Why I Use Instagram (Sort Of)

Recently I talked about why I use Flickr and all the positives it’s given me over the years I’ve been on board.

Next up in this loosely related series, why I use Instagram.

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Because I’ve been with Flickr eight years, it’s become the yardstick by which I measure other photography connected sites. Which is perhaps a mistake, as Instagram is very different.

Whereas Flickr feels a long term investment and archive, a way to steadily build a body of work and have its long tail gather an audience over years (as well as feed 35hunter with photos), Instagram feels like an fleeting, breathless, smash and grab it right now experience.

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My first post on Instagram was March 2016.

I dabbled with it relatively steadily until around mid August. Struggling to see the point, and my online time being precious, I couldn’t justify time spent on Instagram with no obvious reward or enjoyment. So I decided to have a couple of months off.

When I returned to Instagram, I realised I’d been away 13 months!

Since September I’ve been trying to post two or three times a day, attempting to find interesting people to follow and talk with, and figure out if it could become worthwhile to me.

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Here are my personal impressions of Instagram today –

  • There are a huge amount of talented photographers on Instagram. It’s not difficult to find breathtaking images by the hundred, maybe thousand. This is good in that you found them, but the medium through which you’re viewing their masterpieces is woefully inadequate. More on that later.
  • The number of Instagram users I’ve come across is mind boggling. I only follow about 60 people but it feels most of the time that I never see the same face twice, aside from maybe four or five people who, ironically, I already knew via Flickr, their blog or my blog anyway.It feels like being in the middle of a huge crowd at a sports game or concert or shopping mall. The kind of places I almost entirely avoid (you’ll recall many of my photographs are taken in churches, churchyards or the middle of the woods, all entirely devoid of people!)

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  • When I’m talking to the people I know on Instagram, mostly I’m thinking “I’d rather be talking to you somewhere else”. On Flickr, via comments on one of our blogs, or via email.This is partly down to me not much liking using my iPhone for any lengthy writing, and partly because it feels like we’ve bumped into each other in a frantic marketplace and are now huddling in a doorway half shouting at each other trying to make ourselves heard amongst the chaos.
  • I don’t get the size thing. I had an interesting chat with Frank about this the other day. Not on Instagram, of course. The crux is, why are we photographers obsessing over mega pixels, sensor size and resolution, then most of the time sharing and viewing photos on screens even smaller than those on the rear of a typical DSLR?!I like to see pictures at a decent size to appreciate them. My 15″ MacBook has a screen around 13″ x 8″, about the size of a decent print. It’s a pleasure viewing photos on Flickr, on blogs etc, on this screen, I can get lost in the experience.

    My iPad’s 9.7″ screen is around 8″ x 6″, again a decent size for a print photo. I use the iPad purely for viewing photos and reading, and for this the screen size is very enjoyable.

    Whilst I have Instagram on the iPad, I don’t really use it. It never looks quite right and I have to turn the screen the opposite orientation to what feels natural. I use Instagram almost exclusively on my iPhone. With a screen that’s overall only 3.5″ x 2″.

    Also, once you’re in Instagram, which forces you in portrait orientation, a landscape photo appears at a size of approximately 1.5″ x 2.5″. This is about 1/25 the size of a landscape photo viewed on my MacBook!

    It’s like going to a Rothko exhibition expecting to see original paintings two or three metres in either direction, then instead being shown a series of Rothko postcard prints.

    Yes I know Instagram was conceived for square photographs originally, but even then you’re only seeing about 2.5″ x 2.5″.

    Yes I also know that I don’t have the newest, largest iPhone (a 5C), but I want my phone to be pocketable (like my compact cameras, funnily enough!). I don’t want to carry around something virtually the size of an iPad which even if I could squeeze in a very larger and stretchy pocket, I would likely never be able to prise it out again.

    So the device Instagram is optimised for, is ridiculously inadequate for a medium such as photography. Or is this just me (and Frank!)?

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  • It’s all too fiddly. My typical process for uploading to Instagram is this – Find photo on Flickr, click share button, click Instagram icon. Switch to Notes app, find the note where I’ve said batches of hashtags, select and copy, switch back to Instagram, paste, add any further hashtags, post.This only takes a few minutes, but it just feels so fiddly with an iPhone. And often once the post is there, I bemoan again the postage stamp size, as I remember how much better the image looks full size on my MacBook…
  • It’s all so transient. Although I haven’t made a great deal of physical prints of my photographs (I had some made just yesterday, and it won’t be the last time – more on that in a future post), I do love the romance and connection and emotion that comes with holding a physical image in your hand.It doesn’t matter whether it was made with a Brownie by your great great grandmother a century ago, or your iPhone last week. Just having that print to hold feels like a permanent, tangible connection.

