For this fourth entry I had the opportunity to interview a very good friend of mine, photographer Ellie Koleen. I have known Ellie for many years now; she has always been so sweet, and SO talented (seriously, ladies, if you're needing a wedding photog, look her up @elliekoleen). Since starting this segment I had been looking forward to hearing her thoughts on this topic, so I am thankful for the opportunity I had to do so.
“I’ve been using social media since the Xanga days, if that counts, so since jr. high. But it has definitely become a bigger part of my life and our culture in the past 3 or 4 years. I remember using Facebook in high school, but was never overly consumed by it. Instagram changed the game. I remember when Instagram came out, it was only available for iPhone users, so you better believe the day I got an iPhone I downloaded it immediately. Instagram was still a curated look at the best part of it's users lives at the beginning, but I don’t think people were as concerned about appearing perfect.”
How has social media benefitted you, and how has it negatively affected you?
“A lot of my clients have found me through Instagram. It's a good place for people to get a quick feel for me and my work. Instagram is essentially a portfolio, and from that I can attract my ideal clients by curating my feed. My Instagram isn’t the average personal account in the sense that I can't post blurry photos of my dog and selfies galore and not worry about people unfollowing me, it is more of a marketing tool and a way to connect with potential clients. Self promotion makes me uncomfortable, but it is necessary for the success of my business. I have truly gained some awesome friendships which started on Instagram. It's such a cool way to bring everyone from all over the world and from all walks of life together into one space.”
“Regarding the negative aspects…where do I begin. I am constantly having to keep my mind in check and not take this little app too seriously because it is damaging to believe the lie that what you’re seeing on Instagram is 100% of the picture. It’s so easy to compare the highlights of everyone else’s life to all the ugliness and flaws in your own life that you face on a daily basis. I have come a long way within this past year, learning to separate reality from Instagram, but still have a long way to go. Instagram is a life portfolio, but it’s not the full reality. For photographers Instagram is of so much importance, and so much of a struggle because your livelihood relies on the content you put out. Sometimes I feel like I have to live up to a certain standard that I have set and keep my followers happy to remain successful."
"When your ‘brand’ is you, the comparison game is real. Some days I get major anxiety about what to post because when I am scrolling through and see photographers posting perfect couples on mountain tops in Iceland with waterfalls in the background and I’m at home editing a session from Fresno…it can be a bit discouraging. There are pros and cons of social media for sure, but ultimately it’s important to detach my self-worth from Instagram and even the success of my business. If likes and followers are what I am basing my self worth on, it will be one heck of a rollercoaster of emotions. My true worth lies in the love God shows to me unconditionally and that is so refreshing because it is never changing.”
“There is a movement towards being more vulnerable on social media, and I think it is so much healthier for everyone involved. Admitting your struggles is so much more relatable than trying to force this idea of perfection. People connect more when someone shares about the hard times. Life is all about relationships and connecting, and if I am pushing people away because they are looking at my Instagram feed and it makes them feel less than, I would never want to do that. I never want to be the source of sadness for someone else when they see what I post, so that helps keep me in check sometimes.”
Have you experienced insecurity in your life? If so, in what ways? Has social media enabled those insecurities or helped ease them?
“I definitely have insecurities about not being good enough of a photographer. There are a million good photographers out there and it’s hard sometimes to be in such a saturated industry. I go through seasons of being more content with my work, but then other times when seeing everyone else’s work on Instagram, it can send me into a downward spiral of not feeling good enough. At the end of the day, I have to remind myself that someone else’s success does not mean my failure and there is more than enough work to go around for all us photogs out there.”
Studies have been released linking social media to depression and insecurity in teens…what is your perspective on why that might be the case?
“Before social media was a thing there was such a smaller pool of people that we were concerned with keeping up with. I think people are so obsessed with presenting themselves in a certain way, that we can miss out on so much of real life when we exhaust ourselves trying to keep up an image online. Most of the best moments in life are not ‘Instagrammable’…for me it’s moments like sitting on the couch snuggling with my husband after a long day in a poorly lit house in my mismatched pajamas, or hugging an old friend I haven't seen in months. The things we Instagram, like a super aesthetically pleasing picture of a latte really mean nothing in the grand scheme of life.”
“Feeling left out was a big struggle for me as a teen, so I can only imagine social media amplifies that feeling, especially if you don’t have a solid community of real friends to fall back on. It would be easy to spiral into depression and comparison. It’s not just celebrities and models that are setting that unrealistic standard, it’s the friend that posts the perfect selfie that took 700 tries to get, and then your front facing camera accidentally opens to your double chin and you feel awful about yourself.”
How would life be different if social media never existed? And how would people react if Instagram just crashed and ceased to exist?
“If it crashed today, I would probably freak out…a lot. It’s cool to look back, kind of like a diary, on the things I’ve done and photos I’ve taken. Also I don’t have all of those photos backed up so I would be really sad if I lost them. I would have to rethink my strategy for marketing. If there was no such thing as social media, the world wouldn’t seem as reachable. It’s so easy to connect with people from all over with Instagram. But honestly, if Instagram never existed, it probably wouldn’t be a bad thing. It’s obviously an amazing tool, but it has just become such a huge obsession that takes us away from true connection and the more important things in life.”
“There was an article I read about how our brain craves that dopamine rush from opening up Instagram and seeing a bunch of new likes and followers. As far as your brain is concerned, it's a very similar experience to taking a drug or any other addictive thing, but also linked with the thrill of gambling. It's not guaranteed that you're going to get likes on your post, and the unpredictability of it is what makes us so addicted. The action of pulling down on your notifications waiting for that circle to go around and refresh is the same dopamine rush you get from a slot machine, gambling for likes. Hoping we get something that's going to make us feel a little better for a second. It's such a fleeting and shallow feeling. These days i'm trying to instead focus my energy on loving people authentically and investing in relationships off the screen.”