The curse of Instagram

If you want to achieve any sort of publicity, it’s all about social media nowadays. Businesses are getting their names out there, individuals become famous, and  various groups grow in popularity. So anybody who wants any sort of attention takes it to social media.

I am a photographer, and obviously, I want to share my work with as large audience as possible. And if you are a photographer (or any other kind of artist) chances are that you too are seeking attention.
For photographers the obvious choice would be Instagram – the largest photo sharing social platform on the planet. Even though I’ve been using Instagram almost since it was created, I really started actively trying to gain a following little over two years ago.

A photo posted by Greg Brave (@gregbrave) on

I have to admit – I wasn’t successful in this endeavor, but I am not giving up just yet. In this article I’d like to share my experience and insights from the last two years of trying to get a following on Instagram. Please remember that this article consists of my opinions based on my own experiences with the platform.

I’ve studied various guides on ‘how to get a following on Instagram’, which basically all give the same advice. In short, here it is:

1. Post unique, beautiful, interesting etc. content.
2. Post regularly – posting images every day is considered to be the best practice
3. Add an engaging story/description to your images
4. Engage with your audience – when somebody posts a comment under your image, reply to them.
5. Be active on Instagram in general – leave meaningful comments under images that you like etc.
6. Participate in contests, giveaways, and collaborations on Instagram.
7. Use hashtags wisely – they have to be relevant to your content but also not too popular. If you use a hashtag like #instadaily, your image will get buried straight away in thousands of other images.

That’s about it.

A photo posted by Greg Brave (@gregbrave) on

I tried to incorporate most of the above into my Instagram routine and here is what found out:

1. When everybody tries to be unique, there is kind of sameness to it. We are all the same in our uniqueness (C) 🙂 . I am mostly a nature photographer, so nature and landscapes are what I am creating and sharing. There are so many beautiful and unique nature photographs out there that sometimes I no longer see a point in sharing more of those. Even if each photograph was amazing and unique, when you have millions of them – they start to look all the same.
2. People mostly comment for two reasons: Either you have a big following on Instagram and therefore you are popular so they want to be seen ‘in your company’ and maybe get a follower or two from people who see their comment. Or you don’t have a big following and will be so happy to receive a comment that you’ll go follow their profile straight away as a way to say thank you. Of course there are exceptions to this, but in my opinion this is a pretty accurate generalization.
3. Most of the comments I receive for my work consist of one or two words, or even less – an emoji, which in most cases I even don’t understand the meaning of. Like an emoji of clenched fist under an image of sunset over ocean. And the words are typically: ‘Amazing!’, ‘Gorgeous!’, ‘Love it!’, ‘Really Good’, ‘Very Cool’, ‘Great shot’ – you get the idea. I don’t want to be too harsh on these people, they left me a nice comment after all, but I feel that the intention behind most of these comments is only to grab my attention and maybe to get me to follow the commenter.
4. I get many people who start following my account, but after two days unfollow it. At first I didn’t understand why after posting an image I get 2 to 5 new followers but by the next day, when I post another image pretty much the same number of people unfollow my account. I thought to myself: can it be that this photo is that much worse than my previous one that those people got disappointed in me so much that they decided to unfollow? This question bothered me very much until I found a great little iPhone app called “Followers”. It shows you exactly who unfollowed you (instagram app only tells you the good news – when somebody starts following you, but when they unfollow you don’t get notified). Using that app I found out that a lot of my new followers unfollow me after a few days (or just one day). So I decided to do an experiment – I started following back every account that started to follow me. The results were very interesting – number of ‘unfollowers’ was greatly reduced. My conclusion from this experiment is simple – people start to follow me in hopes to get a follower and not because they like my work. The worst among these people (and there are quite a few) are the ones who unfollow you anyway – it is just their strategy to get followers without clogging up their own feed.

A photo posted by Greg Brave (@gregbrave) on

To sum it up, nobody has the time to really look at photographs and think about what they are looking at. At least not on Instagram. Hard to blame people for that – we are constantly bombarded with content that competes for our attention. Instagram became a stage for worldwide competition for attention.

I know that it is  popular to be all happy and positive these days, but in this post I tried to look at the reality of things, at least the way I see it. If you have anything to add or dispute – you are welcome to leave me a comment here or on Instagram 🙂

Fractal Wings – Free Wallpaper Download

I decided to renew my long going wallpaper download tradition. Lately I’ve been working on fractal art, so this one is not exactly a photo, but I hope you’ll still enjoy it.

August 2014 wallpaper is here for you to download!

Stylized wings fractal art

For resolution 2560×1707 (wide screens) right-click here and choose “Save As” option.

For resolution 2560×1440 right-click here and choose “Save As” option.

 

Cheers!

Greg.

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Photographing Still Life Part II

About three months ago I wrote an article about my work with still life objects. I’ve been continuing photographing still life since then and experimenting with different ways of post processing the images. In this post I will show some of my more recent works. Click on the images to view larger version.

