Forget calling yourself a photographer, it feels as if we're all "content creators" now – thanks to the rise of photo/video/sharing/social networking services like Instagram and YouTube.
I know I sound like a moaning oldie when I criticize social media and blame photo apps for devaluing photography. I'm actually in the millennial generational bracket, so why don't I enjoy using Instagram more for my own work? Why – even though the app is full of amazing visual artists, creators and makers – does it make me feel deflated, rather than inspired?
Instagram launched in October 2010, and at its inception it was little more a fun way to connect with friends and family, and to add a few silly filters to a photo of your lunch or night out. By 2012, Instagram had launched for the Android platform, which took the tally of active app users to around 50 million.
On the Apple app store today, YouTube is the number one Photo & Video app, with Instagram at number two. According to Statista (opens in new tab), there were 1.21 billion monthly active users of Instagram in 2021 – that's more than 28 percent of the world's internet users.
Nowadays, it feels like you're more of an oddball if you don't have Instagram, but – as I remember a time when it didn't exist – I wanted to have a rant about everything I like and don't like about it, and why I think it's been negative for many aspects of photography and the industry.
Before I go any further, I need to say that I know plenty of amazing photographers who have thrived on Instagram, built fantastic communities of like-minded shooters all around the world and used the platform to promote all sorts of causes.
Perhaps you agree with the points below? Maybe you don't. But whatever you do, let's not talk about the awful new Instagram update (opens in new tab).
1. It's an echo chamber
Do you ever feel like you go on Instagram and see the same content or the same locations over and over again? I'm not saying that other forms of photography don't get repetitive (how many times do we need to see a sunset on a beach), but Instagram feeds into this trending content in a cyclical way – the more popular something gets, the more others want to emulate that success. The result is that we're seeing a lot of very similar images, that have been processed in a very similar way. It's boring. Trendy too, of course, but mainly a bit bland.
2. It's limiting our image formats
Forget shooting or displaying a panoramic image, even though the best camera phones (opens in new tab) are capable of such feats. Instagram was originally built for square photos, and it's thought that this distinguished it from other photo apps and made things look more consistent on a phone screen.
Since the advent of Instagram stories, vertical portrait images have become more prevalent, and phone owners are increasingly using it as the standard orientation for images – even when shooting landscapes as a subject. The reasoning is simple, of course. We tend to hold our phones upright, and a portrait image fills the screen.
Personally, I just don't like the idea that so many of today's images are being composed and cropped purely for social media outputs in mind, rather than what looks best creatively. Which brings me onto my next point...
3. Low image quality, small sizing
Images are tiny on Instagram – or that is, tiny compared to if they were being printed in a catalogue, a coffee table book, a fine art print or as part of an exhibition. Of course bigger isn't always better when it comes to photography (just like you don't always have to have the most megapixels in your camera) but it'd be nice to be able to zoom in on images, and view the details that the photographer had chosen to focus on, the tones in skin, the nuanced and beauty of the shot.
Rather, we're being forced to see photos that are no bigger than a playing card. I'm sure that data storage plays a part – after all, all those uploaded posts and stories have to be kept somewhere – but it would be refreshing to see a new model for the platform, and one where expansive images could be shown and rewarded.
4. It feels like a popularity contest
Pro photography Verity Milligan has already shared her ideas on why social media is more than a game of likes for photography. Like many, her career has given a great boost from various social media platforms, notably Twitter, and she's "spent the years since feeling equally grateful and bewildered by the opportunities that befell me from merely sharing my work without any real expectation."
I'm all for photography being democratized, and online platforms like Instagram are a great way for people whose images might not have been seen previously – perhaps they didn't know the right people, didn't have enough money to put on exhibitions or didn't live in the right area – to share their work.
Yet I still can't escape the nagging feeling that for some, it's all a competition. I do feel a certain level of respect for pro photographers (and content creators) who have the energy to constantly keep up with changing algorithms, hashtags, comments and communities. Am I just too lazy?
Instagram introduced the Hide Like Count ability – meaning that people can't see how many times viewers have tapped the little heart to show their appreciation for your work. This is progress I think, but there are still ways to compare yourself and get disheartened about your own images.
5. The web-based platform is RUBBISH
For about a year now, I've been trying to cut down on my smartphone use. I don't need to mention all the obvious perks that the best camera phones have, but overall I find my iPhone 13 Pro (opens in new tab) to be more distracting than I'd like it to be.
Although Instagram does now support web-based uploading, it's fair to say that the online experience on a desktop is rudimentary. The Instagram site on a web browser looks like something that would have once belonged to Windows XP, not 2022.
Before you jump on me and say that there are loads of great third-party platforms perfect for uploading images to Instagram straight from your computer, I know, because I've used them. Scheduling sites like later.com are a super useful way to get content up at the best times and in bulk, but often they have limits to the amount you can upload, unless you pay for a premium subscription.
In 2022, I don't know why Instagram can't just let us use their own site to upload content more effectively. I also have to ask, why, for the biggest image sharing platform in the world, why is there no desktop app?
For some photographers the social media revolution has been revolutionary, and for others it's been downright perplexing and frustrating.
Love it or loathe it, Instagram isn't going anywhere, anytime soon. As more and more of us get into photography, and the best camera phones (opens in new tab) get even better, it's only going to grow. So for now, I've resigned myself to the fact that I'm a bit archaic and don't enjoying spending huge amounts of time online. All I ask is, please can we have a better desktop app...