If you spend any amount of time online, you’ll notice trends: someone walking in a place if you’re into street photography, water that looks like white haze thanks to long exposures and ND filters if you’re into nature photography, and much else besides. Trends are a sign of what’s popular at the moment. They can be beautiful and relaxing and any number of other adjectives, and they can be financially lucrative, too, if you play your cards right. A trend sells until the next trend takes over. I find, however, for my photography at least that trends can be a black hole.
They can inspire complacency and swallow visual identity. When a trend fades, you’re left with photographs anyone could have shot, and they’ve lost their value because everybody else is onto the next thing. Trends are tempting because if you buy into them, you’ll get nearly instant feedback, which is a social media dopamine shot straight to the pleasure center, and in some cases, you might even get paid for it. That’s a fine thing. Someone who wants to pay you for your work is, in most cases, someone worth keeping around.
Yet, photographs in service of a trend have a short shelf-life. What’s the point if your photographs look like that of hundreds or thousands of other photographers? Trends are often easy, and can require little to no thought to execute. Creativity is diffuse, unless you find a way to take it somewhere else.
Trends can be springboards for ideas. They work in the moment for a reason: people like them. There might be something you notice that you can do differently, which can, in turn, draw more attention to your work. That can lead to other things.
I find that trends are useful to observe, but not necessarily to follow. If there’s something that works and fits with my photography, I’ll borrow that element to try it out. Yet, it’s important to photograph for myself, to maintain my visual identity and not get swept up in the riptide of likes.
Trends exist for any number of reasons. They work for a time. Yes, they can be useful, and if they pay, all the better. Yet, it’s easy to fall into the cycle of chasing trends, which isn’t the healthiest thing. At the end of the day, to quote Gregory Heisler, “shoot the photos you can’t help but shoot.”