Taking a Break From Instagram

Taking a Break From Instagram

Some people thrive in the social media arena. However, others find it a battle not worth fighting.

Before my most recent post to Instagram, I had not posted for about four weeks. I didn't make an immediate decision after that post on August 31. I was so busy with other stuff that I just neglected it. After a week of not constantly checking my phone, I decided that I would just take a break for a while. And I wish I could say that I was happily surprised with my decision. I was happy, yes, but I certainly wasn't surprised. I've known for a while now that the constant hustle of social media was having a significant effect on my mood.

The Hustle

I've talked briefly before about my own issues with anxiety and how I use photography to combat it. This is the other side of the coin, though. On this side, we have the hustle and grind that I associate with photography. Flashy one-upmanship mixed with high-profile collaborations, hot models, and exotic destinations. This sounds bitter, and to be honest, when I'm in that mode of, I'll call it "Insta-hustle," I do get jealous. I think I'm not alone in that, and I'm definitely guilty of it, too. I had to ask myself as I started writing this article: "Was I posting about my trip to Africa this past summer to promote my brand, or was it just my time to shine, so I gave my ego a good polishing?" Where that feeling of being left behind might drive others to get up earlier to catch that sunrise up a mountain with a cloud inversion and double rainbow, it seems to have the exact opposite effect on me. 

Social media addiction effects mental health

Just. One. More. Like. Photo by Benjamin Sow on Unsplash

I did manage to stay with it for a while, regularly posting, because I was convinced that I needed to keep up with the rest of the gang, and, of course, social media is important for my business. After taking this step back, however, I've realized that I'm not even using Instagram properly as it pertains to my business. Most of my income comes from interiors and commercial gigs. All I've been using Instagram for is my landscapes, with some stories of my commercial stuff peppered throughout the year. So, what am I doing other than feeding my ego and nurturing my anxiety? Not much, I'd say.

Square One

I posted again recently and I reverted back to the same behavior, constantly checking my phone to see how many likes I'm getting. "I usually get more likes than this. Oh, God. Maybe I suck. I wonder what Kim Kardashian is up to?" Most of the time, when I check Instagram, I've actually picked up my phone to check my calendar or emails. Five hours later, I'm in the fetal position, mumbling about follower-to-like ratios.

Man is stressed because of Instagram addiction

Queen Bae is crushing it... Oh dear God, what has become of me? Photo by Nik Shuliahin via Unsplash

I've nothing against anybody who uses Instagram in the ways I've alluded to above. In fact, I really admire people who can keep on top of it. But in that moment, in that Insta-hustle mindset, the green monster rears its head. I resent the fact that people are doing better than me and I chastise myself for not being better or trying hard enough. That's a toxic attitude to have, and it's not the kind of person I want to be. People are making something of themselves, by themselves, and they're working bloody hard to do it. I work hard too, but not in the same way. I thought that I needed to replicate other Instagrammers to have the life that I envisioned, but if it's affecting my piece of mind in the manner that it is, then I need to re-evaluate my approach. I need to ask myself a number of questions:

  • Where is most of my income coming from? 
  • Where do I want most of my income to come from?
  • What kind of lifestyle do I want?
  • Who is my target audience?
  • How do they find me?
  • Can I cast the kind of net that doesn't end up giving me a heart attack, a stroke, or a month in an institution?

That last one sounds like a bad joke, but I am completely serious. It's widely known that overuse of social media can have detrimental effects on ones health. Not everyone uses social media like that, but as I read thorough articles like the one I just linked, I realize that I show almost all the symptoms that they list.

Woman can't sleep because of Instagram addiction

Jenny is doing star trails at Monument Valley again? Damn you, Jenny. Photo by Victoria Heath on Unsplash

Going Forward

I'm not entirely sure where this is taking me. Without a doubt, I feel that I need to take another step back from Instagram. After that, I need to ask the questions that I've listed above, and take action accordingly.

What about our readers? Has Instagram sullied your experiences with photography? More importantly, is it having an impact on your mental health?

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Jon Tascon's picture

There is no shame on getting off-the-grid for a while. You can always come back, or not.

amanda daniels's picture

I HATE instagram. Alot of photographers say that is where they get all their clients from but not me, so clearly I am doing something wrong. I hate posting and feeling bad about myself when I don't get likes. I hate trying to figure out what to put on my stories. I hate that I constantly compare myself to other photographers and what they post and what they have on their stories. Instagram sucks the life out of me.

