It’s ironic, really. Instagram is the world’s largest social photo platform, yet photographers are constantly subjected to their photos being posted and re-grammed without a credit or tag in sight. Here’s why.
In the Instagram world, no one cares about the photographer, except other photographers. As a professional photographer for 10 years, this was a hard pill for me to swallow. Maybe it seems a little extreme, but stay with me. When I finally accepted this as a truth, it also became a freedom in my life.
Photographers are constantly getting the short end of the stick. We fight for photo credit. We fight to make a decent wage. We fight to prove ourselves as professionals. We fight to explain why we are worth what we charge. Every year, a new iPhone comes out with an improved camera and is what inevitably feels like another reason someone doesn’t need to pay for professional photos.
When you think about it, how often do you see your photo used and in the comments, users asking who took the photo? Sure, it happens now and then, but the real answer is basically never. There are countless times I have shot for a client, photos are posted to Instagram, and it seems everyone is tagged except for the photographer. What gives?
To add insult to injury, I work with brands whose social media presence gets more engagement when the photo doesn’t look like a professional photo. They actually want Instagram images to look like it was taken with an iPhone. Again, another hard pill to swallow. But really, this is the crux of it all. Instagram was built on the idea of taking photos with your phone and putting a filter on them. With Instagram, everyone can be a photographer.
Then, there is the world of digital influencers. They only need to learn a basic understanding of finding good light and snapping a photo in auto mode or portrait mode, tweak it on an editing app, and post it to Instagram, making thousands of dollars per post. Brands will re-gram influencer photos and always credit, tag, and highlight the influencer. If it’s a photo taken by a professional photographer, 90 percent of the time, there is no photographer credit or any recognition whatsoever. Even small time re-grams leave photographers begging for a tag.
So, what if we get the credit? What are the results of that? Exposure? Very rarely does a tag or photo credit result in any kind of real exposure for the photographer. Disappointing? Yes. Notoriety? Nope, not really. More work? Ha! The majority of the time, the direct messages that come in are new influencers looking to trade in return for exposure.
The only people that actually care about who took the photo are other photographers. The average person doesn’t notice how good the light is, the angle of the subject, or that you followed the rule of thirds. They care about the person in the photo, what they look like, what they are wearing, and maybe what the location is. Why else can a client slap on a filter on your prized photo and still generate all the likes and praise?!
Do I sound like I’ve swallowed the bitter pill? That would be a yes, and at some point in your photography journey, you may experience some of these same feelings. It sounds like I should give up and there is no hope for the photographer. But here’s the thing: when you stop focusing so much on tags, re-grams, etc. and use that time and energy to shoot for yourself or to focus on your business or other areas of your work, it doesn’t feel like such a big deal. It feels more like a blip. A blip that doesn’t fully derail you from your focus. Accepting this reality has brought me freedom in many ways.
Let me be clear. I am not saying that if a brand fails to get licensing, permission, or properly credit you that you shouldn’t pursue compensation. What I am saying is that missing tags and re-grams without your name on it are going to happen. You can spend as much time as you want trying to educate person after person until it becomes exhausting. But the truth is the average person just doesn’t get it. They just don’t. When you accept that other people don’t really care about who took the photograph, in a strange way, it makes you want to produce better content. Content that stops someone in the midst of their scrolling and makes them say: "wow this is an amazing photo." Maybe that is all you will get, but in a creative industry, deep down, the best thing that can happen is someone, even if only for a moment, appreciating your work. And getting paid. Yes, we all want to get paid for our work and expertise.
Lead Photo by rawpixel.com used with permission from Pexels.