Photography has never been more popular than it is today. Even smartphone cameras are able to produce high-quality images which makes it easier than ever to start capturing images and sharing them online.
Sharing them online… It’s great, isn’t it? You’re able to get instant feedback, connect with like-minded people and view an endless number of beautiful photos every single day. But is that really a good thing? Can viewing too many become a bad thing?
Inspiring or Counter-Productive?
I’m asking this as an open question and I don’t think there’s necessarily a right or wrong answer. We’re all different: inspiration comes to us in various ways and that’s a good thing.
Should you look at other people’s work? I’ve discussed this topic with several other photographers and interestingly, opinions vary quite a bit. Some of them never look at others’ images, some only look at them offline, some only follow the output of their friends and favorite photographers while others view as many as possible.
Personally, I’m somewhere in-between. I enjoy looking at photography and go through periods where I look at tons every day. However, I’ve been feeling a bit uninspired for the past few months; can I blame that on viewing too many images?
I think we need to break it down and ask ourselves why we’re viewing the work of other photographers and what we take away from it.
In your case, are you looking for inspiration? Are you breaking down their images and studying how they’re made to learn from them? Are you scrolling through without observing? Or, are you comparing your own work with theirs?
The Curse of Comparing
Comparing your own work to other photographers can be a dangerous path, one that may even lead to the destruction of both your creativity and inspiration. But then again, not doing so is easier said than done, right?
I’m not going to lie. I’m guilty of doing this periodically myself and every time I do, eventually I end up becoming uninspired.
You can start out with good intentions; perhaps you’ll find it motivating to see how your photography evolves but at some point, you’ll end up looking at your own images without connecting to them. They simply aren’t as good as whoever you’re following online (though that is your subjective opinion).
This becomes a destructive path and you can quickly forget why you began photography in the first place. You may end up focusing more on matching others’ work than on actually developing your own.
I think that ‘the curse of comparison’ starts occurring when you view too many images, when you’re constantly updating Instagram or Facebook to like the newest picture in your feed or on a hashtag.
The Art of Studying
A wiser approach to viewing photography is to limit the number of images you view and instead of scrolling past them in your newsfeed, take the time to study and analyze them. Try to break them down and think of why the photographer has made the decisions they made. More importantly, reflect upon why it appeals to you.
It will force you to slow down and be more observant. You won’t be able to view hundreds of photos a day. Instead of ‘overdosing’ on images, you might instead take away some new knowledge.
You shouldn’t necessarily limit yourself to only studying the work of other photographers nor to doing it all online. Look at paintings, digital art or other visual art too. But, that’s a whole different conversation!
So… Should You View Others Work?
You already know I don’t think there’s one correct answer but I do think there are some things we should keep in mind. The pressure of participation on social media can be difficult; many of us want to grow our accounts which in turn requires a high amount of engagement on others’ work as well — finding a healthy balance is an important challenge. Can we stick to our own course in the process, or does the work of others begin to compromise our outlook and output?
It’s ok to enjoy the work of others but I think it becomes a problem if we start comparing our work to theirs. I also believe it might be demotivating when we view too many images. If we spend hours upon hours every day or week viewing photography, we can end up being too influenced when working on our own images which, again, leads to comparing our work.
I, for one, am trying to take a small step back from social media this year. I’ll still be posting weekly and I’ll look through the feed to view your pictures but I’m not going to spend as much time as I have before. I don’t want to be too influenced in the field. I want to photograph the things that speak to me in a scene. I want to be proud of what I publish.
What do you think? Can viewing the work of other photographers be demotivating?