Today there is a critical look at some topics: I was asked a few days ago (for several times now) that at the end of my article "What makes a good nature photo" as well as in some of my blog entries apparently Instagram "does not come off well".
This had been on my mind and I would like to write about it in a more differentiated way. This article is probably only for Instagram users really well understandable and since it is here about spontaneous snippets of thoughts on the subject , you can also safely zap away 😉
It's a look at the downsides of Instagram and not a fair weighing. But I think there are also many advantages and the platform has given me many great contacts and insights.
First of all: Yes, some developments in nature photography, especially in the context of social media I find absolutely a pity, I'll go into more detail in a moment. Although the algorithms of Instagram, Facebook or other platforms favor some of these developments, I see the causes for these developments on many sides.
1. Completely detached
To begin with, it's about a point that is now becoming increasingly apparent: there is hardly any reliable connection between success on platforms like Instagram (in the form of reach and growth) and the quality of the content (e.g. a photographer's images).
Well, anyone who has ever worked in a profession with a lot of people for a long time in their life knows that it has always been part of the "game" for success and has less to do with any apps: People who like to market themselves quite painlessly tend to be more successful, that's nothing really new. However, I've only known this in "competition" at about the same level.
For a long time, in landscape or nature photography Internet forums, for example, even without special self-promotion skills, you still got just as much response as others if the quality of your images was exceptionally good.
But that has changed significantly in the wake of social media. Today, if someone signs up for Instagram for the first time, they can show an insanely professional animal shot, for example, and the chance that they'll get just as much response as an "influencer" with more than 100k followers is like winning the lottery.
The quality of the posted image may be an advantage, but it is definitely no longer decisive. At this point, I could give countless examples of established and renowned photographers who have only joined Instagram in the last two years and hardly get any response for their great works because they hardly "entertain" besides showing their pictures.
Even many Instagrammers, who would rather be called beginners or at most advanced, surpass many professionals by far in the reach of their accounts and sometimes have dizzying numbers of followers. The recipe is simple: content without end, competitions, quiz shows, leading questions, all kinds of entertainment, and lots of filming of themselves at work, preferably while having their morning coffee.
So what? Everyone can do what they want, you can zap away, right?
That's true, but this is where it gets interesting. I don't blame these photographers at all. There are many nature enthusiasts who are just a bit more extroverted and ambitious and or have a lot of fun with entertainment. And their followers also have this fun, so for now everything is good so far, I also regularly let myself be sprinkled by their content. And whether someone photographs better or worse doesn`t matter to me. Where is the relevance then?
And that's the point: the relevance of this range is now enormous and, in my opinion, is gradually rising above a critical point.
Suddenly, the above-mentioned "influencers" (e.g. Instagrame or Youtube) are treated as top photographers by the big photo companies, marketed and sponsored. How many image campaigns I've seen now with photographers who rank at most on the "advanced" skill level is remarkable.
And then I think to myself, why wasn't one of hundreds of photographers chosen for this very campaign theme, who deliver professional image quality and are known to have a top portfolio in this campaign theme?
The question is of course rhetorical and the answer follows the principle of the hoped-for higher profitability through more reach of the protagonists.
Especially with the photographic TOP-Youtubers this effect is striking and the discrepancy between media presence and quality of the photographs is sometimes outstanding.
For professionals in particular, this is now relevant. Maybe not for the stars, not for everyone, less for those who have already built up good networks and contacts to the big players years ago. But for everyone else it is - for example for young talented photographers - they are suddenly in competition with these influencers, even if they play in a completely different league photographically.
And it's more than just photo industry sponsorship: it's also about exposure in online magazines, newspaper coverage, selling tutorials, workshops, e-papers, appearances at trade shows, and more. I currently follow more than 500 photographers on Instagram, and at least the best 100 of them could deliver these services at a professional TOP level - but they often no longer get the "contract", but more and more often the "influencers" mentioned before.
Fortunately, I personally do not have to make a living from photography, but for the many professional or very good photographers who have worked for years to achieve a really good level, I'm really sorry and that's exactly what I regret very much about the development.
For this article I have chosen a -for me- special photo from Iceland. "The Diamond".
What it has to do with this article? For a long time I had the picture idea in my head to show the beach where you can see far only one seeming ice block on the beach of Jökulsarlon. During my many visits I have often been close to it. But sometimes the transparency/glow was not high enough, sometimes there was too much stones or ice on the sand, sometimes there was a 2nd ice block next to it, sometimes there were traces in the sand, etc. To retouch these things takes about 3 seconds with a halfway decent image editing software. And yet I preferred to go there again and again, more than 30 times, until everything was right. But this approach often seems no longer state of the art.
What I find specifically unfortunate is the lack of authenticity of many "nature shots" in the social media. And I'm not talking about a color slider that has landed too far to the right or left.
Emblematic for what I mean was a very recent Instagram ad of a photographer, which I recently ran across: he was promoting his picture with the caption HOMEMADE and hashtags like #nature #yourbavaria #pure!
