When you are paying, you need excellence. Other times, awesome is good enough.
How exciting it is to be instantly connected! But today some realize that online is often unreal. The very nature of doing things to get noticed and stand out can preclude doing many other necessary and desirable things that are just part of being excellent or achieving excellence in a product or service.
I love technology and have embraced it ahead of most. But this week I’ve been reading how social media may have maxed out for the first time. The growth in social media has nearly flat-lined. This makes sense. When trains first appeared, folks were fascinated and would get on a train, not to go anywhere, but just to experience the magic of mechanical transport. For some years now, the excitement of social media has been that newness in the experience. I have heard stories of how refrigerators and televisions were equally enthralling back when they first became a reality. How amazing it is to communicate instantly and feel connected to everyone. And each app has a certain new magic as well. It’s a new toy to play with and share with your friends.
Nearly 20 years ago, my website was enviable. Photo associations would study not just the imagery but the layout and some of the creative design choices. Now, in 2018, my presence on social media is embarrassingly lame. This has become a daily irritation and conflict for me.
On the one hand, I hear a new groom, Kenny (not his real name), tell me with a confident and self-assured giggle, “Well, surely you’re not going to refute social media” with obvious assurance as if he were saying to someone, “You are not going to stop breathing!” But when I try to find someone to work on social media for me, they admit that their posts would be just to get attention. They may not at all match my ideas and concepts. Many I know are not happy having to spend so much time on social media or posting increasingly meaningless posts and reviews. I think it will balance out and eventually mature and stabilize. This makes sense. And this has me feeling somewhat justified in retreating from the efforts of using social media … so far.
I’m not saying that we won’t be using Instagram or Facebook decades from now. Just as I’m not saying that the ubiquitous smartphone will fade. It will continue to evolve. What I can see, however, is that once the novelty and Star Wars quality of being instantly connected to everybody else becomes just normal life, many people will gradually realize how living is not at all enhanced by being online. Just like so many other inventions, it has its place. There are people today who are using social media less often than they were yesterday. And that is closely linked to their pursuit of excellence over awesomeness.
Some find awesome in everything they see or hear, while excellence is more than just skin deep. To find excellence one must first ask: just what is excellence in this or that? In a world of awesomeness how can excellence hold its own? Awesome is exciting. Awesome is different. Awesome is attention-getting. And sure, awesome can make us smile — sometimes.
But I think it’s important to bear in mind that, in most cases, awesome is on a totally different scale — a much smaller ruler than we would use to measure excellence. Firstly, excellence is measured in the details. Secondly, since the more one knows the more one recognizes, excellence is best appreciated by the more critical, or those who have had experience judging, using, building, fixing, and buying other excellence. Awesome is easy. Measuring excellence can be hard work. It’s not at all fun. Excellence sometimes is best appreciated following one’s disappointment with awesomeness.
Awesome is unimportant. For example, an awesome conversation might be one that goes like this: “Hey, Sam! Looking good!” Whereas an excellent conversation might begin like: “Sam! Listen, when we oil the widgets, we must be very careful not to let any oil get on the outside surfaces, because even the slightest contamination will cause them to fail.”
All this has a lot to do with photographers, photography, and, of course, video. Awesome, for example, might be a reaction to a few photos shot at a wedding specifically to impress others who are not invested or involved in the wedding. They are attention-getting shots, just like “Hey!” can be an attention-getting greeting. But often past the surface, there is little more than “Take it easy; OK, see ya.”
An awesome photo on Instagram might be an example of the excellent set of images made with lots of thought and skill and include feeling of the entire wedding. Or it could be a single example of a handful of shots made specifically to post on Instagram — to get that attention. Worse, the pressure on photographers to produce some “awesome” shot to post on their social media site can suck up a lot of time or lead them away from the path needed to use their time productively to produce the excellence that would be appreciated later by the families. Even more difficult for the public to understand, it can be working by habit, or to copy/exceed what is already online, rather than what is best in the moment for this event and these people.
Because awesomeness in many ways can be due to an attention-getting quality, it can lead to a desire to be different. Yes, social media no doubt is responsible for raising the bar on the visual impact that today’s photographers are putting into their photos. But it is a much more complex situation than that, one that can easily underwhelm you with much of the results.
Most of today’s photographers do not have the posing skill, heartfelt sensitivity, or overall technical understanding of light that they should or that the best older photographers had mastered. These photographers are desperate to learn attention-getting recipes and ways to use the latest gear to make Instagram-worthy images. Sometimes this involves a lot of manipulations on the computer, leaving many other potentially more meaningful shots neglected. Other times this has shots looking great when small, but not so when full-screen or wall-size.
Sometimes attention-getting shots won’t please those who really care how they look, or customers expecting general excellence in how whole families are photographed, as well as how the many big and little moments are recorded.
You should know that awesome shots can be recipe shots that a photographer or even his assistant has perfected. Learning how to do such a photo does little to develop the many skills most photographers today lack, which are essential to pleasing the client who wants excellence, rather than prospects easily impressed by awesome.
Rabenko Photography & Video Arts is located at 1053 Broadway in Woodmere. To learn more, contact Gary@Rabenko.com, 1-888-RABENKO, 888-722-3656, or visit Rabenko.com.