The Difference Between Photographers, Artists, and Instagrammers

The Difference Between Photographers, Artists, and Instagrammers

Photographers, artists, and Instagrammers. A common theme unites all: the use of a camera. But there's also a significant mindset and philosophy, in my opinion, that separates the three. 

I recently was hiking alone in Idaho's mountains, slowly enjoying an empty trail and stopping here and there to capture moments and scenes that caught my eye. About halfway into the hike, a couple caught up to me, and we ended up becoming friends and spending the rest of the day together. It turned out they were Instagram Influencers, and I recognized them immediately, because I follow them on the social media platform. Together, their follower count totals just under 1.5 million.

We had a fantastic day together enjoying clear skies, alpine lakes and mountains, fresh snow, and an empty trail. The topic of Instagram and photography was spoken of frequently in conversation. I mentioned how it'd be interesting to be famous on Instagram (i.e. an Instagram Influencer), but I also wasn't certain that's how I wanted my photography to look or that I wanted it to dictate the way I create images. 

The two graciously gave me tips and advice on how I might be able to go about upping my follower count: curate my feed, pick a color or style theme in my images, create an entirely new account dedicated to Instagramming, etc. But again, I expressed how I didn't want this activity to influence my artistic mindset, or to change the way I view photography and the world. 

Photograph by Timothy Behuniak.

I then went on to ask one of the Instagrammers how he viewed himself: a photographer, artist, or influencer? He stated that he views himself not as an artist, perhaps not even a photographer, but mainly just an Instagrammer. Although he had professional gear like the Sony a7R III, he mainly only ever photographs vertically, specifically for Instagram specifications. He mentioned that sometimes, clients or potential clients approach him for photo usage, but he sometimes has to decline because he didn't shoot a scene horizontally, which is what the possible customer is in search of. Additionally, he mostly uses Lightroom for quick, simple edits.

Furthermore, he stated he's rarely ever shot anything other than the popular Instagram lifestyle and adventure-related genres. I asked if he thought this was actually stunting his growth as a creative person, that shooting other genres, even if you aren't fully invested in the topic, can help one see the world differently and influence one's main photography focus. He responded that it didn't bother him, and he enjoyed what he was doing and that was good enough for him.

To help explain my approach to using a camera, I told the Influencers that whenever I look through the viewfinder, I imagine the scene or subject printed large, hanging on the wall of someone's home or in a gallery. I expressed how I rarely think of Instagram or social media when clicking the shutter. I use the raw files as a starting point to help me get to my ultimate goal or end creation, which usually began as a visualization in my head, in which I use Lightroom and Photoshop to make painterly adjustments to the digital negatives. 

We spent the rest of the day exploring Idaho's beautiful mountains and further discussing Instagram as well as social media and environmental ethics, such as not tagging exact locations. Whenever we got to a scenic vista, all of our cameras would come out. I'd focus on the landscape and smaller natural scenes while the Instagrammers set up posed lifestyle shots. We all enjoyed the day and all created images we are happy with. 

Photograph by Timothy Behuniak.

What I'm trying to say is that I think there is a clear and distinct difference between Instagrammers, artists, and photographers. I don't think that there is anything morally or philosophically wrong with any category, but rather, I'm trying to simply acknowledge the fact that there are differences and they should be acknowledged and recognized or at least kept in mind when scrolling through social media. I think one clear piece of evidence is the Instagram account that highlights how photos on the platform all look the same. I think we are all guilty of creating similar work to others. Truly original images are hard to conceive and come by in this day and age. I think that many of us are guilty of creating copycat images, including myself. New ideas and original work are especially difficult to create in nature, lifestyle, and adventure photography. 

In my opinion, Instagrammers are those who shoot specifically for the platform and have little to no regard for the history or process of photography. They are individuals who are trying to capture images that give their followers a reason to keep them on their following list. I think many individuals can be categorized as photographers, but I immediately think of photojournalists and documentary photographers as the prime example. Photojournalists often do little to edit their photographs (hopefully, to keep with the integrity of the genre) and cover events by capturing candid, newsworthy moments in real time. Artists who use photography as their medium of choice often have high regard for the process of photography, as well as its history. They value other forms of artwork and aren't afraid of trying something new. They're open to change and evolution in their medium and personal work and often use any tool they can to get to their final visualized creation.

Photograph by Timothy Behuniak.

