Using Instagram Differently (at least to the way I did)

A couple of months ago, in the nature of an experiment, I decided to make some changes to the way I used Instagram as a consumer. I realised I was scrolling through a whole load of rather samey content, I was seeing a lot of images from people I’d followed because I’d seen a photo I liked, but a lot of it was, just, when I put my hard nose on, repetative.

The first thing I did was, rather ruthlessly, prune the people I followed based on two criteria:

  1. Was it somebody I was ‘actually’ friends with, and so wanted to keep in touch with?
  2. Was it somebody whose work I enjoyed seeing, or more to the point, would I care if I stopped seeing their work?

The thing which surpised me after doing this was that I had pretty much pruned my list of people I was following by half: yep, half of the images I was scrolling through were from people I didn’t know and to which I was pretty indifferent. Immediately, I was having a much more enjoyable experience because I was only seeing people I cared about living their lives, or photos I was enjoying.

This then

The next thing I decided to do was to abandon reflexive liking – ‘scroll, that’s an okay photo, double-tap move on’. Because I realised that in most cases, if I liked it or not didn’t matter a damn. For the ‘group 1’ people of course I was doing it because they were going to see I had and think “oh, Andy liked my photo” (or I hope they do), but for most people it’s just part of ‘x number of people liked this photo’ and really, what does it matter? It’s no use to me because, unlike Flickr, I can’t easily just see all the photos I’ve liked. So now, apart from my actual friends, I only like an image I really like, something which catches my eye as especially striking.

That’s then cleared up ‘scroll space’ for me to discover new photographers with work I like, I’ve been using the adorama createnomatterwhat hashtag which is getting be new viewers and I’ve been going through every day and looking at their work (which was the idea behind the tag) and finding a number of photographers who pass my ‘do I want to see this stuff again’ test.

Overall, this has markedly improved my user enjoyment of Instagram,

Insta-Envy – not sure why I don’t have it.

I was watching the latest video by Amy Landino on Youtube, she’s all about efficiency and stuff – full disclosure because I’m going to tell her I’ve writtent this, I don’t watch all her videos all the way through because, well, I’m not really driven enough (sorry, Amy), but she is fun and has interesting stuff to say. So in the latest one she talks about Insta-Envy, which I think may be a new linguistic coinage. The idea that if scrolling though Instagram makes you feel envious rather than motivated, then stop doing it and be more careful about whom you pick to follow. It’s good advice. Instagram is famous as a giant highlight reel, full of people picking out (or setting up and photographing) the best moments of their lives to appear beautifully lit and post-processed for the enjoyment of their followers. Or sometimes to generate followers who can then, if not enjoy them, at least keep following and producing that all powerful thing…..ta da…engagement.

Ohhhkay Amy, I’m with you. But this led me to wonder something about Insta-Envy; why don’t I have it?

The thing is, I follow a number of folks on my Instagram accounts (yes, I have two), people who take photographs I like on one and people who take photographs of gardens I like on the other. I can lose time scrolling both of them which Amy would almost certainly, and correctly, tell me I could be using more profitably. But I never find myself envious in the sense that it upsets me or gets me down. Sure I wish I had that greenhouse, or a witch hazel like that, or could photograph in that location, or in that light. But never in the sense that I feel less happy with my own work or lose motivation. I mean I do feel unhappy with my own work, but I’d feel that without social networking to help me, every artist, photographer, musician, whatever feels unhappy with their own work, it’s the nature of the beast.

So I’ve been thinking about this, first off it’s not that I’m unusually self-confident and robust I’m sure. I think it’s down to three things, and one of them is pretty much in line with Amy’s idea of who you should follow. I follow people on Instagram because I enjoy their work. The thing which links everybody I follow on both my accounts is that I scroll through and think ‘great work on that photo’ and my choice of words here is important, it’s not the place, or the model or the other stuff, it’s the work. It’s the thought and effort which went into the image which impresses me. Some, ok much, of it is work on a level to which I just will never aspire, and I’m happy with that. Some sparks ideas of places or techniques I’d like to try out, or lets me (and this is one of the best bits) connect with other people because I like to make new online friends. The second is that I think as a photographer, I’m very aware of the fact that what I’m seeing is a crafted image. I know it’s not somebody living a wonderful life, I know it’s somebody who picked that window for the light, or that dress because it works with the colour palatte they wanted to achieve. I can tell a photo which didn’t just happen. The third thing I think is age, I come from before the Internet, and even before people had computers – heck when I was at school we didn’t even learn what a computer was and then when I left school I spent years in public-facing roles. I’ve met a lot of people, some of whom did live in lovely houses, and go on great foreign trips and the rest of it, but I also know they took their bins out, walked the dog and shouted at their kids. They had lovely cars, which broke down. They lived in lovely places and their neigbours were snobby gits. Deep down I know that nobody, but nobody actually lives the showreel life.