    The internet generally moves fast, but you can build a presence over time. I’ve been on eBay 15 years now, on Flickr eight years, had a blog of some form for over 12 years and 35hunter for a few days less than two years.

    This is all a mere flutter of an eyelid compared with holding a century old print, but a history nonetheless. Instagram feels incredibly fast paced. I only follow around 60 people, yet I could revisit every hour and see dozens of new posts.

    I’m not one to serially refresh my sites online, and usually only visit a couple of times a day. On Instagram half a day seems like half a year. Everything has changed, everyone’s moved on. I don’t like this pace.

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  • It feels all surface and no feeling. Yes there are wonderful images. But 99% of the conversation around them is made up of pointlessly brief comments like “Beautiful!” or “Love!” or even worse a silly string of emoticons. Interspersed with the original poster’s responses in equally brief snippets like “Thanks Man!” or again those dumb colourful little pictures. What’s the point??If you’re going to comment, why not say something constructive and meaningful? It’s similar to “likes” on blogs, another pet hate of mine. If you genuinely “like” something, in the original sense of the word, then please have the courtesy to tell the writer what you like and why?
  • I don’t see what I have to give, or to gain, from Instagram. With Flickr, I listed ten good reasons for using it. Having a blog is similarly useful, rewarding and enhancing to my general photography passion. But Instagram… Even in the best case scenario, what could I give or get? I really don’t know.

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In starting this post, I had intended to highlight a few of the benefits of Instagram.

As it turns out, I’ve pretty much talked myself out of using it at all.

A day after writing the first draft, in the interim I’ve been exploring a few other options, and for now have decided to put Instagram on pause again, and revisit Google+. I was on here a couple of years back, and really like the general format and interface, and how everything seems well synchronised (including, I’ve discovered, WordPress).

I also have the option of using Google Photos as an archive, again neatly synched in with Google+ and 35hunter. I now just need to explore again and see how many photographers are still there!

What are your views and experiences of Instagram? What am I missing? Or do you have many of the same frustrations? Please let us know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

 

26 thoughts on “Why I Use Instagram (Sort Of)”

  1. Same here, we should have a beer together one day

    I don’t get the meaning of Instagram. Posting photos that get lost nearly immediately? Hunting for likes and silly pictures?

    Why?

    I put Instagtram on pause end of last year, went back for a week or two last summer and finally last month I cancelled the stuff…

    I lose enough time on Facebook already!

        1. I have wondered about starting an account just to do the same – auto post my 35hunter posts. But I just don’t want to get involved in even that level really, just have a major aversion to FB generally!

          1. I’m generally averse to anything social, but am more than happy to talk on places like people’s blogs, Flickr, Google+. FB I just don’t like the whole set up and general way people use it.

          2. By the way, I received the K10D yesterday…. apart from a bunch of dust on the sensor it looks like a decent camera. If the digital sort, kinda…

            I still have to wrap my head around the exposure… manual I guess with M42 and auto with the PK lens I got.

            Hmm, I can still return it…. (scratching head)

      1. I tried using mine AV with Pentax-A series lenses but in the end it was simpler to learn one approach that I can use with all lenses, and that is manual M mode.

        You’ll find (for technical reasons I don’t fully understand but something about the light you see through the VF is not exactly the same as the light that eventually hits the sensor) that the exposure can need some tweaking with old lenses. With Av you can only do it with the exposure comp function, which for me was further faffing about.

        With M mode you can set your aperture, press the green button on top so the camera takes a reading of the light and sets the appropriate shutter speed. You can then shoot. If you need to tweak, based on what you see in the screen, just use the shutter speed wheel just in front of the shutter button and shoot again.

        It becomes pretty instinctive after a while, trust me!

        You need to set up a few things initially, like enabling it to use manual aperture lenses, and making sure the front wheel is the shutter speed (though you can set it as the rear wheel if you prefer). I also find having the “blinkies” on helps – when you take a picture any over or under exposed areas flash. You can have the histogram on either whilst shooting, whilst playing back, or both, which can be very helpful for exposure too.

