Post Reels, Not Photos if You Want Any Hope of Success on Instagram

It sounds counterintuitive for the once photo-only Instagram to be minimizing photos in favor of video, but it's exactly what's happening, and if you're not on the bandwagon, your photography brand might get left behind.

From Shopify Creative Strategist Michelle Bali, she details some sobering numbers that every photographer should be sweating, namely that content creators can get 120% more reach from using reels over photos. That goes for single photo and carousel photo posts, and it also should be noted that what were formerly video posts are now all considered reels.

No doubt that the pressure to do this comes from Instagram's holy war with TikTok, where algorithms work to figure out what you like and what's trending to serve up a customized stream of non-stop videos. While this sounds great for dedicated YouTubers, this trend seems to leave traditional photographers in the dust.

As Bali notes, no longer is it about properly hashtagging photos so that they can be found. As all Instagram users know, the chronological timeline left the chat years ago, and so it's all about catchy videos. That means the first few seconds have to have enough visual impact to grab a user, videos should be captioned for the majority of users that watch without sound, and folks should post at least once or twice a day to keep audiences engaged.

As a very photo-centric Instagram user, it's also refreshing to see functions like captioning, and dual camera (likely influenced by BeReal) modes so that one doesn't have to go into Adobe Premiere or other professional software to access these functions.

That said, there's also an element of sadness, as Instagram loses more of itself to the other apps. The "in-the-moment" photo posts and the chronological feed of photos with hashtags to group them all together, once the bread-and-butter of Instagram, are lost with all of the recent changes.

If you're still eager to up your Instagram game, though, Bali offers a lot of tips on how you can use reels and post more effectively to build an audience, something that's valuable to every photographer.

What do you think of the idea? Are photos on Instagram worth it anymore? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

Wasim Ahmad is an assistant teaching professor teaching journalism at Quinnipiac University. He's worked at newspapers in Minnesota, Florida and upstate New York, and has previously taught multimedia journalism at Stony Brook University and Syracuse University. He's also worked as a technical specialist at Canon USA for Still/Cinema EOS cameras.

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But how do you define "success on Instagram"?

If your goal is to amass a large following, or to get a huge number of likes, then you are misusing the platform. Such goals are inane and foolish.

The right way to use Instagram is to use it to stay in touch and connected to a few hundred people who you know personally in real life, or to do research on things by finding experts on certain kinds of photography and communicating with them in detail via direct messages.

Numbers and algorithms don't matter to those who are using Instagram properly. If I want to see someone's work, then I search specifically for that person's account by entering their username in the search bar, and their account pops up and I can see everything they have posted. I do not need some algorithm to put their images into my "feed" because I can override the automated feed and instead go straight to each person's account.

Why let Instagram have control over what you see there? YOU should take control by going thru the list of those you follow and clicking on their usernames to see what they have been posting. Any other way of using Instagram is just laziness because it is taking the easy way instead of being intentional and specific about what you see and what you don't.

Reels of photos make no difference to what I see on Instagram, because I use it properly and intentionally go to each person whose work I want to see. I am not a lazy sloth who just scrolls through the "feed" that Instagram supplies to lazy people who don't think or act for themselves.

What she tells you is make reels so people can see your photos! Nothing more, nothing less. 100% BS. And to top it you should provide a reel twice a day! It's a big time click bait for all of us. Could she be paid by Instagram for the later to try and compete with Tick Tock? Well let's put it this way, she provides zero stats, nothing, nada, zero, just words that you have (and probably shouldn't) to trust.

Great points, Benoit.

People can see my photos without me ever posting a reel.

I do not enjoy watching short video clips and I do not want to see that kind of content. Nor do I want to create that kind of content.

If you want to spend the rest of your life dancing to the latest tunes of giant online media companies that can't make their insane profit projections - go for it.

Whenever I see a play or speaker icon on a Instagram post (or the post starts to autoplay), I just keep scrolling. I hate reels. I hate vertical videos.

Speakin' of autoplay, sometime mid last year, Instagram found a way to autoplay videos on a desktop browser even though the browser is to set to block autoplays by default. I ended up installing an extension to block their anti-blocker. Those bastids.

I'm not into the doomsday mindset and just following the social media sheep herd:

(on desktop. I don't use the phone app much)

1. Of the accounts I follow, I'd guesstimate over 98% of posts are photos.
2. Of the Suggested posts, about 99.99% are photos.
3. In the Explore page, about 70% are photos. The reels use a spot on the left and right sides and are clearly marked with a play icon. The center are all photos.

Auto play, vertical video. Don't those two define perfectly social media?

i don't think they define social media.

Autoplay has been around way way way before reels. And, I could be wrong, probably even before IG. I used to read a lot of product reviews on CNET (if I remember this site correctly) and their freakin' autoplaying videos would drive me nuts. They would startle the shit out of me.

Youtube does vertical videos as of recent, they call shorts, and I wouldn't call them social media.

I've paid attention to some of the Instagram algorithm changes and announcements with reluctant interest as I do make connections with like-minded people on there as well as editors, clients, etc... - but at the rate things are changing, I'd say that a 2-month-old video is already well out of date. I'm not going to summarize or refresh my memory but there have already been a variety of new statements released about photos/reels and algorithm changes by IG since then.

6 months later: "the algorithm has changed and if you want your photos to be seen it's not enough to make a reel but you have to dance too". I use the platform more like emails which is making posts to connect to my existing organic leads which means more than acting like a monkey for a platform that probably only has a couple of years left anyway. What do the millions of numbers mean when the platform is gone? Probably easier to just invest more time in Youtube at that point.

Buddy you nailed itπŸ˜…πŸ˜…

You already have to dance. Or show some T&A.

thank you! Actually she is right, I get about a dozen views when I post an image as a story and over 1000 views as a reel over on my still life work at

I'm not sure what you mean. There's only 1 reel with over 1000 views but the engagement (likes + comments) is no different than your recent images.

You would think that IG could give you the option to prioritize photos over videos if that were your preference.

All I get from that video is "Instagram is not for photo sharing anymore."

We already knew that. At this point, the only worth of Instagram to me is as an answer to, "Do you have an Instagram?" from someone I've just gotten interested in my work.

Otherwise, there's no information useful to me as a still photographer in this video. I do see other still photographers using reels for short BTS and marketing clips, and that's a trip I've got to get on. Even then, the question isn't getting views and likes, the question--as in all marketing--is getting conversions to inquiries.

Is there a video addressing using reels for BTS and marketing clips for still photographers? I guess, though, we don't really need one.