So, my suggestions for avoiding Insta-Envy, because well I’m allowed my brief excursion into being a self help and motivation guru am I not?

  • Follow people because you like their work, because their photos make you happy / impressed / inspired / whatever
  • As a photographer, you know that the camera never tells the whole truth
  • Be as old as dirt

I’ve decided that Snapchat is the worst thing for photography…like everrrrr

I’ve got a snapchat account, I don’t use it but I’ve got one because I like to experiment with all these things; I’ve got accounts on pretty much everything (apart from the Chinese social media platform WeChat which my son has so he’s beating me there). But I like to find out how these things work, some like the twin pillars of Empire Zuck I use a lot, some like Flickr I want to use more and some like Tumblr and Snapchat I hardly use at all. Putting this out there now before I get deluged with irate hate mail from Snapchat users, which actually would be nice because it suggests that real people rather than just bots read my blog, for what it’s for then I get snapchat. Somebody and their friends, at a party, quick photo, few filters, bit of text, all their mates see it. Job done. With the added bonus that the photo then disappears unless somebody screenshots it, and I understand it lets you know if somebody has? That last one is one of the great strengths of Snapchat for what it is…and the great curse for photographers.

Let’s face it, teenagers do things they really, really, really don’t want to come back and appear later in life, perhaps at a job interview. I know of one very successful woman with a great career who dimly remembers being patched up aged 18 by St John’s somebody later on than being in Trafalgar Square and new year and possibly before the copper explained she couldn’t sleep in the phone box. But at least there aren’t photos of this, genuine tangible evidence isn’t going to rear it’s ugly head now on somebody’s social networking. For things like passing out in Trafalgar Square Snapchat is definitely the way to go. Totes (down with the kids, me).

But that’s where I think it loses out in so many other situations, because you don’t have the photo. With all the others you take the photo, it’s saved on your phone, then you process and post it. If it’s no good then sure you can delete it from your phone afterwards, I’ve done post and delete loads of times, but the option is there. You take that photo with Snapchat and you can’t revisit it, you can’t look at it the following morning and say “hey, without the rabbit ears Auntie Flo would like a copy of that”, or “I don’t have any photos of me and friend x at event y”, or the organiser of the party realises they don’t have photos of something. With snapchat you’re condemned to the death of that image; it’s taken away choice and actually I think, no app should do that.

I know that it’s possible to take the photo, then put it via Snapchat later on, which would seem to me to be the best way to go as it gives you the best of both worlds. But in what I’m going to term ‘the snapchat moment’ who thinks that far ahead?

What makes me like your Instagram

I’m a big fan of Instagram, I follow a lot of people and I’ve been thinking about what makes me follow somebody, and then keep following them. The following comments are my thoughts, they will not allow you to overcome ‘The Algorithm’ or ‘get 5 million new followers in 10 minutes’ or any other such things. I don’t even know if anybody else uses the following criteria. But hey, citizen journalism and all that, it’s my blog and I can express my views on it 🙂

First off, no filters. Yes, I mean it, I can unsubscribe from somebody who takes a nice photo of themselves or somebody else and then sticks a dog tongue or rabbit ears on faster than shit slides off a shovel.

If I’m following you because your’e my friend then yes, I love to see what you and your family are doing, I love to see the antics of your cat, and what you did on your holidays. Go for it. But if I’m following you because of your content, or because of your photography, then frankly, sorry, I’m not that interested. Maybe run two accounts, one for ‘your life’ your friends can enjoy and one for ‘your content’ (all the remaining things refer to content channels…)

For me, I don’t care if you don’t post every day, or even every week, I’d rather you posted when you’ve got a great photo of whatever it is to post. Quality for me trumps quantity, every single time…

Oh, and related to that, I’m not a fan if essentially you post the same photo every time. You know, the photo which catches my eye is the one of you in the vintage dress in front of your back door, you’ve got a vintage dress channel, great I like those, then I look at your feed and all of them are you, in the same pose, in front of the same door. Live it up, do different things around the garden, show off those vintage dresses while drinking tea on the patio, while pruning the roses, while feeding the fish, keep the theme but make very photo that bit different, and always a great photo.

