The Numbers Game

It has been three years since I started pushing my photography work out into the cyber world, from Facebook to Instagram, 500px to Pixoto, EyeEm to Tumblr, it has become a habit for me to upload images to these platform on a daily basis. Three years ago, I set myself a target of uploading three images on Instagram every day, it was initially a one-year plan but extended to three years eventually. The idea was to push myself to shoot more since I was using my iPhone back then, it work out fine, and I was photographing more than the times I was studying photography. 

For the first two years, I was obsessed with the number of the followers, “likes” and comments. Somehow, it gave me confidence as I move along. I watched as my fans slowly increase, with more engagement on my posting and I probably spent more time responding to comments than other stuff that could improve my work. I have to keep reminding myself that social media platform isn’t a good place to curate my images. “Likes” and followers are base on popularity, not quality.

Sometimes last year, Instagram changes its algorithm. Posts are no longer in chronological order; the new algorithmic feed tries to calculate what you will like best and put it at the top of your feed. Or is it really the best? There is an unspoken culture among Instagram seasoned users, that it is a good gesture to engage in their posts if they do so to yours with “likes” and comments. More engagement on your postings would signal to Instagram that it is a quality and engaging content, thus moving your post higher up in people’s feeds and be shown to more people. This will explain why certain Instagram users have a higher engagement rate than others even though they might have lesser followers or posting that doesn’t interest you. I also realised that different hashtags and geo-tagging of photos posted on the same day will result in different response on Instagram. Simply try posting without any hashtag and you will understand what I mean. Instagram decide what is engaging and good, not your followers.

It’s the same with 500px and Pixoto, which I found out that the culture behind a so-call great image, is a lot of engagement time spent on it. Unless you are an established photographer like Alex Webb or Martin Parr, chances are your work is going to go unnoticed no matter how good it is. Internet fame can be a double-edged sword; it can grow your audiences as well as make yourself stagnant when comes to getting out of your comfort zone. When you care more about the response of how your photos receive than the quality of the picture itself, you are no longer making images; you are just trying to boost your ego by impressing others.

I always said I’m a photographer using Instagram as one of my platforms; I’m not an Instagrammer. Neither am I interested in engagement with strangers online, I just make images and share it. In the past, spending hours replying and thanking everyone who has commented on my posts drained me down. My phone never left my hand, and I’m always checking and refreshing the app to see the response from my posting. Although as a beginner, it helps build up my confidence, it’s not how I want to live my life, that’s the time I knew I have to stop playing the numbers game. 

Since Instagram starts including paid advertisement on our feeds, they are more interested in engagement than the quality of the photos. Great images don’t make money for the company, a user with a lot of engaging posts does. As a photographer, are we creating images to please the masses? Are we following the trend or seeking our ideas? We all need to find it out ourselves. As for me, I have made the decision to change my approach with photo-sharing platform, which is why I chose to photograph entirely with films this year. One of the reasons is not to post any images created this year with this medium, something I learned from Garry Winogrand in an article here

Extracted from the article:

“By the second week, Winogrand had opened up and told us about his working methods, which were rather unorthodox but not sloppy. He never developed film right after shooting it. He deliberately waited a year or two, so he would have virtually no memory of the act of taking an individual photograph. This, he claimed made it easier for him to approach his contact sheets more critically. “If I was in a good mood when I was shooting one day, then developed the film right away,” he told us, I might choose a picture because I remember how good I felt when I took it, not necessarily because it was a great shot. You make better choices if you approach your contact sheets cold, separating the editing from the picture taking as much as possible.”  

As I will not be shooting with a mindset of posting it later on social media, I will let my eyes seek out the kind of images I want. Hopefully, this practice will help me during the shooting, editing and curating process, and that is probably one of my greatest challenges since I took up photography. I will end this post with a quote I once left in a book as a gift to my school:

“Photography is not a race to take pictures, it’s a journey to learn to make images.”


Using Format