Is Instagram Still For Photographers?

By Jason Row / May 7, 2019

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Many of you would have heard about the Fyre Festival debacle. Without going into details, it turned out to be a scam of massive magnitude carried out on what the social media world likes to call “influencers”. The social media platform that was key in the Fyre Festival scam was Instagram. If you are on Netflix, this documentary is a compulsive view.

So given this, I thought I'd add my two cents and give you my opinion on Instagram

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The Photographer’s Social Media Platform?

I like many other photographers have long seen (and still see) Instagram as an excellent way to promote our photography. After all, it was conceived as a social media app for photography. A way for people to instantly share their mobile phone images.

Often these were posted with filters applied to make them more clickable, but in time, serious photographers began to realise the benefits of posting good work to the platform. However, in the last few years, in my view, there has been a shift. Instagram seems to have become increasingly difficult for most photographers.

Here are some of the reasons for my disenchantment.

Photo by Alif Ngoylung

The Influencers

Selfies of beautiful people in beautiful locations have been the mainstay of the platform since it’s release. However, in recent years, big-name brands have latched on to the biggest accounts, offering free products, holidays or flights.

While the big brands tend only to work with the very biggest Instagram accounts, these days much smaller brands also use the platform as a form of cheap advertising. 

This has blurred the lines between genuine Instagram posts, and posts that have been sponsored or paid for by brands. It becomes, even more, murkier when many of these sponsored posts fail to admit they are sponsored. 

Of course, the very point of social media is to be seen and liked. This has lead to people attempting to ride the gravy train by building huge followings to attract a brand sponsor. This leads to some very shady practices. 

Photo by Thought Catalog

The Shady Side Of Instagram.

Recently I read an article on DP Review about what it takes to become a full-time Instagram influencer. It was everything you would expect, but there was an interesting comment from one of the readers. He had followed the influencer’s account and within an hour had 32 new followers.

I decided to try a similar thing, and lo and behold, 25 new follows within a few hours. 

Here’s the thing though, over the next few days, the vast majority of the follows, disappeared. This would suggest that a proportion of the influencer’s followers were in fact bots or fake accounts. 

This is an issue within Instagram at the moment. Sometimes, it would seem many of the mid-level small brand influencers are supported by followers they have paid for, rather than an organically grown audience. These bots, follow the influencer’s followers accounts in an attempt to leverage their images onto more timelines when the account follows them back. Then they simply unfollow.

Instagram Is Not About Photography Anymore.

I follow some very good photographers on Instagram, yet I rarely see their work without having to go and look for it. Instead, I see posts from influencers, small brands and strange startups with the occasional good photograph. 

When I post my images, I usually get around 50-60 likes but always from the same people, people whose work that I also enjoy. The other 1,500 plus followers I have either never see my images or simply aren't interested in them, so at the end of the day, I'm not sure if they are “real” followers at all.

There are also some other aspects to Instagram that gives me pause these days. Cut and paste comments are, to be honest, silly. They never reference the quality or composition of the image, simply saying “fantastic capture” or similar. 

Instagram users that write comments “check out my work” without even referencing the photo that you have posted, also give Instagram a bad wrap. I personally delete these comments now. 

Then there are the accounts that you follow because they have seemingly good content. An hour or two later you get a cut and pasted private message inviting you to buy amazing products from their website or worse still support their amazing adventure through Gofundme. Why on Earth would I give money to someone I have never met so they can enjoy a lifestyle they or I cannot afford?? Sometimes, it is a bizarre world we live in. 

 Photo by John Salvino

The Environmental Impact

If there is one thing above all of these that we really should mention, it’s the environmental impact.  This has been covered multiple times here on Light Stalking, where Instagrammers have damaged or even destroyed a local landmark in the pursuit of likes. 

An example of this is Horseshoe Bend in Arizona, where a few years ago it was lucky to see a few thousand visits per year, now thanks to Instagram and other social media it gets that number every day. 

Unfortunately, the push for likes has meant that people have shown little respect for the beauty of the location or the fragility of the ecosystem. The old adage “take only pictures, leave only footprints” perhaps needs to be tempered by conscientiousness and compassion for this beauty and fragility.

Photo by ben o'bro

Final Thoughts

Don't get me wrong, Instagram has been amazing for democratising photography and getting beautiful photos to everyone in an extraordinary way. But Instagram today has some challenges…here are my thoughts:

  • It is no longer simply a platform to post and see beautiful photographs
  • Influencers have indirect control over the flow of content, meaning we don't get to see amazing images like we used to
  • It is hard to know what is real and what is not.
  • Good photographs are secondary – it is more about pretty people in pretty places,
  • The environmental impact continues to grow.

Instagram has so much potential as a photographer’s platform. Its simplicity, the way images sparkle on small screens, the instant feedback you receive are all great aspects of the platform.

Unfortunately, true photography and great images seem to be taking a backseat, and that’s a real shame. 

We'd love to hear your thoughts, tell us in the comments below.

About the author

Jason Row

Jason has more than 35 years of experience as a professional photographer. He now concentrates on producing travel stock photography and video from around the world, and you can get to know him better here

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