Let me wish you a happy new year for 2023. I hope the new year brings good things!
I realise it has been an age since I wrote a blog. I disappeared, I stopped posting on my Facebook and Instagram pages, I didn’t make any You Tube videos…everything fell silent! Why?
In 2022 I took a conscious step back from photography for a number of reasons. Some of those reasons were specific to photography and the community and some were personal reasons. I’ll quickly address the personal reasons…for my family and close friends they won’t need an explanation as they are well aware of the challenges I’ve faced the past 5-6 years. Very simply it’s been a rough time personally. But even through the toughest moments I kept on with my photography. It was a passion that really kept me going.
Coming out of the pandemic at the end of 2021 into the beginning of 2022 I started to think about what photography meant to me. I had a lot going on in my life at the beginning of last year and I realised that I wasn’t finding the same fulfilment from photography as I had gotten in the previous years. I am very aware that I’ve been very fortunate with my photographic journey. It’s not lost on me that many photographers would have loved the opportunity to turn professional, become a brand ambassador, travel, go to photographic shows and build a profile. I will be forever grateful for the opportunities I had and whilst many people have contributed along the way, what I achieved was down to a lot of hard work and determination.
However, during the pandemic and the multiple lockdowns we had I was either restricted from going out locally or travelling internationally which was an important part of the practice of wildlife (and landscape photography). As a result photographic opportunities were few and far between. In addition I started to become disillusioned with what I saw in the community and on social media. Platforms that I used to enjoy such as Instagram transformed from a photo sharing platform into an algorithm driven TikTok copy. I was getting no value from the platform and my contributions were not getting seen. It had long been like that for Facebook, but it was Instagram where I had built the majority of my following and it was clear that there was no “social” interaction in this social media site. Likewise, despite enjoying making on location videos for You Tube, the algorithm on You Tube meant that to get any kind of traction you needed to be uploading regularly. And as I wasn’t getting out due to lockdowns, I wasn’t making content. Don’t get me wrong, I have a respect for those photographers who are making content and sharing via You Tube. They are providing value, either through entertainment or education. They are putting themselves out there, and it takes a lot of work to solo film, then edit a video, let alone be lucky with the right conditions to get great imagery. And it’s that last point that I started to realise: many of the big name photographers with a presence on You Tube have become slaves to the algorithm at the expense of the quality of their images. I don’t have a problem with that if they call out images that fall short. But many don’t. Many present sub standard work, and they still get hundreds of likes and favourable comments. Yet the final images they take let themselves and their body of work down. I know as I’ve been in that same situation. In 2021 I was trying to grow my You Tube channel and after a couple of videos where conditions were out of my control, I wasn’t satisfied with the final images. It’s ok for me, I have a small subscriber count. But I’d also had to abandon a couple of videos because I just wasn’t happy with my photography and didn’t want to produce a poor quality video just to meet the algorithm expectation of a regular weekly upload. It was this realisation that hit me. It was all about the hustle and I started to feel it wasn’t worth it…
…and something about the pandemic also changed interactions with people. I’ve had some discussions with friends about this, and I’m not alone in observing that people seem less kind, more agressive since the pandemic. I’d certainly experienced that online, and without going into the details, I have had past experiences of being targeted online as a photographer, in what was effectively nothing more than bullying.
There is a dark side to the photographic community. When you start out there is a wealth of resources available and in learning mode you can engage with more experienced photographers for help and advice. Some will positively engage. But others won’t. Many pro’s have to have multiple revenue streams to make a living and often have some form of revenue stream based around workshops/seminars or sharing knowledge. It’s a people business. You have to have a profile and credibility that you can deliver value to up and coming photographers looking to learn. But I’ve never seen any other industry where fellow pro photographers are willing to openly trash talk and reputation bash others. There is a simple lack of humility in the community. A wise photographer told me once “there will always be a photographer who is better than you, and there will always be a photographer who is worse than you”. That’s absolutely true. The key is to remain humble. Having had a profile in the micro 4/3 community I got a lot of messages asking for help and advice. I always answered to the best of my knowledge and for the most part I was thanked for that help.
But if part of your business is to impart photographic knowledge, it’s unwise to go around bashing others. It does a couple of things:
1) makes you look really unprofessional
2) will turn me away from ever using you
3) will turn me away from ever recommending you
And this is all an unfortunate consequence of social media presence building photographers profiles to a point where egos get so big, they start treating others like shit. Stay away from these people. They will never add value and you will be paying for nothing more than the privilege of being in their presence.
With all that said, very simply I became disillusioned with the state of photography. In 2022 I didn’t make any conscious efforts to get out with my camera. The only time I took photos is when I went on holiday. I wanted to go back to basics. I wanted to take some images purely for pleasure, and for myself. And I didn’t share these images online. I kept them for me. 2022 was the year I took the least number of photos since turning professional in 2016 (noté, I am no longer professional). What was great about the images I took was I didn’t have to think about them. It was like being on auto pilot. I didn’t have to think, everything came relatively easily and the images I did shoot I was very happy with. I got some fulfilment from them and that has been an important step to my getting back into photography.
At the time of writing this blog, I am sat in a hotel room in the UK. Out of the blue someone contacted me via my Facebook page inviting me to join a local group for a specific landscape photography site in Belgium. It was nice to be invited to that group. But once I joined, I noticed that one of my videos had been shared to that group. A video I made 5 years ago. And sure enough, there were some negative comments from others, including a pro (you know, one of those pro’s who runs workshops and seminars? One that historically I may have considered working with! Safe to say that won’t happen)…as I wrote above, it’s easy to criticise, less easy to put yourself out there and share your knowledge and experience for the benefit others. Rather than take the video at face value, it became a target in the group for criticism. It is just the latest proof point that I was right to take a significant step back from photography in 2022.
So what about 2023?
It is hard to say if I will make a come back. I have a few ideas I am deliberating. But I know I will continue to go back to basics, taking images on my terms for my fulfilment. I will not be taking images or pursuing projects for social media or to build my profile. Borders are now open and travel should be possible. I’m keen to return to Iceland, somewhere I’ve visited twice before but not been satisfied photographically. I know Iceland has been over photographed but I really don’t care. For me it’s about personal fulfilment. I’m also thinking about taking part in a workshop. Yup! I’ve been a professional. But I’m humble enough to recognise we can all continue to learn. So I am investigating a couple of workshop tours based on a recommendation from some friends who have been with a certain company already. And I may write the odd blog now and again, and even update my galleries with some new images.
Ultimately, if you are reading this blog let me leave you with a couple of things: best wishes for the new year, a call to action; stay humble and be kind, and….a few images from last year 😉
Roe Deer: Bois de Halle, Belgium
View of Tirana, Albania
Women’s Volleyball World Championship, Rotterdam NL
Anti war protest, Brussels, Belgium
Sunset, Porto, Portugal
Legacy communist memorial, rural Albania