Opinion: I Think Instagram Is One of the Worst Things That’s Ever Happened to Photography

Instagram’s role in democratizing photography has also devalued it despite increasing its demand.

If I were to think about all the apps and communities that have added value to photography, I’d say that Instagram isn’t one of them despite it changing the way that we communicate more in pictures. I’d give credit to Tumblr, Behance, EyeEm (also questionable due to their AI rankings of your images and despite how awful they’ve become over the years), 500px, and Flickr. These were places and communities for actual creatives. Tumblr was all the rage for a while when it changed, and arguably it’s a place for creatives all over again with just how much emphasis there is on giving credit to creators. Instagram allowed anyone to be a “photographer” and also allowed more people to become professional photographers. But what is the bigger issue is that it has also arguably devalued the price of an image.

What do I mean by that? Well, let’s be honest and say that it has devastated some industries and given everyone the ability to legally share images posted there. Photojournalism has been devalued because there are lots of folks who may post images of the same incident for free just to get a bit of press. But at the same time, the need for the truth has never been stronger. Lots of photographers need to share their portfolio images, but they don’t want to relinquish their rights. Everyone these days shoots images and there are folks out there who don’t mind giving away their images for free because their job isn’t to be a photographer.

Has the job of a photographer become irrelevant? No, I don’t think so. But instead, I think that it has evolved to push photographers to create more than capture. Creating is a genuine, original idea. Capturing is something everyone can do. When it comes to shooting images I often tell our audience to aim for the former. This, in my opinion, is imperative for photography to survive. Photography is also evolving as a medium to include more mixed media, etc. Romanticizing over the days of Ansel Adams and Bresson is one thing, but we don’t live in their time.

In this way, photography has become more and more imperative to how we communicate and get ideas across. We’re a world of visual people. At the same time, more and more of the world doesn’t want to pay for images.

I think Facebook has a very big responsibility here in the same way that YouTube has a responsibility to video content creators. Protecting the rights of creators is going to need to be a very big issue that the world will need to take on within the next year. Every week, I look back on the news with our staff and share stories that are clearly stolen from us. It affects journalists, photographers, videographers, musicians, etc. In fact, it started with musicians with Napster, etc. Then videographers with YouTube and more. But still, photography doesn’t have its own protection.

And for better or worse, until Facebook or Google take some sort of stand protecting creators, I think it’s going to continue in a negligent fashion. Simply saying, “Don’t put your images online,” isn’t an answer anymore.