Long gone are the days when Instagram was a haven for photo lovers. Remember how it all started? We had deliberately fun, nickname handles and we posted spontaneously (hence the insta-part) to a timeline that was actually time-based. If you saw it, it was happening now—or at least in recent moments.
Instagram Is Not a Photo Sharing Site Anymore
Today feeds are calculated with an algorithm that picks and chooses what you see, tracks your usage (and sells that data), and in the end, really boxes you in to only seeing certain content. And don’t even get us started about the advertisements in feeds now…
Changes are coming to video on Instagram 📺At Instagram we’re always trying to build new features that help you get the most out of your experience. Right now we’re focused on four key areas: Creators, Video, Shopping and Messaging. pic.twitter.com/ezFp4hfDpf— Adam Mosseri (@mosseri) June 30, 2021
So what keeps us attached to Instagram? Why do we keep using it?
Perhaps you’ve built up a community of real followers (not fake ones, like many do for public perception). Perhaps you’re attached to your profile of image posts, time capsules of days long gone. Or perhaps you just aren’t aware of the alternatives. And there are alternatives! Many of which were designed with Instagram’s disadvantages in mind.
New Photo Sharing Platforms for Photographers
Here are a few new options that piqued our interest: Pixelfed, Micro.blog, and Glass.
Free, Federated Photo Sharing Platform for an Open Internet
Billed as “an ethical alternative to centralized platforms,” Pixelfed was built for the open web. Pixelfed runs on open-source code, which anyone can obtain and use to create their own server. That means that Pixelfed users with technical know-how can host their own community, like pixelfed.social or pixelfed.tokyo. You can also simply join open Pixelfed servers that have already been created by other Pixelfed users. Instagram, in contrast, is a centralized platform owned and controlled entirely by the Meta corporation.
There is a lot to say about the open web—why it was created and its advantages—but for the purposes of this article, the important take away is that the Pixelfed feed is not controlled by higher-ups at a company. It is controlled by its users, who can procure the source code publicly and do what they see fit with it.
What else about Pixelfed?
- It is free of charge.
- There are no advertisements in timelines or anywhere else.
- Its feed is generated chronologically. There is no algorithm running the show.
- It is privacy-focused. There are no pesky third-party analytics or tracking going on while you use Pixelfed.
- It contains a NSFW (not suitable for work) media switch so you can post freely, knowing that users will be warned ahead of time about spicy content—and that you will, too, as you scroll.
- You can select your audience when you post: public, unlisted (totally private), or followers only.
- You can choose your feed: home (accounts you follow), public (content from other Pixelfed users), or network (unmoderated content from other servers).
- Its media descriptions let you describe your photos to people with visual impairments.
- It has photo filters so you can add special visual touches to your pictures.
- PixelFed lets you organize and share collections of multiple posts and create stories (like Instagram, which disappear after 24 hours), but those are both in Beta for now.
- Captions can only be a maximum of 500 characters (compared to Instagram’s 2,200).
- You can only share eight photos in one post (Instagram lets you post 10).
- There is no mobile app. An official dedicated Pixelfed app is being designed, but it’s not available yet.
A fast and flexible blog-hosting platform with a social media-style timeline
Micro.blog looks a little like Twitter, but actually it is quite different. This platform lets you quickly share short or full-length posts, photos, podcasts, video, and more, follow other users, and engage in conversations. The platform was designed expressly to prevent abuse and harassment, and has several features with that aim in mind:
- It doesn’t support hashtags to prevent bad actors from finding people to harass.
- To “like” a post, you have to reply to the author. The idea is replying is more meaningful than simply “liking” a post and facilitates conversations between users.
- It doesn’t show how many followers you have, so you don’t accidentally judge someone based on that.
- The community is built on a network of independent microblogs backed by strong, enforced community guidelines.
- You can interact with others while your content is on your own blog that you control.
- It is not run by an algorithm.
- Posts can be any length. Longer posts will surface as a linked title.
- You can style your text or add links or quotes.
- It allows you to blog at your own domain name.
- Easily post photos by uploading to the service, via the Micropub protocol, or by pulling in photos over RSS.
- The Micro.blog template is customizable.
- The Micro.blog team curates collections of the latest interesting posts that you can search.
- You can create multiple microblogs for different topics or businesses.
- It is free of charge for a basic account.
- Without hashtags or a similar alternative, it can be difficult to find people and subjects of interest.
