Is Instagram destroying the value of the photography industry? This free little app has some photographers convinced it is, while others believe its enabling your work to be seen by a whole new community. I’m here to weigh the pros and cons on each side, to see if Instagram is a blessing or a curse.
As many of you know, Instagram is an application available on both Apple and Android devices that attempts to create a powerful camera system in the palm of your hand. Due to their social media platform, Instagram is praised for allowing users to share their work with millions in a single click, enabling an entirely new form of media for photographers.
With Instagram on your phone, you're able to share your work immediately, without having to load it into your computer and potentially spend hours in Photoshop to get it exactly the way you want it. Instagram exchanges the editing flexibility by using presets, and replaces it with the convenience of mass sharing on the fly.
While many may argue that this is lowering the quality and standard to photography, I argue that it also comes with significant benefits. The ability to build a brand and show your work quickly is powerful, and allows you to reach a whole new realm of potential clients.
When starting a business, one of the first things you'll be told to do is brand it accordingly. Build a Facebook Business Page, start a Twitter account to show off your work, and create a Pinterest or Tumblr account to find inspiration. Social media and interaction is so important in building a business. 500px and Flickr have built-in social integration, so why would you neglect Instagram as a viable source for potential clients?
The most notable con to Instagram is the ease of use. By leaving behind your camera, lights, and retouching techniques, you're likely going to get far less quality work when working with an iPhone or Android device.
Often inspiration comes in waves, so it's quite easy to go into a streak of lower standard of work when working with what you have in your pocket. Instagram isn't designed to show off the most polished work, it's designed to show what work you're able to produce right now, doing exactly what you're doing right now.
Another disadvantage to Instagram is the filters. By having only 20 or so filters to choose from, and very little editing options apart from that, you're severely limiting the amount of creativity you can present in post-processing with each image.
You're often left using the same 4 or 5 filters for all of your editing techniques, giving a lot of your photos the same basic and bland style.
My Thoughts on Instagram
I was so reluctant to use Instagram for such a long time, stating that it was devaluing the photography community. It wasn't until I spoke with some other professional photographers who used Instagram that I began to see the benefits. Many of my friends working in the fashion photography industry made contacts with agency-signed models, and the agencies themselves, through Instagram.
Instagram's hashtag system is about the only innovative one left, meaning that it actually gets used meaningfully when compared to Facebook or even Twitter. By tagging your image with something such as #fashion #modeling #NewYork, you're able to reach an entire medium of viewers that would otherwise not see your work.
This could mean new potential fans, clients and jobs coming your way by using a system that is otherwise regarded as an industry destroyer.
That was a game changer for me. I put my work online for others to see, give me feedback, and potentially book more clients, so why would I be putting it on one website and not the other? However, that is not the only reason I use Instagram, the other reason is the insights that it provides.
How I Use Instagram
One thing I do with my Instagram account is blend my personal life with my business. By doing this, I'm able to show a real look behind the scenes of a professional photographer. By posting both everyday life photos, as well as behind-the-scenes photos, and final projects, I can connect with my audience.
And yes, I post photos that I've taken with my DSLR onto my Instagram feed. I think this is important because I show every other step in a photo shoot. I think I should also be able to show final products, too.
It gets hit with some criticism from time to time, but it helps establish my business and brand, so why not? I do this by simply using a Copy or Dropbox account, and pushing the final images on there, so I can easily access them on my phone for upload.
What Other Pros Say About Instagram
Jeremy Cowart (http://instagram.com/jeremycowart | 26792 Followers)
In general, I think mobile photography is great for professional photographers. A camera is a camera. It doesn't matter what type. Mobile cameras allow pros to keep their eyes sharp and to keep practicing. And I think experienced pros can learn a lot from younger fresh minds and vice versa. I'm all for anything that establishes more community in photography than competition.
Thomas Ingersol (http://instagram.com/thomasingersoll | 1235 Followers)
I am all for Instagram. Some say it diminishes or jeopardizes photography. I believe it opens the door for new or unheard artists. The people who are concerned with having their voice lost because of outlets like Instagram are usually the one who focus on the product and not the artist.
