Has Instagram Ruined Landscape and Travel Photography as We Know It?

It's a question that I'm sure has snuck into every photographer's mind, even outside of the landscape and travel genre. It's something I've personally been thinking deeply about, so much so, that I'm working on my own personal original article regarding this topic.

Landscape Photographer Mark Denney said his piece on this issue, and he's shared it with everyone to mull over. A little over eight years ago, both the Internet (social media) and photography world could be seen as ancient to what they are today. Facebook was just beginning to gain momentum, Twitter was new, Ritz Camera still had brick-and-mortar stores, Best Buy didn't even carry a full selection of camera gear yet, and Instagram was just a twinkle on the horizon. But what transpired over those first years of Instagram began to change landscape and travel photography forever. Denney breaks it down into two simple parties: those who think Instagram was good for landscape photography and those who think it has been negative for photography. Somewhere in-between lies the answer. While we can distribute our photos more easily than ever, with 95 million photos posted every day, it's difficult to be noticed or stand out, particularly when everyone's shooting the same thing.

So, what side of the spectrum do you stand on? Is it good for photography? Bad? Or does it lie somewhere in-between? One thing is for sure: it's not changing anytime soon.

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29 Comments

Deleted Account's picture

Only for those using Instagram. I do not

Eric Salas's picture

People that complain about Instagram ruining their photography or their entire career simply have no grown with the times.

You can push back all you want but eventually you’ll not only be the outlier but a broke photographer as well.

The same spots have been photographed 1000s of different ways. If you can’t find another way to photograph the same place, you probably should look into a different job.

So the question seems to be driven by a struggle to stand out "with 95 million photos posted every day, it's difficult to be noticed or stand out, particularly when everyone's shooting the same thing.".

It's like any industry that becomes over saturated. It just means you need to work harder or accept that you're not good enough and just do it for fun and find a job that does pay. Blaming a platform for a struggle is an easy excuse.

I think it's great to see so many people getting out and enjoying the world, visiting places they maybe never would have had they not found landscape photography as either a job or a hobby.

Pretty much. There is this weird view among some photographers that they should be the only ones to do whatever photography they do. They forget that they only had a monopoly on whatever work they do because, until recently, high-level photography (at least on a technical scale) was expensive. Thanks to smartphones, mirrorless cameras, digital techology and the Internet, this is no longer true.

The response isn't to bemoan change, but to embrace it.

I would make an even broader statement. Not only photography, but life as a whole is being ruined by the onslaught of computer Technology. We are becoming enslaved by the things that we desire. As in the old story of King Midas everything we touch turns to gold therefore making gold meaningless and worthless. It is pure foolishness and pride to think that you're something special just because you have some measure of success. It's not what you know it's who you know. The Bible tells us :you have nothing that you have not received. Also: there's nothing new Under the Sun.
I know of at least one very successful photographer , and I'm sure there are many others , who has a great business and name, but his work is really bad. I won't use his name. Just because something is new and different does not make it good or better. And truly it is not new. Just look at all the idiots tattooed up one side and down the other all they need is a bone in their nose and it would look just like the heathen from the jungle. There is your different for you. And while you're foaming at the mouth and running me down, what I've said it's still true. Sad to say

And what exactly do you have against heathens from the jungle? Sounds a tad like anybody different from you is causing the downfall of civilization. Ironically it's usually the other way around.

"but life as a whole is being ruined by the onslaught of computer Technology"

...and then you go on to support that statement with a reference to mythology that's thousands of years old? I don't ever say this, but... LOL.

Deleted Account's picture

I'm sure I'll regret this but, he's basically right. Of course not everything or everyone is ruined by technology but, generally, people are losing common sense even as they gain more knowledge. As things become easier and come more easily, generally (assume that going forward since I don't want to keep typing it – I'm lazy! ;-) ) people become lazier. A lot of people are more concerned with what strangers, on social media, think than people they know. You may have read a recent story where a small child wished his parents didn't have phones. :-o

As for mythology, something being old is no more indicative of its truth than something being new. But one example in support of your comment is, ridiculing others' beliefs is also thousands of years old and would be laughable if it weren't so sad.

Except that he's not right. This notion that everybody is losing common sense and getting lazier is a fallacy that's propagated with every generation. By Socrates' standards, everyone today would basically have devolved back to amoebas by now. Except that in the last 150 years we've had people like Albert Einstein, Carl Sagan, and Stephen Hawking. People aren't "getting lazier"; there have always been lazy people and there always will be. The only thing that technology has changed is HOW the lazy spend their time. Yes, there are efficiencies now that allow some lazy people to get further in life than if they had been lazy thousands of years ago, but communities have always existing and within those communities there has always been a dynamic where some people worked harder than others and some people were just along for the ride. But the notion that it's somehow getting worse is something that every generation declares, and usually just because they can't get their kid to mow the lawn. Social media and phones are the problem? Last generation it was video games and TV. You think there wasn't some farmer who probably complained that his kid wanted to play chess all day rather than milk the cows? What if that kid's name had been "Bobby Fischer"?

