I’m going to admit two characteristics of myself that I’m not proud of.
- I get distracted very easily.
- I not only get distracted, but I look for distractions. I seek them out constantly.
So naturally, Instagram is the perfect thing to both turn to and also turn away fromwhen my photography is struggling or I’m feeling creatively lost. It’s the distraction of all distractions! If we look at what other people are doing, we don’t have to look at what we are not doing. We tell ourselves it’s okay to look, because it’s inspiration, right? It’s social media research. It’s a way to connect with other photographers and attract new clients. Instagram is a fun place to post a photo of pretty flowers or a cute puppy, because there’s no where else you can share a mediocre photo and instantly get affirmation and attention.This cycle makes us feel less alone, but is this process healthy? Is the attention making us better photographers? Is Instagram really connecting us and helping us get work?
My friend from high school recently attended our 10-year reunion. She isn’t active on social media and therefore she had so much to catch up on with the other classmates. I found myself feeling oddly jealous of her experience. She didn’t know a whole lot about the classmates’ lives and these people were equally as curious about her, which created rich conversation and a genuine interest. As a photographer I crave this experience. The problem is, the photographic conversation isn’t fresh. Either it’s not honest enough or it’s too honest and completely overshared. I find myself over-thinking what to share because I want it to stand out among the crowd, but I also find myself feeling as though my images don’t matter because they are just one among the crowd. How do we, as photographers, create a unique voice and invite curiosity into who we are?How do we be like my friend at her reunion and not completely drop off the face of the planet but also stay in touch with the world and our target markets in a way that creates joy and intrigue for both the photographer and the viewer? How do we find a balance between using social media effectively for both pleasure and business? How do we not let image-heavy apps like Instagram put pressure on us to be anything but true and honest in what we share when the social pressures and stakes are so high?
I’ve asked myself these questions a lot over the years. I’ve also asked myself the even harder question: what is social media doing to us psychologically? If you’re like I was a year ago; introverted, socially anxious, and lonely because I’d just moved to a new city- then social media can be quite damaging. If not monitored and used with intention it can give you a major tech hangover. It can also beg for a long, unplugged detox, which is exactly what I did. At first I thought the answer might be something more drastic: toss the smart phone and stop using social media. (I’m very old-fashioned and tend to run in the opposite direction of what’s popular.) As a digital photographer though, this didn’t feel right. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve booked a job and received advice from a Facebook group or used instagram as a creative outlet during times when I just couldn’t bear to pick up my camera. So, I compromised and I took a break. This time last year I gave up instagram on a whim.I decided I would delete the app and not use it for the entire month of July. July turned into August and August soon turned into Christmas and before you know it, I hadn’t looked at instagram for half of a year. It felt like taking a really long, much-needed vacation. I learned a lot in those six months, felt reconnected to myself as a photographer, and had a stronger sense of direction and self-control once I decided to hop back on. Here’s how it went down.The Reasons I Quit Instagram:
- It felt fake.
- It’s a highlight reel.
- It’s a culture built on “likes.”
- It was a big distraction.
- I was on my phone too much.
- It felt like a comparison game.
- I was able to find new distractions.
- I took iPhone snapshots for me, not for others.
- I put my phone away more, sometimes a whole weekend would go by without looking at it!
- I felt more present and in the moment.
- I used my Holga and DSLR camera more (something that had happened less and less since getting an iPhone).
- I called, texted, and emailed friends and family more often.
- I worked on a private personal project with my DSLR camera.
- I felt inspired to print personal photos for my home.
Advice Moving Forward:
Regardless of weather or not you detox yourself from Instagram, the following tips will help you to streamline your usage, so that Instagram doesn’t rule your life!
