Instagram: The Reality Is No One Cares About the Photographer

Instagram: The Reality Is No One Cares About the Photographer

It’s ironic, really. Instagram is the world’s largest social photo platform, yet photographers are constantly subjected to their photos being posted and re-grammed without a credit or tag in sight. Here’s why.

In the Instagram world, no one cares about the photographer, except other photographers. As a professional photographer for 10 years, this was a hard pill for me to swallow. Maybe it seems a little extreme, but stay with me. When I finally accepted this as a truth, it also became a freedom in my life.

Photographers are constantly getting the short end of the stick. We fight for photo credit. We fight to make a decent wage. We fight to prove ourselves as professionals. We fight to explain why we are worth what we charge. Every year, a new iPhone comes out with an improved camera and is what inevitably feels like another reason someone doesn’t need to pay for professional photos. 

When you think about it, how often do you see your photo used and in the comments, users asking who took the photo? Sure, it happens now and then, but the real answer is basically never. There are countless times I have shot for a client, photos are posted to Instagram, and it seems everyone is tagged except for the photographer. What gives?

Photo by Tracy Le Blanc from Pexels

To add insult to injury, I work with brands whose social media presence gets more engagement when the photo doesn’t look like a professional photo. They actually want Instagram images to look like it was taken with an iPhone. Again, another hard pill to swallow. But really, this is the crux of it all. Instagram was built on the idea of taking photos with your phone and putting a filter on them. With Instagram, everyone can be a photographer.

Then, there is the world of digital influencers. They only need to learn a basic understanding of finding good light and snapping a photo in auto mode or portrait mode, tweak it on an editing app, and post it to Instagram, making thousands of dollars per post. Brands will re-gram influencer photos and always credit, tag, and highlight the influencer. If it’s a photo taken by a professional photographer, 90 percent of the time, there is no photographer credit or any recognition whatsoever. Even small time re-grams leave photographers begging for a tag. 

So, what if we get the credit? What are the results of that? Exposure? Very rarely does a tag or photo credit result in any kind of real exposure for the photographer. Disappointing? Yes. Notoriety? Nope, not really. More work? Ha! The majority of the time, the direct messages that come in are new influencers looking to trade in return for exposure. 

The only people that actually care about who took the photo are other photographers. The average person doesn’t notice how good the light is, the angle of the subject, or that you followed the rule of thirds. They care about the person in the photo, what they look like, what they are wearing, and maybe what the location is. Why else can a client slap on a filter on your prized photo and still generate all the likes and praise?!

Do I sound like I’ve swallowed the bitter pill? That would be a yes, and at some point in your photography journey, you may experience some of these same feelings. It sounds like I should give up and there is no hope for the photographer. But here’s the thing: when you stop focusing so much on tags, re-grams, etc. and use that time and energy to shoot for yourself or to focus on your business or other areas of your work, it doesn’t feel like such a big deal. It feels more like a blip. A blip that doesn’t fully derail you from your focus. Accepting this reality has brought me freedom in many ways.

Let me be clear. I am not saying that if a brand fails to get licensing, permission, or properly credit you that you shouldn’t pursue compensation. What I am saying is that missing tags and re-grams without your name on it are going to happen. You can spend as much time as you want trying to educate person after person until it becomes exhausting. But the truth is the average person just doesn’t get it. They just don’t. When you accept that other people don’t really care about who took the photograph, in a strange way, it makes you want to produce better content. Content that stops someone in the midst of their scrolling and makes them say: "wow this is an amazing photo." Maybe that is all you will get, but in a creative industry, deep down, the best thing that can happen is someone, even if only for a moment, appreciating your work. And getting paid. Yes, we all want to get paid for our work and expertise.

Lead Photo by rawpixel.com used with permission from Pexels.

Log in or register to post comments

58 Comments

Jorge Cevallos's picture

This is such an honest post. Most of the things you wrote are epecially true in developing countries, where business owners don`t expect to spend much money on good quality pictures. For this reason, I have started using photography for selfpromotion and advertisement of my own products.

