One of the challenges a lot of photographers face these days is dealing with expectations they place on themselves that pertains to their audience or peers. These expectations come in a variety of formats but one thing that I think always gives them away is when a photographer is talking about where they are struggling and uses the word “should” as opposed to saying something like “I want to…”.
What should we post to social media? The image I like, or the image I think will be popular. Social media has built a vast and valuable network, but as we network more and more, and experience less and less isolation in our creative lives, it becomes harder and harder to hold onto our individual approaches to doing our work. Influences and expectations from external sources compete with our own internal desires. And it is often hard to even realise when you are changing up your creative approach, or even thinking about your photography, based on those external influences… adopting “this is how I should be doing things” over “this is how I want to do things”.
Can one get away from these pressures and influences? Unlikely. But I think there are ways to be more aware of them and manage them.
The first is just paying attention to how you think and talk about your own work, be it internally or with others. If you are critiquing yourself based on comparisons to other photography, this is a red flag. Watch the other language you use and ask yourself where it comes from. Again, the word “Should” in particular is one to note. When you find yourself using it, ask yourself just why should you do this thing differently? Is it because you want to, or because something else is making you feel like you ought to. Identifying this sort of thing is a great first step.
Another, may be to remember that you are your first and most important audience. If you are going to play to an audience, make that primary audience yourself first and everyone else secondary. Make photography for you, then share it with others.
Third is give yourself some space. Create a buffer zone between you and social media. It is surprising what a break can do for you. Spend that time making photos. Another way is don’t share work immediately. Sit on it. I often sit on images for months. What this does for me is that when an image does show up it is because it jumped out to me and spoke to me as when browsing my libraries. In other words, by waiting it makes it much easier for my motivations for posting a particular image to be because I felt something personally with that image, not because I was responding to external pressure to put something on social media for the rewards of likes, shares, engagement, etc. Of all the things I do, I think this delay in posting is one of the more helpful in creating a bit of space between me and the social media audience. It gives me time to process my feelings on my imagery and develop that relationship, so by the time the image goes up, everything that happens on the internet is just icing on the cake.
I also think it is a good practice to sit down and think about what kind of photographer you want to be, how you want to make images, what makes you happy. List these things out and then follow them as close as you can. Just some thoughts scribbled down on a rainy day afternoon.