So, Instagram. The platform that made square photographs cool - or infamous. The one that spread the whole photo-sharing phenomenon across the world, the filters, just everything. The social media platform for photographers and image creators is no longer a photo-sharing platform. That's right. Instagram officially announced that they are no longer a photo-sharing space. Which is shocking to hear out loud. We've known this is coming for a long time. The algorithm has been pushing video, reels and stories for a while now but to hear a company specifically announce that they are no longer intended for what they started as is strange.
But, what does this mean for photographers and adventurers?
Now that the ubiquitous photo-sharing platform is moving away from being made for image sharing, what can we do? Is Instagram still worth devoting time to? And what should we be sharing on the platform with the changes that are happening?
Let's start with the main question, is Instagram still worth devoting time to?
If you have an audience on the platform or love using Instagram, don't stop using it. Instagram still has over 500 million daily active users and a ton of excellent content going out. But, if you haven't made a name for yourself on there yet as a photographer, should you devote time to it? Possibly, it depends on how you are planning on using Instagram today.
If you are looking for somewhere to share photos, I wouldn't bother with Instagram today. That's not what the platform is anymore and hasn't been for a while.
But, it still has its uses today. So what should we be using Instagram for now?
Let's start with what Instagram was actually good for in the first place, beyond sharing photos. And that's connecting with other people, in particular other creatives. Because of the sheer number of people on the platform, Instagram is still one of the best ways to find collaborations, models to work with, people to get a coffee with, just really a fantastic way to connect with other people. And that's really what made Instagram so powerful from the beginning. It fostered community building and encouraged people to be social - funny that on a social media platform.
Today that is still one of the most powerful uses for Instagram. There are so many ways you can find new people to connect with. By style, genre, area, photography type, creative type. Just anything, really. Whatever you are into, you can probably find someone else doing that as well. So, use the platform as a way to say hey (and you can do that with me if you're interested!)
But, let's say you still want to share things. Oh, the audacity of you, still wanting to create. I'm smiling here and joking around, just sayin' because we can't hear facial expressions. But, seriously. Instagram is still a great place to post content that you are making. It just may not be photo content anymore. It's going to become more photo-adjacent.
So, let's start with the oldest major add-on to Instagram, stories. Stories were introduced a few years ago to combat the rise of Snapchat. And it's become the primary way people absorb content on the platform. There are 500 million daily Instagram Stories users (people watching and creating stories). This makes this type of content incredibly powerful. And the best part about it is that making it is pretty easy, especially for travel and adventure photographers. We are on the road constantly and have unique places and stories to share.
Now, there are a few camps of people who use Instagram Stories. Firstly, there are the daily updates. These are people like adventure photographer Chris Burkard who put out updates about what they are up to that day. Doing daily updates doesn't mean random content. Their stories don't follow typical story arcs but are instead intended to give you a specific glimpse into that person's life. These are well-thought-out pieces of content that help to build up an idea of who the poster is. For example, Chris Burkard frequently posts about his daily bike commute, his llamas, the behind-the-scenes in his studio, his planning process for trips, shout-outs, and his family. These stories build up our idea of Chris as an adventurous person who's out doing amazing things in the outdoors, who cares about the environment, and has a deep love for his family (including the llamas.) The daily updates are focused on Chris himself and connect you with specific attributes about his life that relate you to him. These daily updates are a fantastic way for creatives to tell the story of what we are up to. Frequently we are in and out of so many locations; following one specific story arc can actually be an arduous task (especially if we are shooting at the same time). The daily update gets you around the need for a story arc and instead turns your life into the story and you into the main character.
Now, the other frequent use of stories is to tell a story arc. This is done frequently by travel brands who are trying to get you to visit a location. They typically focus each day on telling the story of one place, one business, or one person. These are well-thought-out and storyboarded plans that involve shooting specific pieces of content to tell each part of the story.
Let's take visiting Banff, for example. Suppose a travel brand told the story of a day in Banff. In that case, they'd probably start with a shot of them driving down the highway past a sign that says Banff or with an iconic view from the drive, like Cascade Mountain towering over the highway. They'd put some text or describe why you should care about this trip. They'd then show themselves in a few iconic locations around town that would interest their audience. So it could be showing themselves shopping on Banff Ave., relaxing at the hot springs, or going exploring at Vermilion Lakes or Bow Falls, they'd then show some meal with a fantastic view (like a rooftop patio with a view of Mount Rundle), and then finish with an epic experience like riding the Gondola up Sulphur Mountain at sunset, sitting lakeside with mountains all around them to finish it off. And that would be their story. They want to take you on a journey with them through their day, showing specific interest points that complete a whole story arc. And show you how amazing they are as well as the location.
