There are several annoying stereotypes in the photo/video/film world.
There is the film schooler. The skinny jeans and Chucks-wearing tortured genius who channels Truffaut and Godard. He hates all films made after 1995 and will tell you so while chain-smoking his “natural” cigarettes. He vehemently supports auteur theory despite its abusive practices and carries around a worn-out copy of Cahiers du Cinéma just to impress people who have never heard of it.
Then there’s the old school video professional. This semi-retired, nearly always male individual still uses Betamax and thinks of himself as a blue-collar worker. He’s not, though. He’s probably been laid off several times due to the dismantling of the media industry, yet refuses to adapt to change. His self-worth is determined by how well he can wrap cables. He prefers to carry his camera on his shoulder like a true video professional.
There’s the street photographer purist. He’s an artist who sees the world 36 frames at a time. He considers himself to be the next Henri Cartier-Bresson, despite the current evolution of street photography being digitally-based and centered around smartphones. He uses a Leica or a vintage Hasselblad because he believes these brands make a higher-quality print. He doesn’t talk to anyone he actually shoots.
Then there’s the momtographer. The bored housewife who decided paying $200 for someone else to shoot her kids was just too expensive, so her husband bought her a $600 camera instead. She takes pedestrian medium shots in grass that impress all her friends on Facebook. She doesn’t see herself as an artist. Or as a business person. But she charges $50 a session and will throw in a pair of LuLaRoe leggings. In three years’ time, she will attempt to sell her camera equipment, believing old DSLRs hold value.
Somehow, the brotog takes the worst qualities of all of these.
What is a brotog? You’ve seen them. Born from YouTube, they are the cool kids who are suddenly in touch with their creative side. They are aged 15–40. They love films, but not the same films as the film schoolers. Their tastes lie in the films the film schoolers despise: superhero films, Chris Nolan films, Michael Bay films. They started messing around in After Effects with fireballs and lightsaber effects before taking the pro shooter plunge. They idolize Peter McKinnon, Jake Paul, Nas Daily, Casey Neistat, PewDiePie, and Sam Kolder. They are always male and white with a degree of privilege because their female counterparts are called “influencers.”
The brotog will shoot a $300 job with $15,000 worth of equipment, effectively guaranteeing that the middle-aged video professional will never be hired by any startup or local brand ever again. Brotogs are supported by their upper-middle-class parents or by Squarespace, so they can afford to charge basement prices while simultaneously overvaluing their work because it was shot on a RED. Also, they are in the demographic every bro brand wants to attract so why hire a 45-year-old with 20 years of experience when you can hire a 23-year-old at a fraction of the cost? They know what the kids like!
The brotog is obsessed with gear. Some brotogs started out as engineers or developers and therefore were already interested in gadgetry. For some reason, a large number of photographers and videographers have an engineering degree or some Silicon Valley background. Then for another reason, they walked away from it all to “travel the world.” Shout out to all us broke creative professionals who need to create to eat and pay bills.
To the annoyance of long-time professionals, brotogs ask detailed questions about a shoot, wanting to know the type of camera, the rig used, the frame rate and resolution. Ten years ago, none of that mattered to anyone. The brotog will insist on brand loyalty, just like their other purchases in life. They will purchase whatever camera or drone Sam Kolder is using, because his shots look awesome, but they will ignore basic shooting rules. “Cinematic” means lens flares and a teal-and-orange LUT applied with crushed blacks. Also speed ramps, funky transitions, and RGB splitting.
The brotog seems harmless enough. But he’s not. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the brotog, but the overabundance of white males fitting this stereotypical style redefines the new expectations of photo and video work. Women creatives are at a disadvantage even more now, because women are expected to produce puff piece work in comparison. The rise of the brotog is a rise in the same aspirational escapism that infects and poisons social media. It breeds mediocrity and sameness. It’s selling a lie.
The average life of a photographer or videographer is not expensive AirBNBs in Tahiti and club shoots with supermodels in Miami. But this is usually what the brotog shoots: a luxury lifestyle filled with exotic places, beautiful women, and hedonistic adventures. And it doesn’t matter how many “how the sausage is made” videos Casey Neistat makes, it will not sink in to the brotog that planning and preproduction make good content. They just keep buying and consuming, because filmmaking equipment is just toys to them. In many of these photographer and videographer YouTube videos, you rarely see an emphasis on assessing client needs, creating detailed shot lists and production logs, or even storyboarding. Because that shit is boring.
Brotogs roughly have the same background, so there is a degree of sameness with most of their work. The male gaze tends to be abundant, as brotogs sometimes get their girlfriends to model for them. The closer that girlfriend appears to the Instagram ideal (white, thin, young, and pretty), the more likes and high-fives he will receive. Stories and compositions do not center around the female subject, as she is merely an aspirational object in the frame. T&A has always collected eyeballs, as long as they weren’t attached to the shooter.
Brotogs who shoot things like weddings will rightfully place the emphasis on the bride, right after the ten drone shots of the venue. Brotogs who shoot nature videos will talk about the hike or climb. Brotogs who shoot shorts and music videos will justify using a RED paired with Canon L glass and common shop lights. And they will post about it. Put a LUT on it and call it a day.
When a brotog does attempt to shoot outside of his own privileged worldview, it can come off as condescending and white savior-like. Brotogs have the tendency of “othering” non-white subjects or promoting voluntourism or poverty porn.
As of right now, the brotog doesn’t seem to be going away, but you can attempt to curve some of the brotog annoying habits, both in yourself and in others. Stop posting whenever you buy new gear. Treat the women or people of color in your shots as people. Learn how to use a color wheel. Try editing a scene without fancy transitions. Delete your glitch effect preset. Ignore any inquiries on whether Sony or Canon is a better camera. Write a script. Never like another RED rig on Facebook or Instagram. Avoid #moodygrams.
Together, we can stop the douchebaggery.