Self Worth by the Numbers

I used to care. In fact, I used to care a lot. It’s actually sort of embarrassing, in retrospect, how much it mattered to me.

Every single night, I would check the numbers right after midnight, when the clock changed from one day to another.

12:01am. Launch browser. Navigate mouse.

On occasions when I was actually ready to climb into bed earlier, say eleven thirty, I would prolong my day just a little. I willed myself to stay awake; I waited, remaining conscious just a bit longer.

This is the valuable information that I was dying to know: How many people had visited my website and looked at my photographs in the preceding twenty-four hours? Had they stayed long? Had they meandered around or headed off elsewhere into the World Wide Web? And, most of all, had any of them left any comments? Comments were like winning the lottery.

In 2009, about a year after I first picked up a camera, I started a photography blog. Driven by the concern that photography wasn’t worth pursuing if nobody but myself saw the images, I opened up shop. Google Analytics, a free online service which tracks visitors to any website on which it is installed, followed shortly after. Almost immediately I became an obsessed woman.

At the beginning I worked desperately to share content that drove traffic back to my site. I submitted images for feature on other blogs that would link back to mine. I favored posting images and subjects that I knew would make readers linger and maybe even come back. (Dessert images sell, people. Trust me.)

But at some I began to no longer care. This online feedback started to seem almost meaningless. It didn’t happen at a specific moment in time, but rather I eased into a sense that other things were more important. I still shared images, but I forgot to check the numbers. I went to bed before midnight.

I’ve come to believe that every creative goes through this process in her own way and on her own timeline. At the beginning, when we first share our work, we’re worried about what the world will think. We can’t tell, personally, if what we’re doing is good enough. We don’t know our craft quite well enough to determine if it’s actually good work or just something we like because it is ours and we put in the time to create it. These insecurities lead us to desperately seek validation from our friends, from our bosses, and from our blog readers.

When I stopped checking the numbers obsessively it wasn’t that I had actually stopped really caring completely what people thought. To a certain extent, I had been right: photography does gain a certain value from sharing and because of this, viewers’ opinions do matter.

But in the time it took to get there, I have become a better critic of my own work. I know what I like and I know when I’ve failed in capturing my vision. Even more than that, I am almost content with the happiness that I get from just shooting. There is enjoyment that comes from printing my own images. There is happiness in seeing them: the way the colors work together, how the shapes combine for a strong visual aesthetic, and the golden light that in my mind makes good images magical.

I still blog my photographs pretty regularly. If you’re wondering, the times I do check indicate that that the number of visitors I have and how long they stay has gone up. More than I could have anticipated.

The not caring came with the confidence I have in what I do. It’s like growing up: in middle school, what everybody else thinks really really matters, but as you get older, it starts to matter less. We still care, but what other people think is no longer the most important thing and has become instead just a bonus.

To the creative amongst us: do you feel the same way?

About the author: Simone Anne Lang is a photographer and writer based in Berkeley, California. You can visit her website here.

Image credit: Well, let the poets cry themselves to sleep by Meredith_Farmer, Flickr Stats – 1 Million views by swanksalot, 327 of 365: Everyone’s A Critic by lism.

  • timaaaaaah!

    This should boost your site visits a bit.

  • Michael Zhang

    Simone actually didn’t know that we were going to link to her site :)

  • Jb

    Aaah the dying art of proof reading.

  • Dave Hodgkinson

    I’m with you. I used to hit-whore on flickr, hanging on every comment. Now, I have a small group of people on my FB page whose opinion I value and that’s all that matters now. Focus on the photos.

    If it’s OK to advertise and you don’t mind me being grumpy, feel free to join in the wide-ranging discussion :)

  • Jens Hamada

    that is actually pretty sad…. thank god im not affected and i have only a fake facebook account.

    my self worth is determined by other and to be honest i think more important things.

    i have a website over wich i sell my work.. but i don´t look at the hits.
    if i would not sell stuff anymore i may would have a look what is wrong.

  • timaaaaaah!

