Instagram is and has been an awesome platform for sharing photos. I have been putting my work on there and engaging with the community of other landscape photographers on there for a couple years now. The issue is that it isn't what it once was and it is changing landscape photography in a negative way that I don’t know to be balanced out.
"The Golden Years":
This photo app started out as a small community of smartphone photographers who put fun filters on images. It was extremely authentic and transparent. The attention was growing and everything was exciting to see developing. These early years turned into something more though, as people made their livelihood from posting on the app.
As recent as 2016 things on Instagram were still chronological with people focused on engaging with the communities they had built up. Quality work tended to gather more attention organically. That started to change, though, as the algorithms changed and became more important. This spouted pods, post notifications, and paid promotion accounts. The spark of what Instagram is today was struck.
Impacts to Photography:
We initially saw the app giving us the opportunity to share, grow and create with more eyes on our work than ever. The access to quality work and learning from like minded people about different techniques was incredible! We were also able to share the most beautiful places on earth with others and create more art of these places showing our appreciation. These positives don’t stand alone, though, and unfortunately it is creating more problems that stem from the problems it initially solved.
It used to be difficult to get work noticed among people other than landscape photographers. Then Instagram made it easy to put quality work out into the world and have it be seen hundreds of times. While this lasted for a while, we have seen a lot of good work just be ‘comp stomped’ (aka: the same thing in photography repeated by someone else) over and over again till it becomes cliché.
Think about feet hanging off cliffs, people in a red jacket, head torches lighting the milky way, or images of any other place that became trendy on the platform for a hot minute. Is the app killing originality? More and more of the same seems to keep pumping through the feeds because people saw it, liked it, and then copied it. It is getting more and more difficult to find quality creative works that truly push the art forward.
Speaking of locations, there are the ones made famous by a single composition that everyone wants to repeat. There are plenty of places that used to be quiet and you could have to yourself. This is a topic I have covered before, but specifically Instagram may be a partial contributing factor to the increase in popularity of certain national parks. Over the last eight years there has been a fairly consistent increase in traffic to the most popular outdoor attractions on Instagram!
That sounds like a good thing, and for the most part it is. People getting out and experiencing nature can be a good thing. However, this is changing the landscapes from a social, ecological, and business perspective. There are more people than ever making it difficult to be alone in nature like you once could. The environment that we are exploring is being overrun and might not be able to handle the traffic to it which either destroys it or damages its beauty. Ropes are put up where they weren’t before, admission tickets or passes become a necessary cost, and parts of nature are cut down to increase the size of parking lots.
So, is it worth it? Does Instagram’s evils justify the benefits of continuing to use the app? Those are questions that you will have to answer for yourself. I won't tell you how to be yourself. I have decided to continue using it for now. I still enjoy the small group of photographers I follow and interacting with their work. It can still be inspiring to see images on the platform, but it is important to constantly be self-aware and reevaluate what it is worth to you. I know I am!