Flickr. 500px. Instagram. Facebook. Most photographers we know have dipped their toes into them, in a vague effort to promote their photography. Both of us have Flickr accounts, but they mainly serve to act as a platform to share photos onto the forums we inhabit. We haven’t ever used it much beyond that and our experience with Photobucket is that it compresses images horribly. In our ventures into other photo sharing websites, such as 500px, we found that we never really paid them much attention and left shortly after signing up.
Both websites encourage users to like/favourite other users photos, and with a little clever maths photos are rated and can make it onto the front page. Such systems are open to exploitation. Rather than receiving constructive comments from other users you can potentially end up with a whole pile of soulless comments of little value. If you hang around too long you can become concerned with hitting the front page, and not with the actual photograph itself. At least, that was our impression. One of our friends on Facebook puts it so eloquently when he comments “Like and Share, Like and Share” on a photograph that has been spammed across multiple groups by another user.
Admittedly, this wasn’t meant to be a ramble about the merits of either website, or the charge to get an image to the front page. But, these things happen. It was meant to be about using photo sharing sites as a research tool and some of the pitfalls associated with it when searching for inspiration. Unless you are lucky enough to live in a small hut in the Scottish Highlands or have a bank account larger than a small nation, Landscape Photography becomes part being there, part know where to go, and part luck.
This is where the likes of Flickr with their worldmap, or 500px with the geotagging tool become very useful. They allow you to quickly tap in the location you are thinking of heading too, and view the hundreds of geotegged images that reside on their servers! Consequently, this proves very useful when living in London as it allows us to spend a bit of time researching and planning days out with the camera. Many of our photos have come from searching of Flickr, plugging in a location to their world map, looking at the photos and deciding whether to go or not. Simple as that. Or is it?
In short, no. There comes a problem with researching a location through the internet, and it lies with overexposure to very similar images, classic locations or a lack of new places. This can lead to disappointment with your own photos as they can feel a bit Vemödalen.
Vemödalen – n. the frustration of photographing something amazing when thousands of identical photos already exist–the same sunset, the same waterfall, the same curve of a hip, the same closeup of an eye–which can turn a unique subject into something hollow and pulpy and cheap, like a mass-produced piece of furniture you happen to have assembled yourself.
If you tap ‘Burnham-on-Sea’ into either 500px or Flickr (where the above photo was taken), you are presented with hundreds of interchangeable photos of a lighthouse looking out over a milky smooth sea. Researching locations in this manner can result in a preconceived notion of what to expect and what to shoot at a given location, thus stifling your own creativity and imagination. It wouldn’t be very hard to end up with a portfolio of photographs that a very similar to people you follow and take inspiration from. At times we have emulated other photos, but mainly as a technical exercise to see if we can do it ourselves. In searching the above location we only briefly looked at other peoples photographs, but our primary objective was to figure out where the hell we needed to go and if it was worth it. Something which was quickly achieved. After a quick check of the tide and sunset times, we figure out we could end up with something of our own and made our decision to go there. Flickr had performed its task of providing the right information to us with ease and the rest was up to us. Thankfully, we produced a photograph that we were chuffed to bits with.
Whilst we were sitting on the beach at Burnham waiting for the conditions to change, it got us thinking, should we put an embargo ourselves from looking at Flickr etc? Would this help with our photography a we try to develop our own style? Possibly. But a total ban from looking at others peoples photos would mean that we would have to draw our inspiration from somewhere else. It’s probably better if we just get out there and explore our local area; rather than jump in the car and shoot off to the other side of the country.