Instagram photographers and “content creators” or “influencers,” take a timeout and do some soul-searching.
Before you run after me with torches and pitchforks and call me a hypocrite, let me explain.
Instagram is a wonderful tool. Many great photographers without the means to market themselves have been discovered through Instagram. It’s morphed quite a bit from its initial concept of using your phone to post a picture of what’s happening now, to online galleries of sometimes very old images curated by great photographers.
Instagram is an excellent way to keep up with your friends without wading through all the BS you have to go through on Facebook (which now owns Instagram, if you didn’t know). Wouldn’t you rather see what your friend had for dinner last night instead of how they believe that chemicals in our drinking water will make you gay? The former makes you see them as a real person who eats food; the latter proves they shouldn’t be contributing to the gene pool. Anyways…
Yes, Instagram is ruining everything.
And these are things that I struggle with every day. Social media is so valuable for professional growth, but at times it’s just such an abhorrent process to be involved with.
Study after study has shown that social media is a catalyst for depression because it leads us down the road of measuring our net worth as a person based on our “social engagement.” Not getting the likes you thought you would? You must be worthless. We’ll explore some other, less apparent reasons below.
“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Miriam Beard
Just as I started putting down my thoughts for this post, another opinion piece was published in The Guardian that expressed some of the same sentiments. She focuses on the FOMO, or “fear of missing out” mentality of today. Did you know that millennials mostly chose their travel destinations based on the “Instagramability” of a place? Not what it has to offer, or the history of the place, or the food, but how it will look on their phone and how many likes it will get. No joke. That’s a thing.
You could be in a sacred place awaiting a transcendent experience but not even remember you were there. Because you were hashtagging instead.
Take your picture and put the camera away. Then take it all in with your heart & soul. The memory of being there will always be much stronger than the memory of taking a picture of it.
The Creative Process
“Look and think before opening the shutter. The heart and mind are the true lens of the camera.” – Yousuf Karsh
When we’re vying for attention and followers and likes, we feel forced to create so that we can have something to post. Forced work never…works.
Because digital photography is so much more immediate than film photography, we feel like we have to share everything. And it’s true that the more you post, the more people will notice you, thus the more likes & follows you’ll get. But that’s the wrong reason to be posting. We end up in some stupid race to out-post everyone else.
It’s cheapening the whole idea behind photography, that is making photos versus taking them, to borrow a thought from Ansel Adams.
I take my camera with me everywhere I go. My old thought was, shit, I haven’t posted anything on Instagram for a few days, my followers may think I’m dead, find something. But because I do use my account for professional reasons, I need to make sure that I’m consistent with what I post and that only my best work is on there. I can’t force something to materialize. If it does, I’ll have my camera. If it doesn’t…it can wait. Musicians don’t force new albums every year. The good ones wait until they have something.
You also end up comparing yourself to other photographers. Now there’s nothing wrong with studying other photographers; in fact, you should do that to refine your own style and find inspiration. But saying, “This guy has 75,000 followers, I guess I need to copy photos like his to be successful,” isn’t being true to yourself. And it doesn’t make you an artist; it makes you a copy machine.
When you look at other successful photographers on Instagram, you should be asking, “How did he get the light like that? What elements help this picture tell a story? How do the colors work together? How does she use depth of field here?” Not, “How did he get so many followers?”
“There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.” – Ansel Adams
“Social media” is just turning into “media.” I’ve bitched about this before. People won’t even engage in conversation about it, and yes I do tactfully bring it up when I see it.
What I’m talking about is the Instagrammer who most likely uses bots to “like” and “follow” accounts they think will like them. They get your attention, you follow them back as a courtesy, and then they unfollow you. This trend has exploded in use recently. And those seemingly random comments you get, made up of strange emojis and/or one simple generic word like, “Awesome!” from people with 30K followers? Yeah, those are automated comments too. Those people never saw your photo.
So I genuinely asked some of these people if they think this is a wise way to build online relationships. I really do want to know why they believe this is a good strategy – is it really working for them? Most ignore me, one blamed it on their social media manager, one blocked me, and another just straight up said, “Numbers will make me successful.” Personally, I think it’s distasteful. Maybe you can help me understand if this is something you do?
There is truth to numbers reflecting your success. But it’s not just numbers. It’s your interactions with people and their interactions with you. Look at the pictures on these accounts – despite the enormous followings, most have low engagement on each photo.
You bet your ass I unfollow them once I notice they’ve done the same (via Followers app), then block them only so their bot doesn’t refollow me later. Too bad, some of them are good photographers. They could probably grow some valuable followings if they did it sincerely.
Don’t be selfish. If you want to interact with people, do it because you want to interact with them. Not because you only want to boost your numbers.
The Instagram Effect
“The camera is an excuse to be someplace you otherwise don’t belong. It gives me both a point of connection and a point of separation.” – Susan Meiselas
My God, if I see one more photo of someone wearing a headlamp and staring up at the night sky… Do something original! Show us what you can do!
And go somewhere else. Consider the following: at the beginning of 2013, Instagram had 90 million active users. Yosemite National Park saw 3.69 million visitors. By the end of 2016, Instagram had 600 million active users, and Yosemite saw 5.2 million visitors. That’s an average of over 4,000 extra visitors per day, but in reality, the increased numbers are concentrated in the summer months. Search and rescue operations also doubled, but that’s a discussion for another day (see The tragic rise of selfie deaths). Am I saying there’s a direct correlation? No, not 100%, but read these:
- Instagram crowds may be ruining nature, NPR, Nov 12 2017
- Is Instagram ruining the great outdoors?, OutsideOnline, Mar 29 2017
- Loved to death: how Instagram is destroying our natural wonders, The Ringer, Nov 3 2016
- Is social media ruining Lake Tahoe’s wilderness?, Sierra Sun, Sep 17 2017 (My home!)
- Is Instagram ruining backpacker culture?, Uproxx, Jan 12 2016
There is just so much out there, we don’t all need to stand on the same point and take the same photo. These fragile places can’t handle it.
Yes, you should absolutely see these natural wonders before you die. No, you shouldn’t be going there just for your Instagram feed.
Why are you clicking the shutter?
So the next time you go out with your camera, ask yourself, “Am I only making this picture to feed my ego and please my fans on Instagram?” If your answer is yes, may I suggest you reevaluate your social media usage?
Think about it, and I’ll see you over on Instagram @johnpeltierphoto. I’d love to hear what your opinions are so please leave a comment below.
“We are making photographs to understand what our lives mean to us.” – Ralph Hattersley