How Instagram Is Killing Photography

In a few years, Instagram went from being a niche photo-sharing app to a juggernaut that wields tremendous influence over both social media and photography. That influence isn't always good, and as this great video essay discusses, it's choking photography.

Coming to you from James Popsys, this great video essay talks about the topic of how Instagram may be negatively influencing the photography industry from a creative standpoint. I think Popsys makes a great point about how the combination of accessibility and quantization of approval can create an echo chamber where a certain type of post receives good feedback, and people try to emulate it, creating a constant loop. As he mentions, the content on Instagram seems to be regressing toward a creative mean of sorts, and because of its vast reach, it's taking a good chunk of photographers with it. I think the quantized nature of it is particularly dangerous. Putting one's work in something like a gallery creates a forum for subjective feedback, and there's always wiggle room within that. But 300 likes is always more than 100, and that tends to pressure people into matching the prevailing creative norm. Instagram is great to share your work on, but don't let it tell you how to work. 

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23 Comments

Nailed it.

Well, one could argue that a gallery is a preselection of the audience (as not everyone goes into galleries) and therefore you cater to that audience. Photography is more alive now than ever and as such there is more of everything - even boring conforming photography ;)

Well if you know yourself well enough, you won’t be deceived by the medium. Maybe you’ll even find new ways of coming up with something original.

Crystal Johnson's picture

Nothing is original, everything has been done before. This is like people saying digital cameras killed film... it didn't. Instagram isn't killing photography. Everything has to adapt to new situations, and social media is one of them.

Maybe- just maybe- as one sees the same basic image repeated of iconic places/subjects- it will drive some photographers to be more creative an original so as NOT to repeat a shot seen on IG. And maybe it is those 'different' takes on popular subjects that will start getting the most 'likes'.

Elan Govan's picture

I recently read an article about an 80-year-old self-taught photographer whose interest in photography began in the 1950s, and he is planning to display more than 30 black and white photographs offering a rare glimpse of Singapore from the 1960s to the 1970s in a showcase called Passing Time. Capturing images of streetscapes, portraits, architecture, and industry. over the decades.

James, I think the poor weather is influencing your assessment. Go out again on a nice sunny English summer's day with a picnic basket, and do the story again.

Kai Hornung's picture

I disagree. I don’t think that Instagram kills photography. At least not for the creatives that use it for the right reasons. I get your point. And I have explained my thoughts on this in detail in article I wrote 2 months ago. Yes, it is a double sided affair. But the growing dislike of repeated motives and or styles will eventually lead to more creativity and diversity. Compare it to pop music and sub-genres, if you will. And me personally I like creativity and I believe this step is a necessary one into an evolutio into more creative imagery. And if that raises the bar: well, so be it! It’s an art-form what we crave for, isn’t it? It’s up to us. I believe that quality photography will prevail here. And even with or on Instagram.

Your comment made me make an association... Instagram filters is to photography as Auto-Tune is to music. 😆

Yet another Luddite bemoaning the existence of a tool that allows for others who aren't part of said Luddite's preferred elite to engage in photography. Sure.

The reality is that Instagram is no more damaging photography than the development of digital cameras, the advent of the Polaroid, and the production of the Kodak Brownie. If anything, Instagram allows for more people, more potential Vivian Mayers, to break out and demonstrate their work to wider audiences.

Photographers should welcome more people getting into the hobby and profession, not bemoaning them.

I understand your point but, like a well composed photo, background clutter makes it more difficult to find the subject. If you didn't specifically search for your "potential Vivian Mayers", how would you ever find them? Just a thought.

David Wilder's picture

This is a hard one to judge. I see James’s point but I also see others.

What I do agree with is that IG can be discouraging when you see thousands of photos from a place you want to go, or images getting likes and featured when the “style” of the photo is traditionally or technically just a bad photo. I get it someone will say it’s art so it’s subjective, which you are right, however there is good music and bad music, good art and bad art, good design and bad design, etc etc.

What IG has done for some has narrowed their view but for others it had broadened it as well. Giving people new ideas to try and places to go, or places not to go.

I find IG has boosted tourism in places, I went to Iceland in 2014 and I had some locations all to myself, fast forward to today and those same places are buzzing. That’s also a double edged sword though because of the originality of a image is harder to achieve but also the impact on the environment at that location but that’s a whole separate conversation.

If you are running a business, let’s say selling prints. If you cater to an internet savvy crowd you will always be up against the others your clients find online. That being said it’s a different story when you are at a festival, art show, pop up, or your own gallery. You will have the customers who don’t experience art via the internet and that’s when only your work is seen and they won’t see the other 10,000 shots of Iceland.

So I don’t think IG will kill photography but it certainly has impacted it positively and negatively.

