I Hate Online Photo Communities
March 18, 2015
When I got really excited about photography, I was hungry to find other people who were like-minded, as well as finding people who were more experienced and skilled so I could learn and grow. I didn't want to feel alone as I struggled with concepts that gave me trouble, and I also wanted some sort of validation that my work was good. It didn't take long for me to find what I was looking for in a number of places. There were tons of forums and bulletin boards online that would let you put up your best work, get critiques, and give the same to others. Since then, the arena for sharing your work at any skill level has only grown. All you need is an internet connection and you have millions of photos—and their creators—at your fingertips. Similarly, you have a potentially enormous audience just waiting to find your work. Exciting, right? Well sometimes, I hate it. Here's why.
You know how it goes: someone with a large following or a substantial amount of influence among the community says something, and all of a sudden, everyone is on the bandwagon. It could be a contrary opinion, or perhaps it's an equipment suggestion, or maybe it's an obtuse statement about something subjective like what makes a good or bad photograph. Whatever it is, the (inexperienced) community at large may choose to hang onto those words as though they were an absolute fact. Not only that, but they'll perpetuate that opinion and push it to as many people as they can—all under the guise of "advice". It makes for a really toxic environment, regardless of your skill level. Why be a part of something where you don't feel like you can express your opinion or comfortably question topics? Why participate in a discussion where you don't feel your view is respected? How can you feel comfortable in a place where you feel misled? That brings me to my next point.
Too Many Technicians, Not Enough Photographers
I have never, ever looked at an MTF curve. I have looked up what one is, and why it's useful, but I've never thought about it when taking photos, or purchasing a lens. I appreciate (and prefer) a sharp photo, but I don't allow it to make or break what I create. I find that in a lot of communities, there is an unreasonable emphasis on technical points and quantifiable information. A lot of times, this might mean that an otherwise aesthetically pleasing image could be shot down, simply because it isn't technically sound. A photographer may come to a community with an image that they made, only to be ripped to shreds by comments on the corner sharpness, or how things look at 200%, or a sliver of color fringing. It's not that technical things don't matter, but sometimes communities can be very abrasive and too heavily focused on pixel peeping. If it's not pixel peeping, it could be any number of arbitrary rules. Someone who is too fixated on straight lines, or the rule of thirds, or a particular aesthetic, may be too closed-minded to appreciate imagery that doesn't adhere to their particular view. If you stumble into an entire community of people who share that fixation, it can be discouraging. I was once a part of a community that did photo "critiques". I place the biggest, heaviest quotes I can around that word, because what it really became, was a place where people would nitpick to the highest degree. It wasn't friendly, it wasn't constructive, and even when you had an image that met everyone's random standards, it wasn't satisfying.
Politics, Politics, Politics
Choose your poison: Tumblr, Instagram, 500px, Flickr, and so on. They all have have their own social ecosystem, and each of those ecosystems has its own nuances and preferences. Maybe tumblr likes one aesthetic, while instagram likes another. Trying to conform your style to the streams of social media is only asking to drown in its content. Sometimes, when you put your feelers out on social media platforms, it's easy to get caught up in who and what has a big influence. It's also easy to envy the success of others. Why don't your shots have as many comments, as many likes, as many as the next person? Why weren't your photos featured on your favorite blog? It's important to steer clear of that kind of self-defeating mentality.
The politics of photo communities can also create a false sense of camaraderie. You may want genuine connections that allow you to grow as an artist, only to end up disappointed when you realize the communities you frequent are built on a system of empty reciprocation. People may only feign interest in you and your work so they can get the same in return from you. Sometimes, the person's intentions are very clear, with a "follow for follow" comment or some other interaction that seems sincere, but really comes from a selfish place. Be wary of that kind of engagement. I mean, what good is a following if you can't trust that they are interested in your content, or that they're going to be supportive in one way or another?
Searching for a place where you feel welcome, and where the engagement is genuine can be quite a challenge, and like everything else I've mentioned here, it can be discouraging if you get a bad start—but don't fret!
There are plenty of things I dislike about online photo communities—the pretentious undertones, bad advice, favoritism, and fickle nature of its members is enough to make anyone exhausted. However, it's not all bad, I assure you. I just wanted to mention some things I dislike, and some of the things that have made me distance myself from online communities in general. I'm sure many of you can relate. In fact, I'd love to hear about it! In my next post, I'll write about things I love about online communities, and why I stick around, so stay tuned!