The reactions to this spectacular sunset image were clear, all commenters agreed, and I quote, "Unbelievably beautiful shot".
The problem with that? It's not his. He photographed Lake Eibsee in normal sunny conditions and then replaced it with one of the (now well-known) skies in the Luminar software. Many other sky colours and shapes can be bought there between about 20 and 39€ and exchanged with a few mouse clicks, as I read once today.
#HOMEMADE ?: neither at home nor self "made" was this sky, but photographed by another photographer in another year at another place. I don't even want to know how many times I have looked at pictures where I didn't recognize this one. I've certainly seen this particular sky 30 times in the last year, so it caught my eye. I'm itching to add and link to this article here with all these examples, but I want to refrain from doing so for various -probably understandable- reasons.
And this is a recurring principle: pure nature is suggested here, unfortunately far away from reality.
But even apart from such striking examples, the kind of image processing has become extreme. Especially with many landscape shots of well-known influencers, that certain something is created on the computer and not on location.
For example, in the portfolio of many large accounts with 6-digit follower numbers, there is no sky at all that is brighter
than the landscape. Even if the sun is still quite high in the cloud-free daytime sky, the luminance of the sky is reduced to such an extent that, for example, blue turns into an almost black
coloration, resulting in a wacky almost evening spotlight mood. The same with forest shots, where sunbeams are used with Photoshop, but also in animal shots you can find such things. All very
effective, but just zero authentic.
But again: these photographers have partly a high relevance by their range, are invited as experts of photography (and not of image processing!) to forums, fairs and interviews. At this point, I often have the feeling that no one is interested in how a picture is created.
Normal viewers usually do not recognize this (a pity but absolutely understandable), and many editors, trade fair organizers, media professionals etc. do not seem to care - the range attracts attention of the photographer and creates it equally for the sponsor - Win:Win thus.
THAT is a real pity - it seems that less and less people appreciate that photographers like Stefan Forster or Tobias Ryser prefer to go to the same spot X times to have great conditions instead of creating these moods in Photoshop. If it would be transparent for the viewers, many people would appreciate it, though, in my opinion.
At least in major nature photography competitions, there still exists a consistent raw control, or in other words, a comparison with reality. But of course this is just a drop in the bucket and does not play a role in social media.
3. what this means for nature:
And this is actually the most important aspect: in this last point I am concerned with how the situation has changed on the ground. Most people know that many nature hotspots are now so overcrowded, so I would like to explain this point deliberately using the example of a still quite unknown spot:
Last year I was in two beautiful forest areas at the "Blue Bells" in NRW/Germany. Photographing these blue carpets was really fun. But one of these forest areas is still quite unknown and although I do not find it at all better than the other (largely known) it was just "NEW" 😃 And that's when it started: After I posted a story of it on Instagram, I got within 48 hours about 30 requests (!) Where this place is exactly. Incidentally, once, from a complete stranger to me, connected with the emphatic advice to send me the coordinates instead instead of just a description of the way.
And I have just over 20 thousand followers, so the damage that, for example, travel bloggers with million-follower-accounts can do is enormous if they link sensitive spots. This is also a reason why I now no longer make any spot statements at all, unless they are in every tourist guide.
Nevertheless, of course, I also encourage people to look for such spots with my pictures, and I don't want to deny this partial guilt.
By the way, it didn't help much not to share this: in the first as well as in the second area the bluebell fields, actually delicate and beautiful orchids, looked after a few days as if someone had gone for a walk with an industrial roller in the forest.
My conclusion: I find a precise cause analysis in this context incredibly difficult, and finding a real solution is naive utopia anyway.
I often read that Instagram is blamed in connection with these issues. I think that's wrong. In my opinion, as already indicated, this takes place at different points:
- The mindset of the users: especially in points 2 and 3, the vanity of many people and the urge for constant self-affirmation and success plays a big role, and for this, a lot is cheaply accepted
- The interests of the economy: whether at publishing houses, in the photo industry, at trade fairs, etc.: more and more often the decisive factor in the selection seems to be: "why take the expensive professional when the amateur brings even more reach?"
- The algorithm of the social media: here much helps evenly nevertheless much
So these are a few things that currently bother me. However, in this article I also looked very strictly at the disadvantages. I no longer see it so emotionally, I can now skillfully ignore it on most days 😉
What follows from this? Quite simply, if you don't like it, you can withdraw from these aspects by logging out of the platforms; after all, it's not the pivotal point of the world. However, this does not solve all of the above problems, of course.
Personally, I won't do that, despite all the disadvantages. Because Instagram, for example, also offers many advantages: I can easily exchange ideas with like-minded people, get to know them and follow their nature experiences via Stories, and that can also be a lot of fun.
That's enough thoughts for today. I wish you now a nice day and with best regards,
P.S.: oh, and visit me on Instagram 🤣😜