Instagram. We’ve all been there. Some of you are still there. Some of you are excitedly exploring Instagram’s addictive chase for likes. I have been on instagram for a few years now and I too seriously chased those likes for most of that time. I learnt to work the algorithms (when that was a thing and they hadn’t nobbled it) – posting at specific times of day, using specific hashtags, tagging specific accounts, following more and more accounts, playing the like for like game and the follow back game, posting images designed to appeal to a particular follower group, joining specific genre groups, and so on. It required a lot of effort, time, timing, and paying attention to seemingly arbitrary things which bore no relation to the quality of the photographic work posted. That last point was what put me off instagram, in the end.
There was a cut off point – a moment of disillusioned disappointment – where I saw insta for what it is – just another image-driven social media platform, designed to attract quantity not quality, and ultimately designed to attract revenue for the owners (now Facebook Inc).
Of course there are serious photographers on instagram. They are the guys (it’s usually guys) who were there at the beginning, when it was sold as a place for photographers to share images and develop a following designed to help them gain sponsorship and ambassador status and to sell their work. This is the ultimate aim of a pro photographer, after all. It’s not about admiration or appreciation so much – it’s about earning a living! Still there are many pro togs on instagram, mostly ambassadors for Nikon, Canon, Sony etc. with thousands and often over a million followers and extensive feedback and interaction. Their work already sells extensively online and in print. They don’t actually need Instagram anymore.
Occasionally a photographer breaks through via Instagram. This has become less and less likely as the user count increased and the number of images posted exploded. However, quantity does not equal quality and instagram is the perfect example of this.
In my time posting on instagram my follower number slowly increased and my likes followed suit. On its own, that constant scan and fishing for likes became monotonous. What compounded my eventual resentment of the platform was realising that my more technically proficient images, and many amazing images posts by other photographers – images which one would ordinarily be proud to have framed and displayed on a wall and which *could* be printed and framed because they were high resolution images with no banding, pixelation or other common features of a low quality image – were more often ignored in favour of the bright, over-saturated colourful image of a sunset taken on an iPhone. When you see semi-pro photographers’ beautiful landscape work getting 40 likes per post you know you’re on the wrong platform.
As a photographer striving for the high-quality, sharp, well-exposed, balanced, well-cropped and nicely-edited image, instagram is not your friend. If an image doesn’t scream at users, punch them in the face with bright colours or a specific subject, and if it isn’t of interest to the masses, you can forget accruing likes or followers.
It became especially obvious when my images of a scene, overlayed with filters and objects to produce something which bore no resemblance to the original image but which looked colourful, saturated and punchy pulled in many more likes than the more technical images. This was just a likes game. Pointless. To continue in this vain felt disingenuous.
This post is also a good guide to gaining Instagram likes, I now realise. Go ahead, fill your boots by posting over-saturated, overly-edited, unbalanced images which have been poorly sharpened after the fact. Tag every account you can find and follow thousands of accounts. I wish you well. But I don’t want to compete with that. I no longer compete with that.
When I post to Instagram now, my aim is different. I am less concerned with likes, and more concerned with just maintaining a presence on the platform which I can direct people to along with other accounts on other platforms like Twitter and Flickr. It is reassuring to see that my follower numbers at this stage are stable and do not drop over time with less posting regularity, as they used to. As my photography improves I am able to see my development and growth in images posted over time. This is much more valuable to me as an amateur.