Time to take a trip back to the wildly subjective topic of ‘What makes a good photograph?’ I have discussed this in previous posts but in this post I want to focus more on the actual content of the photos.
Although I am not really interested how many likes or faves my photos get, they can be an interesting indicator to the general popularity of the photo. And, by looking at these, you can loosely notice certain trends and patterns occurring.
If you are someone who needs the validation from a lot of likes on a photo, studying these patterns could certainly be helpful in focusing in on maximising the amount of likes you get. However, the danger of this is that you start taking and presenting photos to the whim of others rather than to satisfy your own artistic desires. But, if maximising the number of likes you get is your primary objective, then the actual photography and the artistic drive behind it will always unfortunately take second place to this.
Anyhow, I am digressing slightly already but I will come back to this later. What I have noticed from years of doing this is that photos containing landmark content tends to garner more attention than those which do not, irrespective of the compositional elements.
The best way to describe this is to use examples. Scotland, where I live, is pretty small and although it is a beautiful country, it’s perhaps not overflowing with landmarks. Thus, I tend to see a lot of photos of the same things. Here is a short list of some of the usual suspects:
- Eilean Donan Castle
- Urquhart Castle
- Edinburgh Castle
- Kilchurn Castle
- Any other Scottish Castle providing it looks old
- Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls
- The Old Man of Storr
- The Quiraing
- The Fairy Pools
- The Kelpies
- The Forth Bridges
- Buachaille Etive Mor
- Any other jaggedy Scottish hill especially if it’s in Glencoe or Skye.
- The new V&A museum in Dundee where I live
Now personally I am pretty sick seeing photos of the above list. Occasionally, I will see a new and innovative take on them or an exemplary image which is great, but the majority of the photos taken all look much the same. Why do they look the same? Because people seem to disregard the compositional elements and just snap the landmark object.
However, irrespective of compositional elements such as the colour structure, the interplay of light and dark, and the positioning of focal points these photos always tend to be popular.
Below is a photo I took of Kilchurn Castle a few years ago. It was taken on a very dull, rainy day and as such the light is very flat. The positioning of the elements and colour scheme are ok but it is the light, dark relationship which is poor. However, it was very popular.
Here is another example. This photo is of Castle Campbell. It was taken on a misty day and again it suffers from a flat tonal range, and a lack of highlight detail. I wasn’t even going to upload this photo because I disliked it so much but again it proved to be popular.
Here are a few more examples of photos I have taken of significant landmarks which I don’t think are very good, but were popular regardless.
These are just a few examples but again and again I have noticed this trend of photos of landmark objects getting more attention. The question is why?
Ever Popular Landmarks
This is a question I am really going to struggle to answer. I like photos for their compositional elements, how your eye is lead around the photo, how the colours look etc etc. The actual content of the photo is of much lesser significance to me. However, it would appear I am in the minority. Thus, I will throw out a few wild suggestions:
These landmark structures are much visited and thus many people has seen them. Is it a case that because of this they feel a level of personal attachment to them and thus like photos of them? I understand why personal attachment can be evocative. If I see a photo of someone I know well, my personal attachment to them makes me take a greater interest in the photo. However, I struggle to form such a personal attachment to an inanimate object. When visiting an old castle for example I enjoy the experience of visiting it, but I do not feel any amount of personal attachment to it. Thus when I see someone else’s photo of it I don’t feel more inclined to like it just because I have visited it.
Again however I feel I am much in the minority here as I know people readily and easily seem to form strong bonds to inanimate objects, even objects which aren’t physically close to them such as a castle they visited once. Perhaps I have a mental malfunction on this level. Even objects such as my car which I use pretty much every day, I struggle to form an emotional attachment to. When my last car was scrapped I didn’t mourn the loss of an old friend, it was more like sending the fallen warrior on the burning raft to Valhalla. A feeling which lasted 5 minutes and then was overriden by the hassle of having to get a new car. Don’t worry, I am not a psychopath as I easily form personal attachment to other people, perhaps moreso than most other people do, as it sometimes feels that selfish, psychotic behavior is the norm in our society.
Anyway, this personal attachment issue is perhaps one reason why people are more likely to take an interest in these landmark photos.
