30 August 2019

Five Problems with Social Media and Photographers

First Nude in the desert. Art Model, Patti from neg scans. ©2006 Terrell Neasley

"Popularity isn't just something that happens. 
You have to give something in exchange for it, and that's the dangerous part of the process."
~ Robert Bringhurst

I know only a few people who are not on social media at all. I don't know anyone who is a photographer and NOT on, at least, one social media platform. I no longer have an IG account, mainly because of my art nude work and how I feel about the company. Even as I first opened my account, I had concerns. As a whole, I've never been sure how I have liked the term "influencer" for social media stars. The connotation sounded almost sinister to me. You might more accurately call them "manipulators", or "puppeteers". Regardless, this post should be taken into consideration for people who are creatives, artists, but specifically photographers.

Here are FIVE things to be careful of:

1. Social Media can dictate how you shoot

SM eliminates differentiation by homogenizing all of your work. How is this done? Because now, LIKES and FOLLOWERS become the most important thing to you and your popularity takes precedence over your originality. Instead of trying to come up with an original concept, it's far to easy to copy the trend. You become beholden to the influencers and the followers who like them in order to get those likes and followers, yourself. In effect, by letting them dictate WHAT you shoot or HOW you edit your work begins to look like someone else's and when the multitudes do this, your art is homogenized, or assimilated if you like that better.

This might equate to shooting a ton of extreme shallow depths of fields for your portraits because you see that's what people are clicking the like-button most for. Maybe you start trending your work to B&W, doing more burning wool shots or becoming a documentary-style wedding shooter. All that's fine if you want to go there, but consider the impetus that puts you on that path. Is it YOUR idea or a social media trend?

First Nude in the desert. Art Model, Patti from neg scans. ©2006 Terrell Neasley
There is even a profitable market out there to BUY followers, instead of producing excellent work and earning them. I guess nobody has time for that! Just click on one of the ads that promise to add 1000, 5000, or 10,000 followers! Problems solved, right! And it doesn't make any difference if these are fake accounts! Maybe I'm just old fashioned. Maybe I'm just ranting again. But, feel free to be honest with yourself. You don't even have to tell anybody. Ask yourself what is most important to you as an artist and what that translates into. What do likes actually do for you? Does it put your art on a wall? Can you eat "likes"? Can you show the power company your IG profile of 1000 followers instead of catching up on that light bill?

2. Social Media can dictate how you sell

Getting your work out there, sharing your adventures, art, and ideals, are all reasons to market yourself on a social media platform. Traditional or Conventional Marketing concepts get abandoned with newer social media trends. Traditional Marketing is based more on gathering information and using that information to show you where to spend your marketing and advertising dollars to optimize your bottom line. Social Media, however, is consistently about maximizing popularity while "thinking" it might translate into money. That is the illusion. It's akin to basing your retirement plan on your success at the slot machines.

How you sell should be based on identifying your market, knowing the correct value of your work, knowing your competition and competing effectively, and then devising a strategy that provides a product or service that optimizes your money based on these factors. Social Media is supposed to be only a single part of a good marketing promotional campaign. That is what determines how you sell. So, is it?

First Nude in the desert. Art Model, Patti from neg scans. ©2006 Terrell Neasley
3. Social Media can dictate how you feel about your work

Comparisons are the enemy of a whole lot of the psychology of how we feel about ourselves. It's just an opinion, but I think there is a high percentage of cases of depression and anxiety that would be effectively eliminated if we ceased to compare ourselves with other people and/or stopped giving a damn about what other people think of us. I know I'm guilty of this. I won't even go in-depth on this, but I will let you answer for yourself. Do you spend any amount of your time looking at other people's work/likes/followers and then have a negative feeling about your own?