Steve Bryant's picture

I do get errked somewhat when a thing gets blamed for the results of people. "Social media makes people be bullies", "Instagram makes people take boring photos" etc etc.
The media / mechanism doesn't make anyone do anything. The vast majority of people are average photographers, so the vast majority of shared photos will be average. The media mechanism is highlighting to those who are lucky enough / worked hard to be better than average that they are exactly that - better than average photographers.
I've seen a gazillion photos of cheetah or sunsets or blobs in Chicago or whatever - does that stop me going out to do my best, put my view on it, show the world what I see?? Of course not; infact quite the opposite. #IMHO :)

David Moore's picture

I come into this biased. Mostly because I made this rant on Instagram like a week ago. lol. (I looked it up, it was May 25th). I felt the same way about 500px. Also, I sort of see that with the images here. On all of the the platforms, there seems to be a style that a larger percentage of people like, and when that platform feeds you content based on what it thinks you will like so you engage more with that content, over time that which is more popular overall will come to fill what you see.

Saying it is just "Instagram" killing photography I think simplifies it a little too much, but I know complex isn't what people want. I believe the curated feed is also not the ONLY issue. Yes, that feed being sorted by what the system believe will get the most engagement is the end result, but so what if it didn't have a feed like that. How many Instagram users are going to open the app and go "I know what I am going to do, Ia m going to search for images that are challenging and interesting." Nope, they want sunsets and pretty girls and puppies. @abigailratchford doesn't have 8.3mil followers because people are looking for art. Any wide spread platform where *puts on elitist jerk off hat* the general public is the main consumer, you will see it trend towards what the masses want and not what is creative and challenging and interesting to we "artists" and creators.

Crap, sorry, so ranty. Make art, fuck likes. I gotta go post a pic of my dog sleeping. =P

*edited because I am a terrible writer and i read parts and went "what am I saying?"*

Nathan Klein's picture

I liken mass photo sharing platforms to what radio is (was) for bands. Sure many successful bands would produce several singles suitable for radio consumption but they still had the rest of the album to explore their creative vision. Eventually enough art lovers will tire of Insta and a new niche will come up. It will inevitably become mainstream and the cycle will continue

ShootingStars Maui's picture

"different not bettah" (sorrynotsorry) may be the photographic lynch pin of the new era.
Post your good stuff. Tell a little story. Move on.

Nathan Klein's picture

Spot on Alex! Plenty of us are waiting for the next Insta, flickr, 500px etc

David Love's picture

I see it as the same with music now. Instagram isn't killing anything, the internet has done that. In the older days (up to the 90s), record labels and publishers filtered what we saw. Now anyone can post anything and an amazing pic of a landmark is still amazing, just not as special after 5000 selfies next to it from everyone on the web. The world grew smaller and of lower quality. Blame Apple for making everyone think that all you need is a camera in a phone to be a photographer. Blame Spotify and Pandora for turning the music industry into a singles compilation of songs.

We are overstuffed with crap for social posting addicts and it will only get worse. There is no filter and your art is buried under a junk yard. So do it for yourself and stop worrying about likes and social algorithm mazes.

Once I really loved Insta... But since Facebook overtook Instagram it has become just another app. FB applied the same paid algorithm that it uses on Insta.... Really spoiled what I loved once...
https://www.jestaplophotography.com/

Pedro Quintela's picture

I don´t think it ruined photography, in fact I think the opposite. It helped me getting sharper and rethink some part of my work. We need to adapt or get of the social media.
Of course we see lots of bad work there, images be shared and liked withouth quality. But last time I checked so is life.

Stop moaning about it and step forward, do your best and... follow me I will follow you back! Just kidding:)

this article(and vid) follows the click bait formula. short editorial ramblings with an inflammatory title and no reasearch. tricked to click. would be great if someone did some work on the subject, maybe interviewed someone. this is low quality.

I notice a good deal of conformity and trend-chasing on the part of many photographers who appear in my IG feed. Their technique may be polished, but IMO their work lacks in vision. Moodygrams and other feeds come to mind.

Josean Rosario's picture

I can see what you mean because we feel that we lose engagement from doing our own things we wanna copy what actually gets likes which tends to be overplayed tonal usage or some simple effect.
I shoot cosplay so I totally understand this point but I think its finding the right crowd for your style cause now I actually get engagement but after going to conventions and shooting with well known cosplayers.

Ian Smith's picture

I love these debates and find a lot of value in the many theories that come up.

I couldn't help but laugh though... James's video is about Instagram Killing Photography, because everyone is viewing the same content and conforming their style to what is most popular. What I find funny is that the video is produced using what has now become one of the most popular styles for YouTube (or social media) videos. Is he contributing killing YouTube? I feel another article coming on. : )