroom into Photoshop for a more creative rendering. The result: a kind of faded, Polaroid-like image with a texture somewhat reminiscent of an oil painting.

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Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru