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“Social Media has become such a force in the business that it’s really necessary to have a solid presence on all the platforms”.

“Social Media has become such a force in the business that it’s really necessary to have a solid presence on all the platforms”.

Social Media has impacted photographers and photography in ways those in the photography industry are still learning about and coming to grips with. The explosion of images and video being shared in the past 3-5 years has changed how photographers work and brands interact with consumers.

On a recent episode of The Outdoor Biz Podcast I caught up with Photographer Stephen Matera to discuss his thoughts on how Social Media has impacted his workflow. You can listen to our conversation on The Outdoor Biz Podcast Episode 002 and read the show notes here.

Combining a passion for all things outdoors with a unique creative eye, Stephen creates images for  the world’s leading outdoor manufacturers and publishers. He developed his vision as a natural landscape photographer, and now applies that creative vision to active outdoor and lifestyle images.

Rick: Let’s  talk about how social media has impacted your workflow. I’m sure it’s changed how you promote yourself, but has it changed how you work with the brands? Are they requesting a different set of images for social media use?

Stephen Matera: It’s a great question, because I think we’re in the middle of another big shift in the photography business. The first one I’m referring to is say eight or nine years ago when digital started to become a useful tool, and it opened up photography to so many people who either hadn’t done it because of the logistical challenges of shooting slides and submitting those which was just too much work the technical challenges of shooting. Digital made it a lot easier for a lot of creative people who were turned off by the technical side of photography. Now a lot of those creative people can just go out and shoot, and learn digital in a way that they couldn’t with film.

Rick: That’s interesting, the technical side of it has made it easier. You can go in and use three or four presets, and boom, your image is done, whereas you don’t have to know Photoshop or Lightroom. It’s good if you do know these tools, but it’s much simpler in a lot of ways.

Stephen Matera: Yeah, it’s absolutely true. And digital, you can correct a lot more exposure issues in post than you could with film. So that was the first big change, I think, that brought a lot more people into photography and into the business. I think social media is upending the whole business model. I shouldn’t say the entire business model, because there’s a lot of photographers, myself included, who are still earning a living as a photographer the traditional way. But what social media is doing, especially Instagram, is allowing photographers to make money off of social media. That’s how they earn income. They build a huge following, and clients will pay them to go out and shoot and drop their name in a post. If you’ve got 300,000, 400,000 followers, that’s like a direct line to your client’s customers.

Rick: Well, and it seems like it’s created two levels of photographers. Right? There are guys like you who still do the catalog shoots and all of those kinds of things. Then there are also this social media brand ambassador who goes out and maybe doesn’t have all of the equipment and level of experience you have, but still gets great images with their phone.  Those tend to be used more for social media, from my perspective and talking to brands and other photographers.

Stephen Matera: Yeah, I think that’s true. But I would also say that a lot of these guys who are just shooting for social media are actually using serious cameras now.

Rick: Okay. So that’s changed.

Stephen Matera: I think that’s changed in the past couple of years. Some of the guys I know they did start off with their phone and they realized if they want to do this right they need to get real cameras.

Rick: That’s good, because they do get better images with a good camera. I mean, the phones take great images, don’t get me wrong, but I think still you can’t beat a traditional camera.

Stephen Matera: So much more creative opportunity you can do with a camera than you can with a phone. I have a good buddy who is a landscape and wildlife photographer, a very talented and creative guy. He and I both shoot the Sony a7R II, which is 42 megapixels. He’s got a pretty sardonic personality, and he likes to say, “We’re shooting 42 megapixels for Instagram.” I’m doing it for more than that, but his point is it’s overkill. The technology has become so good, and people are looking at it on their phones.

Rick: Yeah, right that’s interesting.

Stephen Matera: Social media for me, while is growing, but I was really slow to dive into it, and reluctant. I was initially scared off by the terms of agreements of Facebook and Instagram where it looked like you were signing your life away just to post. While it seemed smart at the time to be cautious, I think in retrospect it’s like, “Okay, these companies are really not giving images away. While we are giving those rights away, it’s not like they’re out there reselling our images.”

Rick: Not yet anyway.

Stephen Matera: Not yet. I guess it’s possible. But it’s become such a force in the business that it’s necessary to have a social media presence. So about two years ago is when I really started to put some effort into it. I missed a lot of the opportunity by waiting so long. Now I’m playing catch-up. For me, social media serves two purposes. One, is just kind of building a brand and a presence. I will find that I’ll get some interest in potential commercial work through that, and I didn’t get into it planning on that. I thought, “Nobody’s going to hire me for commercial work from Instagram.” But there is a little of that. I imagine if I keep growing it I will get a lot more of that.

I haven’t had anybody ask me yet … No, sorry. That’s not true. I have been approached and asked to do some social media advertising. I’ve done one with somebody who’s now sponsoring me. It’s a company called Cotton Carriers, but I’m kind of reluctant to do that at this point. Part of it’s my personality. I like the idea of not advertising. But part of it, I think I just want to keep it clean for a while. If that makes sense? I don’t know if that’s the right word.

Rick: No, I think it does. I think guys your age and my age, we’re the older, not the oldest, but the older guys of the group, and we don’t have that same view of social media and throw it all out there that some of the younger photographers do. I mean, they just throw everything out there on social media. I think those of us that have … I’m going to say over 50 for sure, maybe over 45, 40, have a little bit more exclusivity about it. We don’t want everybody to know what we’re doing all of the time. It’s interesting.

Stephen Matera: Yeah, it’s very counterintuitive. I’m not a natural self-promoter.

Rick: Yeah, same here.

Stephen Matera: That’s not a good character trait to have as a photographer.

Rick: Exactly.

Stephen Matera: I mean, I actually wrote a blog post about how I do social media kind of like, kick and screaming, and I’m reluctant to do it.

Rick: Well, it’s good you’re seeing positive results. That’s the best reinforcer, right?

Stephen Matera: Yeah. You know, one thing I didn’t expect and I’m seeing is, I do landscape photography as well, and I’m getting some regular requests for print sales that I didn’t before.

Rick: That good.

Stephen Matera: Yeah. That’s a little tricky, right? Because what I’m used to charging for print sales is different than what people are expecting.

Rick: Yeah and print sales, everybody says is all but dead. I mean, I sell maybe two prints a month.

Stephen Matera: Yeah. I’m not doing a ton, but it’s more than I used to. I don’t count on it for income, but it’s a nice little check here and there.

Rick: Yeah, a little bonus. Is it mostly businesses that reach out to you? Offices and hotel chains and things?

Stephen Matera: More personal stuff.

Rick: Personal stuff, that’s good to hear.

Stephen Matera: Yeah. I think the National Geographic Travel Instagram exposure I get helps with that as well.

Rick: Yeah, it’s a broad audience, right.

Stephen Matera: Nat Geo pretty much owns Instagram. It’s amazing how big a presence they are, and to be associated with them has helped me tremendously. Social media, I think you can’t ignore it. I’m still trying to figure it out, and pretty much putting all of my energy for that into Instagram. I went to a Telluride photo festival thing a couple of years ago that my stock agency Tandem was a part of. There were these editor panel discussions where editors from certain magazines were just discussing a lot of different things. They were talking about social media, and one of the editors said flat out, “Facebook to me is dead, all I look at is Instagram.”

Rick: That’s what I hear from a lot of people.

Stephen Matera: Yeah, that was an eye-opener for me. I mean, this was a couple of years ago now.

Rick: Right, so it’s got even bigger now.

Stephen Matera: Yeah, exactly. I’m like straight from her mouth to my ears. It actually got into my brain, my neanderthal brain, but I need to do this.

Rick: And do you do it all yourself? Or do you have anyone who helps you?

Stephen Matera: I’m pretty much running it. I’m not to the point where I have that, although, I love the idea of having somebody do it for me.

Rick: Yeah that’d be great.

Stephen Matera: “Here’s some photos. Make me sound profound and interesting.”

Rick: It’s interesting too, I’ve been doing a bit of stock work and Aurora Photo tells us the same thing about Instagram. There are a lot of pretty interesting tips and tricks that you can use to grow your following significantly. I’ve been surprised. I’ve implemented some of these things and my following has grown over 30% in about a year. Which is not a lot, but I started out from a very small number and I just dabble in it. I don’t do it as much as you do. But it’s pretty cool.

Stephen Matera: Yeah. It’s interesting how people are learning these tips and tricks to manipulate or work the system. “Manipulate” is not the right word.

Rick: I think that’s pretty accurate.

Stephen Matera: Maybe it is. But I think that some people have it dialed, they really know how to work it. You just look at their accounts and you’re like, “How do they have so many followers?” That’s the one thing about Instagram that I find very discouraging, and social media in general, is quality work does not guarantee a big following.

Rick: You’re correct, it’s a volume game.

Stephen Matera: Yeah. That’s unfortunate. That’s kind of discouraging, right? I mean, you would hope the best work would rise to the top, but Instagram tends to negate the advantage that good work would have. It doesn’t mean that good work doesn’t help. It does. But I’ve seen accounts with 10,000 followers and all they do are, like, teenagers doing selfies.

Rick: Yeah. Well, and I think that’s the nature of social media. I think that’s the other reason why I have trouble with it, is there’s a lot of stuff that’s posted out there that’s like, “Really? Who cares about that?” And then it’s amazing to see how many people do care about that. It’s like, “Wow. I had no idea.”

Rick: Is there anything you’d like to ask or say to our audience as we go to wrap here?

Stephen Matera: I guess it’s about the photo business. I heard a photographer say years ago, “You need to kind of reinvent yourself every few years.” I think that’s really true. It’s even more true now with social media changing things, and digital changing things. I don’t mean to sound cynical here, but I don’t like the adage that if you’re passionate about photography, you’ll be successful. I don’t think that’s true, just because your passionate doesn’t mean your good.

Rick Saez is Producer/Founder of The Outdoor Biz Podcast. Click here and get the life stories and actionable advice from Thought Leaders in the Outdoor Business.

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