There have been many examples of photos that have changed the lives of the photographers that have taken them. We all know Nick Ut’s photo of the “Napalm Girl” and how it changed his life. There are many examples of these kinds of life changing photos. However, there are many more people trying trying to catch their big break and hoping that at least one photo will catapult them into stardom. That is why you see people sharing photos to every site imaginable. They (me) pepper facebook and Google Plus with what they think is award-winning photo. Only to have our friends cheer us on and our mother’s tell us that we should be published in National Geographic.
I think that we all have a dream of getting published in that magazine with the yellow border. Some of you may very well have been published there. However, what this post is about is why we should keep shooting what we love rather than what you think people will love.
When you first start getting recognition for your photography it really can be intoxicating. For some, this may come in the form of hitting Flickr’s Explore page. There is nothing quite like getting thousands of notifications that people are liking and commenting on your photo. You really feel like you have hit one out of the park. However, I beg you to take a look at the other photos on the flickr Explore page. You’ll see that not all of them are award-winning shots. There is nothing wrong with that and in fact it is probably a good thing because it keeps you head on straight. The thing is that it is not a person but an algorithm that is choosing your photos. People are blinding liking them because it is there and also a faint hope that theirs will get chosen as well.
Now you may be thinking that surely with over 17,000 views that surely something will come out of it. The truth is that unless you get a shot like Tom Ryobi did, you probably won’t have a life changing experience any time soon. I have been shooting rooftops and cityscapes since 2007 but never have any of those photos reached the level that Tom’s shot did. Now, you may say that I am not the awesome photographer that he is and you are probably right, but it also says a lot about how he presented his work, what platform he used and the timing. That is all key.
I think that after the “Almost (I’ll Make Ya) Famous” shot came out, everyone tried to achieve the same results. Hitting the rooftops, dangling their feet over the edge in a hope that they will get famous. Sadly, there is only room for one on that (roof) top. The point that I am trying to make here is that aside from Tom, having a “life changing photo” is hard to achieve in the conventional sense for the rest of us. Getting published in a popular magazine will not instantly change your life. The timing has to be right and it doesn’t happen every day.
It could be a mix of the right social media network to the right look and style of your photo. Nobody really knows and it is not something that we as photographers really should care about. Getting on Explore will not make you into Chase Jarvis or Scott Kelby. However, dedicating yourself to the craft and sharing it with others in a way that you can tell a story will, in a matter of time, help you get some great shots and some followers.
When I was published in a National Geographic book, I was beside myself. I thought “I have finally made it to the big time!” After reading about Tom’s success and getting a copy of the Nat Geo book, I eagerly awaited for the emails to come pouring in. I thought that it was going to be like Christmas! Gear deals, interviews, jobs… they would all be waiting for me in my inbox.
Every morning for weeks I woke up and checked my email. The only offers that I got were for male “enhancements” and coupons for auto insurance from countries that I don’t live in. I was choked. However, I thought for sure, something was going to happen. To this day, CNN, 500 px, and all the others have not contacted me. Am I sad? Nope, because I still was published by National Geographic. That was a personal dream of mine and one that I wish I could have shared with my Grandfather before he passed away.
The main thing here is to keep shooting what you love. We are all hoping to get that one shot that will make us famous but we should also be looking at creating a solid body of original work. Think of it like a rock band hoping to be a one-hit-wonder. It sounds strange, right? The bands that last keep coming out with the hits and that is what we should be focussing on. If the Rolling Stones copied the Beatles, there would be no Rolling Stones. That is the same for photography! Make your own style and develop it as you progress through the craft.
I recently read an article on Petapixel Neil Ta, stating that he was “F***ing done with rooftopping” It outlined how someone who got famous for something that I like to do has lost interest in it because it is now famous. The reality of the article was that his heart was not in it anymore. The passion is gone. I have to respect a guy well known for rooftopping switching to street photography. It is something to think about. While we all dream about getting noticed and hitting the big time, it may not always be what it’s cracked up to be.