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.
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.
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?
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?
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.