The next one is something which always makes me head for the unsubscribe button, the one where somebody takes two almost identical photos of themselves and puts then in one frame (it’s usually related to the above single-location issue). There’s a better solution…learn to compose for the square frame. Thats’ where the different locations come in handy, you’ve got more to work with.

Well, that’s what affects my subscription choices anyway 🙂

Why are ‘photographers you should know’ always on Instagram

Quite often on Youtube, and I do watch a lot of Youtube photography videos, you get a video called something like ‘5 Photographers You Should Know’, or something along those lines, and they’re always interesting to watch. However one thing I do find myself thinking is that these videos, generally by younger photographers with social media accounts tend to feature other younger photographers with social media accounts. Okay, let’s be clear on this one, there is nothing wrong with being a younger photographer or with having a social media account, both of them are admirable things; I’m not a younger photographer but I do have a social media account so I’m ticking a 50% of the boxes myself. But over the decades there have been many, many great photographers who date from before the time when social media accounts even were an idea, let along an actual thing. Why aren’t they featuring in these videos, why aren’t the 20 somethings suggesting that it’s really good to look at Adams, or Bailey, or Duffy, or Avedon; even Rankin seems to have slipped off the lists. I think it’s down to a simple thing: they’re in print.

I’m not buying into the idea that young people don’t read, that’s reactionary rubbish which too many old fogeys like to peddle, usually I suspect because they don’t actually understand the 21st century and like to be sniffy about things like social media. But what I am saying is that there is a tendency, and I can’t prove this, for younger people to not go looking for things outside their preferred media. Conversely, I think there is a tendency sometimes for older people to do the same, that dividing river has steep banks on both sides (wow, that’s an impressively pretentious metaphor). I’m lucky, and it is luck, to work in a school so I’m surrounded by teenagers, which really keeps your brain young I can tell you. We offer digital photography as an exam subject and lots of kids take it. The subject head has made a reasonable investment in nice books over the past few years, and I do like a browse on the office shelf and borrow a couple over the holidays. Well we got to the end of the Christmas break and I said on our return that I was sorry but I hadn’t got her Ansel Adams book back, to which she replied “hang onto it for as long as you like, I can’t get the kids to even open them”.

The course requires them to produce work ‘in the style of’ a photographer of their choice, and I found myself the other day looking at the exam work and thinking that if that were me I’d be getting out the plain white background and trying to do portraits in the style of Bailey (who I admit is my photographic hero), and then realised they’d never have heard of Bailey, or probably seen his work. Or Avedon’s “American West”, or Edward Weston and his peppers; if I could photograph vegetables like that I’d be totally a happy bunny. They’re not crossing the divide, they’re not seeing these photographers. Don’t blame the teachers, they can show them the work but they’re not engaging with it. There’s no colour, no filters, no effects and no sense that in 30 seconds you can flick off it and forget it existed.

None of them are going to get one of their classmates to kneel on the floor with a stuffed squirrel, ever.

Influencers and Brand Builders: not the Instagram for which we signed up

Bit of a polemic this post, and I’m not taking a pop at anybody in particular here, just in general. I also accept that there is no way this genie is going back in, because too many people now depend on rubbing this particular bottle.

