How do you measure your success as a photographer?
I hadn’t thought about this for quite a while. A couple of days ago I was reading a blog by a fellow Albertan, Cindy Kilpatrick. Briefly, she wrote that when she started posting photos on Flickr, and one of her photos made it to the front or the Explore page, (which usually results in lots of page views), it was deemed to be one of the best or most interesting. She, like almost all of us, got caught up in trying to figure out the magic combination to remain in Explore. She quickly figured out that being the Explore photo for the day or the hour was NOT what interested and motivated her. What motivated her was to become a better photographer.
I’ve been involved in photography professionally in one way or another since the early seventies. From first seeking approval from family members and friends to photography instructors to art directors and then finally to editors, I realized that the most important opinion of my work was mine. It was a eureka moment that happened early on. Even in photo school I could see that I often disagreed with my instructors when they were critiquing photos. If I disagreed with how they loved a fellow classmates photo, which I didn’t think was all that great, why would I value their opinion when they gave my photos that same love? It had dawned on me that there was no definitive right or wrong when taking photos.
Everyone wants to be liked and popular in real life. In the cyber world of photography forums, it’s no different.
During my first year on Flickr, many, probably too many of my photos made the Explore page. My page views soared. I was receiving hundreds of views and dozens of comments daily. Today, my page views are a fraction of what they used to be. What gives? I think that my photos are better and more interesting. It’s not like there are less people on that website these days.
I still see some photographers receiving hundreds of views and comments daily. Is my taste in photography that bad or that different from the rest? Truthfully, I don’t think so.
There are a couple of things going on. The first is how you shoot. The easiest thing in photo school for me was to ace an assignment by shooting the way that I knew my instructor liked. It was formulaic really. If I jumped through the hoops and did things the way my instructor liked, I was almost guaranteed a 95 per cent on my assignment. Note: he never handed out 100 per cent marks as he believed that no photograph was perfect. LOL
How do you do that with landscape photos? Well, you pick out the most cliched and overdone places and with the right light and weather, BINGO! Oh yeah, what you also want to do is have over the top colors and processing. The more punch a photo has the better it will be received by the masses. There are a hand of people who travel extensively across western North America photographing only the popular places. They’ve all done Vermillion Lakes in Banff or Palouse Falls in Washington state. Doing that is akin to shooting fashion. You take the picture, the lights, camera and setting are all the same. Your first model is me. Your second model is Gisele Bundchen. Which set of photos will look the best? It works that way with landscapes. You can stack the cards in your favor.
The second way to become popular is by cultivating hits. Join the most popular groups and then comment, comment, comment and add friends to your account. Do you have four or five thousand friends on Flickr? If so why and more importantly, how do you keep track of your five thousand closest friends photos if they each post one photo a week?
There is kind of an unwritten rule of etiquette which I NEVER follow. When someone adds your photo as a favorite, adds you as a friend or comments on your photo, reciprocate. Yeah, I know that takes a lot of work but it takes work to be popular. It doesn’t happen by chance. If you think that only rookie amateur photographers do this, you’re being naive. I see some of the best semi-professional photographers posting over and over again on a dozen different photo sharing websites. It’s a great feeling being the big fish in a small pond. You get to travel to the lake on the weekend an hour from your place and they’ve just returned from Iceland or Patagonia. LOL Which photo will probably garner the most views? I laugh as I write this because it does seem hilarious.
Here’s how I see it and I am just one small voice in the wilderness. My photos are tied into part of my ego. Am I disappointed when a photo that I am particularly proud of gets only sixty views on Flickr? Honestly? Yeah, a little. Is that why I post my photos? Nope, at least not now. It might have been part of the reason early on.
Why do I post my photos? Exposure.
Firstly, I love to share what I have done with others as much as I enjoy viewing what others have created. It’s by sharing our visions that we all grow creatively and artistically. That is probably the MOST important reason.
The second most important reason? Money. As a happy accident, my landscapes earn me a fair annual income. Art directors and agencies are becoming less reliant on the giant photo agencies. The percentage of money that I earn from stock photo sales from agencies versus direct sales is changing. The way to get your photos seen by potential clients is by keywording your photos on the various websites. Keywording allows customer to meet client.
Getty Images is aware of that. They’re the giant in the stock photo business for a reason. Let a customer find a photo on Flickr and they’ll contact Getty to buy your photo. That sounds great until you see the EIGHTY PER CENT of the sale that Getty takes. They get that for doing nothing really. The photo doesn’t even have to be in their system.
I’ve had photos sell for six thousand dollars. Do you know what eighty per cent of six thousand is? Why should Getty be getting that for really doing NOTHING. Without the photographer, they are nothing. Sadly, there is a greater supply than demand but still, my website generates sales for me despite the overabundance of landscapes on the internet.
But are sales a sign of success? Nope. Never have been and never will. Success for me is when I come back from a shoot in the morning, do a rough edit and BINGO, there is one I am happy with. It matters not what anyone says about it or if it sells. Success is when that photo makes a connection with me. It always has been that way and always will.