        I’ve learned a lot about using histograms and exposure etc from using the K10D. You may know already but digital cameras are far more sensitive to exposure than film with its typical -1/+3 latitude.

        I’ve found when I’ve stuck with one lens for a while I’ve got to know how to expose best with it and it’s become second nature.

        Also for best results stick with the base ISO of 100, though you will still get very decent results at ISO200 and 400, and if you like a bit more “grain”, try ISO400.

        There is a learning curve so please don’t write it off immediately!

        How do you feel about the overall handling and build and feel?

  2. I have a love hate relationship with instagram and agree that there is not much to be gained from it. Unless it is your main front window and you spend a lot of time working on it and managing your following it is difficult to find a way of using it that is beneficial. I do use it but I only post images that are ‘right’ for instagram (whatever that means) and they are ones that generally don’t make it to Flickr or my blog.
    When it was purely time orientated there was a chance your images could get good views without massive following but once they added the algorithm that went out of the window.
    So for me I maintain a presence on it and occasionally have bursts of activity on it if that fits with what I am doing, otherwise I am mostly a viewer.

      1. But when you see a great photo on Instagram, don’t you then want to see it at a decent size? There doesn’t seem to be an obvious way to do that. On Flickr or Google+ for example, when you click on an image in the main stream, it then enlarges to full(ish) screen. I just find that really annoying with Instagram, forcing everyone to share thumbnails virtually.

  3. To be honest, I’m not sure what I think about Instagram. Personally I like it because it helps aid in my ambition in becoming a professional photographer. I want to boost my business(which is mainly portraits and events) and possibly become an ambassador for a brand or be hired by someone as a freelance. I know that brands are looking for photogs that have a large and active following and thats honestly what I aim to have within the next few years. Though its just one of my dreams, I’m personally fine if all Instagram does is help boost my business. I also enjoy viewing other peoples photos and finding ideas and inspiration on Instagram I hate it for the same reasons you do. I hate getting those “good job” comments, christ I hate them so much. I would much rather not have any comments rather than receive those. When I do get a legitimate and human sounding comment I make sure I reply to that person, since they usually ask a question or maybe offer critique on my photos.

    1. Fascinating how many of us don’t quite know what to make of it and/or have a love/hate relationship with it.

      It’d be good to hear from someone who thinks Instagram is the greatest thing ever, and why they think that.

      Completely agree about the comments. I only make a comment if I feel I can say something interesting or specific about why I like a photo. Otherwise it just adds to the meaningless noise we all have to wade through.

      Do you think people/companies use Instagram to browse for photographers they might like to hire then? I guess you get an idea of someone’s work on Instagram, but surely you need to see it at a decent size to make a better judgement?

      I actually looked up the top Instagram accounts, and they’re virtually all pop stars and models, with one or two footballers. Maybe this shows the point of it more than anything else, it’s all part of celebrity culture.

      I did find the National Geographic account high up though, which is very interesting to follow! https://www.instagram.com/natgeo/

      1. I tend to follow a few instagrammers on YouTube and almost all of them talk about making money off Instagram. Whether its selling prints, finding jobs, or becoming an affiliate with a brand they say that it is possible to make money. I agree that you’d think that you would want a way to show the full-size image at higher quality, but I noticed a lot of these instagrammers tend to have their own website. My assumption is that the brand or person sees their post, likes their photos, and possibly goes into their website to check out their images in a high quality setting.
        I feel the fact that instagram being a part of celebrity culture ads to the appeal of using instagram. When you boast 800m active users, you tend to want your own piece of Internet fame. Yea we may never reach 38m followers like Drake, but to receive 400k followers like Misshattan and have companies pay you to travel and shoot photos for them would be appealing and tempting for even the smallest instagram accounts(like myself).
        If you look up VisualRev he’s probably the first person that comes to mind who probably thinks Instagram is the greatest invention after sliced bread, but then again thats just what I get out of him, since most of his videos are about how to promote yourself on instagram, how to make money, etc.

      2. Thanks Victor these are important points.

        I never had the intention of getting either famous or rich from Instagram – In fact I’m not really sure what my expectations were at all, and maybe I should have considered them more before I joined. Sometimes we have try these things to realise they don’t really work (for us).