The funny thing is that one could argue that those who typically complain the loudest that the world is getting lazier are actually the lazy ones, because they're the ones who aren't keeping up with the times and just want to live comfortably with the knowledge and technology they already know. "What in tarnation is this new-fangled 'wheel' y'all are going on about?? End times, I tells ya".

Now, all that being said, I'm not saying there aren't other ramifications to modern technology, but "lazy" is often a brush applied out of laziness. But every generation does it, so that doesn't make you lazier than the last. ;)

Deleted Account's picture

You make a sound argument and difficult to counter. I'll think about it. :-)

Deleted Account's picture

First, thank you for making me think about this. Too often, I have a gut reaction to a subject and don't explore it in any depth. Giving it more thought, I may find my original assessment was correct, slightly off or even just wrong. :-)

In this case, I find my ideas, along with being not fully formed, were poorly worded. Of course technology doesn't make an individual lazy but, rather, it *encourages* laziness. And that, not in an objective way but relative to their baseline. I often read comments to articles about shooting and/or developing film where an individual will say, 'I used to do that and liked it but wouldn't now because digital makes it unnecessary.' That could be a simple matter of practicality if not for the fact they liked it. Anyway, I think you understand and I don't wish to belabor the point.

Regarding your comparison of social media and phones to video games and TV, I don't see that as supporting your thesis. It merely shows that social media and phones can be added to a long list of things encouraging laziness. In each of those four cases, they additionally encourage poor social skills but that's another topic.

Regarding those complaining about technology being, themselves lazy, I suppose you could successfully make that argument but I would suggest you're conflating laziness with a lack of curiosity or ambition. Farmers can work their arses off with a horse and plow so they can "live comfortably with the knowledge and technology they already know" but it would be a hard thing to accuse them of laziness.

I've enjoyed the discussion and in closing, can say with great certainty, my adult children are lazier than I am and that is no small achievement. ;-)

Eric Salas's picture

Since I've got over 50+ hours of tattoos I guess I'd qualify as a barbarian...maybe even Conan!

Why bring up the fact you know of someone with a name you wont use, who's work sucks, isn't new, and doesn't deserve notoriety ?

Instead, just say that you're salty, don't like instagram, and don't understand self expression and art unless it's exactly how you see it? That's much easier to read and type.

All industries change. Evolve and adapt or get left behind. It's that simple.

Deleted Account's picture

Most. Not all.

Deleted Account's picture

Restaurants, landscaping, janitorial services, ...

I have my share of opinions about Instagram but this is an issue with people in general, not a social media platform. I was a hiker before I was a photographer and I can remember having similar thoughts 20 years ago regarding the backcountry becoming more crowded with tourists who had no business being there (unprepared for the elements, litter, irresponsible campsite selection, etc). Was that a novel idea even then? Of course not. Go watch Ken Burns' series on the National Parks and you'll see that Yosemite and other parks had the same problems when cars first came out and roads were being built. It's probably why we know who John Muir was. Was it a new problem then? Nope, look at the gold rush in the mid 1800's. I'm sure there were plenty of prospectors who lamented the fact that they worked hard to find gold only to have the news printed in every paper around the country and then see thousands of copycats literally charging over the hills towards them. Was it a novel idea then? Ask the Indians how they feel about what the U.S. has become... you they're happy about what's happened in the last 500 years? Was it a new concern then? I doubt it. I'm sure even Aristotle probably told some kid to get off his lawn at some point.

There are 2 points to be gleaned from this story:

1) There will always be innovators, leaders, explorers, pioneers, etc, there will always be those who are inspired by them and who follow (respectfully) in their footsteps, and there will always be copycats who don't comprehend why those people are where they are and just want a quick, easy path to success.

2) There are people in every generation who only see what's going on in the present and have no concept that there was a world that existed before them, and they always blame #1 on whatever the latest hotness is. Do people see more of the world because of Instagram? Sure, but in the 80's there were plenty of people who probably saw parts of the world they wouldn't have otherwise seen because of National Geographic and PBS. Yawn.

Now, all that being said, I think conservation is certainly more important now than it ever was, but that's just because we have more people, not because of Instagram.

Dave Terry's picture

"I'm sure even Aristotle probably told some kid to get off his lawn at some point." =)

Alex Armitage's picture

This is certainly a topic I've written about on my instagram specifically and had many hours of internal thought behind the good and bad. I think at the end of the day, deciding between shooting for you or wanting more 'likes' is the ultimate question. If you want to travel to beautiful places and take amazing photos - do it and post whatever you want as long as you don't let the social media numbers bother you. Do it for you.

