I have a strong love/hate relationship with Instagram.
And I'm not just talking about hashtags, filters and square crops. In fact, that last one has been fixed in a recent update.
What I am talking about is what hasn't, and perhaps can't, be fixed; a thirst for "likes" and "followers". The need for friends and strangers alike to turn a little love heart underneath your photo red, and add their digit to the overall amount of "likes" a photo has got. Or for them to become a "follower" and become a number at the top of your Instagram page.
That is what I really hate about Instagram. Indeed, the need for "likes" is what many of us dislike about all social media.
What hasn't been fixed is that thirst for "likes" and "followers".
With that being said, sometimes I love Instagram.
First and foremost, Instagram is a platform for my photography. I can post photos that I've made and let other people (hopefully) enjoy them too. This means I have less photos sitting (im)patiently on my hard drive and more photos out in the public arena. This has given me a bit more purpose to taking and editing images which in turn means I've gone out to shoot a bit more.
Another thing I like about Instagram is the positivity shown by the community. I don't think I've seen a negative comment on anyone's photos (although the accounts of public figures are another matter). Instead the comments are often encouraging. It's nice when someone tells me a shot I took is nice or if they put a happy emoticon underneath the picture. Admittedly, this doesn't happen too often, but it is nice when it does. The cynic in me says that some people only say nice things so that I'll check out their page, but I've has a couple of good conversations with people who have commented on my images; one guy, seeing that we were in London, recommended a cafe for us to go to.
The second reason I #instagram, is for #inspiration. This is a bit of a double edged sword since some photos inspire both creativity and jealousy. Or utter and total despair. There are some extremely talented photographers out there amassing thousands of likes and "followers" because their photos are brilliant while I'm sitting here, wallowing in my 155 "followers" (probably 152 by the time you read this, because I didn't follow those last couple of people back). Just like with the comments, I sometimes feel that people only "follow" me so that I'll feel like I should follow them back.
Some photos inspire both creativity and jealousy in me. Or utter and total despair.
After a certain amount of thought, I've decided to only "follow" those people I know (AKA "friends"), those who I follow outside of Instagram (e.g. Justin Bieber✵, other musicians, football players and clubs), and those talented people whose images I enjoy looking at and drawing inspiration from. What I'm trying to say is that I won't follow your page if its full of selfies and poorly lit/composed shots (no offence) unless you're my friend or Justin Bieber. Even if you follow me. Even if you "like" ten of my photos in twenty seconds (you obviously haven't bothered to look at them longer than it took to double tap✵✵). Even if you're getting more "likes" than me. The "like" factor doesn't necessarily mean your photos are better than mine.
The fact is, and I hope this doesn't sound overly arrogant (by which I mean it does so please forgive me), I don't get many likes because not many people see my photos. It's true, and I've got proof. Last year @flightccentreau, a national company with 72,000+ followers on Instagram, reposted one of my images with a horrible filter (see below). That repost has reached over a thousand likes while the original has about 40. Here's what it looked like an hour after they shared it...
Which leads me to explain why I use the thing that I hate: the hashtag.
I know. Hashtag. It's such a dirt word, isn't it?
Basically, I use hashtags on all of my photo uploads so that more people will see them. Given that I've got a limited number of followers, people are only going to see (and maybe "like") images that have a word or a phrase attached to them. That basically sums up the role of the hashtag: to tag similar images together so that people can view them together. So you see, if I tag an image with #fujixclub, then everyone who clicks on that hashtag has a chance to see the photo. So people who have Fujifilm cameras like I do have a chance to find other fellow users. This is pretty handy and I've found that most people I follow are Fuji users.
Another advantage to using hashtags is in order to give bigger pages especially ones that rely on other people's content, permission to repost them. Such was the case with Flight Centre and I. Unfortunately, the sharing of my photo on a bigger stage didn't funnel down into more exposure for me and my photos. So that was disappointing.
A hashtag I use a lot is the one that says I used VSCO Cam to edit the image. The main reason for this is that lots of people use their hashtag and therefore potentially lots of people see my #vscocam photos. This is a problem. Sometimes I don't want to make my photos look "better" by editing them in an advanced program like Lightroom. Instead, I'm tempted to stick a VSCO Cam filter on them so that I can legitimately use the hashtag, have more people see it and get more "likes".
That temptation reminds me of the initial problem I was talking about: the need for people to "like" my photos.
Of course, the filters that I often use are another problem I have with Instagram. Sometimes filters look horrible (see the Kelpie picture). Other times, they can look quite good and it is true that in the original Kelpies shot I did use a filter (officially a preset, like an advanced filter). To me it looks good and adds to the photo more than making it conform to a battered Polaroid look, or coffee-stained image (is that what Instagram filters are based on?).
While my dislike of coffee-stain filters is unlikely to change, it is fair to say that some opinions change over time. In fact, after writing the first draft for this post sometime last year, I've deleted a fair chunk of it that I don't necessarily agree with. Originally I went off on a little rant about style VS substance; the idea that most people choose aesthetics over posting something actually meaningful.
Looking back at my last dozen or so photos I cannot tell whether my photos have strayed into the style category or the substance category. Although a sunset looks to be more style than substance, this is not necessarily the case. The above two photographs are both stylistic, but one tells of when I climbed that hill, and the other of going to City Beach.
That there is the key purpose of Instagram, and indeed the purpose of the photograph; to tell a story. Though we so often get distracted by it, the point isn't to get "likes" and "followers".
Instead, I should want to tell a story through a beautiful (or not) photograph rather than receive praise. And if the story is worth telling, then perhaps the rest shall follow.
✵✵You often double tap to "like" images on Instagram.