Do it for the gram: My love-hate relationship with Instagram

When Instagram first came on the scene back in 2010, I wasn't really into it. The avalanche of selfies and food pics just wasn't my thing (still isn't, really). Now that I've found a love for photography, I see Instagram as an opportunity for a great community - photographers of all experience levels sharing the images they've created, the moments they've captured, encouraging everyone to get out and shoot, becoming better...together.

In part, this has been my experience. I follow several Instagrammers who are sharing some amazing images.

A few have massive followings (in the millions) and are doing work with brands that most people would recognize, while others are probably sharing their images simply because they love what they do. Either way, all of them have affected me: challenging me to travel and explore more, to hone my editing skills, and to become a better photographer over all.

But there's a not-so-awesome side to Instagram as well (knew that was coming from the title? Extra points for you!).

In 2015 I bought a Canon 5D Mark 3. I felt like I had a growing passion for photography so I wanted to invest in that. It was at that point that I started to look at Instagram more seriously (well, as serious as one can take a social network).

These (see below) are some of the first Instagram posts I shared that were taken with my Canon 5D3. Trust me when I say I deleted a lot of what I shot back then, and I still do. #AlwaysLearning

The Yellowbelly at the corner of George Street in downtown St. John's.

A post shared by Matt Howlett (@newfoundnomad) on

One of the better views from #lighthouse park in #westvancouver

A post shared by Matt Howlett (@newfoundnomad) on

I put thought and effort into what I was doing, because I really cared:

  • I took A LOT of photos (most of which were crap)
  • I read blogs and that shared photography and Instagram tips and how-to's
  • I was vicious with my own work - deleting most of what I shot, I kept and edited only the better images (unless they were simple travel photos...everybody needs a few selfies that prove you went there, did that, etc. 😬)

I cared about sharing content that people would find interesting and inspiring. I wanted to become a better photographer, and I was hopeful about opportunities that could come from my new passion.

It was in early 2017 that I started to become a little cynical with the gram. I began using a few apps that gave me a bit more insight into how other users were engaging (or not) with what I shared. I noticed two surprising and disappointing trends:

  1. Users who liked and/or commented on a post I shared would delete their like/comment if I didn't like/comment on a photo they had shared.
  2. Users would follow me only to see if I would follow them back. If I honestly liked their work, I would follow them back, only to find out that they would unfollow me shortly after (this one hits me right in the feels...the "I'm disappointed with humanity" feels).

"Seriously!?", I thought to myself. "What is the deal with these people? Are they really so focused on growing their following that they would do just about anything to make that happen?"

Initially, I saw Instagram as a creative community built for sharing moments and inspiring others. Now, it looks like it could be just another business tool. Far too many users are doing whatever it takes to grow their following, simply because they want to take advantage of the marketing/advertising opportunities. I've read posts on apps that are built for the sole purpose of getting fake followers for you, or automating the interaction process (bots will like and comment on the posts of others, in the hopes that those users will interact with your content, or follow you).

Please tell me you can see how this sucks some of the awesomeness out of Instagram. As much as I enjoy the connectivity that Facebook has brought to the world, Instagram took a turn for the worst, in my humble opinion, when they sold what they had built to the social media powerhouse (and I haven't even mentioned how they changed the Instagram stream from a natural timeline to an algorithmic-based stream).

Bottom-line: It's just a social media network, so it isn't the end of the world. I will probably continue to use it, for now at least. I do enjoy seeing what photographers and travellers from around the world are posting, and I enjoy sharing my own content as well. But I really hope that what I've described is more of an outlier, rather than the norm for Instagram users. Either way, the main hope is that we - people who should be living the majority of our lives offline - can stay focused on being and doing good, rather than selfishly looking for only personal gain.

Any fellow Instagrammers feel my pain? What has been your challenges and successes with using Insta? Any users that we should all know about?

As always, thanks for your support.