Why Do So Many Professional Photographers Hate but Still Use Instagram?

Why Do So Many Professional Photographers Hate but Still Use Instagram?

I have had an Instagram for a while now. Having tailored my account to photography, Instagram has been the backbone for my social media presence. But I, as well as most creators, don't like using it. We still do, though. 

Before we start, let's dive into things that are wrong with the platform, as those have to be clarified. 

Algorithm 

There are at least a thousand articles online about “outsmarting the algorithm.” Each year, even each month, there is something new and something changed. Instagram cares about its platform remaining interesting to users. They choose to sort posts by popularity, among other metrics. This ends up pushing some posts over the others. The Instagram algorithm isn’t transparent, which makes it very difficult to create content that will “feed” the aforementioned algorithm. 

Instagram says that they care a lot about their creators, but I find it hardly caring if they keep the very thing that makes up the social platform secret. It has been reported that Instagram will reintroduce an option to turn on the chronological algorithm to their platform, but there will be a catch since it is not the default option. 

So, the Instagram algorithm, which changes at random intervals and no one knows in what ways, is perhaps one of the easier to understand and wrap your head around reasons why photographers and creators hate Instagram. 

Censorship

A friend of mine and fellow Fstoppers writer, Jeff Bennion, is a fantastic boudoir photographer who often shares his work on Instagram. Jeff and Instagram have battled over what is and what isn’t “women asking for sex.” The mechanism Instagram uses to remove or ban users’ work for violating their policy is very difficult to understand. It is simply unfair that creators such as Jeff have their work removed for no reason while pages that clearly objectify women and post images against the subject’s will are let be. What’s worse is that Instagram makes great efforts to remove art. The Albertina Gallery in Vienna(a must-visit), made an OnlyFans account in protest. So, while Instagram is removing a Carravagio, they let bots spam DMs with an unsolicited “18+ Pics with a fire emoji.” Hey Instagram, instead of censoring artwork, how about fixing the bot problem? 

Mental Health

The issue less discussed is the negative effect Instagram has on creators’ mental health. I have absolutely no idea why some images get hundreds of likes while others barely make it to one hundred. If anything, images that seem somewhat boring if not mundane to me end up being most popular. Each and every time, I just can’t tell which image will do well. I just post what I like and try to keep my feed somewhat good-looking. 

False Depiction of Professional Photography

If you go to the most popular fashion and beauty photography pages on Instagram, you will see a lot of “flashy” pictures of pretty girls in sexy outfits. Naturally, if so many people like it, it must be fashion photography that is demanded by the market and the commercial clients. The harsh truth is that those images are not commercially viable. In fact, a lot of “internet camera club” photography is just that, and it has nothing to do with the actual genre of fashion and beauty that is sought after by clients. Some of the best photographers that I know, such as my friend, Oleg, have very few followers but shoot for impressive clients. Sadly, people can spend years shooting “instaworthy” pics of girls in sexy outfits before they get to what is considered fashion photography. Because fashion photography is not about the girl, it is about the clothes and the feeling. I can guarantee you that no one cares about what light you use, or what camera, or what lens. If you prefer a 6x7 medium format, go for it. As long as your image is what the client and you want, life will be good. So, this is another reason I hate Instagram. It leads so many beginners to think that what they see on there is commercially viable. Every now and then, someone comes to my private coaching sessions, and I turn their world upside-down when I show what fashion photography really is. 

Should You Even Care? Why Does Everyone Still Use It?

Crying about Instagram, exactly what I just did in this article, can be useful to point out the problems with the platform. But can we really change the system? I don’t think so. Instagram is too big of a platform to cater to a select portion of its users. And after all, there are undesirable changes and advancements that we have to get used to. As artists, we must be able to adapt to the market, not try to adapt the market to ourselves. 

Building on this thought, many people will say that TikTok is a platform not made for professional photographers. Further, some say that TikTok is ruining photography and is in general something professional photographers should disregard. Yet, it is still a massive market where lots of money is made. TikTok influencers and creators are able to leverage the platform to their needs. That’s not to say that photographers should become TikTokers and quit. Photographers should adapt their style of work to fit modern media, as knowing the media is critical for any successful commercial photographer. Even small things like shooting for an Instagram square can be helpful. I would not have an open Instagram if I wasn’t a photographer. My private account is mostly a way to quickly share personal memories with the closest of friends. 

I have shot campaigns with the aim of them being on social media. Therefore, just the fact that social media changes should not dissuade you. If anything, it should inspire you to research deeper into social in order to provide the best image for the client. For example, maybe Instagram likes darker images over brighter ones? Or maybe Instagram prefers black and white photos?  

