Way back in the year 2012, my wife introduced me to the wonderful world of Hipstamatic. It was a really slick app for the iPhone that utilized the phone’s camera to simulate vintage film cameras. There were different bodies, lenses, and films you could download/purchase, and the app allowed the user to take square pictures. These were great for posting to Instagram. Of course, Instagram has its own set of filters, too, now. But I was an early adopter of Hipstamatic and never really gave Instagram much of a second thought.
However, in 2014 when I picked up photography in earnest, Instagram popped back on the radar. I’ve been able to follow some amazing photographers as they share their work, and share some of my own. It has been pretty edifying for me, although not always educational or even entertaining. I haven’t amassed a million followers, or even a thousand. I have just over one hundred. I follow more people than I am followed by.
It is not about followers, although a lot can be learned by your followers. The nature of Instagram is the whole “INSTA” part of it. Sure, professional photo mags can post beautiful images by pro photographers who probably spent more time editing the photo than you will spend reading this blog, but those are the exception, not the rule.
No, the norm is much more succinct. Instant phone photographs shared nearly as quickly as they were taken. Dig a little deeper and one might find there are distinct categories of posts on Instagram, and as I have found they are as follows.
1. Food porn. Yeah, pictures of food. Most of the time it looks like previously-chewed slime, sometimes it is a grainy low-res shot of Maragritas, and occasionally somebody gets it right by putting a white napkin beside the plate and composing like they might just do this for a living. The latter are actually very pleasant to look at. But it is what it is: pictures of food.
2. Selfies. Duckfaces, BFFs, bathroom sexy-girl/man poses, single eye and part of a nose… the list of horrible self-portraits is so long even Santa could not deliver toys to all of these girls and boys in one night. They are rarely ever in any context that somebody would understand outside of a close-knit group, and they are also even less likely to be anything other than potato-quality grainy shots that make even the most unpleasant troll look like a magazine-cover model. I mean that in the least possibly good way I can think to say it.
3. Porn Spammers and Product Pushers. I lump these two together for a reason, they only like or follow you to get you to view their product or site. It is not reciprocal. I just got a like for a photo I took over a year ago. @__.NaturesMiraclefor4Maladays really liked that ? Because their IG page is literally square-format ads for their Colonic Purge of Portland product that has zero to do with the red Canon 7 rangefinder picture they liked. The other group are porn spammers. They set a pretty half-dressed young lady as the profile pic and follow a thousand people. The actual IG page has a handful of stock photos of girl-butts in bikinis and a dubious short-link to probably some other nasty website full of Trojans (not the birth-control variety.)
4. Friend-collectors. These people that do follow-for-follow campaigns to see how many followers they can amass as if it gives them notoriety. That dog just doesn’t hunt. Their Instagram page says they are famous, published magazine photographers… Followers: 5923, Following: 5941 . Folks if you are following 5941 other people on Instagram, you have no idea who is posting what. It is a wash and you could not look through a day’s worth of posts if you had all day to do it! And if you are being followed by one of these cretins, it is because you hashtagged something that they are set to pounce on with some auto-follow bullshit and they are using up your breathable air. Blow them out of the airlock.
5. The authentic core users. These are people that see every photo you post and like the good ones, ignore the bad ones, or just generally like them all. But you can post a photo with no text, no hashtag, and no friend tag, and these people still manage to take time out of their day to see your work and react to it. I appreciate them the most. They are genuinely interested in what I have to share. They tend to be actual photographers and people that enjoy it as much as me. Best of all, some of the famous ones I follow have actually responded to my work! That is a great feeling.
So how does the modern photographer benefit from Instagram ?
The best I can say from my own experience is to follow photographers whose work you appreciate and comment on their work if something they post really draws you in. Also, do all things in moderation. It is perfectly fine to make a selfie or a photo of that amazing dinner presentation, or to jazz up a dull scene in post with a filter, but be reasonable. Lastly, if you have a particular style, exploit it. Re-tool your Instagram feed to only show that style of work. It’s your feed, make it recognizable. I seriously need to do this…once I find a style.