Do We Really Hate Instagram, or Is It Based on Something Deeper?

Do We Really Hate Instagram, or Is It Based on Something Deeper?

We at Fstoppers often talk about Instagram with a note of positivity, but not everyone tends to agree that Instagram is a "cool" thing or worthy anyone's time. In fact, many comments on those articles seem to be saturated in what appears to be a deep-seated hatred. But do we really hate Instagram, or do we hate something that we can only express by hating Instagram? I think it’s the latter, and here’s why.

Often we will see some pretty elitist photo commenters or journalists (and I’m not even excluding myself from this category) talk about how much Instagram sucks because it either ruins the integrity of a photo or “it’s not art” or “it doesn’t make you a photographer.” But then we get articles like this one, recently published by the 500px team, that show many excellent photographers (and probably every single one of those elitist commenters) take outstanding photos with their phones. However, I don’t think a single one of these outstanding images was completely unretouched, straight out of camera. So what’s the big hubbub with Instagram? Is it not just a streamlined post processing tool?

People hate Instagram because of what it makes some people think they are, not about how awesome the program can be. But for every one iPhone photographer who thinks their photos of a cup of coffee and their cat in a shoebox is the equivalent to a Monet painting in greatness, there are a thousand others who just like sharing pictures with their friends.

So more than just that people hate a small margin of Instagram users, haters hate on Instagram and iPhone photographers not because of what it is, but because of what it represents.

Photographers and videographers are under siege by a growing mass of “do-it-yourselfers” who don’t want to pay anyone to do their photo/video needs. Why pay? It’s easy! Just drop a couple thousand on some expensive equipment, and we can do it ourselves for a fraction of what that photographer wanted for just a small one-time investment!

As a very recent example, a good friend of mine who spent four years at a great university learning the ins and outs of the broadcasting industry (from shooting, to editing, to live TV, she knows it all). That education cost her a fortune, and she is now in debt because of it. She doesn’t work in the broadcasting industry because they pay basically nothing (again, undervaluing the skill set), but instead works in a different capacity. Her current job wanted to do some corporate videos, and asked some eager members of their staff, including my friend, to make it happen. Though my friend is the only person at the company who has any knowledge of the industry (precisely why they ask her to lead the project), they actually didn’t listen to her and didn’t take much of anything she said into consideration when doing the project. Instead, someone with no knowledge but a lot of enthusiasm sort of took over. They did the project on their own, poorly, and when they witnessed a sub-par final product, the execs got angry about it and asked why it turned out badly. Though my friend did her best to explain she warned everyone about this (including citing emails where the concerns were expressly stated), the higher-ups were still shocked. Did they not buy the best equipment they could get? Why wasn't it, therefore, an awesome video?

This is the mentality that is ingrained in many people now. Advertising from Canon and Nikon is the easiest to point to, showing absolutely gorgeous photos taken by what appear to be amatuers, but in no way could have been done in the situations shown in the advertisement.

It’s basically the gear equivalent of over “airbrushing” in post that is making women look unrealistically beautiful. It sets an extremely high bar, but makes it appear as though the products can get you there if you buy them.

They can’t.

So how does this relate? Photographers can’t really attack Nikon or Canon about their cameras because, well, they work. Really well. We all use them. We can't really attack Canon shooters if we ourselves are Canon shooters. It doesn't rationally work. So with no outlet to express that rage, the feelings move to the next thing they can feasibly attack: Instagram. Though they are totally valid options for making beautiful photos, iPhones are a much more easily rationalized object to focus rage because photographers don’t use them in their day to day lives to scratch a living. They are't the money makers. They may not be the whole problem, far from it actually, but they are a contributor to the “DIY disease” that makes people believe they are capable of more than they really are.

The value of our product, photos and video, is rapidly eroding. It is often highly undervalued and commoditized and that is only getting worse. It is a reaction to that situation, not Instagram specifically, that I believe is at the root of the hate.

Now excuse me while I go take a photo of my feet on the beach and put a sweet vintage vignette filter over it.

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Ihab Mokayed's picture

I actually used to hate the idea of Instagram when it started to get more recognised, till I actually tried it and saw that it's really nice for a BTS photo of the shoot and all that!

And surprisingly by uploading few of my photo shoots *with instagram effects* I got the chance to photo shoot more actors who started following me and liked my work!

Not to mention that I in fact bumped into a random guy in a restaurant who was like "Oh, how are you shoots going? I like your work man, I follow you on Instagram!" Hahaa, and that was so random, but you get the point, you get to cover more people and get more fans!

