“Don’t obsess over followers and likes counts,” they say. It’s more complex than that. Way more complex.
We all seek some sort of validation. We are social animals after all, and part of our personality is determined by what our peers think of us. It’s innate and written in our DNA.
It’s both good and bad.
It’s good because it helps us conforming to social norms of the society we live in. It’s bad because it can kill our creativity and freedom, worsen some negative traits of our personality, and sometimes even cause mental health issues.
I do seek validation. You do, too. We established it’s normal and it’s not a problem at all. It’s a fact that we must cope with.
To do that, we must consider the reason why we seek validation and thus we should try and go beyond the dopamine-induced high of social media likes.
First off: I’m not trying to make a living from my photographs. It’s a hobby and as such it must remain pleasant, engaging and easy.
I consider my website my main online presence. It’s mine and it’s fully under my control. I can decide what stays on the front page, what gets deleted, how things look, and so on. I really love having my very own website, even if nobody will ever see it. It’s my gallery and I love the process of curating its contents.
Enter social media.
You see, my approach to social media is post and forget. I publish a photo and forget about it. I may not even go back and look at the likes or hearts or whatever. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. I never scroll through social media unless I’m publishing a photo. That’s it. The rest of the time, the apps stay well shut. I don’t get any kind of reward from scrolling through social media, so why should I do it? Why not go out and shoot some photographs instead? Why not simply look around us, being aware of what we see? (Awareness is arguably the most important ability of a photographer, but I digress.)
If you are thinking that I’m not really participating in social media – that I’m not being social – then you’re right. And I’m perfectly happy this way. Less stress, less time wasted.
Remember: likes are just a number written somewhere on a server. Likes are not real people. Likes are not interactions. Likes live and die in a matter of minutes. Are they worth the effort? Are they worth any effort at all?
Besides, I dropped Instagram and Facebook long ago and I only use social platforms that I deem less algorithm-oriented: Twitter, Mastodon, Vero, and Flickr. Yes, Flickr! These platforms come and go, so I’m not particularly invested in any single one of them.
The Ultimate Social Media Platform
So you come back home with a bunch of photos from a trip in an exotic location – or maybe just a walk in the local park. You go through editing and you think that some of the photos are great. You’re really proud of them.
And then you publish them on social media.
I mean, you can do that of course, but…
The real sharing should happen in the real world with real people.
Try this: the next time you’re hanging out with friends, family members or even coworkers during coffee break, show them one of your photos. Tell them about the great time you had there on location. Explain how you thought about the composition and what you did in post-processing. Sure, some of them will not care much, but others will. They will ask questions, they will show their own photos. This interaction will awaken memories and people will tell stories. It will be fun and you will remember it as an event on its own. Heck, you might even get other people interested in photography!
A real person, physically in front of you, is looking at your photograph. Think about it for a moment. You’ll get a reward greater than all the likes in the world. And this statement comes from a somewhat introverted individual…
The Truth Is In The Print
All of this works in print format too – no, it’s even better.
We have our walls covered in photo prints. Inexpensive A4 frames will go a very long way even with photos printed at home.
Photos are interesting conversation subjects when you have guests and can help breaking the ice with them. Much better than talking about the weather!
Getting Back To The Why
So, why do we seek validation? I can’t answer this question for you, but the idea is that you may want to think about the why.
Why are you seeking validation? Why are you craving – or not craving – for likes? Why do you want to show your photos to other people in the first place?
Once you answer these questions, the how will come later without much effort.
For me, photography is the product of a long process that begins with a very broad idea of “going somewhere nice” and arrives to a final edited image – maybe framed and hung on a wall.
So, why do I feel the need to publish my photos on my website? Why do I post them on social media?
Of course the broad, obvious answer is that I want other people to see my photographs. But why is that? What is the next level of motive? Do I even seek validation and approval in doing so? Yes, probably, but…
I suspect that the answer is in the process. I just like doing it. I like taking photos, I like editing them, and above all I like curating my body of work: deciding what to publish, what to keep for myself, what to share now or later, what to revisit down the line a try again.
In a way, it’s my little own world and I like being in control of it. It’s like saying, “Here is my work. Look at it, or don’t look at it, I don’t care. It exists nonetheless and I made it.” I’m asserting my existence in the photography space.
Is this a sufficient why?