Why I haven’t Been Taking Photos or Present Online
Why I haven’t Been Taking Photos or Present Online
If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you’ll know that for the last 12 months I have been extremely quiet. I would love to say that it was simply because I have been busy, but that would be only a half-truth.
I have been working hard to update Raya Pro and InstaMask (version 3.0 will be out on February 28th and it is free to all users), and I created my Art of Photography course, which was an incredible amount of work. But these two projects have probably accounted for a quarter of my work-time this year.
In truth, I have become very jaded by the internet, and the ways I have been using it over the years. I feel it has, to some degree, mentally drained me. It has also negatively affected how I feel about photography.
On the one hand, I love the internet. It has given me my job, and my company. It has made many things in our lives much simpler, and the world more accessible. The internet is not inherently a bad thing.
It is more about the way I chose to use it. My choices were mainly mine, but we can’t deny that major internet-based companies know exactly how to get us hooked on their platforms, too. So the blame is not necessarily mine alone.
Basically, a few years ago I found that I was far less present than I used to be. I was easily distracted. I checked my phone constantly. Every time it beeped, regardless of what I was doing, I would give it my attention. It meant that over time, I was half in and half out of real life. No matter what I was doing, always on the periphery of my awareness, there was the internet waiting to be checked.
When out in the field in the middle of nowhere taking pictures, that is when I was most present, most aware, and most content. But as soon as I returned to civilization, I’d return to old, unhealthy habits.
A metaphor I have used to make sense of this is watching movies. Maybe you can identify to some degree. I’m a huge movie fan. It has always been the one thing that allowed me to turn off my mind, relax, and be absorbed into some other reality.
Not too long ago, before smart phones, I would sit and watch virtually any movie, regardless of how bad it was, and I would be thoroughly drawn into it. I would completely lose myself for the entire film. It was an immensely relaxing feeling. I would also experience the same thing with a great book.
Nowadays, while I still enjoy a good film or book, I very rarely become immersed like I used to. My attention dips in and out of the movie, as I contemplate checking my phone, or visiting IMDB.com to see where I know that actress from. Essentially, the quality of my movie-watching experience has become diminished by an attention span reduced by frequent internet-checking (Here’s an interesting article on attention span and internet use). And this was representative of the rest of my daily experience, I felt. I was only ever half-awake.
How The Internet Affected My Photography
In terms of photography, for a long time I’ve been sharing my images on Facebook, flickr, 500px etc. We all know how unproductive and unhealthy it is to crave more likes and comments on our images. Yet here’s the thing: I have met dozens of extremely well-known photographers, with large social media followings, who talk regularly about likes, comments, and getting on the front page of 500px. It’s an obsession to more photographers than you think.
I once met an entire community of photographers who were very nice, and generous to me, but who spoke as if getting on the front page of 500px was life or death.
What I saw in so many of these conversations was an extreme version of how I felt for a time (although I have never been as serious as others about 500px), and I really didn’t like it. What’s more, since I was on social media so often, and connected to so many photographers, I became over-saturated with images from all over the world.
I saw the same scenes over and over again. After a while I wasn’t in awe of any of these images, regardless of how beautiful they were. I was numbed to them. Even worse, I found myself having virtually no desire to even visit these incredible places.
I’ve never been a photo-snob who thinks you shouldn’t go to well-known locations. I’ve always thought you should shoot whatever you want, regardless if it’s been captured thousands of times before. Just look at my portfolio and you’ll see plenty of famous locations in there. But what I was feeling wasn’t snobbery, it was complete disinterest.
This was definitely my fault. I chose to connect with lots of photographers, and I chose to share images to 500px and flickr, and be exposed to other people’s images too. But social media and photo-sharing sites were new to us all. I had no idea I would become over-saturated by it.
I once had a friend who worked as a porn-photographer. He said, after a day’s work he had absolutely no sex-drive at all, and certainly no desire to go out with his camera. In a less dramatic (and less sexy) way, that is how I felt about taking pictures.
And of course, the final nail in the coffin is having to deal with people I would never choose to communicate with. Having to see racist, homophobic, and any other type of hate-speech on Facebook, was awful.
I can put up with little insults towards me, like the commenter in my recent YouTube video who said I look ‘like the biggest douche that’s ever lived’. Or one guy who said I was too ugly to be on YouTube. These things aren’t really a big deal. My real first name is Lord, believe it or not (James is a middle name). And being raised in a very working-class area with a name like that helps you to develop thick skin. But apparently even thick skin can’t stop you from losing a little bit of faith in humanity when you spend even a little time scrolling on Facebook.
What I Want To Do about It
Essentially, I love photography. Taking photos is a unique experience that I never want to give up. I also wanted to be more present in daily life. Unfortunately I couldn’t give up the internet completely. My business is entirely internet-based, after all. But I could drastically reduce the most unhealthy parts of my internet usage.
I’ve actually been down this road before, and enjoyed a good stint off the internet. But this time I decided to be a bit more extreme.
I stripped back much of my Facebook use at the risk of losing income. I’ve developed a following of 22k followers on FB over the years, and of course that can lead to income when I share images/links on there. But I decided that the potential loss of income was worth it. I still posted to Facebook, but it was more like once every 6 weeks/2 months. I almost never scroll down my newsfeed.
I disabled all Facebook updates on my phone, including deleting the app. I disabled all email notifications on my phone. I posted once every few months on 500px and probably about the same on Flickr, so no one thought I was dead. I still check my work emails between 11am and 5pm every day, to deal with customer inquiries.
Apart from shooting for my Art of Photography course, I didn’t take a single photo just for the sheer pleasure of it.
Essentially, I tried to spend time living in the real world.
I have to say, for all of this I have felt much better. I’m slowly keeping my mind more firmly in the here and now. I haven’t been very disciplined at times, but I’m getting better. Trying to be relatively internet-free and run an internet business is, well, hard.
But I’m getting the hang of it. Over the next twelve months I hope to find a better balance. I’m going to be recording more frequent YouTube tutorials and adding more useful content to Shutter Evolve. And of course, Raya Pro, my pride and joy, will continue to get better.
In terms of photography, my desire is back again. I’m going to venture out to a few locations I’ve been dying to shoot, just for the sheer joy of it.
I’ve also been toying with the idea of teaching advanced photography classes in person, maybe in groups of 10 – like a 7 hour exposure blending masterclass with me. This would be purely in the UK for now, and is just an idea at the minute. It would certainly remove me from the internet, though.
In an ideal world, I would delete every social media account I have. This is something I am considering in the distant future. Naturally I would keep my YouTube channel, which I still enjoy. I would also take photos out of passion and pleasure, which I’d post just to my blog. Then I’d spend the rest of my day forgetting that I owned a mobile phone, and being a little bit more present.
Ironically, I will now share this image and post on social media, so there’s still a long way to go before I finally free myself.
How I Created The Image – Before/After Post-Processing
This image was created using Raya Pro & InstaMask
I took this image early last year. It’s a place called Bombo, near Sydney. I never really liked it, which is why I put off publishing it. It was too messy, since the scene was very hard to shoot.
In the middle of the night, with only a faint Milky Way visible, I was being smashed by crashing waves. I managed to take two exposures, one for the foreground, and the other for the sky.
I blended them with InstaMask and edited in Photoshop with Adobe Camera RAW and also Raya Pro.
This entry was posted on Saturday, December 16th, 2017 at 12:27 am
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