If you want to gain followers fast, then you need to approach instagram/social media like a business, not a means to show off your photography skills. My favorite and best photos look like garbage on instagram, it's just a fact of the platform. The people with the most success are the ones catering to the platform and that's inherently the biggest acceptance you need to come to terms with.

Liam Doran's picture

It's not ruining landscape photography its ruining the landscape! I'm less concerned about the photography aspect than I am am the impact issues. There are places in the wilderness that are being absolutely trashed by shooters without any sort of wilderness ethic and a serious lack of outdoor skills.
https://lnt.org

Kyle Medina's picture

Why would you let somebody else traveling to location that you've never been to. Ruin your spirit to visit a location you've never been too?

Dave Terry's picture

My response to this is broader than just landscape photography. For me, finally getting into Instagram at the end of 2016 was humbling. I'm not a pro, but I know I've got some skills - and so do millions of other people.

Originality of concept and approach have always been integral paths for great artists. But so is technical ability. Instagram, along with the explosion in lower costs for very powerful camera equipment, has revealed that photography as a skill that can be learned is not quite the mystical endeavor some would like to believe. In other words, none of us are quite as special as we think we are.

From a technical point of view, I've seen 100s if not 1000s of images created by pros and hobbyists alike impressively backwards engineering masterful techniques for shiz and giggles and Instagram likes. That doesn't mean there are not still a great many masterful photographers, nor does it suggest that "anyone" can be "great" as long as they have a good camera, it simply means that some people need to get over themselves, myself included... at least from a technical point of view. Today's "Master" is often the next generation's starting point.

Truly masterful artists and professionals will always be pushing the boundaries and leading the way... Instagram has helped reveal that to be great will require something more from artists than it did in the past. It will be more difficult to simply lean on their technical prowess alone to impress people. But most artists will also start out in some ways ahead from where their predecessors began. New paths must be discovered which incorporate, re-interpret, and sometimes even obliterate what came before.

My personal theory is that 20 years from now (maybe much sooner), photographic literacy will be as common as learning to write in cursive was 30 years ago. Masterpieces will not be relegated to museums and elite cultural groups. They will emerge (and already are emerging) from millions of people to whom basic photographic skills are obligatory and used to create a lifetime worth images that would have easily found a home in a museum 50 years ago, but instead are simply the common visual language we use to document our lives.

I think Instagram may be seen as one of the catalysts to help bring this about.

The entitled wannabe pros among us may see this as unfair. All that time getting our clothes smelly in the darkroom meticulously working on a single image, or time spent working through the limitations of earlier digital technology can certainly feel a little unfair. But the future professionals and masters will simply see it as the next big mountain they must climb as they carve out new paths for those who follow to explore.

Dan Beer's picture

Mark created a well thought out piece. There’s two sides to the coin, and maybe some middle space as well. For me, I see positives in the exposure that contributors gain on the platform, even if they do it just for the joy of sharing. We all get to visit amazing places through other people’s travels. They do the hard work to get there, and we reap the reward. However, if the image is the only goal, or the likes, one can miss out on the experience.

Too much technology? I can sometimes agree with that. During a recent visit to China I was floored by the way everyone is glued to their device, almost all of the time. Are we just scrolling through life?

This was a good talk to listen to, and to think about what our own motives and desires are.

Simon Patterson's picture

The landscape photography I know and love appears to be completely unaffected.

Instagramm ruins photography as much as Tinder and red light districts ruin valuable human relationships. There are various human needs. I would not worry.

Just like Instagram MAY have depressed landscape and travel photography, I think it lead to the downfall of the postcard industry as I wrote in my blog here:
http://www.cjpphotos.com/blog/2017/3/film-to-digital-to-phones

I believe photographers have to adapt to the changes taking place in the industry. If we don't adapt, we will surely perish:
http://www.cjpphotos.com/blog/2016/9/Adapt-Overcome-Improvise

Duffy Doherty's picture

Instagram is the three chord blues of photography. And Instagram aficionados are the three chord blues connoisseurs of photography, fans. Some of us still play Jazz, and that's OK...

The cream will always rise to the top.. Quality oversees quantity; regardless of how many photos of the same place there are, the 'good' ones will usually always be noticed. I can scroll through a feed of thousands of photos of the same place and tell you instantly which ones are superior, solely based on basic composition, color and framing techniques. Social media has diluted the industry, yes, however has not ruined it. I think its good for landscape photographers as it pushes us to find new places to explore, and new ways to process images go be unique among the masses.