Closing Thoughts 

Yes, Instagram is evil. But it is a necessary evil, without which you simply can’t reach a good enough audience for your images. Sure, you can send your portfolio to people every day, but at the same time, when an art director goes to the bathroom, they’re scrolling through their feed. Your work has to be on top of that feed. You must have Instagram, I must have Instagram. Even though we both hate it. 

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19 Comments
Tony Clark's picture

Instagram died when Facebook took over, my feed is filled with paid content and people I did not follow despite my profile preferences. I remember a time when my feed consisted of those that I chose to follow, now I get about 25% of those I follow. As the Netflix documentary Social Dilemma stated, "if it's free, you are the product". Ever notice how much of your content is "paid" or "suggested"? I have spent less time on the app and have concentrated on more productive activities.

Another Username's picture

Why do so many use it when they hate it??

FOMO

that and they are lemmings.

“Just go along Jerry! go along!”

Tony Clark's picture

It's simply another tool to promote your business, it can be useful but it's can be quite frustrating. But again, it's free.

Laury Wollery's picture

Exactly. There are some fashion photographers with a lot of followers too.
Instagram is what it is. It's not for everyone but some people are very adept at using it. It's ok if you're not, but there's no point in whining about it.

Stuart C's picture

I’m not pro but I love Instagram, I started a channel and kept it purely photography and music related.. so essentially my feed is full of stuff that makes me happy, what’s not to love.

It’s all down to how you use it.

Albert Harris's picture

While we might not like IG and Tiktok, when used right they are a tool for getting new clients. While one might get business via word of mouth, it helps to diversify your audience and ways to get work/business. Right now IG Reels and Tiktok is still in the infant stage and adapting to the format to gain clients is still there. That's what I did and business has jumped 200% since for my marriage proposal business.

Robert Edwardes's picture

The hate for the algorithm change is missed placed it stopped podding which is the coordinated action of a group of people to game the algorithm and if you didn't do it you where screwed now they have mechanism in place to stop that. So most people complaining about how it effect them negatively were the ones cheating when the algorithm let it.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

Not necessarily. I hate the algorithm because I'm tired of seeing posts I've already seen. When it's in chronological order, I see new posts first and stop scrolling once I've reached posts I've already seen. It was so simple and quick. IG doesn't want it quick. They want to keep you on longer so you are exposed to more ads.

Marc J Wrzesinski's picture

I keep insta for contact/messaging purposes only now. I stripped my account of my work -- it's just not worth it getting reported constantly.

Ed C's picture

The thing I hate about them is that they are just completely random assholes. I posted absolutely nothing that anybody would consider offensive but apparently some big account decided I should be erased. I got a notice that I was banned for some violation of community standards with absolutely no detail. I did what they told me for the re-instatement and got crickets in return. Ultimately it probably did me a favor but it sucks when any platform has that attitude.

Anthony Mair's picture

I stopped using it a couple years ago and haven't looked back.

Zdenek Malich's picture

people in general love to complain about changes because they are lazy to start something new or think different ... It is lot easier to blame someone or something ....instead to look into it and try to come up with solution and adjust. Instagram gives you so much advertising power for free and all you have to do is learn how it works....well if thats still not good enough, then the problem is not the platform ....how long will it take to tik tok to start doing just the same....because they running business and probably and actually have to invest more then time into it ;)

Kirk Darling's picture

For a working professional, it will come down to the worth of the activity. Some people may get a lot of work through Instagram. Others may get little or no work through Instagram.

For those getting little or no work through that medium, it may well not be worth investing time into it.

You figure out where your market actually is and go there.

Zdenek Malich's picture

absolutelly...no point to complain about it :)

Joe Hogan's picture

It's a dead argument in many ways. Its extremely annoying the way it behaves and the lack of real interest in creators that IG has, but that's just capitalism and there ain't much to be done. I understand that people need it for their professional lives and it really sucks that there is no relationship between effort, art, creativity and the platform itself.
The recent change in attitude of Flickr looks to be a move in the right direction re "artistic" content which may develop in response to the use creators put it to. It would be nice to think that a platform as such could develop in relationship to user needs rather than some quirk of the week of the community guidelines when in fact there is no community and the guidelines are simply censorship

Zdenek Malich's picture

Well try 1x, 500px if you're an artist... IG and FB was never a good platform for art... People just thought that, but they were confused

Richard Bradbury's picture

I don't hate it but I am getting sick of seeing the crap posted on TikTok cross posted.

Honestly I have no clue how to best leverage Instagram at the moment so it's just something I dip in to now and again. Would be nice if they got rid of the stupid vertical format requirements but I doubt that will happen.

Jeff Bennion's picture

Instagram sucks lol

Art Altman's picture

Instagram emphasizes ”reels” over photos and starting recently videos over photographs.

The best way to get your photos seen might be to make a video of them.