Kelly Lane's picture

Thanks so much for that! Good point!

Jeff McCollough's picture

Yup I live in South America and business owners could care less about paying photographers.

Jorge Cevallos's picture

We find it hard to get paid for photography services here in South America. It would be even impossible to sell photography-related tutorials. We live in a pirate friendly environment which does not protect people´s creativity. When I tell my students that I pay $10.00 a month for Photoshop, they go, ´why do you do it?` My answer is that a place with free access to everything is doomed to failure.

Jeff McCollough's picture

Exactly. I'm afraid of hosting classes or online live classes here because people would record them. I have even seen that people talk about doing it local photography groups here. People steal images all the time here. Even MAUs and local newspapers.

JetCity Ninja's picture

maybe it's because Instagram was designed from the ground up as a smartphone application to share smartphone photos and not for pro photographers to use as a networking tool. in the race to outdo someone else's photos, people simply started using the results from higher grade cameras. corporations started using it to advertise, celebs used it for self-promotion and photogs started using it as a portfolio accessory.

what began as an app to merely share your location, pivoting to one where it was about instantly sharing photo messages from one's location, has essentially been hijacked.

yeah, it sucks to see your photo used without proper credit, or worse, without permission, when you're a pro photographer, but that's what instagram is all about at its core.

Kelly Lane's picture

I totally agree! I remember when I first discovered Instagram I didn't even know it posted to a feed. I just wanted to take iPhone photos and apply the filters!

Paul Scharff's picture

This is a very good insight about the original purpose and intent of IG vs. what it has become. Thanks for raising it.

I'm back in edit mode because as I think of it, it would be cool if IG were able to only post photos whose meta data showed they were taken on the phone they were uploaded from, taken only in the previous, say, three minutes. But as soon as I thought of it, I realized it would not take long before software created workarounds.

Zoli Tarnavölgyi's picture

true, it WAS like that. but imho it has changed a lot since. now it's also the biggest promotion option, using any kind of photos. so I don't agree totally.

John Dawson's picture

You raise great points and I agree completely. Nobody but other contractors care about who built Kim K's mansion.

Kelly Lane's picture

haha good point!

Luis Cardona's picture

Yes! After the realization is made there is a sense of freedom. I came to the realization as well that I could stop worrying about my branding and become the go-to photographer for certain local businesses and influencers who are awesome to work with. It's true that most followers don't realize the difference and value that you bring but the company or celebrity does. Inevitably another business or persona wanting in on the game will inquire as to how it is that the images 'look so professional' and you will get new good clients reaching out.

If you can't get your ego out of the way, then you have to follow your own advice and become the photographer the photographers follow, but, I don't mind and personally prefer being behind the scenes.

Kelly Lane's picture

Exactly!

Joanna Peebles's picture

Such a well written and honest article!

Kelly Lane's picture

Thank you!

Victoria Brown's picture

What everyone is thinking and doesn’t say! LOVE this post and your conclusion about pushing yourself to create even better content is so very true. Some people just won’t get it, but someone out there will.

Kelly Lane's picture

Thanks for recognizing that!

Dejan Tepic's picture

So true but it also raises questions. Kind of should i stay or should i go?

Dominic Deacon's picture

"To add insult to injury, I work with brands whose social media presence gets more engagement when the photo doesn’t look like a professional photo. "

Yes! This is a funny thing and something I've become extremely aware of. I can spend a day in the studio with my girlfriend doing promo shots for her, spend another few hours editing them and ultimately those posts generate massively less engagement for her than if she just snaps a quick selfie. Instagram doesn't want professional it wants real. Fake real of course.

Paul Scharff's picture

There's one camera shop I've bought used lenses from on eBay which has to state under every photo something like, "Actual product for sale in this listing, not stock," because their shots are good -- they are a camera store, after all. Otherwise sometimes great shots are suspect as being stock images for used items on line. People do see a lot of authenticity in okay-but-not-great photos.

