The Instagram Monster

There's something to be said about the power of Instagram. With around 600 million active users, Instagram is an amazing marketing and advertising tool for photographers. 

Companies like the New York Times, Getty, Associated Press, The Washington Post, the NFL, the NHL and many, many more have Instagram accounts that help them highlight the photographs they want their readers and fans to see. 

On top of that, there are literally millions of extremely talented photographers that use Instagram to highlight their work and as a way to be discovered by some of the companies I mentioned above. 

As such, getting likes and followers on Instagram has become a business in itself. There are entire books and podcasts published to help users maximize their following and turn it into marketing gold. 

In my experience, the biggest piece of advice offered by the books, articles, podcasts and videos out there is the idea of "being consistent." 

Find your niche and stick with it. Be that star trails, sports, wildlife or landscapes. If you plan to venture outside of those things make a separate account and build up the following on both accounts. 

Now, I'm not going to sit here and tell you how to become an Instagram star, I haven't figured that out. But, I do want to address this idea of making your Instagram feed into a pretty one-trick pony. 

For me, the magic of photography has always been its ability to share so many magical moments from the world with so many different subjects: people, landscapes and animals. Photography has never been one faceted and I've always felt that making myself one faceted would do nothing but hurt my photography. 

It's not uncommon to hear photographers complain about "shooting for Instagram." 

"Gotta get those hearts!" 

The problem is that shooting for Instagram often means focusing on pretty rather than interesting. Sunsets, landscapes and girls in bikinis will often litter the recommended page. 

While there's nothing inherently wrong with sunsets, landscapes and bikinis there's also nothing particularly meaningful about them either. Vary rarely do I see a picture of a sunset that I remember the next day. 

I doubt many photographers see a sunset picture that they remember, but one thing they do remember is the likes. 

Because of that, there are many amateur and semi-pro photographers that feel that the only way to get noticed is to simplify their work and cull it down to nothing but a single subject. 

I don't think I'll ever be an Instagram star but I find a lot of joy in the idea of expanding my craft. 

My Instagram feed features everything from landscapes, wildlife, sports, breaking news and the occasional selfie. I'm an Instagram Self-Help Guru's worst nightmare, something that I actually take a bit of pride in. 

To be clear, I'm not bashing photographers who specialize in certain topics. Scott Kelby for example is an amazing travel photographer. And I understand why he and people who specialize in other areas want to feature their best work. 

What I take issue with is the idea that photographers are essentially being given the advice to become one-dimensional. To specialize in certain areas so that they can get more likes and followers on Instagram. Not only do I feel that is a disservice to a learning photographer, I feel it's a disservice to the art of photography itself. 

Photography is about capturing the world, as you see it. Not capturing a single subject to show off to other people. 

But, who knows, maybe I'm just behind the times. 

Pay it Forward

In 2012 the Ball State football team traveled to Bloomington to face off against Indiana. The Cardinals were underdogs, despite the Hoosiers' poor record in football as a whole. 

As a the assistant photo editor at the Ball State Daily News, I got to be one of the lucky photographers to cover that game, but this post is not about my experience covering a football game, but more about the experience that came in the media room, before the game even started. 

In many ways, I'm a confident person. I'm not afraid to speak my mind to those over me when I feel like it's warranted. I am not worried about posting my personal opinions on social media such as Twitter, even though I use it to promote my work. 

The one situation I can truly point to in which my nerves tend to fail me is when I'm working around older, well regarded photographers. There's something about being around experienced photographers that immediately takes me back to that feeling of being a kid on the first day of school, or a high schooler during their first day on the job. 

Even to this day, as I write this, I'm 25 years-old and I still feel like an inexperienced snot nosed kid when I walk into press boxes at big games, or at large news events. 

With that in mind, imagine if you will the day I walked into the media workroom at Memorial Stadium, just to see seasoned photographers from the Indianapolis Star, the Bloomington Times-Herald, the AP and Getty. I felt like I needed to raise my hand to go to the bathroom. 

As I began to unpack my gear, I noticed that I had forgotten a trivial piece to my Nikon D300. I can't even remember what it was at the time, but with my nerves racked and me being the young gear crazy person I was at the time, it seemed like a big enough deal for me at the time to look at my friend and make note of it. 

Next to me, a photographer with the Indy Star and the USA Today Network, by the name of Matt Kryger, overheard this conversation. 

"You forgot something," he asked. 

"Yeah," I replied. 

"And you only have one camera body?"

"Yeah, the school rental place closed early this weekend so I couldn't get anything." 

"Well, I still have the two Nikon D4's that Gannett sent me to the London Olympics with. Do you want to use my Nikon D3s then you can use that for your main camera and the D300 as your backup body?" 

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I'd never met Matt before. I didn't even know his name. And here he was, offering to let me use a pro-level flagship body. Feel free to compare the Nikon D3s with the D300. 

It was like being handed the keys to a Ferrari, by Niki Lauda.

Because of Matt, and the camera he lent me for the night, I was able to capture a photo that to this day is still in my portfolio. 

That act of generosity has always stuck with me. 

When I first started college as a photojournalism major, I met more than one person who told me that they had gotten out of the photography business simply because it was too much of a cutthroat business. I was warned that to get ahead in my career I'd have to step on people and stab them in the back. 

So far, I've found the opposite to be true. The best photographers I know, and it's not just me who says so, they have awards a plenty to go along with my praises, have always seemed to be the most generous with their time, their advice and their willingness to help other shooters out. 

At a recent Indianapolis Colts game I worked for Getty, I worked with a photographer by the name of Stacey Revere, who broke into photojournalism five years ago after spending his life working offshore and construction in New Orleans. 

"You know, the best advice I can give people getting into this is don't be an asshole," he said to me as we ate before the game. "I mean, yeah. You need to take good pictures, do good work. But as long as you work hard and you're not a jerk, people know that and they're willing to help you out. But if you're an ass, you better be absolutely perfect, because people will look for opportunities to boot you." 

That's a philosophy I've tried to follow in just about everything I've done in life, and though I may not have always succeeded, I still try to live up to it as best as I can. 

I recently ran back into Matt Kryger thanks to my freelancing work with Getty and the first thing I thought of was that I had to make sure to tell him how much of an impact he had made on me back on that chilly night in 2012. 

"You probably don't remember me, but you let me use a Nikon D3s during the game between IU and Ball State football back in 2012." 

"I remember," he said with a smile. 

I told him that that experience had helped to shape the way that I dealt with any younger photographers I ran into during my time out and about. And it had truly helped me from getting discouraged when I ran into the rare photographer who couldn't be bothered with making room on the sidelines, or being mean to those they deemed beneath them.

I really didn't know how to thank him. 

"You know what man, just pay it forward, if you can. Just be sure to do the same thing for someone else next time you get the chance."