Now, I know what you're thinking: I'm totally wrong and these aren't black-and-white classifications. I agree in that there is usually major overlap within all of these. Certainly, an artist doesn't need to use extra tools besides the camera or raw file to be considered an artist. Of course, as content creators, we want our work to be seen by as many people as possible and want to attract a large following of people who will support our goals and ambitions. Of course, Instagrammers, photographers, and artists could all have an appreciation for photography, its history and process. Of course, one person could be considered all three, either at the same time or at different points in their life. And of course, there's overlap in the idea of using certain tools to create a final, visualized idea. But in conclusion, I think there is a definite mindset that separates the three kinds of people who use a camera.

What do you think? Is there a separation in mindset between the three classifications? If so, what do you think that is? Does it even matter? Do you think Instagrammers are ruining or adding to the depreciation of photography and fine art photography? Or do you think blame lies with an audience? Is this even an issue? Leave your comments below. 

Cover photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Tim Behuniak's picture

Timothy Behuniak is a Salt Lake City-based landscape and outdoor adventure photographer who's passionate about getting lost in the woods with his camera. Tim's hope is that his viewers, like him, will one day love and fight to protect the beautiful locations he is fortunate to photograph.

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With 1.5 million followers....¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Not sure what you mean there, think you might've misinterpreted something....?

Definitely don't deny writing it. I can certainly respect other points of view on topics although I may not agree with them, but I don't think resorting to name calling over something like that is very mature or relevant. Perhaps I'm not the one who needs to grow up, but only time will tell.

Why would you say the writing is immature? I find your pedantic, pediatric, uhh.... (insert other big words here) responses to be nothing more than coins in your own
pocket. (oh man, I really got him here).

Ok, Ive never been accused of being very intellectual, but I don't think your comments are founded. I may be wrong.

Btw, you have some beautiful work.

This article was pure special snowflakery. Thinking about the "process and history of photography" doesn't turn mediocre images into art. The only point to even have that kind of knowledge is to build on the grammar previous artists have created without repeating their work. The author's images are completely cliched - except for being in colour, they could have been shot in the nineteenth century. By definition, nothing that unoriginal is more the illustration.

Who cares how many followers they have? After two months on instagram, I quit because I found the format shallow. People want their little hearts, they think it makes their pictures somehow more valuable. I can scroll through and give dozens of hearts a minute without ever really looking at the photos. A waste of my time and not a reflection of the quality of the work at all.

...that and it seems to have led to the masses overrunning places I like to escape to

A guy waxes philosophical about the depreciation of photography using an image from Unsplash. Oh the irony.

Obviously you didn't read it.

"Do you think Instagrammers are ruining or adding to the depreciation of photography and fine art photography?"

Not nearly as much as people who don't think they should have to pay for it.

Apparently you are also half retarded.

Do I need to explain the function of a question mark? It is clear that the author intended the final paragraph as a device to stimulate discussion.

Every day, I'm grateful to the Internet, as it reminds me just how stupid, ignorant, and biased the average person is.

This isn't the Fox News comments section. Try to have a little class.

Easy....let's try not to resort to name calling and hateful words. I can definitely respect other points of view although I don't agree with them, but let's please try to keep the discussion civil.

My sense of humor with this place completely vanished the day people adopted alts for the sole purpose of accusing others of being paedophiles.

The subjective nature of "art" renders it incapable of being categorized as to exactly what makes it art. Adapting an image to the intended display makes it no less art than anything else. In fact, I might even go so far as to say that purposely creating something to fit within the confines of a predetermined display paradigm may often times require more creativity than shooting a shot with no end use paradigm in mind.

If you're using a camera to create content, it's obvious that you're a photographer. Whether said content is considered art is in the eye of the beholder.


To quote from Marc DeGorge, a commenter below you: "A photographer is not someone who takes pictures with a camera.Yes, the camera is their tool, and others use that tool, but I am not a chef because I cook. As I'm sure you know, there's more to being a photographer than pressing the shutter. I don't even mean pro, either. An enthusiast does more than simply press a shutter. There is craft and skill, and understanding that goes into the making of an image."

I agree with this one. I have a pen but I'm not a writer. I have a wrench but I'm not a mechanic. Having tools doesn't make us craftsmen or masters. It merely signals a potential.

My though is that photographers should should capture what they want however they choose and run their business or hobby however works best for them all the while not worrying about what it is that others do or about the label that they've chosen to give themselves.

Thank you!
I also thank the author for describing the differences without resorting to judgment. If those "Instagrammers" do have 1.5 million followers, they are running a business, probably a successful business making lots of money from all those styled shots. I don't see how anyone could begrudge them the right to do that.
I'm not fond of looking at wedding photos, for instance, but don't take issue with all those wedding photographers either.

I agree. I'm definitely not trying to harp on anyone who uses a camera. I'm just trying to help start this layered conversation. I definitely can respect someone running their business with photography, no matter the genre. At the same time, how is this person's business affecting others in the industry?

