Is Instagram Still For Photographers?


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

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 Author

Jason has more than 35 years of experience as a professional photographer, videographer and stock shooter. You can get to know him better here.

Is there an alternative platform to see photographers’ work? I have whittled down my social media apps to only having Instagram because I enjoy(ed) good photography on there, but have also noticed I see less and less “good pictures” and more “influence.” Photography is just a hobby for me but I’ve always enjoyed finding professional photographers to enjoy their work and expand my creativity. It would be nice for a new place to get that experience.

Jonn H…

Years ago I was on Google+ as it was designed as a photographers social media site. I eventually left as it changed, too many rules incurred by the group leaders. You couldn’t post more than one photo a day, no links in your description even if it was relevant to the photo. I’d just had enough…

Facebooks going the same way, and selling your personal information so Zuckerberg gets richer…

I’ve been using YouPic; a Swedish photography site for a couple of years without a problem…

Hope that helps

I thought things were strange when i started getting likes in a minute after posting something so I tried experiment and posted blank white image and sure enough 20 likes in short time. Figured they were bots. I don’t use instagram anymore.

Wow, I have been posting on Instagram for a couple of years now and this hits home. Only my close friends and family actually leave real comments on the post. My posts are normally small towns or unique urban areas, so I don’t have to worry about the environmental side of things but that’s still a great point! Thank you!

Really good and important article. I share the same impressions as you do. For quite a long while I was enjoying using Instagram as photographer. There were many other inspirational photographers sharing their work. Then things started changing. More and more of those selfie- or advertising photographers came up – and so more and more brands. This got boosted my the implementation of stories. Then Facebook also changed the algorithm to even favor / boost those advertising accounts. The real photographers who simply does want to distribute their work does not fit anymore into the algorithm of Facebook. Simply because Facebook doesn´t earn any money with them. Today it feels like its one big advertising platform. Every few photos in the stream you get official advertising. In between you see people advertising other stuff. That´s why I haven´t posted anything on Instagram for over 12 months. I still use it sometimes for inspiration. Basiscally I would be fine with some advertising and I understand that such a platform somehow needs a business model. But it became simply way too much and so absolutely unattractive for me. Which is a pity since I used to enjoy the platform a lot in the past.

Great Article I couldn’t agree more, on November 2018 this was my comment on my final Instagram post:

My time at Instagram is over.
I sincerely thank all of you who dedicated yourself a little of your precious time to see my posts and comment.
As our society evolves, both real and virtual reality will become more complex.
The issues we face will be insignificant in front of what our children will have to face.
It is great to be able to overcome physical constraints and to acquaint people and their works that would be impossible on the natural level due to distance and living conditions.
We are posting into parallel lives and we are imagining ourselves in situations without real existence.
Instagram is a good means of communicating subjects of photographic interest, but naturally has inherent weaknesses that limit the dynamics of photography in general.
Already in the short time I use it I realize that it is shifting strongly to something else that does not fit me.
If we could physically map the virtual internal functioning of social media we could claim that every day a small army of employees follows us to record our lives, to collect all our body secretions to analyze, classify, categorize and interconnect these results with other people so that they can be traded to companies.
In reality, however, this is not enough either.
By modifying experimentally the virtual environment that the users of social media are using, they develop and define ways of thinking, perceiving situations and managing human values unknowingly. That entire configuration is transported with natural automation to reality, influencing human moral values that have been shaped and established in the depths of the human evolutionary course.
Everything has a limit and a fine balance between freedom and deliberate limitation of personal rights, which in my case this limit I feel is overcome.
Nothing is lost, life cycles because simply the world at the level of reality matures with terrible slowness, but nevertheless it progresses or so I hope.
Maybe in the future, when there is a need again, I will come back.
Be brave, do not let inertia bind you, change whenever you feel the weight of reality trapping you, do not waste your time, it is so fucking short.
The changes we make are always for good, enriching and improving us.
Be curious, persistent, true to yourself and above all not to think you are serious and great.
We do not know any great truth and we are not the center of the world.
There are remarkably more serious and more important issues in the real world, so that our supposedly photographic, artistic and self-descriptive and selfish concerns are so ridiculous.
Second opportunities are terribly rare so be the best you can at first chance.
Good continuity to all of us.

(Sorry for the long post)

The Instagram algorithm is the culprit which it was put in place by Facebook after the company bought Instagram. Mark Suckerberg said he has no plans to due away the algorithm system from Instagram and Facebook. The algorithm seems like it is here to stay, but it does more harm than good to users.

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