So I think Instagram is a great app, and I'm really a fan of it now!

Photographers hating instagram is like writers hating twitter.
So what if someone thinks that having iPhone makes them photographers. How many people with no any knowledge or experience in photography pack some serious and expansive cameras and lenses? Does it make them photographers?

I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news but the commercial photography industry is gone and it's never coming back. Throughout all of history, it's been important for people to build and maintain excellent personal reputations in order to advance socially or in business. However, the specialized business of advertising never existed prior to the industrial era. The reason is because mass production created a need for large corporations rather than individual craftsman and small businesses. These giant corporations needed the equivalent of a reputation, so they hired marketing specialists in order to create an image or "brand" for the company.

It's important to understand that advertising is directly connected to the creation and maintenance of corporate reputations. Today, the industrial era is being superceded by the digital era and many of the great corporations of the past are collapsing and breaking up. Most of them are no longer necessary since digital has destroyed the need for central control. Unfortunately, this means that the advertising industry is no longer necessary.

Many of the commercial art techniques that were originally developed in service of the corporate brands have now been made available to the man-on-the-street through inexpensive digital technology. This is where service technologies like "Instagram" come into the picture and the people that are using them to create imagery are producing for themselves the equivalent of a personal corporate brand. They are copying and emulating the various techniques that they've seen from decades of prior advertising and appropriating them for their own personal benefit on facebook pages etc.

The current situation is never going to change The large corporations are NOT coming back and neither is the advertising industry. Now and in the future, the creation of photographic imagery is no longer going to be associated with corporate brands but instead will be part of the man-on-the-street's personal reputation.

What does this mean for photography and photographers? It means that the profession of advertising photography is no longer valid. However, there is a huge demand for education of amateurs that want to utilize access to the new technologies. So, the way to make a living with a camera in the future is to service the population that is hungry for information. In other words, photography itself is no longer valuable but the EDUCATION related to photography IS! Online resources like Fstoppers, the strobist, zarias, chase jarvis' blog, luminous landscape, etc constitute the future of the photography industry. Photography and it's relationship to advertising is mostly dead, but it's new role in service to the reputation and delight of amateurs and the man-on-the-street is just beginning. Instagram, and services like it, are the future of photography.



Great points there Mike, but I have to disagree - I think the big corporations are staying exactly where they are - it's just that the whole shift is going from TV and print to web and social media. The problem is that social media is still seen as a bit of a 'dark art' at the moment, but when you look at what (not even just the big) brands are doing - I think this could potentially create more opportunities for pros big time - I'm seeing it now especially with fashion brands.

You're right about social media being a "dark art." The reason it's so mysterious is because it's decentralized and that quality is precisely what makes it impossible for centralized corporations to control. Also, the major Wall St players are in deep fiscal trouble. If it wasn't for the Federal Reserve bailouts then most of them would have already collapsed. Their business models simply don't work anymore.

Zach Sutton's picture

When Instagram came out, I was so against it. I thought it was devaluing photography as a whole. Maybe it is, I'm not sure where I stand on it now.

However, I think realized it was a wonderful marketing tool. It allows you to show your work to a whole new audience. And why would you not use a free marketing tool that can show the behind the scenes of your work to a whole new market?

Andrew Griswold's picture

Its powerful, thats for sure. It took me awhile to get into it and see it as a real tool to connect/network and market myself a real photographer and ultimately brought me from hobbyist photographer to a more professional photographer. Fstoppers helped a little. Now that I have a few followers behind my name I have been able to connect with local companies and brands to help promote and shoot events for them via my IG page.

I could give a crap about Instagram or anyone on it. Aside from the snapshots floating through my social media feeds I've never been on the app. What rustles my jimmy is the media's infatuation with it, and cell phone photography in general. It continues the devaluation of professional work by proffering the illusion that anyone with a phone and sepia filter can create a professional photograph.

Well, this an snapshots of people's lunch...stop effing doing that!

I've never had food show up on my instagram feed. If you think your work is being devalued by something that you, yourself, doesn't see much value in...then maybe your work isn't that valuable to begin with. You just can't expect your Aunt Tilly to be Ansel Adams just because she has Instagram...if you're following friends/family. You can use instagram to network with friends/family, or, like myself, you can use instagram to see some really great photography. Take a look at these feeds, some fantastic, professional, photos on Instagram.

Not my work per se, but professional photography in general. See: The Chicago Sun Times.

There are fantastic photographers on Instagram, they are the exception, not the rule.

Yeah, but that's the beauty of instagram.