I've heard of Instagram. No idea what it is. :-/

It's a tool by which you are converted into a product and packaged with other products that are similar to you in some way and used by a company called Facebook to sell advertisements. There is almost no measurable benefit to you, the product.

That's not what I was thinking but it sounds about right. :-)

They all have the same mindset snap an image that will help pay the bills were ever this creation end's up

What if someone isn't doing it to pay bills?

Then why are they an influencer?

when you said "they all have the same mindset..." I was assuming you mean they all to mean artists, instagrammers, and photographers...

Just my two cents... but the premise is a little flawed:

- Photography is the means or method
- Instagram is the chosen medium
- Art is what we are all endeavoring to take part in by expressing our creativity

A photographer is someone who takes pictures with a camera. "Instagramers" choose to take that image and publish it to Instagram versus a print or website or t-shirt or whatever. Artist is what we all are when expressing our creativity.

I would disagree. A photographer is not someone who takes pictures with a camera.Yes, the camera is their tool, and others use that tool, but I am not a chef because I cook. As I'm sure you know, there's more to being a photographer than pressing the shutter. I don't even mean pro, either. An enthusiast does more than simply press a shutter. There is craft and skill, and understanding that goes into the making of an image.

Another argument can be made about creativity and artistry. Are we being creative when we make an image for Instagram? Maybe, but are we artists in that situation? Debatable.

Interesting insight, Marc. I agree with your point.

I think you're overthinking it. By definition, a person who takes a photograph with a camera is a photographer.

A person cooking may not be a "chef", but a chef is certainly a person who cooks. The schmo slinging burnt burgers over the grill in the back yard and the chef--no matter how far removed from each other in skill--have one thing in common; they're cooking.

Also, I really do think that what makes art "art" is in the eye of the beholder. If someone takes a photo and another views it as art, it's art. Why wouldn't the creator be viewed as an artist? I mean, even Pierre Brassau was considered an "artist" though the beholders and their eyes were quite embarrassed.

I think I disagree with your last statement. If you're nice to someone and they interpret it as an act of love, does that make you their lover? Not a perfect analogy but none are.

We get a bit nuts with overthinking, it's true, but think about the value you place on things. Not just financial value, although that is very important to those who create for a living. If there's no effort, is it art, or is it even a creation? Perhaps it is just an interpretation. There's nothing wrong with that, but I think there is a difference.

You mention having things in common, and I agree: there are similarities. But the outcome is not what the difference is. Its the process that makes the difference.

Is it the creation process or the result of that process?
I can see the result.
I can imagine the creation process, but that’s only in the mind of the one looking at the result.
What if the imagination of the process is different from the real process, does that change one’s opinion about the result?

Reality is created twice: Once in our minds, and once in actuality.

Probably even more than twice. Perception of reality isn’t fixed. Gaining knowledge and/or experience will change our perceived reality. Context is key, I think.

Exactly, I do think art is in the eye of the beholder. My good taste is someone else's disgust. I think context, personal background, and environment all play in to how someone interprets an image or piece of art.

Marc, I do agree with you in terms of owning a camera does not simply make them a photographer. The same is said for those who cook, or even if someone works on their car and is simply an enthusiast rather than a mechanic.

All methods require creating something; a touch of skill, a bit more in terms of ability to execute, but all require passion. I think it is both dangerous and necessary to qualify what exactly being a "photographer" means. I have been shooting more than just enthusiastically for a year or so now, and in that time I have had multiple payed clients, I was a finalist for the NatGeo Travel Photographer of the Year, and most importantly I've grown well beyond what I thought was possible. However, all of that said, I do not consider myself a photographer. Yes, photography is my medium--my artistic sword so to speak. I've jostled back and forth what exactly it means to be a photographer, and so far I would have to agree with several others in this thread; as art is critical in invoking emotional responses, photos are not too far off.

There are several photos that create an impact on someone, yet those photos may never see the light of day apart from two or three people. Instagram throws everything out into the world not unlike every other past, current, and future social media platform. Most importantly, in terms of photography, I see instagram as a couple things; one is a place where ads and spam posts overrule the qualitative posts, and on the other hand it's a living and dynamic portfolio for many. It's an ease of access principle, If you only have to press one simple space to view an individuals profile, that's a portfolio one click away. it's much easier than randomly coming across a portfolio online.

Alright I'll put this short rambling to rest. However, I agree with both you and Tim, this is a fantastic conversation starter and I'm excited to see the direction it heads.

Hi Peyton, thanks for your comments, and congrats on your placement on NatGeo!