I think it gives people a cheap alternative to explore photography. It also gives a lot of people a chance to have their voice heard. Having an app like Instagram can be such a powerful tool. I have had Motocross companies like my work because of hashtags. If it weren't for Instagram, those companies would never have seen my name.
No, having companies or people like my picture doesn't directly translate into getting more jobs, but it can put my name in their head. So if I come in contact with them I might be one step ahead of the other guy.
If you create beautiful images, the method or equipment you use to accomplish this is irrelevant to me. And you're not limited to the 15 or so presets, apps like VSCO, Mextures, and Snapseed give users the ability to create some stunning images.
I frequently upload shots from my Canon on Instagram as well, why limit myself to iPhone photography? Any time I have the opportunity to join a photography community I do, like Flickr, 500px, Instagram, Facebook groups, etc.
I want my name to be known, I want as many people as I possibly can get to see my name. This is why I am an avid Instagram user. Whether you like it or not, Instagram is very popular. You can jump on the train, or watch it depart.
John Schell (http://instagram.com/johnschell | 2719 Followers)
Over the last year or so, I’ve really made a conscious effort to build and develop my Instagram page. And even with the relatively small following that I currently have, I found that I’m able to engage my followers, find friends, and connect with peers much easier than with Facebook, Facebook Pages, Tumblr, and/or through my own website; to the point where most of my inquiries and bookings now come through my Instagram page.
For this and many other reasons, I think a properly managed Instagram can be a tremendous asset for a photographer, or for anyone, really because it allows you to display work in a purely visual manner with very little outside interference.
I consider my Instagram page to be my 'living portfolio' which I update at least once a day with new work, behind the scenes photos, photos of my dog and various other things happening in my life (including the occasional almost out-of-focus iPhone selfie) all without the clutter and distraction that comes with some of the other social networking platforms.
I know there are some complaints about Instagram and the accompanying filters degrading the “quality” of photography, but to be honest, as an photographer and as an artist, I am constantly looking for inspiration and Instagram allows me the opportunity to quickly peer into the lives of others; to see what they're creating, to see who they're following, to see what’s currently trending, and of course, and perhaps most importantly, to see what everyone is having for dinner.
Caleb Hill (http://instagram.com/calebjohnhill | 1586 Followers)
In all honesty, I used to view Instagram as a joke. It was just a bunch of wannabe amateurs hashtagging the hell out of their photos hoping to get a few extra likes.
But now it's a community of thriving artists and photographers that all are great and are super inspiring. It may not be where I get any of my clientele, but it's a way to easily share my day to day life in a way that I think is beautiful.
Sure, I'll post client work there or 'behind the scenes,' but I don't cross my fingers and hope that the ideal client or bride comes across a photo that I took and books with me.
For me, it's an artistic release that manifests itself in no pressure situations that breeds community, not a profit for my business.
Bethany Olsen (http://instagram.com/bethanyolson | 41,356 Followers)
I can only say positive words about Instagram and how it has affected my photography career. Instagram has helped my professional career immensely. Because of Instagram, I have been able to build a following and clientele, and people are always updated with what I’m shooting.
I was recently signed with a photo agency in New York called Tinker Street for doing mobile campaigns and/or projects for big brands because they liked my photos on Instagram. In the future, it could possibly turn into DSLR work. With that, I’ve also been able to connect and work with some of my favorite brands like Madewell and Aritzia.
I’ve also gotten jobs with weddings, engagements, lookbooks, and different portrait sessions because of Instagram. I think it’s just a great way to share your work and build a community.
For Better or Worse
Like it or not, Instagram is popular. I think it's important to remember that it's really two separate tools. The first is the powerful social media engine that allows all the photographers you've heard from today connect with clients and get inspired. This is something I believe most photographers can get behind.
The other tool, and what some photographers complain about are the filters, which are often viewed as a cheap gimmicks propping up bad photos. However, you heard from many here that they're posting images from the DSLRs and using other post-production apps, so this is hardly concern for the enthusiasts.
Love it or hate it, Instagram is having an impact on the photography industry. It's your choice to decide whether it's for good or for ill, and if you want to be a part of it.