Instagram is a poor platform for photographers, says Nigel Atherton. It’s about time we had something better
There is a clear need for some kind of online portal which serves as a visual Yellow Pages for every photographer in the world, but why oh why does it have to be Instagram? It is perfectly fine when used for its original purpose: sharing photos shot on your phone, via your phone, but as a platform for photographers it leaves a lot to be desired.
But, why is Instagram bad?
Instagram was engineered from the ground up to discourage serious photographers, using proper cameras and computers. It pretty much forces you to use your phone to post your work, and I’ve always resented having to struggle with my tiny iPhone screen and keyboard when I have my desktop Mac and 27-inch monitor sitting right in front of me. It’s like owning an expensive carbon fibre road bike but being forced to ride a child’s tricycle. Belatedly and reluctantly a desktop workaround was introduced last year but it’s still a half-hearted affair offering a poor user experience.
Secondly, forget posting portrait format images from your camera because Instagram can’t display images in the 3:2 aspect ratio that is used by over 90% of all interchangeable lens cameras. You either have to crop it to 4:5, which ruins many pictures, or faff around adding borders to the sides.
Your posts appear chronologically – unless you know about the ‘Guides’ feature or the new option to ‘Pin’ just three images to the top of your feed there is effectively no curation available. If you want separate albums or a cohesive portfolio of say, landscapes, portraits and travel work without creating a mess of your grid your best option is to create separate accounts, and list them in your profile text or by using Linktree – one of many third-party apps designed to overcome Instagram’s shortcomings. (The fact there are so many apps out there designed to provide workarounds for things that the Instagram app won’t let you do is further proof that the platform isn’t fit for purpose.)
As a user viewing the work of others, Instagram is less annoying. However, unless you change it manually on the home page every time you enter the app (to ‘Following’ or ‘Favourites’) your feed still only shows you the posts that Instagram wants you to see, based on its everchanging algorithms (in between machine-gunning you with ads) and the images themselves are, of course, terrible quality.
The latest algorithm update means the platform is also favouring predominantly Reels, short video content surfaced in response to TikTok’s popularity; instead of photography content we actually want to see from friends, family, other photographers and accounts under a certain following.
Petitions have even started to get Instagram back to its roots. The Make Instagram Instagram Again Campaign started by Tati Bruening, is calling for Instagram to bring back chronological timelines, reinstate an algorithm that favours photos and listen to its creators instead of trying to be like video-focused TikTok and other platforms.
For some people, the biggest reason to dislike Instagram is not how awkward it is to use, but the dubious behaviour of its owner. Meta is hell-bent on mining every bit of data it can get on its users and their browsing habits to sell on to the highest bidder, and is doing almost nothing to counter the many social ills that its platforms are responsible for contributing to.
So do I use Instagram myself? Of course I do. I also use it daily to view the work of other photographers, for which it has no equal, because the simple fact is that pretty much every photographer in the world is on here. Even the dead ones. Whether you’re looking for pictures of puddles, poodles or paddle-steamers, Instagram’s hash tagging makes it easy to find them, easily. And if you want the world to be able to find you then you absolutely have to be on Instagram.
I just wish that the world had chosen a different platform. Flickr was much better than Instagram before Yahoo ruined it. It still is in some ways, but it just doesn’t have the reach. How many of your friends and family are on Flickr? The reality is that there is no serious challenger to Instagram for stills photography right now, although the threat posed by TikTok means that Instagram is now turning itself into a video platform. So who knows for how much longer stills photographers will continue to support it before something better comes along?
The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of Amateur Photographer magazine or Kelsey Media Limited. If you have an opinion you’d like to share on this topic, or any other photography related subject, email: email@example.com