"There are fantastic photographers on Instagram, they are the exception, not the rule."

Instagram is "everyone". The total population of users. You're basically criticizing everyone with a camera for not being good photographers. Take everyone that owns a everyone of them a good photographer? No.

"There are fantastic photographers with DSLR's, they are the exception, not the rule."

That's why you get rid of the noise. The beauty of instagram is the platform is specifically made for facilitating getting rid of the noise and only following the 'exceptions'. I can list about 100 instagram photographers that are just as fantastic as the ones listed above.

Should you criticize the entire delivery platform because a majority of it's users aren't great photographers? No, the platform isn't designed for you to follow everyone. That's the beauty of it. you follow who you want.

"I've never been on the app." - You're missing out on a ton of great photography.

I'll hold my thoughts on the Sun-Times debacle when I see circulation numbers of competitors vs. the Times over the next 12 months. There have been award winning photos taken and processed with Instagram, the cover of Time magazine was shot with an iPhone....and you wouldn't know it if everyone didn't make a big stink about it.

Why should you care if people take snapshots of their lunch? If they're devaluing your work by doing that, really? Even if people are posing as professional photographers and attempting to siphon off pro clients, what does it matter. Shouldn't your work, as a professional, speak for itself? Can your photos not stand up against a kid snapping photos on his phone? I don't know why so many folks hate phone photography anyway. A camera is merely a tool. I don't care if that tool is housed in a 5D Mark III body or an iPhone. If I can use it to take photos, I'm happy. I've seen iPhone photos that blow away "pro" work. Take a trip over to the VSCO Cam blog and see for yourself.

The issue isn't whether our photos can stand up against a kid's snapshot, but whether a client can tell the difference. Especially ones who aren't artistically inclined. They'll be wowed by all the filters and "bokeh". All flash, but no substance.

I find the timing on this article interesting because of hte comments on the cropping article. How can people in the photo industry be so against a nonprofessional paying customer using instragram to change the look of a product they bought and then use the same app to document their work for others to see?? Yes, this is over simplifying it, if a customer uses it on an image, its blasphemy but if a photographer uses it, its art?! Yeesh..

Mike Folden's picture

The thing that I love about mobile photography is that it allows me to capture things that I normally wouldn't be able to. I simply don't want to lug around my 5d with me everywhere nor do I want to mess with settings to get it just right. I love that I can see something, pull out my phone and capture it within seconds. IMO it's less about the quality of the photo and more about the moment, although technology is moving so fast, the quality is pretty amazing with these devices. I think it evens the playing field and allows everyone to give a shot at being a photographer not just the ones who can afford it. Of course there are senseless and annoying photos flooding instagram but there are also some amazing photos that inspire me everyday and drive me to get better and see more amazing places. In the end, the future is now and it's up to you to evolve and be better than the ones you say are ruining the industry. If you're better, the masses will recognize that and it shouldn't greatly affect your business or art.

A subject close to my heart - cool article. I'm a filmmaker, not a photographer - I love photography and can take a decent photo, but I wouldn't profess to be a pro. However, I have written a PhD thesis on family photography as a form of communication - and I think this is one of the most fascinating times in the history of photography for so many reasons.

Photography, for sure, is being hit hard as a profession and I get why people can be defensive about it. I think 'the enemy' of photographers is not things like Instagram, but actually other "photographers" not with Instagram, but 5D Mk 2s and 3s etc who have taken a half-decent photo of their kid and then think this makes them a pro. These guys create so much noise (especially clogging up SEO) that many true pros get overlooked.

Personally I think Instagram is an incredible program and social media network (and let's not forget that it IS a social media network). It inspires people to get artistic with their composition, and encourages people to take more photographs of their day-to-day experience. The pessimistic amongst us sneer at this - the optimistic see it as a celebration. Either way, people around the world are able to record and share their experiences and that is an incredible thing - it makes people feel connected - and that's what this kind of photography is all about.

This is probably a controversial comment, but In some ways I question the confidence of photographers who look down their noses at apps like Instagram. It doesn't threaten photography. It doesn't threaten your profession. I think overall it actually heightens the importance of the medium in society. Stop getting freaked out by it. That photograph someone just took of their feet/porridge/bum/tea/dog? Guess what - they wouldn't have paid to have a pro take that anyway (unfortunately!!!)

