The Social Media Headache

When photography isn’t fun anymore // Accompanied by some really old Instagram shots.

If you were to ask me right this second whether landscape photography was my profession or my hobby I seriously wouldn’t know the answer. While I earn money with weddings or portraits, my landscape work doesn’t really pay my rent. Job? Maybe not. Well, then it must be a hobby, right? Because if it doesn’t bring in a lot of money then it should at least be fun. But what happened when all of a sudden landscape photography is no longer fun? There’s possibility A: you’ve chosen the wrong hobby or B: there are other forces at play. Now I’m pretty sure that photography and especially landscape photography is an important part of my personality and my life – so it’s probably not a bad choice. So what happened that the joy of something so important is lost?

I’ll tell you what happened. The forces at work are called pressure and self-doubt! And even though we’re all exposed to those feelings every once in a while, it’s different when you’re confronted with them every single day simply by picking up your phone and delving into the social media world. A world that is bursting with perfectly curated moments.

When I installed Instagram about eight years ago I had no idea whatsoever about hashtags or reach. My posts were candid snapshots, edited with the good old, classic filters (do you remember X-Pro II or Mayfair?) and I was confused when all of a sudden complete strangers left a like under my photo or even commented. This carefreeness was not to last forever and I wish it were that easy to restore it.

A couple years down the road I started talking to other photographers and was introduced to the possibilities social media presents if you approach it sensibly. Instead of 1MB phone shots I now edited huge RAW files – only to squeeze them into a tiny square just moments later. And lo and behold: two likes miraculously turned into 250, 500, 1,500 likes. And it felt kind of good to be seen, to answer comments and to talk to other users who found inspiration and peace in your work. And giving up on such uplifting feelings wasn’t an option. So you take more photos, edit more, put more thought into what you want to say in your captions. And the work always paid off – even if only in the shape of likes and followers. And that’s the moment when you become dependent on an app, even if you don’t notice it at the time because everything is going really well after all.

But then some expert came along, decided that the social media world needs a cool, new algorithm and from one day to the next no one got to see my photos anymore. 2,000 likes turned into 400 and instead of attracting new ones my followers just left.

„Are my photos really that bad?“, „Is my editing just off?“, „Why am I not being seen?“ are common questions that were constantly pounding my head. And all of a sudden I fell into a deep, deep hole filled with self-doubt. Self-doubt that shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

When did we start measuring our worth and the value of our work by a digital thumbs up?

90% of people who quickly press the like button have probably spared half a second of their time to look at a photo. And those people are supposed to decide whether your photography is good or bad? Nevertheless you try to keep up with all the other photographers out there, constantly remembering that pleasant feeling of attention that got you hooked on social media in the first place. And potential cooperations with brands or travel agencies only come about if the numbers are right, don’t they? So you produce, you edit, you keep on uploading posts, but somehow it doesn’t seem to be working out. You can’t keep up. And if not being seen isn’t hard enough already you compare yourself to everyone out there: to that person with more followers, to the person with the well-toned body, to those who constantly seem to be travelling to the most magical places while you sit at home…

The mixture of doubt and pressure ultimately leads to photography not being as much fun as it used to be. When you’re out and about in nature you no longer think about how freeing it is just to be outside. Instead you wrack your brains about what to shoot to increase your reach. You take a much more calculating approach. The child-like curiosity that is actually so important when it comes to photography, is lost. You no longer try, but evaluate a photo even before you have taken it. You give up more quickly if the conditions aren’t ‚moody‘ enough or if the light is just flat and boring and that results in a lousy mood, because in the end you don’t have any new content for your social media audience.

The last time I really noticed my mood deteriorating was in New Zealand of all places. The country that is like home to me and that kindled my passion for landscape photography all those years ago. When Philipp and me visited the South Island in 2019 my ideas of where I had to be at what time to catch the best light were so precise, that I couldn’t really adjust myself to other conditions. When I look at my photos now I realise that I missed out on capturing so, so many moments – moments that won’t come back a second time – simply because I wasn’t convinced that the photo would be perfect. „Maike, you’re such a silly billy. Don’t overthink it, just take the darn photo,“ is what I should’ve told myself back then. But instead of just experimenting with the conditions at hand I was my sulking, pitiful self.