Being Popular is Popular
You just have to take a look around to see that people loving jumping on the trend bandwagon. People deliberately dress the same, talk the same, like the same things that are popular as for some reason they believe this will make them popular too. This behavior is driven by fear and insecurity but also to an extent, necessity. People fear being a pariah and it can also hamper your functionality in this intolerant and short-sighted society, so to an extent it’s understandable. However, it is taken way to far by most leaving them like clones banged off a production line. The most interesting and memorable people are those that can stand out and have the courage to exhibit their individuality. Those that just pick a trend and follow are tiresome and bland for that very reason.
However, most people don’t see this and want to be seen to be in the ‘in crowd’. Thus, I would imagine that this is the same for photography. Everyone seems to love Kilt Rock (for example) so people will visit and take photos of Kilt Rock. Because Kilt Rock is popular people will like the photos of Kilt Rock because they want to be part of the ‘Kilt Rock Trendies’…..and so on the cycle goes.
When people are looking at art they genuinely seem to struggle to elicit an individualistic opinion. I feel that their own insecurity in their artistic judgements lead them down this road and thus they take the safe option and follow the trend.
The world of ‘art’ is seriously stuck up it’s own arse. Critics sit on these lofty, self made thrones passing judgement like they were deities. People are entitled to their opinion but these people pretend to objectivise the subjective. E.g. they state that this is a good piece of work like it is a universal constant whereas it is mostly just a matter of individual opinion.
However, because of this, other people can feel insecure about forming their own judgements on pieces of art. They question whether their judgement is right or wrong, and because they don’t want to look stupid just pretend to like the most popular stuff. A good example of this is the painter Jack Vettriano. Their are so many artists out there producing fantastic work and never get credit or sales, yet his ‘birthday card’ artwork sells like hotcakes. Why, because someone with a lot of money paid a huge amount for one of his paintings. This one sale got him ridiculous publicity and the rest is history.
The same is applicable to photography. People fear making artistic judgements as they think they may be wrong so they like the popular photos of the popular things by the popular photographers. This is a shame because people are totally underestimating themselves. Artistic judgement is the easiest thing in the world. Just look at a piece and say whether you like it or not. The feeling of like or dislike will come naturally and there really isn’t any right or wrong, its just an individual’s opinion. Just don’t be swayed by trends and don’t give a shit whether people agree with you or not.
These are just a few of my ideas as to why these landmark photos are so popular.
But does it make for a good photo?
So if these photos of landmarks usually get more faves does this make them better photos in some way. In my opinion the answer is a resounding No. Just because it contains a significant landmark does not automatically mean it’s good.
What I look for in a photo is the compositional elements rather than the subject matter. That’s not to say that the subject matter has no significance as it is vital for setting the context of the image and can be very evocative. However, a poorly composed image of an interesting landmark or subject is nowhere near as good as a well composed image of something that is not well known or spectacular. However, there is a good chance that the former will garner more attention and faves.
Below is a selection of photos I have taken which don’t have any significant landmarks in them. I really like these photos because of the compositions but they weren’t too popular.
And this is how the vicious cycle occurs. Insecurity seems to be the human condition so people strive to maximise the popularity of their photos by taking snaps of landmark images to garner attention and favouritism. This is often without regarding the compositional elements fully. Why bother with composition when you get more faves just wildly snapping at landmarks? Because of this you get overrun with swathes of bland and uninteresting photos of the same things. The more there are, the more popular they seem to get, and round and round the cycle goes.
This is a bad situation not only for the individual because they are compromising their artistic style and preferences just to try and alleviate their insecurities, but also a bad situation in general because it means the world is getting overloaded with bland images of the same things.
You Can Go Your Own Way….Go your own way
It really is a difficult habit to break and we have all been there. There is disappointment if your photo doesn’t get a lot of attention but you really have to see beyond this. You have to create the art work that you like. It doesn’t matter if it sells for millions or gets no likes at all. If you can stand back after creating a piece of art and say to yourself that you truly like what you have done, that is really the greatest reward you can get. No amount of likes or adulation from others can rival the rival the pleasure and security of self satisfaction.
So don’t get hung up about having to take take photos of landmark objects, and definitely don’t get hung up about how many likes or faves it gets. You can go your own way and hopefully never look back.
Thanks for Reading,