Everyone has different tastes. We are fascinated by or are indifferent to various things with different levels of passion. This may be due to our upbringing, personal history or a naturally-evolved aesthetic. Looking at someone, it’s often impossible to know what may or may not appeal to them. However, it’s becoming easier to actually measure and quantify their affection as social media and internet interactions become more prevalent in our lives.
Social media plays an important role for many photographers, and it goes beyond just having an admiring audience. Online popularity is the basis for an unofficial hierarchy on many photo-centric websites, and directly affects exposure to the masses. The number of views an image gets is often dependent on the number of Likes, Comments, Favorites, Shares, etc. it receives. The more people like something, the more a website’s algorithms (and, on rare occasions, human overlords) show off the work in question to the general public.
This was the case with the old Flickr website, where photographers would push for a heavy dose of audience activity soon after posting. If they were lucky, an instantly-popular post would catch fire and vault up Flickr’s “Explore” rankings. The top-rated photos for that particular day would be displayed on Flickr’s home page, bringing in even more exposure. I made it to Flickr’s home page only one time (ironically, for something other than a wildlife photo), having never figured out the “secrets” to unlocking Explore.
These days, Facebook works in a similar fashion. Facebook purposefully prevents its users from seeing everything that’s posted by the people or pages they follow. Think of it as a subscription service that doesn’t actually deliver most of the time. I’m lucky if 20% of the audience that has actively “Liked” my page sees a photo I post in a given day. But this number goes up if lots of people comment on the photo, “Like” it and share it. More activity leads to more exposure.
I shouldn’t have to tell you why exposure is so important. For most it’s just an ego boost. For professionals such as myself, it drives our business. Facebook is a marketing tool, and the company knows this. Facebook throttles our views hoping we’ll give in and pay them money to broaden exposure to a wider audience. To reach the equivalent of my full page audience, I’d have to pay at least $10 per post… unless I hit the jackpot and post an image that elicits a huge response.
Ignoring the nuances and frustrations of obtaining better exposure, there’s one important thing I have learned in this age of quantitative popularity: which subjects appeal to a broader audience.
In my case it’s not too difficult to figure out which terms or keywords resonate with those that follow my work. Yellowstone (the most common shared interest and how most people find my photos) is a good place to start… and then drill down from there: bears, cubs, moose, wolves… If I ever get a picture of a grizzly bear sow with two cubs riding a moose while fleeing a pack of wolves in the Lamar Valley, I know I’ll never take a more popular image.
My problem, of course, is that I like so much more than bears and wolves and moose. And Yellowstone, for that matter. I’ve never made it a secret that my favorite destinations are those that present a wide variety of wildlife. It’s one reason Yellowstone is so great, but it’s also what makes Costa Rica, Africa, South America, etc. wonderful as well. So I could just cater to the audience and post nothing but bears and the other popular stuff. But I prefer to mix it up. It’s important to show folks what else is out there. And that means I will often share images of less popular subjects.
After many years of posting almost daily images to Flickr or Facebook, I’ve learned what sort of things won’t elicit much of a response, and what’s likely to be throttled and maybe only seen by a few hundred people rather than a few thousand. In some cases, it’s a simply matter of the type of photography. People predominantly follow me to see wildlife pictures, so the occasional sports, travel or even landscape photo barely registers with most of my audience. Rather than dwell on those broader subjects in this article, I’ll focus on the Least Popular Wildlife Subjects I’m capable of posting. Without further ado, here are the animals that consistently register the lowest number of Likes, Comments and Shares:
Okay, I get it. If you missed it, I really do get it. Birds aren’t fuzzy. They’re not cute.
Well, aside from adorable napping goldeneye chicks, birds aren’t fuzzy and cute. In fact, they can be pretty ugly. After all, they’re one step removed from reptiles (more on those later) on the evolutionary timeline. Strip away the pretty clothing and there’s nothing but a sharp beak and an ugly, scaly face. This macaw is obviously just a lizard in disguise.
Birds have no personality. Well, aside from ravens that play with each other by rolling down snow banks. Or magpies that tease bigger, tougher eagles by tugging at their tail feathers. Or the manakins and birds of paradise that perform intricate dances for their mates. Or the marvelous spatuletail, who flicks and flashes his long tail rackets for the ladies.
They’re noisy and obnoxious. A croaking raven or a screeching parrot isn’t exactly going to put out a chart-topping album any time soon. But what about the intricate song of the sage thrasher? Or the eerie trill of the three-wattled bellbird?
There are exceptions to the rule. My audience, thankfully, loves owls.
But in general, they tend to ignore bird photos. I think ultimately, it’s difficult to anthropomorphize birds. Despite the fact that they walk on two legs, a lack of arms and largely unrecognizable faces and expressions means they’re not quite as “human-like” as we’d prefer. So they’re not as fun.
Ironically, it’s probably too easy to anthropomorphize primates. Like birds, monkeys don’t get a lot of love when I post them on Flickr or Facebook. Which is too bad, because they can make for some interesting and fun shots.
Monkeys may never be “pretty,” but they do sometimes possess a regal or soft beauty.
And they’re downright cute at times.
Ultimately, they’re too much like miniature people. Monkeys and apes are akin to cousins (well, distant cousins)… a little too familiar to spark our imaginations. They’re not exotic or adorable enough to generate a lot of interest and positive buzz. Of course, the next category of animals will never be confused with being adorable…
I know this will surprise many of you, but things like lizards, snakes, insects and spiders don’t seem to appeal to many folks. How could someone not fall for a mug like this?
I suppose distaste for the whip scorpion may be justified. That’s just about the creepiest-looking animal I’ve photographed. Still, it’s pretty cool. A large arachnid with long whip-like appendages and those huge barbed pincer claws is a marvel of evolution, as far as I’m concerned. Not all bugs are creepy though. Wait, why are you laughing? Jumping spiders, for example, are tiny but very cute and often very colorful. I don’t have any really good photos of them (something I’d like to devote more time to in the future), but for proof I suggest checking out the amazing macro work of Thomas Shahan.
Bugs are fascinating. They are the best mimics in the natural world. Stick insects, katydids that look just like leaves, large owl butterflies that resemble, well, owls… it’s always an exciting moment spotting one of these masters of disguise out in nature. Take this beautiful leaf mantis, for example.
Folks hate snakes too. I admit they can be scary. My most frightening wildlife encounter ever was authored by a fer-de-lance viper in the Costa Rican jungle (a story for another time), and I’ve had a few close encounters with other venomous species. Looking back on it, I was a bit too close for comfort to this Andean forest pitviper in Peru, given that the nearest hospital was several hours’ drive away.
But you can’t tell me that’s not a beautiful snake! Or what about the downright cute Chunk-headed snake, one of the world’s thinnest snake species?
Of all the herps, frogs probably get the most love (though still not a lot). It helps that they look fairly harmless and often come in all sorts of cool colors and patterns. Like the poison dart frog.
This baby masked tree frog is another cutie.
In Borneo, they’ve got some weird ones, but others are quite handsome. The harlequin tree frog is one of the most colorful frogs I’ve seen, adorned in red, orange and gold, with cool patterns on the legs, side and back.
I have this feeling I’m not going to convince any of you about the herps and bugs. Oh well, even if they don’t get much love from a wider audience, they still get my attention and will continue to be featured in my photos. Sorry folks! 😉