On some level, I think it is every photographer's dream to have one of their photos go viral on the internet. But is it actually a good thing?
As a photographer in the digital age, having a strong social presence is incredibly important. More than ever, clients are finding their photographers through social media, so whether you like it or not, you have to prioritize creating social content to some degree for the sake of your business.
We are all addicted to likes. We can’t help ourselves. We inevitably - whether we admit it or not - place some sort of value on the amount of social interactions we get across platforms like instagram, youtube, and tiktok. It subconsciously makes us feel great when we get alot of “likes” and bummed when we don’t.
But what does it feel like when something you create goes viral?
I recently had that experience. I definitely put effort into growing my social channels, so having my work get attention on social media was the goal, but the actual experience was different than I expected.
When David and I were visiting my brother in Los Angeles, we built a miniature version of one of our sets in his garage. We photographed 9 different people in it to create a series of images we titled “Out of Space.”
We created an instagram reel of the behind the scenes of the shoots and the final images. At first it got a normal response for us on instagram. Then about a week later, it started to take off. The reel went from 10,000 views to 100,000 views in a matter of minutes and it kept snowballing from there. The reel eventually reached almost 1 million views.
People all over the world were seeing it and following us. Our instagram account was getting more likes, follows, and comments than it ever had before. In seven days, our instagram account grew from 18,000 followers to 36,000 followers. It was wild.
We were psyched to have so many people interested in our art, liking our work, and following along on our creative journey. It really showed us the power of social media. Photography can connect and resonate with so many different people and cultures from all over the globe.
Of course, there are always unintended consequences. One aspect I, perhaps somewhat naively, did not anticipate when one of our photoshoots went viral was the extent to which many people would try to replicate it.
We created the “Out of Space” series under so many limitations. We adapted our design and shoot concept to work within the tiny garage space we were given to create. So, it was a little startling to see people all over the world copying something we created so organically. People in France, Africa, Ukraine, The United States, Mexico, and Russia were replicating our set design as closely as possible, doing photoshoots, tagging us in the photos, and thanking us for the inspiration.
At first, I was a little taken aback by it. It felt weird to be so blatantly copied. However, I was also blown away by the power our art was having on people. The fact that people from all around the world were seeing our art and being inspired by it enough to take time out of their lives to try and recreate one of our photoshoots was incredibly humbling.
I love that art can inspire other art. There is so much power in that. It leads to the evolution of creating more impactful art. What left me unsettled was that people weren’t seeing our photoshoot and using aspects of it to inspire them to create something new and original and totally their own. They copied what we created as closely as they were able. It really made me question the difference between “copied” and “inspired by."
Social media is powerful. More powerful than I personally had ever realized or experienced. When I create reels and share photos, I always hope for a substantial response, but it's important to be prepared for the potential consequences that come with a large response. The inevitable attention can bring about unintended consequences, highlighting the double-edged nature of social media.
You never know when what you post on social media is going to take off. So be mindful of what you share. And be prepared to be surprised.