Balance is key. Giving up social media and smartphones long-term isn’t a permanent answer to all of the questions above. Although, getting back in the game with no personal guidelines and structure isn’t going to help either. Finding a balance that fits your own lifestyle is the only answer. For me, this means not looking at my phone until after I’ve showered, done yoga, made my coffee and am sitting down to breakfast to start my work day. I have other rules too, like not having my phone on my desk while I’m working, often putting my phone on silent, not using push notifications, and even leaving my phone at home if I’m going out for the evening. I also don’t check email and (sometimes) Instagram on Sundays. Being a grump and resisting moving forward with technology is the easiest way to age yourself. I’m far from old, but if I don’t find balance and my own rhythm in the tech world then I will eventually get left behind as the crotchety old woman who complains a lot. No one wants that!Spring clean your Instagram feed
I have a motto in life that if anyone or anything in life does not serve you, let it go. I’m not afraid to apply this to who I follow on Instagram. If the people you follow don’t bring you joy, then stop following them. This will improve your experience while you are using the app and improve your mood too. When I got back on Instagram after 6 months, I found that 1/3 of the businesses and people I had been following did not serve me and left me feeling drained or annoyed, so I unfollowed them. Let social media work for you, not against you.Post with purpose
Shift your perspective and learn to use Instagram as a business tool only, so that you will waste less time scrolling feeds and more time deliberately taking photos that fit your brand, commenting and interacting with other feeds that benefit your photography. Think of it as a daily one-time task that you assign yourself either when you first sit down at your desk to do work for the day, on your lunch break, or the last thing you do before “clocking out.” Use this time to upload your daily Instagram photo, check the feed for new posts, and reply to comments. Think of it as a reward for completing a distraction-free solid day of work.Have a secret
For a whole year, including my break from Instagram, I was working on a private daily photo project using my DSLR camera. I decided to not share process photos or talk about it to anyone. It felt really refreshing in a world of constant sharing to be making something that wasn’t being shared at all. I encourage you to do the same.Make stuff
The period I was off Instagram I was also in a major photography rut. I didn’t feel creative and I didn’t have a lot of work. I am naturally inclined to let this cause sadness and spend a lot of time in yoga pants on my couch looking at what other creative people are doing. If you’re reading this and are already in yoga pants, I beg of you, finish reading this blog post and then get up and go outside. Take a walk, ride your bike, or drive to a new part of town. When you get home, make something. Make anything! (Just make sure its not on a screen.) Make a pie or repot some plants. I find that when I get far away from technology, my head is the most clear and I make my best work. Community vs. community To be clear, there is a community to be had on social media. It’s not community like borrowing a stick of butter from your neighbor or laughing with your friends over a few beers, but these types of relationships can be started somewhere like Instagram and turned into real life community. It takes asking and being bold. It takes commenting on an Instagram photo of a photographer you admire and commenting often. True interactions like this will earn you loyal followers, and true interactions will create real-life friends.
Giving up social media might sound scary to people who like to feel “connected” all of the time. Just remember that not very long ago there was a time when these distractions didn’t exist and the word “connected” had an entirely different meaning. Instagram or not, whatever your distraction is, I encourage you to try living without it for a while. I promise you that nothing bad will happen. If anything, you’ll feel a little more refreshed. Ease yourself in. Try it for just one day a week or one week out of every month. The long break I took and the limits I’ve set for myself since then are not for everyone, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you tried it for a week and enjoyed it so much that you deleted the app for a whole month or longer. The rewards are addictive.
Here we are, one year later, and I’m still learning how to use social media in a way that’s fun, effective, and actually serves me in my own personal and business needs. But I wouldn’t be able to do this with such clarity if I hadn’t taken a break. Being open to new developments in technology and knowing when to take a step back or a step forward is an ongoing dance we do as modern photographers. Just don’t be afraid to leave the dance floor and rest your feet. Stepping out of the spotlight is the only way you’ll ever be able to step back in.
About the Author: Based out of Portland, OR, Hailey King is a professional portrait, wedding and food photographer who attended RMSP's Career Training program in 2009. Her work is beautiful, full of life, carefully composed and always well-lit. It is well-worth some scrolling time.