I understand what you mean, when you say, you don't feel like you can consider yourself a photographer yet. Many top pros say a similar thing, perhaps for a slightly different reason. I also agree that we should be cautious about defining what a photographer is.

Personally, if someone was just starting out, but was calling themselves a photographer, my gut reaction would be not to agree, possibly in a strong way. However, in some ways it's really not all that important (in that specific situation). If they are enjoying learning the process, then let them enjoy the process. It will ultimately make them (hopefully) a better photographer.

In music, most who learn how to play an instrument have a lot of respect for those who are masters at it. That's because learning to play an instrument is a process, often a challenging one and so to see what someone has achieved through hard work is inspiring. It can be like that in photography too, if it's understood that making of a good image is a process. Simply pressing the shutter and making an image is the equivalent of squeaking out a single note on a violin. Anyone can do it, but it doesn't make them violinists.

Before I get too left-field here let me add one last thing. I have respect for those "Influencers" in Tim's article. That's because they completely understood what they were trying to achieve and were happy to not go outside of that. I think that's all well and good. What makes me itch is when someone claims to be something when they do not in the least have an understanding of what it means to be that thing.

Ok. Sorry to tire your eyes out!

I agree with you both. I think you both have some awesome insight that I definitely didn't think of before. I do enjoy the idea of an easy-to-access online portfolio, and also agree with the fact that clicking the shutter and making an image is the equivalent of squeaking out a single musical note.

The process to eventually be a "master" is a long, difficult road that few actually stick to and I think is a process that's less appreciated now more than ever because of the saturation of photographs everywhere we look, especially on apps like Instagram.

I think that more people now than ever think they are "photographers" when really they're just people who like to take pictures, because yes, I agree in that being a "photographer" is more than just owning a camera and clicking the shutter.

I think it's such an interesting topic and I'm truly enjoying all of this insight from others.

I agree that Instagram is a medium through which art can be shown. However, I disagree that a photographer is anyone who snaps a picture with a camera.

"The unexamined life is a life not worth living" -- Socrates

I think it's worthwhile to stop from time to time and examine what one is doing, and why, and where one thinks it will or ought to lead. That's true, of course, of anything, not just art.

But it's particularly true of art.

Maybe I think about this more now that I'm old and I can see the options of my future quickly narrowing. What have I done? What did it do for me or for anyone? What am I doing now? Am I fulfilling myself...yet? Am I fulfilling anyone?

If not, geez, I'm old...when am I going to start?

I've done a lot of different kinds of photography, but I originally came into photography from portraiture long, long ago, and ultimately that's what I've always found most fulfilling. Ultimately, I'd like to think some of my work will be admired by the grandchildren of some of my clients. At least I see it bring smiles to the faces of my clients today, and seeing those smiles is good for my soul. Good for my soul.

So I'm doubling down on my portraiture.

Other stuff? "I ain't got time for that."

Unexamined art may be art not worth doing.

is a documentary or journalist photographer less of a photographer?

you can be a better person, artist or photographer without attempting to lessen those around you with a narrative. it takes more effort, but it can be done.

Nope, never said that type of photographer is any less of a photographer. Or any type, for that matter.

Influencers (no matter the platform) are a brand, and their intent to sell themselves, products,and lifestyle to consumers/followers. They have an eye for what is trendy on their platform, and hardly stray from it.

Does this make them less of a photographer? No, not really. But they may not be seen as a traditional photographer to those in this field because of the platform they use, and how they market themselves. Are they artists? Maybe! Some of these influencers are great photographers and artists.It's all relative to the person viewing the work in question. Are they ruining this industry? NOPE!

Evolution happens all the time, and photography is not a stagnant thing. It has evolved even over the last two decades from film being king, where some oldies would say digital would never work, to now mirrorless is becoming a norm. Always evolving, always growing and branching.

Social media is king and they have found a way to branch out and make money from it. It's the way of the future, and photography as a whole is not this exclusive field now. Influencers are a niche just like any other, be it fine art or commercial.

I appreciate your insight. I'd be curious to hear more thought from others about influencers teetering the sway of the industry.

I don't think those who don't consider themselves photographers should be considered photographers. We should respect their self-identification.

If they say, "I'm not a photographer, I'm an Instagrammer," then we should respect that they are self-identifying as something other than a photographer, and if we call ourselves photographers, then they are asserting that they are something different from photographers.

An influencer that is tied to photography is still a photographer, just that they identify as an influencer/instagrammer. You can be a Youtuber, and still be a photographer, but you identify as a YTer.

Interesting that you refuse to allow people to self-identify.

But what about the woman at the DMV who snaps the pictures for driver's licenses? What about an insurance adjuster? Is everyone who uses a camera to be called "a photographer?"

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