Two days ago I stumbled across an unexpected sight in Arashiyama Park. Sunbeams shot through the leaves of a bright red Japanese maple, blasting the tree and the forest floor with an explosion of light for a mere 30 seconds. Just as quickly as it came, it was gone.
I wasn't sure what I was going to shoot, but I certainly wasn't expecting that. Not only did I feel lucky to witness the sight with my own eyes (and capture it with my camera), but I truly enjoyed the element of surprise. More often than not, I have a pretty clear idea of what I'd like to shoot beforehand, and if I haven't scouted, I feel unprepared. However, if I'm exploring a new spot for the first time (and on my own time, rather than a job), I'd rather focus on finding magic -- not creating it.
When I returned to this exact spot a few days later, most of the leaves had fallen to the ground and the morning sun was a dull glow. As much as I wanted to re-live my magical forest moment all over again, I'm grateful to have experienced it just once. For me, photography should be less about staged shots and more about capturing things that surprise and inspire you. Things that no one else has seen -- or even thought possible. Sadly, I feel like I've been seeing less and less of that on social media lately, and prior to this trip, I even felt like I hit a major slump with my own work.
Not only has my once stellar engagement and growth been chopped in half since October, but I've been questioning almost everything I've been posting. Is it too underexposed? Should I have gone with a longer crop? Am I even a good photographer anymore? Over the last two months, I've realized a few things about the art of photography. If I want my work to improve, I know I have to force myself to accept this. And here it comes...
Good photography is not judged by the amount of likes you get on social media.
In fact, there are some photographers with huge accounts and solid engagement who consistently book legitimate jobs -- and their work is mediocre at best. While it lacks any sort of originality and offers compositions we've seen dozens of times before, we hit the like button, because, well, it's good enough. We're comfortable with it. And we're then comfortable shooting the same things, because we know they'll perform well. Maybe the light isn't great and it's not our best edit, but that's ok -- it's all about the numbers. Wait, what?!
Then there are plenty of other photographers and journalists whose work has heart, soul and captures incredible moments and scenes, yet they never get the glory of a big Instagram feature -- or the thousands of likes that they deserve. If this is what Instagram has become, I don't know if I want to be a part of it anymore. I would rather have a portfolio that wows everyone who sees it, even if I'm not the most popular photographer. Let's face it, I've never been one of the cool kids anyway.
The whole point of photography is capturing a special moment in a unique way. Using a picture to tell a story. YOUR story. For the amount of posts tagged to the #liveauthentic hashtag, the lack of authenticity and originality online these days absolutely blows my fucking mind. I went to Yosemite last month, and I felt like the park had been ruined for me, because everywhere I turned, I saw the same shots that routinely pop up on my Instagram feed. After feasting my eyes on all kinds of new scenery in Japan over the last week, I'm feeling refreshed. Inspired. And ready to share work that isn't going to get a lot of likes. And yeah, I'll be honest: It stings when I scroll down my page and see posts with 10,000+ likes and look at my numbers as of late. But I have to keep reminding myself that I'm a photographer. Not a like collector.
This shot of two koi fish at the Tenjuan shrine in Kyoto is one of my least liked photos EVER. It's not Yosemite, it's not a mountain and it's most certainly not the sort of thing I normally post. I used to delete photos that didn't perform well, because I thought it looked bad to have the stinkers alongside with the winners. But I really dig this photo. It's beautiful. It screams Japan to me. It's one of my top ten favorites from this trip. I like the colorful leaves on the water, I like the way the fish are positioned, and I like the fact that this moment -- this exact shot -- can NEVER be recreated. Oh, Instagram doesn't like it? Eh, fuck 'em.