Deleted Account's picture

It's not for everyone. There's no shame in that. I've felt the same way once and then I figured I'd just I'd just make it a fun platform to engage with other shooters who are like minded and I've enjoyed it a lot since the change. There's a lot of shit to sift through but I've gotten my feed to the point where I'm inspired by most of the photos I see. Just keep shooting the way you want and post them where you want. It should be about you first and your audience will appreciate the authenticity.

amanda daniels's picture

You are so absolutely right. And honestly some days I feel this way. I follow people who inspire the shit out of me. It depends on where my mind set is. I wish there were more days I felt good about IG, but the truth is there isn't. And I know this is a personal internal problem for sure. I do enjoy interacting with others, but that is the thing, I don't find many others who want to engage, so maybe I am engaging with the wrong people. Who knows. But I am glad you are getting things from it. It is a huge platform, maybe I will be there someday. Just have to stop comparing.

Lafayette Britto's picture

Im going to + 1 on this comment as well

Jonathan Brady's picture

"Where do I want most of my income to come from?"
That's an incredibly important question, especially in light of the fact that ol' Zuck likes to change the rules fairly frequently. People should give serious consideration to what would happen to their business if IG suddenly changed in a way that was unfavorable to their interests.

Jonathan Reid's picture

Great post. I don’t take Instagram very seriously, but even so, it’s taking up more of my time than what it deserves. I’m seeing more of this sort of article and insta_repeat which makes me think many people feel the same.

Julian Ray's picture

Spot on! IG is a great tool for.... facebook, not for us. Remember the adage -If you are not paying for it, you ARE the commodity. Great post Mike.

Mike O'Leary's picture

Thanks, Julian. It certainly is a money maker for them. They bought it for $1 billion in cash and some stock a few years ago, and now it's worth around $35 billion. I'd say photographers are well down in the pecking order, too. I see a lot of Instagram "comedians" and snake-oil salesmen doing very well with unoriginal and childish content. Guess who's watching that dross? Kids who don't understand the concept of marketing. Youtube is the same.

Maximilian Sulzer's picture

I'll sum up one reply to two comments here, i absolutely share your frustration about Instagram. About target group and attention span.

As you already said, the Instagram target group are not photographers. If they were, the image size would exceed 1350 pixels and fill you whole screen.
Instagram is a ! social ! media platform. Designed so you can make your high school friends jealous of your summer holiday.

The reason why photographers or other businesses use it is because it crowded more than any other platform of that kind with a cross-section of the world (almost). That potentially gives you a huge reach. That's why every second post you see these days is a paid advert. But photography as we use the term is a niche, "the people" don't consume or appreciate it in a way you want your art appreciated.

"Instagram photographers" usually don't earn that much money with photography itself, but by selling advertising opportunity. Other types of photographers such as wedding photographers can use Instagram as a word of mouth platform. Landscape or very specialized photographers not so much i would say.

You could use a photo platform such as 500px which also has an Instagram style app, but also lets you see high res images on PC. But then only other photo nerds see your images and your reach is quite limited.

Now on to attention span. As you said it's probably around 1 second per image, a very low res tiny image even. Your picture can looks like shit, nobody even cares as long as the mood is right. The other day i added a figure with a yellow raincoat to my mountain photo, i added it with MS paint, and the general reaction (likes, comments, etc.) was exactly the same as with any other photo.
Nobody even realizes.

If you want your photos to bee seen and appreciated you probably need a website where you can present them the way you want and then you need to figure out how to get people to see your website (edit: such as writing an article on f-stoppers and have your website in your signature that i just clicked on :D )

Marius Tonghioiu's picture

I read your article and I found myself 100% .
Great that you had the courage to write about that .
Over time i understood that photography has nothing to do with Instagram.
Adding some filters over your photos will not give you a stile and for sure will not make you a better photographer.
On the other hand Instagram destroys the photographer's ability to judge his portfolio

Mike O'Leary's picture

Thanks Marius. I was a little nervous about posting it. In the end, I think, people respond to honesty because we're all in the same boat.

Instagram is great for getting an idea of someone's work, but one always needs to see larger images — for more than 1 second — to get a better idea of the photographer's capabilities and vision.

Mike Schrengohst's picture

I will be back when the internet is Solid.


Deleted Account's picture

I took it a step further and deleted all my social media profiles, including FB gan page with 13.500 followers. Taking my life back!

Charles Burgess's picture

Great article Mike! I too find that social media hustle just sucks the life out of the photography muse unless I break out a taser to tame that beast (social media). Biggest problem is that it turns into a suck zone (like video games) in the game of instant gratification and narcissistic seeking validation - consuming time like a black hole. Astronomically speaking, a black hole even prevents light from escaping it! So, as photographers who "write with light" (visual stories), we need to stay well away from the event horizon dangers of social media. Do only what is really necessary (less time exposed) on social media and more time doing photography. Feed the creative muse, not the social media beast.