In this image I went with simplicity in shapes but added more interest using texture.
Still Life with bottle and wine glass

Here, on the contrary, I wanted to create a more complex image with additional elements. My main problem was to choose these elements so that they would fit harmoniously into my composition. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether I succeeded or not. 
Still Life with bottles, mandarins, and leafs

I especially like this image, mostly because it wasn’t easy to come up with the idea for it. I started it by trying various compositions of glasses and the bottle, and various liquid levels. After I achieved something that looked good to me, I still felt that something was missing from the image. So I looked around for an item to add, and decided to add the two marbles. But I needed an aesthetic way to place them, and after a while I solved this puzzle with a spoon. I made a couple of shots and still wasn’t completely satisfied with the results. Suddenly it hit me that these marbles on the spoon look like musical notes! To make this idea more visible I added musical sheet to the background and the photo frame, and finally I felt the image was complete.
Still Life with bottle and glasses

 

This is my best still life image to date. It has an interesting idea and a nice execution. In addition this image was accepted to 1x.com !!! It was my dream to have my image featured there, and I finally achieved it. You can see it on 1x.com here.
Still Life with bottles

 

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Our Incredible Obsession With Gear

What do I mean by “gear obsession” ? It is the thought that using better photography gear will get you to take better pictures. I was so guilty of it in the past, and still sometimes get the irresistible urge to buy that new something that just came out.

Let’s do a little test. Does the following thought process sound familiar to you?

– The camera that I have is pretty old, and just yesterday they put out this new model with far better focusing, noise reduction, continuous shooting, _____________ (fill the blank).
– Once I get it, my photos will be crisper, sharper, clearer, and definitely MUCH better.
– Ok, I got this camera, but my huge collection of lenses (more than three I consider to be huge) doesn’t have the new 50mm f1.4 lens, which is MUCH better than its predecessor, and is not that expensive!
– Once I get this lens, I’ll really start using a 50mm lens and get wonderful photos with it! (Doesn’t matter that I already have a ‘worse’ 50mm lens and at least two of my zooms cover 50mm mark).
– Ok, I have a 50mm f1.4 lens now… But hey what about this new tripod from Manfrotto!? Yeah, I do have a pretty good tripod, but this one must be that much lighter and more stable! Having it will FOR SURE make me get up at 5 o’clock in the morning to shoot sunrises.

This constant feeling that something is missing from your photo bag, and getting it will finally allow you to take better images can go on forever.

If it does sound familiar, then you have the same problem that I had for quite a while. The real problem here is that getting all this stuff Absolutely Will Not help you take better photographs. And since the flow of new and better cameras and all other photography related stuff never ends, you are facing the danger of constantly chasing that next new thing coming out next week, month, year.

You might say that I am not totally right, and better equipment does produce better images. Well, yes and no. If by ‘better’ you mean better technical quality then, maybe yes. This is even not a certain yes. In many cases, the quality of light is one of the most important contributors to the technical quality of your work. Let’s say you want to shoot portraits in natural light, but it is high noon, and your subjects are standing in an open area without a hint of a shadow. It doesn’t matter that you have the best camera out there – you will still get unpleasant lighting on your subject and very harsh shadows. But if you wait for the sunset (for example), and move your subject into a slightly shadowed area where you’ll get beautifully diffused light, even a point and shoot camera will get you great results.

However, technical quality constitutes only about 1% of how good your image will be, and this is something that I’ve come to learn the hard way. Photographic forums are filled with thousands of bleak, uninteresting, and simply ugly images taken with the best cameras out there (Canon EOS 1Dx, Nikon D800, you name it). On the other hand I also found many beautiful photographs taken with point-and-shoots.

So what makes a photograph to be good, or even great? Well, it is a pretty tough question and here is my take on it. Good photograph is one that makes the viewer feel something, that evokes emotions within the viewer. Good photograph creates a mood or tells a story. And the more intense the emotions it evokes in the viewer, the stronger the mood – the better image it is.

How can all this be achieved within a single image? Well, most certainly not by technical quality of photographer’s equipment. It can be achieved through lots and lots of practice, through looking at work of masters and trying to understand what is it in the image that makes you feel the way that you feel. It is way past the basics such as rule of thirds, contrasts, lines, patterns, etc. Of course, you have to be familiar with all of the above, but to use it effectively, and break the rules where necessary is a whole another level of photography. In short, only developing your vision will allow you to create good photographs, and you can do it with almost any camera out there.

I find it liberating taking pictures with my mobile phone because I don’t have to worry about changing lenses, and being afraid of missing the shot because I don’t have the correct lens on my camera. With the phone I simply don’t have that choice, and instead I start to look around more, think about what I am looking at and create various compositions in my mind, The camera is there only to capture what I saw in my mind. It is really just a tool that helps the photographer express himself.

What do you think makes a good photograph? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.