Social Media for Photographers
Social Media for the Anti-Social
Part 3: Tumblr
When we think of social media, the names that come to mind are Facebook and Twitter. They are the most widely used platforms that no one saw coming, and no one can figure out if they will last. So while financial analysts debate over their values and the news media pretends to make peace with them, though they really wish they never existed, a few other contenders have quietly slipped in under the radar. There are hoards of sites, from Pinterest to Flickr, but I’d like to focus on one that I personally enjoy, use daily but never post on, and that is Tumblr.
On paper, Tumblr was conceived as a microblog. Within its design you could post an image, add some text and publish under a single username. If you have something to say with a picture to go along, then this might be a better version of Instagram for you. But in reality, I find Tumblr to be a scrolling site of images. I look at it mostly on my phone or iPad for the sole purpose of browsing nonsensical pictures, skipping all the text. I have a feeling I am not alone in this approach.
What’s it do?
Unlike Facebook and Instagram, which I use for my images, Tumblr is a platform of consumption. I look and look and look and never do anything else. There are a few reasons I don’t share pictures on this platform, none of which should prevent you from doing so…it’s just how I manage my Internet time. In the back of my head I have to remember that I am not a news station, I am not an online magazine, and the Internet is a part of my studio but not the entire thing. So pumping out miles of daily content has a point of diminishing returns…running a Tumblr feed is just not in the cards at the moment. But a little browsing here and there won’t kill anyone.
Why use it?
For simplicity, let’s divide Tumblr in two ways: we’ve got Providers and Users.
- Providers: People who want to showcase large quantities of easily digested images in a streaming format with little to no regard for the picture’s origins.
- Users: People who want to look at a filtered set of pictures and don’t really care where the picture came from, who took it, or if they can ever find it again.
Why might you want to use Tumblr?…here are two scenarios…
La Paz Portugal…This Porto-based clothing company traces their designs from fisherman styles that you could find along the Mediterranean at the turn of the century. Think of the film “La Terra Trema.” They draw from a huge resource of naval and pescatore-based history. A good way for them to share their inspirations, which span four oceans and two centuries, is a Tumblr feed. It allows them to open up their creative process to their audience. Why is this important?…because not everyone is going to understand that an oddly cut, soft collar jacket is not the eccentric wishes of Jose Miguel de Abreu, rather it comes from a real history, one which some might enjoy. The other reason is that as a clothing company, they attract clients by having good taste. If you can source anything that people are not familiar with and curate it in a way that reflects your style, people might be more likely to take your advice on stylish matters. I have always said that, “I never trusted an architect who could not dress well.” Those in the business of aesthetics should reflect their good taste. Tumblr is a great way to do it.
Hodinkee…I’ve mentioned the guys at Hodinkee before, one of the world’s leading watch culture websites, because I like what they do. They managed to take the high brow world of watches and make it fun, accessible, and interesting, without all the pretence of the Robb Report. As a visual outlet, their Tumblr feed is pretty straight forward. They take pictures of watches…watches at the cafe, watches at the office, watches on the road…you get the drift; they take pictures of watches everywhere they go. It does not matter if a watch is 32mm or 48mm, watches all fit well into a grid of images. Click on their feed below to see how Walter Gropius would have loved Hodinkee too. Even if you don’t like watches, there is something nice about the simple repetition of an idiom that has fascinated mankind since they first noticed that the sun and moon swapped places on a daily basis.
As a format, Tumblr works really well for Hodinkee because they can add a small amount of text or a link to an article they wrote, and the “archive feature” brings up all the thumbnails at once. So if you want to browse the virtual watch case of Hodinkee, it is so easy that the Sunday morning coffee might go cold as you are entranced by the varieties of man jewelry that the watch world has to offer.
What type of photographer might use Tumblr?
If you have a specialty, like photographing farm equipment or custom motorcycles or watches, Tumblr could work well for you. It does the best for photographers who have an overarching continuity to their work. If I see someone that has a few pics here and there, but overall the work is scattered, I won’t follow their feed. It’s more about specialization. I want it edited by the time I get there. So if all the photographs are Riva motorboats or the city of Cairo…I’m in.
