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

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Mr Hogwallop's picture

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

Tim Behuniak's picture

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

Tim Behuniak's picture

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.

Ken Flanagan's picture

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.

Rob Davis's picture

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

user-208255's picture

Obviously you didn't read it.

Rob Davis's picture

"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.

user-208255's picture

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.

Rob Davis's picture

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

Tim Behuniak's picture

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.

user-208255's picture

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

Daniel Medley's picture

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.

Tim Behuniak's picture

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."

Andrzej Muzaj's picture

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.

Heratch Ekmekjian's picture

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.

Tim Behuniak's picture

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?

user-156929's picture

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.

user-156929's picture

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

Charles Gaudreault's picture

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

Tim Behuniak's picture

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

gabe s's picture

Then why are they an influencer?

Tim Behuniak's picture

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.

Marc DeGeorge's picture

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.

Tim Behuniak's picture

Interesting insight, Marc. I agree with your point.

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