News organizations who have fired their photographers and asked their reporters to grab quick mobile shots know that immediacy is more important than the "perfect" photo.

So what you write of is a very interesting -- and growing -- dynamic.

Martin Peterdamm's picture

this is the same reason why amateur porn is bigger than the classic galmour porn from the 80/90s. there is a lot what is in common.

Kelly Lane's picture

yep! Fake real :) It feels like nothing is real on IG anymore!

Martin Peterdamm's picture

but also these influencers and social media agencys know they need pro photographers and why they hire them. normally these it chicks are not photographed by themself or they instagramboyfriend. they know the business, and there are often well known photographers doing this. and sure they won't do it for free. it is just a normal business like any other business

Deleted Account's picture

I don't think this should be an issue. You are not your photographs. They are the your product of your work. If they were about the photographer then it would be all self portraits. Not to say that photographers shouldn't be appreciated when they create something good but like someone else mentioned, No one cares who built Kim K's house except for other builders.

It would be kinda ironic to be upset about people not prioritizing the thing that's literally opposite of that the camera is pointing at.

Kelly Lane's picture

I get what you are saying and in a sense that is what the article is about. However as a creative my photos are deeply personal and vulnerable for me as they are an extension of my passion, creativity, and vision.It can be easy to fall into the trap of looking for recognition and praise and feeling defeated when it isn't given through Instagram. But yes the point of the article is that ultimately Instagram praise and recognition doesn't matter so much.

Deleted Account's picture

I know that a logo can be removed by just about anyone, but I still place it on each of my Insta posts. In addition, I state on the post that reposters let me know before reposting any of my images. My main concern is trying to control copyright of my pictures.

Julian Ray's picture

I think Kelly's excellent article is both a great and honest look at the industry as it is now and, as illustrated by Dejan Tepic's comment below, a good catalyst for some honest introspection. If you're in it for recognition.... Yep, time to go.
If you are in it for your passion, art, craft, profession, and desire..... How liberating it is stop chasing meaningless likes and just create!
Thank you Kelly for sharing such an honest article.

Kelly Lane's picture

Thank you so much for this! You're spot on!

Suzi Pratt's picture

Great article, Kelly! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

As a professional photographer, I've given up on trying to make my Instagram an extension of my portfolio, as I did for many years. Instead, I've adjusted my IG strategy to use it as an extension of my personal brand. IG Stories, in particular, is great for showcasing tidbits of your personality and how you work (behind the scenes). I also use IG itself as a personal project space by researching what kinds of photos work best on the platform AND also speak to my interests, and curating a feed around those topics. Doing a combination of these two things, I regularly get about 30% of my paid photography leads on IG.

Kelly Lane's picture

Thanks Suzi! I totally agree with you!

John Skinner's picture

Try as I might to visit and follow on this...... platform they call Instagram. I just hate it. I'm sorry to use a word like that in describing something, but I can't find another that really brings into focus just how bad the entire concept is.

All the images seem doctored. And, really, you think people live lives like that? To me it's the digital version of Polaroid when it came out. We all hated it, some used it, and finally it went away. Until some guys with flannel shirts and beards decided it might be a good idea to bring it back to life. No -- leave it dead.

So please, in the interest of time, good taste, and all the things that should be good in the world... let this platform die a quick death.

Jerry Syder's picture

Great post!! Real talk here

Kelly Lane's picture

Thanks!

Alexander Petrenko's picture

I’m ok with no tags on my photos. Just proper credit to the bank account is sufficient.

Matthew Saville's picture

Yeah.

I'm a member of various nightscape photography groups on FB and IG, and the struggle with photographer credit on things like IG hubs is pretty sad. The IG accounts that flat-out steal imagery will merely ignore you and/or block you if you message them to inform them that they've STOLEN one of your images, and need to either give credit, take the image down, or pay for a commercial/private use license. Some IG personalities will get downright aggressive, and try to shame you for even caring about the issue at all, as if what they're doing is totally harmless. (Even though a healthy IG hub can easily make 1-2 people a full-time living, if they build a proper funnel that leads to small sales of a product.)

