There was a time in my not too distant past when I was more preoccupied with increasing my following on Instagram than I was actually making great photographs.
One particular member of a Facebook group that I was a part of created a thread stating that they were stuck on 15.9K followers, and wanted to know what they could do to increase that to 16K and beyond.
At the time I remember thinking that 15.9K followers was a pretty reasonable following. I mean, there is a lot to work with there. Right?
It would seem that increasing their following to 16K would not seem to provide any immediate, substantial benefit. The same might be argued for 20 or even 30K followers.
Why, then, are some obsessed with growing their following?
Like it or not, Instagram is a numbers game. 300 likes. 30 hashtags. 5 times a week. Follow 3, unfollow 1. Comment 3 times.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of people on Instagram who are running legitimate businesses who rely on numbers to track reach, sales, and other business type stuff.
For others, it is not as straightforward.
They’re playing a numbers game, which can be dangerous when their self-worth becomes proportional to the number of follows or likes they receive.
And while that may seem a trifle dramatic, it really is what it boils down to.
The forest for the trees
Many are stuck in an endless loop of bagging milestones. 1,000 followers, then 2,000, 3,000 and so forth.
But each ‘milestone’ is a false peak.
Standing triumphantly at the summit of 3,000 followers, you’ve barely had enough time to wipe the sweat from your brow when you see Joe Bloggs dining at the 4,000 follower restaurant above you.
What’s worse, you want what he’s having, and you want it now.
Ultimately, you’re left scaling a mountain without a summit. Instead, you are subject to a series of hollow victories that promise much and deliver little.
The humble Instagrammer eventually becomes disheartened, and I don’t blame them. There’s only so long you can keep that hamster wheel turning.
The hike that began in such spirited fashion quickly turns into a trudge – head down, eyes fixed squarely at the ground.
Rarely do the eyes lift and look around to admire the view. To appreciate how much has already been won.
But I digress…
A picture of an egg currently has the record for the most amount of likes (~ 54.8M as of February 2021) on Instagram. This on the back of a campaign to beat the previous record of a picture of Kylie Jenner.
Yes, an egg. On a plain white background no less.
Now, is a photograph of the Sydney Opera House at sunset a better photo than a picture of Kylie Jenner?
Or is a powerful lightning bolt hitting a lonely tree a better photo than a picture of an egg on a plain white background?
It depends on who you ask, of course.
Photography is subjective, despite the numbers trying to convince you otherwise.
Photographers on Instagram
Some photographers use Instagram and get disillusioned when their work is improperly judged as poorly received.
This really breaks my heart, because it has the power to stop people in their creative tracks.
Indeed, I have no doubt that it has ended or severely hampered many a photographic career.
Here is how I think photographers should use Instagram:
- Post photographs that they adore and/or are keen to share with the world.
- Take pride in said photos, instead of worrying about the numbers.
- Continue to post their work, irrespective of how the work is received.
- Interact with people who like their photography and who share common goals and values with.
- Collaborate, communicate.
- Rinse and repeat.
Instagram is great for a lot of things. Namely, networking with like-minded individuals and introducing work to new audiences.
It’s often inspiring, uplifting, and has the power to further good causes.
But some are missing the point of the platform, originally created for people to share random moments of their day.
I doubt it was ever meant to be a popularity contest, as utopian as that notion may be in 2019.
The example of the egg clearly demonstrates that the system can be gamed, further cheapening the value of likes as something to hang your photographic hat on.
Likes, of course, are essentially worthless. It is great to see that Instagram is taking steps to make these vanity metrics less visible.
Instagram is not, I repeat not, a reflection of your worth as a photographer.
Do not let numbers dictate what level of joy and pride you are entitled to feel about your own photography.
Photography and photographers have flourished for close to a century without social media, and it is my hope that they will continue to do so for another century.