Instagram used to be about sharing photos you’d taken which you thought other people might like to see, and that was fun; that was a social network. Then, from somewhere two new trends appeared. The first was that visual creatives found that Instagram was the way to get noticed (and photo editors decided that it was a great way to find photographers, models, etc without all that sitting down with people and taking about their portfolios). The second was the appearance of a strange new entity called the Social Media Influencer, which as far as anybody can make out means people who get paid or get given free stuff in exchange for plugging it on their social media channels. Eva Wiseman in The Guardian wrote a rather good piece taking apart the whole ‘influencer’ idea a while back. All of a sudden Instagram became business critical for some, and the entire business model for others. There were now channels on Youtube (which used to be for people to share bits of video) devoted to building your brand on social media. Blogs appeared exhorting us to do things like ‘post daily if not more often’ because that was what our brand audience supposedly wanted, and insisting that you remember to link you various bits of social media to ensure that as many people saw them as possible. Advice on getting five thousand new followers in a week appeared, and keyword tagging became a dark art akin to voodoo; there are probably social media tagging consultants out there, I haven’t looked as I worry I’d be too depressed by what I’d find. All of a sudden Instagram became a job, and you were told by various experts that if you weren’t treating it like a job you were doing it wrong. All of a sudden we were supposed to stop being people who took photos and wanted to share them with people: we were now supposed to be A Brand.

There is always an endless amount of railing about The Algorithm. I feel it needs capital letters because it’s always spoken of as though it’s some strange dark hearted mythical beast controlling everything from it’s lair: kind of like Cesare Borgia crossed with The Gruffalo. The complaint is that changes to The Algorithm decrease your engagement. Why by the way is that ‘a thing’, is it just that saying ‘the number of likes I get is smaller’ sort of sounds a bit narcissistic while discussing your engagement sounds like you’re a powerful professional presence doing serious things? A part of me thinks that actually the reason there is The Algorithm is that the tonnage of posts with which you’d be faced every day, if you followed the advice to follow everybody and every hashtag you can think of, would be almost unworkable. Of course, if you only follow a few folks you like, rather than follow the advice to follow everybody in the hope of increasing your engagement you’re not going to be affected. Generally I see most of my favourite user’s posts all the time. If you did everything you were supposed to do, posting daily, replying to all the comments (not because that’s polite but because The Algorithm is supposed to like it), checking your statistics and worrying about your engagement it would take all the fun out of it. I tried taking this attitude to blogging for a while and you know what? I hated it. I lost any enthusiasm for writing as I planned my posts and put things on twitter and linked like crazy. I didn’t write for months afterwards.

My strategy is to ignore all the advice and just use this, easy to follow, process: if I take a photo I like, and I think other people will like, I post it. Sometimes I post daily, sometimes I don’t post for weeks. I follow people who post photos I like, regardless of it they follow me back or not. I have a set of tags I use for my images which I know will put my photos in front of people who might enjoy them. I have, usually, somewhere between 100 and 120 followers on each of my channels at any one time and my engagement sucks. The people I interact with and I have a good time

Works for me.

Instagram, why likes and followers shouldn’t really matter for creative people

At almost the same time I published this, a brilliant post was published on fstoppers by Danette Chappell on broadly the same topic. It is well worth reading hers!

Photography and the Addiction to Compliments…

Algorithm changes, Instagram feeds are full of concern over them, for good reason because any change to the algorithm the software uses to decide what photographs you’re going to get handed in your feed is going to affect the number of views other people get. If the number of followers you have, and the number of likes each image gets, then you may well be adversely affected.

My contention is that these are metrics which don’t really matter a damn for most photographers, in fact I don’t think they should matter a damn for anybody.

Now that’s not say they’re not nice, I like getting a notification that somebody has liked one of my images as much as the next person, it’s very gratifying. But that’s how social networking technology works, on many levels. Apparently it has the same effect on your brain as eating chocolate, and we all know what that’s like!  It’s what keeps people checking their Facebook all the time to see if somebody has liked their posts, it’s addictive (and the jury is out about whether literally or metaphorically). This article covers it quite well.

But really, that’s not the point for creatives, or shouldn’t be. We shouldn’t be focussing on the likes and the follows; though we should be really interested in the comments if they’re giving us feedback on what the person liked or disliked. The point of being a creative is to produce imaginative, arresting, engaging work. It’s to produce an image which we’re proud of. It’s to produce art. It’s to produce something which we post because we’re pleased with it and want to share it with people, not to post something because lots of people might like it. If you’re hoping to get some work off the back of your Instagram feed, then quality work is even more important (and then making sure you tag and promote your stuff) because a potential client is going to look at your feed and decided if your work is good enough, not based on how many likes it has or how many followers you have.

The point is to produce a feed which says: “I’m a creative who does quality work” and to be comfortable in that regardless of how many people blip their thumb on that little heart symbol.