Photography, which was relieving and easy-going in the beginning, was now stressful and gnawing at my self-confidence until one day I was asking myself: „Why do you even still bother to take landscape photos?“

And that’s exactly when you have to give your head a break, because that question is definitely not uttered by the same person who used to run around excitedly, taking five photos of the same rock from different angles, who experimented with long exposures or exhausted the possibilities of a polarising filter. Now you could call that break a creative identification phase but I’d rather call it a social-media-isn’t-good-for-me-break. In my case this break coincided quite perfectly with my camera being far, far away to be repaired, so I didn’t even have any opportunity to take photos (the trend of owning a second camera has not yet caught on with me…). And while all of Bielefeld was turned into a quiet Winter wonderland during the biggest snow storm in decades, I enjoyed trudging through the deep snow, breathing in the wintery air without even so much as thinking about whether the scene in front of my eyes was ‚instagrammable‘. The pressure had vanished and for the first time in a long time I felt completely carefree in such perfect, scenic conditions.

Now it doesn’t really make sense to send your camera away every time the pressure gets too heavy, so we need other solutions. Personally it helps me to spend less time on social media. When the going gets tough you can also simply delete Instagram & Co. A few weeks ago when it all got on top of me, that’s exactly what I did: I woke up, checked my feed (which is something you should NEVER EVER do first thing in the morning), was disappointed by what I saw, felt my mood changing from happy to grumpy in the blink of an eye and at that moment I decided that I’d had enough! So I said good bye to Instagram and hit the uninstall-button. Believe it or not, but the second I deleted it a huge chunk of worry was lifted off my shoulders. But deleting the app didn’t instantaneously lead to me being super motivated again to grab my camera and head out there. It’s been almost four weeks now since I turned my back on social media and since then I’ve used my camera once for a job. In fact, Philipp has been using it more often to take photos of the little birds hanging out in the tree outside our home office window. And you know what, that’s ok.

But last weekend we went to some of the lower mountain ranges close to Bielefeld and I felt some of the landscape photography excitement creeping back in. I didn’t have my camera with me but made a mental note to return to take photos. That feeling of anticipation was something I had been missing for a while but I welcomed it back with open arms.

If you find yourself in a similar dilemma and deleting Instagram didn’t help you or if you just don’t want to delete it, there are other ways to recover the initial curiosity photography sparked inside of you. Try and take photos of something else for example. In January I had my second ever industrial photoshoot in a foundry. Picture a little kid getting all excited about a new toy. Got it? Now imagine a grown-up woman with long brown hair, wearing a yellow safety helmet and safety goggles, with the same excitement pulsing through her whole body and you’ve got me when they lit the furnace and sparks flew in every direction. I was beside myself with fascination and delighted that I had the chance to freeze those moments in time. It’s not my usual bread and butter but what a fun, new experience. A while ago I also started dabbling in food photography and beside the fact that you can always eat a beautifully arranged meal when you’re done shooting, you can let your creativity run wild with props, coordinate backgrounds, throw around grains of salt and peanuts as if your life depends on it…

So take a step back from your usual and move towards something new, and all of a sudden the joy will be back and you will take photos with fresh ideas and an open mind. Maybe you’ll find out that a different kind of photography is far more fulfilling and that’s ok, too. Whatever helps you to escape the pressure hanging over you and retrieve the joy in something that used to give you so much energy.

And if you want to stick to your type of photography then mix it up a bit. Take landscape photography for example: it already helps to step away from all those far away places you scroll by every day. Go and explore your local forests and meadows, alleyways and castles, places that have not yet been photographed a gazillion times. There is so much beauty and creativity to be found in those places.

The last few days I could feel my motivation slowly coming back but I’m far from over the hump. It is hard to completely detach myself from social media and I’m not sure if I want to because it’s not all terrible. I’ve met some beautiful people through Instagram and have been able to cooperate with a few special brands and I wouldn’t want to miss that at all. What you need is a good dose of willpower to realise that your happiness is not determined by some numbers on a screen.

You are amazing, your work is amazing and don’t let social media tell you otherwise!

Oh and don’t try and find these photos in my feed. I deleted them all in a desperate attempt to look more professional on Instagram – I’m frowning at myself every time I think about that silly move. After all they all hold special memories that are quite worth sharing…

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