Under the Influence: The New Wave of Photographer
Ample warning, you might be scratching your head mid-blog here.
What does a topic on social media, peer pressure, influence, and mental health have to do with photography?
Nothing? Everything? A whole lot in-between?
I wondered if this topic was relevant....well, I knew it was relevant, but I wondered if it was appropriate, perhaps, for my business blog.
A blog where I have shared all the lovely families, seniors, and wedding couples that I capture as my job....along with a handful of rants, when the fancy strikes me, or informational pieces.
But this is a bit different. See, we ALL know what's happening on social media but we are not really supposed to SAY we know. We are all supposed to just be playing the game.
We are supposed to pretend that everything is authentic OR we are supposed to acknowledge that "Everything is NOT authentic....except for me, I'm always real" as a crafty PR move. A sort of "Celebrities, they're just like us" for the common folk.
"It's the highlight reel, so don't feel bad.....but I'm going to continue to show you the highlight reel, because it sells REALLY well".
In the photography world, we go through phases. We have ALWAYS had "rockstars", as far as I'm concerned. At one time those rock stars shot fashion. They shot celebrities. They certainly weren't wedding photographers. Wedding photographers were the bottom of the photographer heap, teetering just above paparazzi and Sears portrait photographers.
Then, came social media....and with it, the creation of a new beast: the celebrity wedding and/or portrait photographer. These were folks who harnessed social media and conquered it SO well that they built a rabid following not of their work....but of THEM. Their persona, their story, their kids, their home, their car, their dog, THEM. Hell, Dane Sanders even wrote a book about becoming a "Fast Track Photographer" not by being an amazing artist, but by selling YOU. (And I'm not going to link to it because I'm assuming most folks have read it and then sent it to Goodwill-bin-land like I did).
And there are folks who did this very very well. Natural marketers.
With the advent of photo-based platforms like Instagram, we have a new crop of influential people (mostly women....mostly white women....mostly pretty white women) who may not have the best handle on the technicalities of photography...but people see them and want to be them. Or, at least want to be in their vicinity. So who gives a shit what their photos look like? It's not important.
That, folks, is how you sell.
It's as old as the concept of advertising itself: envy creates dollars. You wanna "Be Like Mike".....you want to pretend you have a Dream House like Barbie. You want the perfect hair, perfect wardrobe, and the perfectly designed house to go with it.
Remember in school when there was that one girl in class who seemed to have her own lighting crew following her? She had somehow skipped over those awkward years and graduated right to perfect skin, perfect hair, great makeup territory?
Remember how that girl made you FEEL?
HOW does she do it?
What is it like to be her?
How in God's name is she tan in the middle of a Wisconsin December? (No....seriously, how does that happen?)
She made you feel ENVY and she probably prompted at least one expensive item purchase.
Advertisers have harnessed this power of persuasion. The popular girl dynamic. They've created social media influencers who get paid an insane amount of money to simply say "When I drink soda, I drink THIS soda" or "When I wear a shirt, it's THIS brand"....and the companies sit back and watch the fans fawn over how real these people are and how they want to be JUST like them....down to the soda they drink.
This has seeped into the photography industry fully. Workshops, webinars, and masterminds (which, as far as I can tell, is the NEW workshop....only more involved and more expensive) have replaced actual photography jobs for a lot of people. Folks are making a living (a damn good living) out of not taking photos, but what has essentially become life coaching with a camera in your hand.
Wear this, travel here, repeat this mantra, follow these people, and you too can be a wild success.
Except, you probably can't. The statistical probability that you're going to be a million-dollar photographer without eventually giving up shooting full time in favor of life-coaching or some form of mentoring or teaching is pretty slim. And that's what they don't tell you. At least not at first.
It's the same life-rule that says the majority of folks aren't going to sit at the trendy table in the cafeteria.
The REASON these chosen few are so popular is because they are "chosen" and "few".
Can you still do VERY well with full-time photography? Absolutely! But, even I'm venturing into a workshop here or there or an e-book in the works (I swear....eventually!) to fill in space between shooting.
I have no dreams of becoming a bajillionaire with a camera in my hand and a list of sponsored products....I just like having a variety of income streams....which is smart business. I get bored easily.
But when does it go from "multiple income streams" to manipulative marketing tactics?
Recently I went down the "professional blogger" rabbit hole. These are not necessarily photographers....most of them are lifestyle bloggers (that's a thing), beauty bloggers, mommy bloggers....but all of the ones I clicked over to were full time "bloggers" who made the majority of their money shilling their lifestyle on their blog or Instagram.
And I noticed one big, glaring fact: they were ALL the same. There was little to no difference from one to the next. Maybe one had brown hair where one was blonde. Maybe one had 3 kids where another only had 2. But, their blogs all looked pretty identical....the products they were posting and raving about were all the same....their outfits were the same.....the way they wrote was the same.....it became like a zombie Twilight Zone situation.
I started to become familiar with WHICH companies seek out bloggers and Instagram Famous folks to sell their wares: Popsicle, Nordstrom, Pantene, Pampers.....these ALL started showing up over and over and over on different blogs/feeds. Some bloggers and Instagram famous people were even "sponsored posting" about things like toilet paper or Metamucil.
Now, I'm an affiliate marketer for Amazon...and every once in a GREAT while I'll link to some books I read or movies I like on Amazon so if you feel so inclined you can check it out.
I've made about $4.00.
On my personal finance blog I'll link to items I've tried and used and liked or things that have saved me money.
I don't have the attention span to attempt becoming any sort of influencer.
And that's okay....because how freaking exhausting. That's all I can think. And with all of these influencers being pretty much one in the same, what are the chances they ALL love the SAME products at the SAME time in the SAME way?
We need to be smart about who we follow, why we follow, what we follow, and what we spend our hard-earned dollars on.
The fact that this new way of social media marketing has fully infiltrated my beloved photography industry both amuses and frightens me. Where once it was important that you were cool for clients....(which, yeah....let's say I've struggled with that)....now it's important that you're cool for other photographers and wanna-be photographers, too. It's important to show up with your best face forward at all times or don't bother showing up at all. It's important to have a life other people want or risk being left in the dust by those who are just better at eliciting envy than you are.
And at the center of it all, the work still doesn't seem to matter much at all.
Maybe it's time to stop fighting it?
The misanthropes among us (sheepishly raising my hand) can all roll our eyes and wax nostalgic about a time when "photographers were photographers"....or we can accept that this is just a new facet of the industry and roll with it....maybe learn a little from it....and keep on keepin' on.
I can try to remind myself that there are those who have been in the industry for 30 or more years and how must THEY feel if I'm sitting here at 38 feeling....well....OLD? Not influential. UNCOOL.
This is the new world order, and we should probably either accept it and learn to play the game or find a new industry that isn't so hell-bent on making the intricacies of our trade.....the real nitty gritty.....obsolete in favor of glossy....shiny....pretty and packaged well.
I guess, when I sit down and get real with myself....I'm still that girl in high school sitting in the lunch room scribbling in my notebook of bad poetry, my ripped jeans, and a mix tape for the boy I like in my pocket. I'm still that girl who when The Most Popular girl walks by with the ever-present halo of light and her dazzling smile and perpetual tan....I scoff but inside I'm wondering
"How does she do it?"
Those chosen few. What's their secret?
Yeah, I'm still that girl. Probably always will be.
And that's the truth.