Is Social Media Killing the Online Portfolio?

Gerry van der Walt All Authors Leave a Comment

Do you think social media and the online world we frequent each day is changing the way wildlife photographers look at and share their own images?

I do.

I am not talking about the resulting likes and comments on the various online and social media platforms, as that is a completely different discussion, but rather the thought process behind which of our images we share and how we do it.

The reality is that the way we consume our media has changed – in a big way – and this has without a doubt influenced what we share and, more specifically, how we share our wildlife images.

From a marketing point of view this is important to know and embrace, as today’s tech savvy consumer wants bite-sized chunks of information.  They want to be able to scroll through their Twitter feed, Facebook timeline or Instagram feed to get a quick overview of what is going on and share what catches their eyes with their own friends and followers.

They will then do this again and again, all the time looking for new updates or images leaving the image or update you posted an hour ago out of sight and out of mind.

From a photography point of view I think this bite sized, ‘fight for my 15 seconds in the social media spotlight’ type approach is causing a lot of wildlife photographers to share images that, when looked at as a collection or portfolio, will make no sense at all.

Yes, the way we share has definitely changed but is there not still something to be said for working on a portfolio, a collection of images, with a common theme?

A collection of images that tell a story?

I believe there is.

Taking time to work on, nurture and ultimately produce a portfolio of say twelve images will make you grow much, much more as a photographer rather than simply posting random images each day and calling your Facebook album your ‘portfolio’.

Could the problem be that a lot of photographers are not sure how to start working on a portfolio?  What to do?  Where to start?  What to look for?  A lack of patience?

Or is it perhaps that the 21st century need for constant online recognition and feedback has surpassed the need to create something more than just one great wildlife image and the digital ‘recognition’?

I am the first one to say that social media is the future – actually it is the now – and that, as wildlife photographers, we should embrace it in order to learn, inspire and share but I still feel that a strong portfolio of images still has great value.

I urge you to try this – next time you go on a photo safari or your own trip to the bush try creating a portfolio of twelve images from the trip.

Choose a theme, stick to it and focus on shooting your images, and processing them, so that when your portfolio is complete they best represent this theme as a coherent collection of images.

The important thing is that until your portfolio is complete do not share the individual images. Resist the urge and wait until you can present a completed portfolio of images.

You might not be the flavor of the moment online and you won’t have people liking every post you put up but yes, it’s worth it!

Until next time.

Gerry van der Walt

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Comments 0

  1. Tom Hadley

    This is a very interesting subject Gerry and one I think many photogs struggle with. It goes to the heart of the problem about how people want to consume images and how photographers can actually make money in the new online-dominated world rather than just sharing images for free consumption.

    As your article suggests it’s surely got to be about creating value and that means collections of images telling detailed stories. That’s what will always separate the professional from the amateur photographer, so it seems to me that creating a body of work rather than lots of one-off images (no matter how good) has never been more important.

  2. Andrew

    Well said Tom!

    There certainly seems to be a large number of people that feel the need to be in the spotlight and gain those likes or re-tweets that seemingly “validate” their work in todays social networks.By pushing out all of your images all of the time you don’t leave much new or exciting content for fans and followers to find.

    I have been disappointed when browsing through a number of portfolios only to find the same images that appear in my various social feeds…

  3. Buddy Eleazer

    You raise some good points. I think first about posting images on Facebook and secondly I think of my Flickr account, etc. This is a changing road. A proper portfolio allows key words, links, geotags, etc. as well as logical groups/sets. Many portfolio’s do a better job of resizing images also. That said, Social media is changing fast. Just this week I noticed FaceBook now allow you to view images full screen. Do we now size for full screen? Will this make it easier for others to steal our images?

    I guess if we could look into a crystal ball, we’d know what’s coming. I was stunned on a recent trip to the bush when a fellow photographer uploaded images ‘to the cloud’ with auto download onto his desktop computer at home; thereby giving him a secure back-up copy. As internet speed, bandwidth increase and service quality of social media improves, I just can’t figure what’s next but I know it’s making us all much more global photographers ( even if Andy Biggs already has that blog name registered. 🙂 )

  4. Marcelle

    It all depends on the reason the person is sharing their images. If it makes someone happy to share 20 images a day because thats what they like then they should be entitled to do so, without being critisized for it. Mediums like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ etc are social mediums. Although, if used properly, these mediums can help grow a business or photographer in this case, one should never lose sight that its SOCIAL media.People sharing images may not have money making in the back of their mind but rather another agenda, perhaps simply sharing their passion for all things wild with the world, and to do that you dont need a NatGeo image, just an interesting one. Although I agree with the fact that a person should have a “body” of work to display in terms of a portfolio, I also feel that should people want to share their images for the sake of sharing and socialising with all sorts of people especially those with similar interests, on social media, they should feel free to do so. Maybe the key issue is for TOGS to draw a line between social media and promoting their work/company. Social media is exactly that…social. If you want to build a portfolio to help generate an income, display it on a website intended for marketing and share it then on social media. Dont use mediums like facebook as a marketing tool and then critisize those that use it for its intended purpose, socialising and sharing. Photographers need to take the responsibility to lead by example themselves instead of pointing fingers as has been done in the recent months on various pages and profiles.

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  7. Jon Bryant

    Indeed some very interesting and valid points. Its always good to take stock and reflect. I do think that social media has created a “popularity” trap for photographers that can often create an unnecessary diversion as to why an image is being shared. I think for those photographers lucky enough to be based in an area of prolific safari opportunities, then the idea of a theme, limiting the number of images and sticking to it is an excellent one. I actually started doing this some years ago for family vacations. I give myself a 10 photo limit and push myself to reflect on which 10 images I should take that capture the story of my vacation. Not only did my photography improve, but so did the storytelling behind the images. Could I do that today with wildlife photography? Well not being based in Africa, then my opportunities for developing a portfolio are limited in comparison to Africa based photographers…although I look for every opportunity to keep my skills sharp, develop my portfolio and of course learn (so important!). But I also think there is the flip side to that argument….

    I could be “guilty” of some of the things Gerry points out here; use of Facebook, or other social media tools/sites and so on… But I think that links to Marcelle’s point above. What is the reason for sharing? For me I want to share my experience and my learnings: things I’ve done right, things I’ve done wrong, and what I am doing to keep that journey going, being inspired and improving. Each image I post, I try and share what happened leading up to that shot and what I learned. I’ve found that Wildlife Photography is the most fulfilling genre of all the types of photography that I’ve practiced because there is so much more to wildlife photography than just composing and pressing the shutter…and that’s what I’m passionate about learning and sharing.

    I hope one day though in my journey, I’ll pause and implement the 12 shot portfolio idea 🙂 but for now I don’t have that luxury!

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