Every so often we'll hear about certain influencers and photographers stealing photos or using stock images to develop and build their Instagram accounts. On the surface, this seems horrifically bad I mean really really bad (insert Trump gif) but if we take a minute to really consider things, is it?
Now before the keys start flying off your keyboard as you furiously rage type a "TLDR" comment about how stealing images and deceiving your audience is wrong (and breathe), please hear me out. First of all, it's really hard, like super hard, to build a popular Instagram account. I've been trying for the last few years and honestly, I've thought about "borrowing" some images from Mike Kelley, (more recently Lee Morris) and hope that no one notices.
If anything I'm a little jealous I didn't come up with the idea to simply manipulate stock images and act as though they're mine. It's practically genius, take a bunch of images, some from popular stock sites, make a few changes and away you go. Honestly, I don't even think that violates the stock websites copyright. The only thing some influencers did wrong was that they didn't use Unsplash, I mean come on completely free images. Sure it's frowned upon but let's be real, what's the alternative, you can't expect someone to actually fly to Santorini to take the pictures, that's just crazy talk.
I Blame Facebook
Remember the time before Facebook bought out Instagram, those truly were days. Fair enough I wasn't a professional photographer back then nor did I actually have an Instagram account, but still, Facebook ruined something special.
Instagram used to be a great place where pretty much anyone with some time and images could get seen and build an audience. Now we have Facebook banning groups of people trying to "collaborate" by creating pods and beat the algorithm. Things are tougher than ever their latest algorithm has only made things worse for many creatives, it's pretty much impossible to get any real results on Instagram now. Posts don't show up in chronological order, the people that follow you don't actually get to see all of your posts and instead, we're being fed a tonne of ads and suggested posts from people we don't even follow. Either we resort to unscrupulous methods or just stop using Instagram and we can't just stop cold turkey, we need the likes.
Ok so, I'm not going to lie but two of those ads were interesting to me and I did click on them but still, I think I've made my point.
I Blame Google
This might be a little bit of a stretch but bear with me on this one because I think I have a point here somewhere. Google has allowed people to search for and download images really easily for a good number of years. I admit I've done it too, I've downloaded a few images in the past before I joined the photography industry, I mean who hasn't. The problem is that this has developed a culture and a generation of people who think downloading images and using them for free is perfectly acceptable. I'm aware that in certain cases, images may have been taken from stock sites and other Instagram accounts as opposed to downloading from Google, but still, it's the culture. I admit this one is a bit of a leap but jump with me.
I Blame The Photography Community
This one is pretty obvious and absolute, there are far too many over talented photographers in the industry. Seriously where are all of these photographers coming from, some of them don't even use proper cameras and still produce incredible images, it's simply ridiculous. How is anyone supposed to compete, aren't there any competition laws or something?
To make matters worse peoples attention spans are pretty much three seconds long because of the sheer amount of great content available online. This means even if you post an incredible image it's probably just going to get lost with all the rest of the incredible images. There are too many awesome images on Instagram and to stand out you need to be super incredibly awesome. Problem is, even if you are, the algorithm kicks in so you'll probably only get ten extra likes.
Of course, people are going to try different methods in order to keep up, I mean I'm not going to fly all the way to Thailand for an extra ten likes. Every time I go on Instagram and I see people with a huge following and stunning images, I feel a little disheartened too and techniques like the ones used by some influencers don't seem half bad. Come on we've all thought about it, we just don't do it because we don't want to end up on the BBC.
Let's Get Serious (Kinda)
I'm sure it can be frustrating to not see any results regardless of how much time and effort you put into something. The pressure to have a good following on social media can be a little too much on occasions and this may lead some of us to try "different" methods. Plenty of people have stolen images and I'm pretty confident whatever story you've read recently isn't going to be the last.
The easy way out can be really appealing to some of us because to get a large following is in fact very difficult. It requires a ridiculous amount of work and time, but that's true with almost anything that's worth having. If your current method isn't working then essentially you're doing it wrong. Figure out better methods and find solutions. Learn more about the platform and work harder or smarter and be patient. The alternative I guess is to maybe throw some stock images together, build an audience, wait for the outrage, throw in a quick Tony Hayward from South Park type apology, and then, as they say in England, Bob's your uncle. Heck the outrage itself can actually be a great way to get publicity, I mean it's not like people are going to remember a week later.
No, but seriously, just don't do it, it's not a smart plan for the long term.