Instagram - A wasteland for Photographers?
After what is almost 2 years, I decided to log back into Instagram (IG), well - sort of. My friend Geoff said that he'd be back on Instagram and be posting a photo a day for the month of May 2024. It also motivated me to go back on the platform and start posting again. Our friend Sian also decided to join in - so it created a little accountability for us, and it was nice to see their photos everyday as well.

One of the early "instameets" circa early 2014

There was no reason that I left in the first place, well maybe apart from mindless scrolling through my feed of ads, half naked women (not there's anything wrong with that), reels and repeat. The platform has evolved into something different these days from when I first joined.

In the early 2010s IG was the place to be, every man, woman, and their dogs (literally dogs with IG accounts) were signing up, including me! As soon as the app came to Android, I was signed up. Here in New Zealand the platform was very new, relatively unknown and the community tiny! Eventually we all knew each other, not just online but in person as well. Early meet up were organised by Wayne - 10stopphotography. And it was such a fun environment to hang out, whether it be the in-person meetups or online on IG itself. 

Wayne, Rachel, Meghan. Before they were stars, circa late 2015

The platform at that point was independent, not owned by Facebook, now Meta. The principals behind the platform was about sharing photos, sharing what you were doing right now. As photogs signed up, it became a platform for showcasing work, going out for adventures and shoots and sharing work with friends, collaborating, critiquing, sharing ideas, sharing locations - this was cool!

The app itself was also basic, stripped back. At first, I think you could only share photos taken on the phone's camera, it quickly evolved that you could share from your photo gallery, filters of course, messaging basics. But also, the feed was simple - just a list of friends photos chrolloggical, the way it's supposed to be! (get off my lawn - yes I'm old haha). There was a happy medium at some stage just before Facebook bought it, the app experience was great. The community was buzzing, there was meetups, photo missions, great creative thinking!  

Circa 2015, we always love our gear - new or old!

Of course, the company needed a way to make money, or cash out. As with any commercial venture - I can totally understand that, just like with photography - the starving artist, it is a real thing. IG sold to Facebook, and then the changes started to come, not immediately. But as the years rolled by, the changes came, the Ads came, the features that Facebook wanted to buy from other companies came - snapchat, TikTok - Stories and Reels. 

But also, the users changed, it became an "influencer" driven community, it became all about "hacking" the algorithm, appearing on people's feed, using the right #hashtags, "like-farming", buying likes, buying followers. I have heard it all, and even witnessed some of it - sad. It is a survival of the fittest for sure, and just "playing the game", what's the saying - don't hate the player, hate the game - whatever. So, the "system" was broken. I understood that and didn't really have any personal issues with anyone. But the platform had certainly changed from the early innocent days. I had started to not to feel the love.

Damo and Alan, circa 2015

I had stopped hashtagging photos for a while before I left and was not interested in the hashtag rat race - this within itself became a specialist game of what hashtags to use for certain posts to appear on certains people feed, and so on and so forth. People telling me I should be using this tag and that tag - yeah, whatever! I was sharing as an creative outlet, sharing my creative work, not working on some hashtag game! 

But at some stage I was over it all and just needed a break, I stepped away from the platform, cold. Almost 2 years now, it has been great! Just fantastic, I'm still shooting photos, probably not as much, but when I can. And I still love it - it's my passion and what gives me joy. It has released to shoot to my standards, shoot in whatever format, whatever device, whatever editing - there a freedom to that.

Dinner catch ups, circa 2018

The thought of going back on, has been on my mind for so long, and friends wanting me to come back as well. But why, what am I going to get from it. I really didn't know what was it in for me?

What was it in for me? Well, what I've described all above, the people, the connections. What did I enjoy about the platform, not the platform itself, certainly not the algorithms, not the features, not the stupid hashtags, not the gaming of your profile, not the influencers, not really even the photos. The people. The community. That's why I was here in the first place!

Late night photo missions! circa 2019

Studio sessions, circa 2019

And the person that got me back, Geoff, just a simple challenge, a photo a day for the month. And then a few others joined in as well. It's not about the photos, it's about the community.  The first post back, was amazing - the comments were amazing, I wasn't expecting that. But again, it tells me it's about the people, welcoming me back. I love taking photos, the process, the joy, 

Wayne and I at a Park Run, things have changed, circa 2023

During one of the post - halfway through the month, I was posting a photo as I have been every day of the month, and noticed the photo was being cut off at the top and bottom, I was choosing “Original” crop. But it was still cutting it off; then it all came back to me - the 4 x 5 crop restriction, so “Original” didn’t really mean original!! For the last couple of years, I haven’t really been thinking about aspect ratios - I’ve shot photos and edited photos to what ratio it looks best. Now the memories are coming back about having to edit photos to aspect ratio, then I remember having discussion with others about how people “shoot for instagram”, and to edit in portrait 4 x 5, so your photo will appear as one photo on a someone viewing it on the phone, maximising real estate!

“Grid life”, so should I say #gridlife - this was an actual thing. So, photos should be taken in 4 x 5, but the subject should be in the centre of the frame - so when someone see’s your “grid” it would be more “visually aesthetically pleasing”. I remember Peter McKinnon making a video on this! .What?! Are we being real here. Shoot, edit and post the photos the way that suits the photo and your style, not what some app wants you to do!! Ok rant over, breathe again!

The following stories I’ve just come across during the month, whiles listening to a podcast not aimed at talking about Instagram, but Instagram came up in the conversation:

I was listening to a technology (Android) podcast recently, one of the host said "Instagram is so bad, I feel that every 6 months it gets worse...I looked up one bag on Amazon, and now every single ad is for luggage, it just doesn't make me feel good and use the app" The other host: "it's just a shopping app, every 3 post is for some crappy product I wouldn't buy" These were the feelings that I got when I left, I'm glad I'm not the only one feeling like this. I'm not keen at all to hit the main feed - the mess that, that has become!

I was listening to another photographer who was talking about community and referring mainly to the recent Lumix S9 launch debacle. He was talking “creating things that matter” mentioned “Instagram is a mess”, what is there in Instagram, you get a few likes, but mainly for sharing to family. The community aspect is missing. And he named the video “Photography is in a crisis”. I wouldn’t go that far, not a crisis but it’s lacking the authenticity. 

I half joked to a friend that I was getting more engagement and fun out of using Strava - the health app focused on cycling and running. But it has photo / video sharing with your activities, comments, likes, replies, messaging and you know what: in chronological order! I can see my feed of just my friends in chronological order - who would have thought of that! And it has a paid tier for advanced users and for people wanting to use extra features etc. I have friends who use that, that's fine. I'm not a supporter of either company or I don't really know how financial stable each platform is, but one of those experiences for the end user is better than the other, that's for sure!   

Is Instagram a wasteland for photographers - I don't know. I haven't even used the platform full again, my only interaction is through the web, through my posts, and clicking through the profiles I want.  One thing for sure, it's not the place that it was, things change, things evolve and so have I, the platform may not be for me. I love to think about my photos, craft them, shape them, create them. I don't want an algorithm to decide on how to promote a photo or piece of work that I might put a lot of effort on; or vice versa someone might do a fun post that didn't require a lot of time - the algorithm shouldn't judge that either. Have the same weighting.  So, we still have a choice, that's cool part. You have the choice where to spend your time on. I know what I will choose.

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May 2024 - pic a day

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