Never enough "likes"


I've told you about the year long photography project that I'm a part of, right? It's a private group - Project52Pro, and we have a photo assignment each week for 52 weeks. Plus a critique by the professional photographer who leads the group, Don Giannatti. And feedback in a private flickr group. 

It's been inspiring. And it's been humbling. The little bit of photography that I can do fairly well has been well received. The others? Not so much. 

Each Saturday morning at 8am I join the critique with my pen and moleskin notebook, ready to take notes. Sometimes it's things that I knew already were a problem but just don't have the skills yet to execute. And sometimes it's things that I hadn't even noticed.

It's not harsh criticism. It's fair. And I learn a lot from hearing the critiques of everyone else's photographs.

I've moved from being judged in the relative terms of "gee that's pretty good for a beginner" to being judged in absolute terms of "did this photograph hit the mark or not?". 

I write this not to elicit sympathy, but rather, to give you an idea of what sparked me thinking about putting our work online and pursuing "likes" and what weight we give those social media "likes".

And how we need to separate the pursuit of the "like" from the pursuit of useful criticism of our creative work.

It's a slippery slope

One of the very few problems with digital photography is not that it's made photography accessible. I believe that accessibility is a good thing - more people taking photos means more people appreciating photography. It means more people expressing themselves creatively.

However, one problem with digital is the ability to post immediately. And get feedback immediately. And that, my friends, can be a slippery slope to seeing how many "likes" this photo or that photo receives. It becomes about volume and "likes" and popularity rather than a measured, steady pace of improvement and growth. 

It's all about intention

It's not the pursuit of "likes" that's a problem but rather the blurring of objectives as a creative who also blogs. The strategies needed to improve your art-making can be at cross purposes with growing your blog audience. 

If you do end up blurring the two, suddenly your art-making becomes more about recognition by others rather than about your own creative objectives. Rather than "staying on the f**ing bus", you end up going back to the station and starting another journey on a different bus.

You end up with a larger appetite for "likes" and less patience for sticking with your own path. Everyone "liking" your work is no more valid than everyone "hating" your work. Not really. 

If you are a creative who blogs, by all means pursue those "likes". We all do. We need them. They will help grow your blog audience. But as a blogger who creates? You need something else. Just focusing on "likes" is not going to get you where you need to go.

Train your inner critic

What? Really? Yes. Send your inner critic to school. Wanting to be a better food photographer? Understand your genre. Know the big players. Learn the different styles. Learn how styles have changed over the years. What's the standard? What's popular? 

Make a file of tearsheets of your favourite shots, your favourite illustrations, clips of your favourite writing - why do you like them? How can you reproduce them?

Before you take your photos, be explicit about your intended outcome. What are you hoping to achieve? Is it a composition? A style? A colour palette? 

Then when you are done, look critically and carefully at your work. Did you achieve your objectives? Why or why not?

Find another critic

Critic, mentor, portfolio reviewer, coach - whatever you call it, if you are serious about improving your craft, no matter what your field, you need someone external to look at your work. Someone who has the knowledge of the genre, its history, and the ability to add value with a critique.

Someone who will understand and appreciate your goals and intended outcomes. Someone whose feedback you can learn from.

Put the "likes" in their place

"Likes" are good. "Likes" have their place. "Likes" ARE feedback - feedback on your blog that is. Very important feedback on the success of your brand and social media presence. But don't blur the number of "likes" with how well you are doing with your art. 

Put the "likes" in their place.