When I first downloaded Instagram I used it as a photo editing app on a private account. I genuinely had no idea that it was a wide world full of amazing accounts as I had never seen anything like it before. I had always loved photography and having a newish smart phone I was simply playing with apps. That was almost five years ago and for a while Instagram just sat on my phone without much use at all, only being opened every now and again when I would use Instagram for the fun of it.
When I did start using the Instagram ‘properly’ I quickly realised what an amazing place it is! Full of inspiration and beautiful photography. Of photos of places far away seen through the eyes of us normal folk, not the eyes of press or travel companies with their sometimes biased view. Photos of back streets and peoples homes. And their feet, oh yes, now I know the trend is still going strong but had you ever seen a photo ‘from where I stand’ before you opened Instagram…? Not to forget tablescapes, coffee and cake, photos of cafés and shop interiors. But further than that I found that it is a brilliant place for trend spotting and sourcing all things a step away from the high st.
Though that is not my point here. When I started using Instagram properly it was FUN. So much fun. I chatted to people around the world (I still do!) and burst the bubble of isolation and boredom that comes with staying home with a small child. (I’m sure that some of you can relate to that statement and if you can’t – for whatever reason – I am not making a proclamation of dislike for motherhood. More stating that being with a baby 24/7 can be a little less than intellectually stimulating.) I loved seeking the next photo, opening my eyes to every tiny detail around me. I started noticing not the crack in the pavement but the flower that grows through it.
I cared little for the look of my gallery as a whole and mostly took photos on the day I shared them. I didn’t stick to any particular time for posting. I didn’t even realise that people worked with brands for a very long time and only started collaborating with them myself last summer. Then the emails began to come in and with them a whole new way of Instagramming. It arrived at the demise of the spontaneity of my old ways. I am not complaining though, indeed I feel truly blessed to be able to call this my job. But I do miss some aspects of life before collaborations.
How quickly the new routines become the norm. Planning a gallery in advance and using an app to line up images to see how they next few will sit next to the previous. I do actually enjoy this planning and have been really happy with how my gallery looks since I started doing so at the beginning of this year. If it’s your thing, or you would like to start, I am currently using an app called UNUM…
Somewhere along the line I have tied myself to posting on a schedule and factoring in photos for brands. More planning. Still taking the spur of the moment photos and saving them till they fit the pattern of my gallery. I love creating content for others and choose who I work with carefully though with the work comes deadlines and sometimes specific posting dates.
This is all well and good and does have numerous advantages but at some point I wonder if it has all become a little less fun and a lot more business. There are expectations and challenges that have come with the role. Keeping up creativity all the time means constantly seeking new inspirations. But I didn’t take up Instagramming in the hope of earning an income from it, nope. I started because I love photography and being creative with it. This, for me, is why I started.
There’s been this strange swing in numbers so far this year that I am finding addictive to watch. Which photos will be popular and which less so? It is unpredictable as far as I can tell, and frankly shouldn’t be given the time of day, but I’m fascinated by its randomness. And with challenging myself to share well liked photo’s when in reality I’m fairly sure the quality of my images actually has little to do with it. Maybe the new algorithm is involved? The non-chronological feed that some people now have? I have no idea and have been hooked on the guessing game at the same time as finding the huge variation in likes frustrating.
When I changed my username earlier this year I couldn’t quite bring myself to let go of @juliabesidethesea and I have been posting there sporadically since spring. What I have found is a limitless account without so much of a following and freedom. To post what I like, when I like, in the format I want to without worrying if the colour palette is right. I don’t really mind if it sits perfectly next to it’s predecessor. I am just posting for me, no deadlines or expectations and I am loving it. In a strange sideways step I have found my enthusiasm and fun in an account with few followers and no pressures, just like going back to the beginning before my main account had any momentum. It has re-kindled my love for photography.
How is this related? Well, it’s quite simple. I have (hopefully) begun to take myself a bit less seriously. I have remembered how much I love holding a camera, taking a photo just because I feel like it. Not really caring so much how many likes it gets or if a post will perform as well as I hope it will. It has helped me to take a step back from the strange pressures of a big account in an app full of big(ger) accounts. To stop comparing my engagement rates and studying the numbers… Because if it’s not a little bit fun then really, for me, what’s the point?
Now I am not telling you this as a way of asking you to come and follow my other account. (Although if the seaside is your thing I’d be happy to see you there!) Nor as a declaration of my abilities in maintaining an account because we all do that don’t we? More as a slight revelation. I have written here before about the ways of Instagram, about stepping back and not taking it too seriously. Then at times have been less than capable of following my own advice. Logic tells me to let go of the numbers. I know it’s much better when I’m not concerned with them. So here is a simple reminder to both you and me to just
Instagram for the fun of it
– post what makes you happy
– share the posts you have to then space them with ones you love and post what makes you happy
– watch the numbers if it interests you but don’t be bound to them, post what makes you happy
– remember why you started – if you are a business and it is all about your business then great! Go with that. If, like me, you started just for fun then try and keep an element of that going. Post what makes you happy…
There’s a theme here.
Can you see my point? Just post what makes you happy whether it’s for you or a brand, whether it’s popular or not. It is your account. Use it your way. It only really matters that you like it, everything beyond is somewhere between a bonus and what feels like a popularity contest. Simple as that.
P.S. since I first posted this my Instagram has changed again (now writing on 23 June). My photos are liked for the first hour or two then seem to hit a wall, I am half convinced that this is an effect of Instagram having rolled out another batch of non-chronological feeds and if I’m honest I am hugely frustrated by it. Like many of us I put a lot of time into my photos and to feel like my engagement is being taken away without being able to do a thing about it is frankly demotivating.
My second account has changed to non chronological this week. I would love to know how they have decided the order of posts as there seems little logic to me, they certainly haven’t shared the accounts I interact with most at the top of my feed… Has your Instagram changed?