    I suspect that is why she dosen’t care about hits and comments anymore, from the looks of her blog she’s progressed to doing doing paid weddings and graduations etc. Nothing says “i like your photos” more than the smell of cold hard cash.

  • timaaaaaah!

     “Now that i’m getting like $800 a shoot, i am like sooooooo over statistics!”

  • Richard

    There’s a difference between social popularity and people liking your images. Sorting it is tough.

  • Ashley Beolens

    It is hard not to be a hit Whore! Whenever I post new pictures on flickr or redbubble I look every few hours at the hits (sad I know) but it kind of reassurese you that people do look at things?

    But it is only my posted photos I do that with, I check my monthly stats on my website to see the growth but know that they will keep going up while the site matures.

  • Tam Nguyen Photography

    Thank you very much. Yes, I’ll admit I used to be a hit-whore. I posted my images everywhere, and I checked my Flickr stats daily etc… now I just post a few of my images on my Facebook page and 500px. If I get likes/comments, cool; if not, it’s cool too.

  • Adje

    I wonder how many times she’s checked the hits on her site after this article about not checking the hits on her site.

    It’s an honest blog about a need for affirmation that many creatives go through (me included). As someone else said, cold hard cash is a nice way to feel affirmed about the quality of your work.

  • Devtank

    Ha love the term ‘hit-whore’.. Me too. I got lucky with three of my images and one was blogged by flickr and that put me on the map as it were, and from that point I  got a bit complacent and felt like I didn’t need to push the boundaries any further. I started a few groups and pushed one of them within flickr pretty hard for the first few months and it paid off and four years or so later that group has become pretty big and I have people who take care of it for me. 

    Ultimately for me, even though my creativity has waned the administration side of things took over and the people started coming to me. Now, I’m lucky if I get 12 contacts in a week, hits I have no idea, but my groups continue to grow and that’s my little ego massage right there. 
    Thanks for this great blog post and reassurance in common.

  • Michael Godek

    im right there with you….the more i actually develop my own work i my views aren’t the most important thing…but it’s always nice when something gets popular and gets a bunch of views 

  • 9inchnail

    Personally, I don’t care about views on some website. You don’t even know if people actually liked your photo just because they looked at it. Maybe they hated it. I would be thrilled if someone said, he liked my photos and wanted them for an exhibit. That would be a big deal for me. See my pics hangig in a gallery would mean more to me than 1000 comments on Flickr.

  • Mark Wheadon

    “Hit whore” — heh. For me it’s the same with anything I put up for people. My flickr stream is fascinating if I’ve uploaded something recently, as was my music site, as is my Google Android app downloads stats page. When I haven’t done anything new there for a while, the fascination fades…

  • branden rio

    My photos on Flickr or Facebook that get the most attention aren’t even what I’d consider my best work. I’ve learned there’s a significant difference between what’s popular on the internet and what meets my own criteria for excellency.

  • Bra6y

    You people are sad.

  • Michael Leza

    Heh, this is my most-hit picture of all time at around 1500: 

    And this is my second at around 1400. 

    My next highest is like 700.

    I have no idea why those pictures have so many hits, they’re not that much better than any of my other stuff (and in my opinion neither is even close to my best work).

    Point being, you never know what’s going to get shared or become popular, all you know is that it will almost always surprise you.

  • Rossjukes

    What is wrong with people? I think some people really try to go out of their way to dismiss others and to put them down. 

    The message is simple, to a new photographer, like myself, hits, comments, favourites are invaluable, because it gives your work value and meaning, somebody liked what you produced. 

    It all depends on where you are on your own particular path. I doubt very much that a ‘Pro’ photographer would get excited about a comment on Flickr, but to people like me, and there are millions of us, a simple ‘Great composition and use of thirds’ means the world, it means we are being acknowledged. 

    I love photography, and to me it doesn’t matter if you’re Ansel Adams or some random guy on Flickr who has just picked up a camera, a good shot is a good shot so don’t be afraid to say you ‘like’ it… 

  • John

    I always thought it was funny how Flickr photographers confused their popularity numbers with the quality of their work. “But I’m popular on Flickr, why won’t you sell my work in the Moma!”