I'll leave you with this. Not sure if it's real, but I think it is, and it definitely captures the feeling that so many photographers face on IG and in social media in general...

Kelly Lane's picture

Oh wow! I haven't had any messages that aggressive! Rude.

Iain Lea's picture

Of course its rude. Lots of the glamour profiles are using good images without credits and then charging the models who want to be featured. I get the paid promos all the time as I use a models image as my icon (noone wants to see my ugly mug).

Iain Lea's picture

Put them on your block list... and if paranoid use a bakup account to check they are not using another account to repost your work.

I have had abusive DMs... 2 in the last week. They are simply bloodsuckers so cut off their supply.

Ian Oliver's picture

If viewer's don't care about the rule of thirds, then should we? Is it really a thing or something someone thought up and all the lemmings followed?

Marc DeGeorge's picture

Coming from a background of the professional audio world, this is not news to me. No one but other audio engineers (or those striving to be audio engineers) ever looked at liner notes, or listened to a song and thought "wow, what a great recording, or a great mix!" Nope. Does the average listener only care about the artist, or the song? Or maybe all they care about is the lyric and the melody.

Don't be too sad about Instagram. It's not the end-all solution to get you new clients, but it is a necessity in proper branding. If you want new work, depending on the type of photography, the best way is still the old way: go out and get them.

Frederick Johnson's picture

This is so on point. I just had an interesting situation with a global hospitality chain asking to use one of my photos for their social media to promote a holiday rate promotion at their new Cleveland property. I shared with them my usage fee and their response was they wanted it for free or they could give me a room for one night. I politely declined. So ridiculous.

Michelle Maani's picture

My sister introduced me to IG earlier this year, and tried to convince me that it's great exposure for my photography. So I tried it for a couple of months, and then stopped. I don't know if anyone is really looking at my photos there, a little heart doesn't mean anything. I can scroll through and *heart* a lot of pics without any engagement to the picture, in the hopes I'll get followers who *heart* me back. The fact that it's easy to steal a picture became obvious when I realized that one's person's feed was nothing but stolen pictures, with no credit to the photographer. I still have an IG acccount, I use to to follow my younger family members and find out what they are up to. It's not a good tool for photographers.

Mark James's picture

I have never cared about credits. I got all of my business from word of mouth. The best advertising there is. I have never even looked at instagram, never the less opened an account. Social media is awash with crap and no one cares. They look at pics on a phone and think they are good, or they aren't. The odds of seeing enough of one person's work to make an assessment on their abilities are not good. That said, I do sign my prints, but that is more about self glorification then marketing.

A P's picture

I enjoyed this read. Thanks for sharing. Must be a good piece written because the comments aren't a bunch of photographers arguing with the writer or other commenters. So refreshing

Kelly Lane's picture

Thank you for that!

Patricia Skeete's picture

All the written above information is so true.
A lot of people have more ability to get credits for selfies than quality professional photos.

Deleted Account's picture

Insta what?

David Stephen Kalonick's picture

Great article. Can you write an article on how no one really gives a shit about "influencers"? I've noticed that when I come across a fitness person bragging about some organic powders drink or a world traveler post in some cushy safe country, or a local "influencer" bragging about a spot I already​ know about or a local pub and bragging about it with polished photos, I'm prone to roll my eyes and unfollow.

Jose Pacheco's picture

What a brilliant article that put so many things in a clear way. This explains my frustration with IG, when I work hard to create great photos and a simple selfie of the model I shot gets twice the likes of the photos I took of her.

Lately I started shooting with a less formal approach, in location and more candid and I’ve seen good receptivity, perhaps that is the path to follow for posting on IG

Campbell Sinclair's picture

Yep its a said situation, Photography is the most abused of all the arts. People are now inundated with images and they have lost all meaning. I have had watermarked equestrian photos cut from my website and shared on instagram. Due to the way Instagram works its hard to track them and that's why the mostly teen girls who steal my photos use it.

More comments