  4. I finally figured Instagram out for myself. I like it because:

    1. The Likes I get for the photos I post there are a cheap and easy dopamine hit
    2. It does drive a few clicks to my blog, which is the center of my online universe
    3. I follow a few photographers there who I can’t find anywhere else, and I enjoy their work

    Yes, the images are teeny tiny. You can’t really study them. Instagram tends to reward close, contrasty shots. It’s okay — the app isn’t meant to be everything to photography.

    1. Jim, thanks as always for your thoughts.

      1. I don’t get this. A “like” to me seems so meaningless. I’d “like” people to share a meaningful comment. I’d take one comment like that over 1000 likes.

      2. This is what I hoped too. Looking at November’s stats, where I’ve been quite active on Instagram, the percentage of total blog views that have come from Instagram are precisely 0.09%… I got nearly 10 times that from Facebook and I’m not even on it!! Love how you said your blog is the centre of your online universe, exactly the same for me. The likes of Instagram are just outposts in other galaxies…

      3. Fair enough, like I said in my post above there’s no shortage of fantastic photographers posting on Instagram.

      Thanks for commenting!

  5. I quite like the square format. It reminds me of medium format, shooting for that format deliberately brings something different to the composition. Actually, I think it would suit your style, I like it for relatively close up shots and B&W. give it a go if you have a camera that will do 1:1, one of the Ricohs must do.

    1. Hi Toby, thanks for your thoughts. Yes I quite like square too, in fact the only aspects I use are 3:2 (probably 90%) and 1:1 (the other 10%).

      With my iPhone I nearly always shoot square, though since I got the Ricohs I’ve hardly touched it for photos except family snapshots. Yes both the Ricoh GRD III and GX100 do square format and I have shot a few with each and liked them.

      Actually just today I got a square picture frame, after getting a few prints made recently. Going to try a few in it and see which I like. They were all made with one Ricoh or other.

  6. I’ve spent some time worrying if I should get on Instagram. You Sir I feel have saved me a lot of time. The points you make on a number of its aspects, I think would also bother and disappoint me. Thank you for sharing these thoughts. I started blogging to show my photography about 3 years ago on WP and have found it very enjoyable. The medium as you say is pleasing on my laptop and desktop and occasionally an iPad while at work. Nothing to me is more pleasing though than a physical print on the wall or desk. I’ve just joined Zenfolio switching from photo.net to have a place to manage and maybe even sell some images from. So thanks again for the insights.

    1. Mike, thanks for your thoughts and comments. I genuinely started writing this post expecting to convey some of the enjoyable parts of Instagram I’d found. But the more I analysed it, the more things I realised really annoyed me about it!

      I think a lot comes down to the devices you use. Many people these days virtually live on their phones and they have like an iPhone 8+ or whatever Android equivalent that’s two thirds the size of an iPad anyway. So viewing at that size I guess is better and some people have got used to.

      I just still like have a decent sized screen to do most of my online viewing and writing, plus I want my phone to slip in my pocket almost unnoticed, I don’t want something massive – or expensive.

      Plus there’s the cost factor. I thought about upgrading my iPhone recently, but even the relatively small screened equivalent of what I have now is pretty expensive. I found a deal for a new iPad for the same money, so have gone with that, deciding to strip down my phone and use it mostly for communicating, music, checking email and the odd snapshot. Then do all my day to day home viewing/reading in the new iPad and get the MacBook out when I need to upload and edit photos or write a lot.

      The apps and sites we use are really influenced by the devices we use, and vice versa.

  7. Hi Dan, good thoughtful article. Instagram is definitely something I struggle with too, especially since it is so popular giving it a large gravitational pull. It is quite easy for people to use Instagram as their sole means of viewing and sharing photos if we only publish on our blogs it feels we get left out.

    I totally agree with you about image size, having something so small only caters to a certain set of photos too. I wrote an article about my struggle with the image size on Instagram
    https://mkaz.com/2017/03/07/instagram-and-image-size/

    1. Marcus I could have written that post myself, it’s exactly how I feel! A ten year old 6MP DSLR can make photos that look great as large-ish prints (say 12×18″) and I just this week had some 12×8″ prints made of photographs I took with my 10MP Ricoh compacts and they look great too!

      It’s such a shame that we’re all making such high res images and yet the majority are viewing them on two or three inch screens!

      The b/w conifer tree photo above is a great example and looks good and detailed on my MacBook and iPad but I tried it on Instagram and it look pretty pathetic! Glad some of us still appreciate sharing and viewing at a good size.

      Thanks for your comments.

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