Instagram: Bane or Blessing for the modern photographer?
Ah, Instagram. How much do I love, I mean hate, I mean tolerate thee! Let me count the ways. I'm definitely a late comer to Instagram. I tried it once a couple years ago, but quickly left it behind, finding the limitations quite annoying. I didn't like that all the photos had to be square. I didn't like that I could only see the photos on a tiny smartphone screen. And I didn't like that much of what was shared on the network seemed useless for anyone who had been on the planet for more than 15 years. My teenage son put it all in perspective for me. He said, "Facebook is for older people. My friends are all on Instagram."
But something happened. In a brilliant marketing move, retailers began paying attention to that important demographic - teens - and started developing hip Instagram profiles to attract the young with their incessant desire for spending their parents' money on everything from sneakers to T-Shirts. And once Facebook purchased Instagram, and created a way to build an instant following by pulling Facebook friends into Instagram, what was once a niche social network for teens became the hippest social network.
Over time, a few things have certainly changed about Instagram. You can now view the posts in a regular desktop web browser. However, you must still post from your smartphone or from some special web plugins for the desktop browser. More importantly, the Instagram demographic has expanded. An August 2014 Business Insider article (http://www.businessinsider.com/instagram-demographics-2013-12) reported, based on information from Facebook/Instagram, that 90% of Instagram’s 150 million users are under the age of 35. Gulp! That makes me a statistical outlier. But what’s interesting is that the majority of the users (number unspecified) are between the age of 18-35, with roughly 68% being female.
What does this mean for me as a photographer? If we are to believe the numbers, it’s an ideal social network for me to reach clients. And in reality, a few clients have seen work I’ve posted on Instagram and have made contact. It’s not remotely as much as Facebook. But I’ve noticed it is becoming more active. And the rate of increase of those who choose to follow me Instagram is higher than on my Facebook page or my personal Facebook profile.
The decision to begin using Instagram came with its share of frustrations. I didn’t want to always crop my images to make them square. My early efforts were an embarrassment to say the least. I posted a few partial decapitations, some leg amputations, and other less than attractive cropped images. Then I stumbled onto a few smartphone apps (sample images here) that created a border around the image to fill the square crop, without removing parts of the original image. And when possible, I began using Photoshop to create square crops and filling in the spaces with content aware fill.
Today, I post images primarily on three networks: Facebook, Google+, and of course, Instagram. I’ve grown to appreciate Instagram’s constraints as well as its possibilities. I don’t know that I’m totally at ease with it, but I do understand that as a photographer, I must embrace all avenues for marketing my work and touching base with clients. In fact, I discovered that some clients were beating me to the punch by posting behind the scenes shots and proof images they often acquired through screen captures of my proof galleries, and posting them to Instagram. Now, I often provide them with “Instagram ready” images. They love it, and I’ve learned to live with it.
What has been your experience with Instagram?
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