Here's another recent example of how photographers have felt threatened recently...In the UK we have a company called 'Venture Photography' - they're struggling at the moment, but they kind of went 'boom' (in a good way for them) because they created 'high-end' studio portraits that cost a fortune. I know a lot of photographers who got angry with Venture Photography - attacking it for being exactly that - generic. But here's the thing - by breaking the very dated Olan Mills vibe - what Venture did was actually make studio photography COOL again. So instead of hearing photographers saying how great this was, I heard so many of them bitching about it and not seeing the opportunity.

I work with photographers all the time, and it really puts me off them when they judge on people using Instagram - it's elitist and ugly. In my mind, any photographer who takes a snobby view on Instagram has forgotten what photography actually is, and needs to reflect on that. It's art and documentary and both. It's also ultimately representation - and so why should this not be available to all?

Photographers managed to survive long after Kodak released the Box Brownie ;0)

See it as a good thing. This is the point people are missing. If the boundaries are being blurred between pro and consumer - re-draw the lines - work differently - look are what brands are creating out there as part of their 'content is king' approach to marketing. Therein lies the opportunity - and therein lies the likelihood that given the huge emphasis brands are putting on social media, this kind of approach might involve pro photographers being asked to create images using instagram as part of the many ways businesses want to tell their story visually. I've witnessed this first hand. Pro photographers being asked to use Instagram (combined with their usual work) in order to add to the social story. It's actually a great thing to see!

I feel like I should have submitted this as a blog post lol - thanks for bearing with me if you made it this far :0)

Expectation is the root of all pain in life.

You can either accept change and adapt or you can try to fight change and whine about it when you fail. The writing is on the wall and you can either read it today or you can wait for tomorrow and have it force-fed down your throat. It's not that the photographer's product has no value, it's that they way it has been traditionally marketed increasingly fails to convert prospective customers. So find another way.

What photographers are really complaining about here is their inability to sell. The world is littered with failed salespeople. Some of them were once top producers, and then something changed and they didn't.

It doesn't matter if you are right or wrong. It doesn't matter if you are more proficient than Joe Blow Amateur or not. It doesn't matter how long you went to some school of fine art or how much you paid for your equipment or how long you called yourself a "professional photographer" on your cute little business card. The ONLY thing that matters is the perceptions and beliefs of the customer and what you do tomorrow when the sun comes up (unless you like night photography that is).

In other words adapt or die. It's an old story.

Either way it's your choice.

Meanwhile the world is moving on with or without you and very few people will notice if you fall off.

And if you think Instagram is your problem, you need a new mirror.

Personally, I think it's time people stopped blogging about the injustice of change and start blogging about how to get on board with the future. Tomorrow is another day.

Great stuff Chris! I agree!

Because of Instagram everybody is a showoff

MY only issue with Instagram is the fact that your photos posted on there is not "yours" anymore, it's theirs. It's in their statement, and anyone can just take your photo and do what they want. It says in their statement when you sign-up for their app. Other than that it's the most easy to use.

Here lately I've just been accepting the fact that if I put a photo on the internet, it might get stolen. If I don't want it to be stollen, I don't post it. If it's a client's work, they buy them, I take my watermark off, and then they can post them to their hearts desire, use them as profile pics, whatever. I do ask them not to re-edit them, but I'm not up nights worrying about whether they do that or not. I have no idea if any of my photos are on some stock site making $0.02 a pop for somebody, but I suspect not.

Instagram is the Justin Bieber of Photography... Very popular but sucks unbelievably Bad...

Good one.. Using Instagram and thinking you are a Photographer is the equivalent of having a Twitter account and thinking you are a Writer.

my passing comment is about only one part of this article which has to do with the do-it-yourselfers. I guess one can go out and by an expensive sports car... caution to those people who do this before going that way consider this... owning professional race car, does not a Jimmy Johnson make. Something to think on. Good photography still requires a human skill set!

Andrew Griswold's picture

I'm a huge fan of Instagram, been using it for just over 2 years and as the time as past I have learned that its simply a social network at its core and the photos are just a way to tell your story instantly. The way I have been able to connect with other creatives is the biggest thing for me. The further I delve into the app I find more great people to relate to and feed inspiration off of. I have now become great friends with so many people around the country. So to me the app is more about the community than anything else. The photos are just a great way to delve into someones lives intimiatly and experience what they experience.

As for the technical side I rarely use the filters as they blow out the image and you lose detail and tone. So I edit in Snapseed and VSCO Cam (along with a large collection of other apps) and post directly to IG.

Don't forget that Instagram is now having a new movie mode. So, shouldn't movie directors hate it too, not just photographers?

I hate Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Selfie and smart phones because i don't have any of these.. hahahaha but these trends today sucks, it only ruined a simple life.