TIP: If you use Tumblr as a photographer, make it easy for people to find you by including your website as a link below the picture. No watermarks; I can’t stand watermarks. If there is any hope of someone liking and finding you, the process should be as easy as possible.
Users…here is some advice to keep Tumblr from becoming like your Internet Meth addiction.
- Be selective…I only follow 32 feeds on Tumblr; it’s enough that whenever I open it there is something new to look at, but not so many that I can never catch up to where I left off yesterday. At one point I followed a few people who must have put up 100 pictures every day and it started to feel like getting through my daily updates was a thumb race on my iPhone. I took the thumb callus to be a sign that I was using it a little too much.
- Dream big…since I can’t imagine that anyone who runs a Tumblr page actually has a 300 ft yacht and a private island, it’s safe to say that looking at a Tumblr page is like looking at other people’s dreams. Whatever you are into, someone has a Tumblr page on it. Some of my favorites…sailboats, tree houses, beach homes, private islands, sharks, anything scuba or surfing, and of course, James Turrell.
- Travel Agent…let’s say you are going to Bora Bora for the first time. It’s going to be a heck of a trip and you’d like to know what to expect. I find that Tumblr, by virtue of the fact that people select the images they post, will give you a better collection of what a place looks like than Google. Also, since it’s so easy to re-share and re-post with no regard for copyright or credit, good images make their way around Tumblr quickly.
What not to do
Unlike Facebook and Instagram which are all tethered to your real existence as a person, Tumblr feels more anonymous. As a result, there are no personal interactions. You look, you like, you move on. You can save pictures to your phone like an inspiration board or you can just browse to your heart’s content. So it’s actually the easiest to use and there is almost no way to cause an Internet s*&t storm.
A word of warning
I’d like to offer a word of warning for photographers with Tumblr. It is easy to use, great for sharing, and filled with great images, BUT it is the copyright wild west. Pictures are passed around like a bong at a frat house. If someone wants a picture, they just grab it. The upside is that the images are not huge, so they will not be stealing your entire livelihood. But I would not be surprised to find that your picture has travelled halfway around the world and back…only now it has the wrong location and three other photographers taking credit for the picture. Chances are they are only using it on Tumblr, so don’t panic too much, but it’s not a place for keeping your pictures on lockdown.
Find your interests and whether they are visual
For as long as I can remember, I loved looking at light. Part of it must be genetic, because I get a disproportionate pleasure out of looking. On the one hand, it has lent itself very well to being an artist, but on the other hand, has made me acutely aware that it’s not really normal. The mental patient stare, my girlfriend points out to me when I look at something, could have had me institutionalized in the 1800s, probably sent for a lobotomy in the 1900’s, and certainly made me a candidate for psychotropic drugs in the 2000’s. But alas, I have dodged all of the quack doctors who don’t understand that a visual pleasure, for some, is a full body experience that takes you somewhere else…I think it’s one of the few moments where you live in a continuous present. It’s kind of hard to put into words, but if it’s happened to you, you understand what I mean.
But, if you are getting into photography and don’t consider yourself a visual person, the best thing you can do for your eyes and mind is feed it images. Start by taking an object that you are into and search for it on Tumblr…it could be anything from flowers to the color blue. Just type it in, scroll away and see what strikes you. Eventually the right chord is bound to strike.
Every social media platform has a dozen reasons why you should use it. The only hope they have for a multi-billion dollar buyout comes from collecting billions of users. But if you are like me, and social media is not your life, then you need to be selective. Otherwise the vortex of the Internet only gets stronger. I’ve found that Facebook is good for interaction, Instagram is a like a small social club, and Tumblr is an inspiration board. Use them however you see fit because in the end, they exist for you.
If you have any good Tumblr feeds you would like to share with the other readers, post them below with a quick description as to why you like them.