4. Social Media often offers a false sense of achievement

There is not a lot to say about this either. You can ask yourself a similar question. Are you popular on social media and if so, how has it changed your quality of life, relationships, financial freedom, etc. If you are celebrating sitting on 50K FOLLOWERS, but not a damn thing has changed in your life for the better... well, maybe that sense of achievement is misplaced. Maybe I don't know what I'm talking about, but you can evaluate things on your own. How much of your SM life is honestly reflected in your actual life? Are you truly as happy as your profile seems to imply? If you are not, how much effort does it take to keep up the charade and what does it cost you to maintain the lie?

First Nude in the desert. Art Model, Patti from neg scans. ©2006 Terrell Neasley
5. Social Media can distract from real goals

And this is the culmination of everything above. If it's not being used effectively as a part of a valid promotional/marketing strategy, then it is negatively dictating how you shoot, how you sell, how you feel about your work, and can easily give you a false sense of achievement if you are, in fact, popular.

So then what are your real goals? Have you sat down and given this some thought? Have you written down these goals and where are you now on that path towards them? I think, used properly, social media can be an excellent platform to get your work out there, be noticed, make money, and have fun. I think the question becomes "WHO CONTROLS WHO?" So what is the driving force behind your motivations and behaviors on social media? Is it a tool or has it become the master? If you are not on the path to those goals, then regroup and refocus. Plot out that path again. If your current social media methods yield only marginal results, it's only wise to put those resources of time, energy, and money to better use with other possibilities.

First Nude in the desert. Art Model, Patti from neg scans. ©2006 Terrell Neasley

03 August 2019

Can You Travel Around the World?

Earlier work with good friend, Art Model, Dana © 2007 Terrell Neasley
“Don’t listen to what they say. Go see! Forget about pictures in a book. Put your own eyes on it!”

I'm going to say, short answer, YES! Of course, that's what I'll say. I've been advocating travel for years. Can everybody honestly do it? No, but for various reasons. Most won't out of fear. Others won't because they simply don't have the interest. You may have health issues or concerns. People ask me this question many times over the course of my travels. Traveling around the world is not always about money. How you want to travel is also an important factor and that has to do with your specific tolerances and expectations. Stay open-minded and weigh these considerations in your plans:

How you travel

Intercity, Regional, or International...this is likely the most important factor in everything and a large determinant on the money. I am a backpacker trying to travel around the world. I have everything on my back and I try to find the cheapest means to get from one place to another. I may not always CHOOSE the cheapest means, but I always want to know what it is. I'm guilty of taking a cab or an Uber when public transportation will save me a fraction of the cost. In Guatemala, I could spend $20 on a cab from my apartment to downtown or literally spend only 30¢ to do the same thing on the public shuttle buses. You just have to deal with the crowds, may have to stand, and make sure you hear and understand the name of your stop so you know when to get off.

I will also confess that sometimes I'll fly when I don't need to, but usually, I will take a bus. I save more money on the bus and at this point, that's becoming more and more important. You save time by flying, of course. But taking the bus can mean more experience and for me, time isn't that pressing of an issue. I've been at this for 18 months with 5 more years, (I'm guessing) to go. Buses should be more of a priority for me unless I find a regional flight that costs no more than bus fare. That was the case from Quito, Ecuador to the coasts in Esmarelda. The flight was $80 and was 45 mins. The bus was $20, but 7 hours. I gladly hopped that flight.

Earlier work with good friend, Art Model, Dana © 2007 Terrell Neasley

When you travel

This is also a very important one. WHEN you travel can make the difference between an expensive experience or not. It can make the difference between a miserable experience or a good one. For a photographer, it can mean getting the shot or not.

For any place you go there is usually a high season and a low season. The high season is going to be more expensive. You find the deals in the low season. And that's high and low in terms of volume of tourists that visit the same place. Just be careful, there may be a reason people visit at certain times. It could be weather-related and simply coincide with vacation times.

Weather-related considerations can make a miserable experience. It's always hot in the Amazon, so you can go any time of the year. But there is a dry and a wet season. You may not always enjoy being rained on every day. Mosquitos are also out in mass during that time of the year. At this very moment, I am in Nicaragua because I didn't want to be cold in Argentina right now. Summer for me is Winter below the equator which is something you need to remember. But even in Nicaragua, I was burning up in Granada and it was SO humid! I was there for two weeks before coming further north to Esteli where I am now. Far cooler and less rain in the mountains here!