- Some of the coolest features, like groups, podcasts, and videos, require a subscription. Plans range from $5, $10, to $20 a month.
- Its apps support iOS and Mac only.
- It is not solely dedicated to photography.
Glass (iOS/Mac Only)
A member-supported community and photo sharing app built for photographers
Here’s a platform for photography purists: Glass. The company has no outside funding or plans to sell or pivot to a general social network, and is completely dedicated to photo sharing. Its goal is to showcase photography, unfettered, plain and simple. Feeds don’t even supply captions (you have to click on the image for caption access), so it is one beautiful stream of images, images, images.
- It is completely member supported. As a result, there is no advertising, brands, or invasive data tracking.
- You can enter up to three categories to describe your photograph by choosing from a carousel of options. Users can then search for images based on those categories.
- It has an iPad app so that pictures can be viewed at a much larger dimension than phones allow for.
- It elevates photos with full-screen layouts and minimal compression.
- There are no likes or follower counts, so you don’t have to focus on engagement.
- The feed is chronological, not based on an engagement algorithm.
- You can share photos you posted on Twitter and elsewhere.
- If you’re working in an app like Lightroom, or any other app that has an iOS Share Sheet, you can upload to Glass from there.
- Images come with metadata with the technical details (camera, lens, aperture and shutter speed) and the date of capture.
- It requires a membership fee of $4.99/month or $29.99/year (normally $49.99/year but lowered temporarily for the launch) with a free two-week trial. It does not have a free tier, as Micro.blog does.
- Its app supports iOS only, with no Android option coming anytime soon.
- It is not available on the web (yet).
- The community seems small thus far.
- It’s difficult to determine if people you know are on the platform.
- There are no fun filters or other editing features within the app.
Proven Favourites for Photo Sharing
Here are few Instagram competitors that you might have overlooked:
Though once more popular than it is today, many Tumblr image-sharing communities are still chugging along just fine. Keep it weird, Tumblr.
With Snapchat you share photos and videos that disappear after a time — it's meant for sharing media in the moment. Sound familiar? Mobile only, no desktop access.
- Snapchat in a Nutshell: Visual Storytelling in the MomentHarry Guinness07 Oct 2015
- How to Make a Stellar Photo Effect With a Star Brush in PhotoshopMelody Nieves26 Feb 2019
Long-time favourite camera app VSCO includes well designed photo sharing and portfolio features. The camera, filters, and post-processing features are excellent and well nuanced, too.
- How to Take Photos with the VSCO Cam AppJess Hooper22 Mar 2015
- How to Edit Photos With VSCOAndrew Childress02 Feb 2017
Flickr is our pick over, Google Photos, Amazon Photos, etc., if you have a large collection or archive of photos to share. The service integrates Creative Commons licensing nicely, has good support for groups, and an easy to use search.
- How to Effectively use Flickr to Backup Your PhotographsDavid Appleyard31 Mar 2010
- Quick Tip: How to Export Images Directly from Lightroom to FlickrMatt Clegg23 Jul 2011
Pinterest offers quick image saving, sharing, and social networking on digital pinboards. Popular among designers, artists, and crafters.
- 10 Vision Board Ideas to Visualize & Reach Important Goals in 2022Sarah Joy22 Dec 2021
- How to Make a Mood Board Online (With Mood Board Design Ideas)Nona Blackman24 Jan 2021
The Take Away
Some of the pros and cons expressed above are a matter of personal preference. The point is: Instagram is not the only photo-sharing app out there. Don't settle. Find the platform that suits you practically, professionally, personally, and ethically. Pixelfed, Microblog, and Glass are just a few of the Instagram alternatives to choose from.
More Resources for Social Media Photographers
- How to Use Social Media for Small Business (Beginner's Guide)Brenda Barron25 Feb 2022
- 13 Best Social Media Scripts and Plugins to Streamline Your WorkflowJane Baker15 Mar 2022
- How to Choose the Best Social Media Presentation Templates in 2022Andrew Childress16 Dec 2021
- How to Take Raw Photos on the iPhone 13 With Apple ProRAW (Highest Quality)Romina Hendlin17 Jan 2022
- How to Quickly Spot Real and Fake News (With Critical Thinking)Alexis (Lexi) Rodrigo29 Mar 2022
- How to Shoot Raw Photos on Your Phone Using Lightroom Mobile's DNG CameraDuncan Clark02 Jun 2021