The Disingenuous Nature of Instagram

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.

Scotland – Summer 2020

Despite buying my house in Scotland in March right before lockdown, I hadn’t been able to visit it and move my worldly possessions in until July of this year. This involved a flight from Italy (once flights were back up and running), driving from London to stay with my family in Derbyshire and rest, then a nine hour drive up to my house in the Highlands of Scotland. Once there I made new friends, including a dog called Bear.

I spent a good few weeks getting to know the area and walking, taking photographs and settling in. It is my spiritual home, the place I always wanted to be and to spend my days. I love the soft landscapes, the browns and greens, the drizzle, the wildlife, the wild sea and the sun. I despise the midges! Sadly, as my pet animals are all in Italy I had to return to be the responsible animal parent. I will be back up to Scotland in November 2020.

A few images of my time exploring near my new home.

Rocca Calascio Pt. Due

After visiting this magical place the first time (see previous post) and finding I needed to revise my camera settings and pay more attention to the time of day I was shooting and the direction in which I was shooting the castle, we took a second trip into the mountains for a planned second shoot. After meeting some friends for coffee and a look around Castel del Monte (a hilltop town nearby) I headed up to the top of the hill to spend some quiet, alone time with the castle and its surrounding landscapes.

It had just rained and there had been a dramatic thunderstorm, so I was hoping I might catch some lightning bolts in the distance as the storm moved away but, alas, it was not to be. I did however spot a rainbow which can be seen in one of the images. The ground was still wet as I made my way up the mountain and found only one or two people up there with me. I was soon joined by a local tabby cat who mostly entirely ignored me as she prowled about the castle on what I assume is a daily feline survey of the area.

The light was good. It was around two hours from sunset so I spent at least that time shooting and often just relaxing on a rock and enjoying the views. Clouds hung in the sky and the sun pushed its way through and down onto the hills, lighting up the greens and browns of the landscape below and spreading that uniquely Italian rose-pink hue. I had failed to bring a tripod up the hill (stupid mistake) so began shooting with a wide angle lens and attempting to bracket exposures hand-held. I won’t do that again. However, the shoot got me some good results from just single exposures.

Italia: February 2020

A lot has happened since I last posted here. I have moved to Italy to live part-time, as planned. Unfortunately, a global pandemic happened so photographic opportunities for landscape images have been somewhat limited. Happily this is not the case for wildlife and nature photography on my doorstep daily in Italy, and I have more than made up for the lack of landscapes.

On the journey over to Italy from the UK I passed through the French-Swiss alps, and once here had a few trips out to scout around for photographic sites.

The Roaches

A morning misty hike up to the Roaches in Staffordshire, on the edge of the Peak District National Park, was just what was needed for Dan and I. I took my camera because… I take it everywhere, pretty much. The light wasn’t great as the mists were heavy and fairly low, and the clouds were out in force, but adjusting for this and also utilising lower exposures I managed to take a few images which I have edited to reflect the misty, slightly ethereal mood of the morning.

Swanning about

I have recently had reason to go over some past images of mute swans taken at Wollaton Park in Nottingham. I have re-edited them to try to achieve the image I had in mind when taking the photograph. Three such images were enhanced in Photoshop and one I have entered for a competition. Editing photographs can be really time-consuming, it’s true, yet there is so much to learn, in particular when using Photoshop. It is worth many, many hours sitting learning techniques and using new layers and masks to transform an image into the vision you had or now have for a photograph.

For now, while the rain pours in the UK, I will continue to re-visit old wildlife images and re-edit to produce something different to the original edits. Birds seem to be especially good for this task!

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Snowdon: September 2019

Last time I hiked up Snowdon (I say hiked, we took the Miner’s Track, which is fairly easy-going for the most part) the mountain decided to mess with me. It was a lovely sunny day when we set off, and yet in the space of three hours it rained, hailed, and eventually snowed on me. We had to give up and turn back on that occasion as we were utterly drenched and extremely cold. The most recent attempt was no different. I had thought we would be ok – the weather was a bit ‘off’ but not terrible, and we left super early to make the most of a clear morning and the sunshine.

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.

That didn’t last. I think we probably saw some of Snowdon’s worst weather and conditions on this day in September. Admittedly, we later realised it had been torrential rain throughout the country at the same time, but it didn’t make the defeat any easier to accept. We set off and I managed to get some nice images without tripod and even with intermittent rain (turns out drops landing on your lens every few yards begins to irritate after a while). The weather brought some dramatic skies and crisp, clear greens on the mountains and bright rock formations. I wasn’t too bothered by a bit of rain.

The mountain had other plans. As we made our way to around halfway up Snowdon, while I stopped to capture images in more interesting spots and in between downpours, the weather turned. I could almost hear the mountain laughing at us. Oh, you’ve come back to try again? Hahaha. Think again.

It rained. And rained. And rained. I think I even saw what looked like hail, but may have imagined it. The rain got heavier and heavier until I had packed everything tightly away, frantically pulled on some waterproof trousers and leaned into the kinds of gale force winds and heavy rain I have quite literally never witnessed before. It poured down my face and body, and that delightful squelching sensation began to emanate from my walking boots and from my clothing, although my jacket did a great job of keeping my core dry.

(As an aside, those same walking boots now sit forlornly in the conservatory still covered in mud and are destined for a bin.)

At one stage, my son, who was the most drenched person I’ve ever seen other than myself at that point, turned from his determined walk up the mountain, looked at me and made a cutting motion. Time out. Screw this. We are going back down. I was surprised as I’d been trailing him for some time – he is a determined walker. Nope, he wanted out of the madness. We raged at the mountain and the weather as we slipped and slid back down the path, which had by now turned into a healthily flowing river.

Some way down, I noticed a large boulder tumbling down the mountainside, while the rain lashed and raged around us. I looked at my son. He looked at me. He swore and shouted at me to run. I was genuinely in the middle of taking a photograph in the torrential rain (nothing stops me when I see an image I want), so I just froze. As we turned towards the path, in the direction we needed to go, a landslide took out the entire path in front of us. The lake below us filled with multicoloured sediments which spread across the surface in fascinating patterns while the body of water which had been a stream an hour earlier had become a raging river which flowed over the path and down into the water below.

We panicked. We charged up the mountain onto the grass to avoid falling mud, and at the same time tried to move forwards. As we moved, another landslide occurred directly in front of us and my son ran towards me while I filmed it. (I know I probably should take these things more seriously and put the camera away!) We managed to scrabble over the second rapidly rising landslide which covered the path but I lost my phone in the process. Despite the fact we literally ran some way from the landslide before I’d realised I had lost it, we turned back to try to find the phone and had to re-negotiate the landslides. Further landslides had occurred on the path heading back towards the Miner’s track car park. We both shouted at the mountain, especially as it seemed that as we got closer to the car park, the weather calmed and the sun even dared to show its face.

I have to admit to feeling slightly aggrieved. This mountain does not like me. I will be back to tackle her once again, very soon. On some of these images, you might actually be able to tell that it was raining. You’d never know the full story…