And there are other factors that photographers need to consider. I was in Guatemala during the summer one year. I got some great shots of Lake Atitlan. However, when I returned another year during the Spring for something similar, I could not get it. The weather was great! But clouds settled on the far side of the lake and obscured the mountains and volcanoes I wanted in my shot! I could not capture any stars either!

Earlier work with good friend, Art Model, Dana © 2007 Terrell Neasley
Where you travel

Of course, where you go will be a big part of your decision process. Go to Paris, France and you will, without a doubt, pay a ton more than you will in Nicaragua. Iceland will be much more expensive than Central America. For me, I am starting to get to the more expensive areas on my route. So far, it has been cheap traveling in Central American countries. Then I was in Colombia and Ecuador and it was still relatively inexpensive. Peru was a different story. Going further south, the cost of travel begins to climb. From Dallas or Las Vegas, I can fly south to just about anywhere for $300, but once I want to fly past Lima, Peru, all that changes.

Are you healthy to travel

You can't really do anything in life without checking to see if you can physically do it. Even advertisements to join a gym will throw in a caveat at the end telling you to consult your doctor before beginning any physical activities at the gym. Likewise, you have to know if you can travel abroad, or anywhere really. This is especially the case if you have medication that you need or if you have physical limitations. Many countries in the world do not have regulatory adaptions for people with physical disabilities, like ramps or braille elevator buttons.  You might think age would be a factor. In my experience, I can't include this. The only real factor is just physical strength. I watch an 80-year old man from the US live here in Nica alone and he travels around at will.

What will you bring when you travel

What do you need to bring with you and how will you pack it around? I carry everything on my back. I do not depend on porters or anyone for help. I try to keep my physical carrying weight to about 65 pounds or 30 kilograms. That is split between my camera bag and my backpack. Camera gear and accessories are more important than clothes for me. I could likely get away with under 30 pounds total if I wasn't traveling as a photographer.

You might need luggage with wheels and a handle. For urban spots, that won't be much of a problem. Try doing that in the jungle and you're going to have issues. Some places will have people to help you and others will not.

Earlier work with good friend, Art Model, Dana © 2007 Terrell Neasley
Travel Alone or With Someone

It won't be the same for you, but for me, I NEED SOMEBODY TO SHOOT on a regular basis! That's MY biggest hang-up. However, in general, I can't say which is better in this case. I know I've traveled with someone and there were moments I looked for solidarity. There have been moments while I'm traveling alone and wished I had company... and not just somebody to shoot, but real company to enjoy a tour or scenery with you or something. There are nonetheless, benefits to both. Even if you are with someone, especially for long periods, it's good to split up for a bit and do your own thing. You can easily crowd each other after a while, especially in small confines when you're trying to be cheap. Don't fear a split for a week to go in different directions and meet up again later.

Traveling alone has been a blessing for me in more ways than it sucks. I invite people all the time to come out and visit. But I have to confess, there have been much in terms of emotional turmoil that has sent me into a tailspin. A break-up and the death of a good friend of mine is one reason I'm traveling like this now. Then the death of my younger brother AND grandfather in the same month a year later smacked me on the back end of recovering from everything the year before! I'm honestly not sure how great company I was to @kayci.lee who actually come out with me for that first month. These are life shake-ups that everybody deals with. But overall, traveling alone has taught me so much. I recommend it. Don't be afraid of it.

So yeah, it can be done. It depends on your attitude, money, and your expectations. The more flexible you can be, the better. Do your research and find out as much as you can about the area and region of the world you wish to see. If you can block out 3 weeks out of your schedule somehow, and do at least half a decent job at planning, you'll have the experience of your life. But even when things go wrong, just remember. Nobody's perfect and NOTHING goes exactly to plan...if you're lucky!

Travel Safe!