Instagram has become one of the most powerful tools for modern photographers.
The platform empowers photographers across the world to have their work viewed thousands, if not millions, of times over. The community behind the social network cannot be underestimated either, openly sharing a wealth of knowledge and inspiring their like-minded peers to take their passion to the next level.
Yet, as Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben once said, with great power, comes great responsibility.
For me, personally, Instagram has been the driving force behind my interest in photography.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a passing interest in capturing images. However, it wasn’t until after downloading the Instagram app mid-2013 my casual hobby really took off.
Exposure to the abundant amount of stunning imagery on the platform inspired—and continues to inspire—me to go out in pursuit of capturing just as beautiful photos myself.
It’s what drives me to set my alarm in the wee hours of the morning to check on the cloud conditions. It’s what sends me halfway across the world to explore and photograph new lands so different from my own. And it’s what opened my eyes to entire new fields of photography (such as astrophotography and underwater photography), encouraging me to try my hand at them myself.
The supporting community cannot be understated either.
The shared appreciation for photography brings millions together across the globe on a daily basis. People of different race, creed and class together, sharing their common interest. It brings down cultural barriers and unites people in mutual encouragement and constructive feedback on their work.
Yet—as much as we may prefer to remain ignorant—the platform isn’t all sunsets and rainbows for photographers.
While Instagram initially fuelled my passion for photography, at times it did—and still does—do so for all the wrong reasons. Too often I find myself chasing likes, rather than being inspired through the art of photography itself.
It’s a fundamental aspect of human nature to revel in others’ appreciation of us and our work. The little hit of dopamine straight into our bloodstream when a red heart appears on the screen is highly addictive. So much so that I—and, I’d wager, many of my peers—pursue it in the absence of a genuine love for the field.
We begin to pursue a digital metric, one seemingly always out of reach. After receiving our first 100 likes on a post, we’re then chasing 200. After attracting 5,000 followers, we move the goal line to 10,000 followers. We pursue short term hits of success at the expense of long term fulfillment. It’s like constantly chasing your tail up a mountain, and never quite stopping to appreciate view up there.
There’s also the wealth of stunning photos which can provide inspiration for some, but has the opposite effect for many others.
When we compare our work to that of lifelong professionals, quite often we can feel deflated—as if their extremely high quality of work devalues our own. Yet this approach can lead down a dangerous path driven by fear. We fear producing and sharing sub-par work, and so it’s safer to take the easy route: do nothing. Don’t shoot and don’t share.
Yet this approach is obviously a self-defeating one. My advice? Don’t let the fear paralyze you. Be bold. Be courageous with your photography.
Then there’s the ugly. It’s one thing to value digital metrics of success, but it’s something else to achieve them artificially.
How many has-been reality stars or Instagram famous models have you seen claim impossibly high follower numbers? Those with highly suspect low levels of actual engagement on their posts. There’s no sense of community with their followers. No respect. Just an artificially inflated follower count so they can sell influencer reach onto gullible brands who don’t—or choose not to—know any better.
And then there’s the fake accounts which drop completely out of context gibberish comments on your photos.
Now, I’m all for hashtags. They’re a fantastic way to have your photos seen and (hopefully) shared by larger content hubs on Instagram. They’re also a great tool to collate photos from certain locations when you’re planning your next shoot. But unfortunately, these ghost accounts prey on certain tags, unceremoniously splurging out offers of want more followers?, check my page!
Finally, there’s the accounts which steal others’ photos without attribution or consent. The worst thing is, because there’s no attribution or link, it’s impossible for us photographers to track when the theft (and it is theft) actually occurs. It could have happened to me every day this week and I would have no way of knowing.
Looking back on the above, you’d be forgiven for running scared from the platform in fear of what it’s doing to you and your photography. But please, don’t. Instagram is a wonderful (the best?) platform for photographers to share their work, inspire others and form genuine communities and friendships.
Sticking our head in the sand on the unpleasant issues isn’t doing us, and the photography community, any favors.
While we can’t directly control the fundamental nature of social media and Instagram, we can actively choose to minimize its negative influence on us. To not let it define our worth as photographers and to leverage its power as we continue sharing our passions with the world.