These updates focus on telling the story of someone else or of your experience in a place. You will sometimes be in front of the camera, but you'll spend more time focusing on everything around you rather than you. While they are more upfront work than daily updates (more planning involved to get the right shots), they involve less upkeep because you don't need to create and post content as you are doing things. You just need to plan when and where you are shooting. With good planning, you could film four or five stories in one day pretty easily and then drip that content out over time.
The final way people are using stories is for educational purposes. In photography, this comes a lot in the form of before and afters of images. Just show what an image looked like before you edited it, take a timelapse of your editing process, show the after, and then have them side by side in the story. That's a 4 board story, which is plenty for engagement on Instagram. You can even add a fifth panel to encourage someone to buy prints or your educational content (like Lightroom presets).
So, that's Instagram Stories, and they are the best way to create engagement on Instagram right now.
But, the app is also pushing a few other forms of content creation that will help you engage with your audience. This includes the one created specifically to combat TikTok, Reels.
Reels have exploded thanks to TikTok. These are short-form video content that is meant to be quickly consumed and easily digested by your audience. And, unlike stories that disappear after 24 hours, Reels stay in your feed permanently. For photographers, educational and behind-the-scenes content are doing incredibly well in reels form. Short-form educational tips - like one tip on how to improve your food photography instantly - rack up thousands of views. People love these because they are actionable, succinct, and feel like they will make a difference in their day-to-day lives. You want to make sure the educational content can be explained with little to no talking and mostly through examples. And that people can replicate it easily themselves (they don't need a crazy amount of lights or to invest in a ton of new gear). People want something they can implement right away. One great example of this is a wedding photographer who gives tips on how to talk to clients. These take a typical question, objection, or situation that you will experience when dealing with clients and how to respond. These do great because they are actionable, educational, and typically pretty funny. And for you, they are easy to film. You can create a list of things like this, sit in a few different places around your house or neighbourhood answering these questions and knock out 15 or 20 of these videos in one sitting because they involve nothing beyond your phone and a set of headphones with a mic built-in (for better audio).
The other type of reels doing incredibly well for photographers is behind-the-scenes stuff. This shows off your process in editing or quick snapshots of you in the studio or in the field working. The shots from the field are compelling right now, as people are loving seeing the scenery mixed with how photographers and videographers create the art they do. People love these because they can glimpse into the life of some of their favourite creators, and they can put themselves into that person's shoes and 'experience' the scene for themselves.
These are two of the best ways to use reels as a photographer right now. People love this content and are drawn to connect with it.
Finally, video. Instagram still has IGTV, and this is a great place to post longer-form video content (we're talking a couple of minutes to hours). The same type of content ideas applies here. Things that show off who you are as a person, your creative process, and your education. IGTV isn't getting as much engagement as Reels or Stories, but it is a great palace to post longer videos and deep dives. Think YouTube for Instagram. That's what IGTV is.
Alright, let's quickly address the elephant here. You'll notice I didn't talk about photos. As we talked about off the top, Instagram has declared it is no longer a photo-sharing platform. And pictures shared on their own in your feed do not perform well versus the other types of content. So, they shouldn't be the main focus of your Instagram strategy anymore.
In the end, though, as much as creating good content for Instagram is essential. What's really important is the social aspect behind social media. You want to talk to other people, send messages, respond to comments, and create a community. That's what makes a platform with over 1 billion monthly active users so powerful. The opportunities to connect.
So, yes, Instagram is no longer a photo-sharing platform. But that doesn't mean it's dead for photographers, far from it. It means we can focus on creating valuable content around what we do behind the scenes and share our knowledge. And people will love it. It also means that we have a lot of educational content to find and discover on the platform.
So, get out there and make something new. Show off how you make the images you do, or get onto Instagram and start finding valuable educational content. There is a ton we can still do with this platform.
You can follow along with Robert’s adventures on Instagram @RobertMasseyPhotography.