We recently asked a cross section of NANPA members whether Instagram and its social media cousins had changed anything about their nature photograph and, if so, how. Did it change their approach to photography, to sharing images, to marketing their business? Did it change the type of images they created or the way they processed images? We’ll be posting the answers in a series of blogs over the next few weeks.
The answers ran the gamut, as you might expect from such a diverse group. Some of our nature photography colleagues make Instagram an integral part of their business and workflow. Others don’t use social media very much, if at all. No single approach is the right one for every photographer. Whatever works for you. However, do take a look at what these photographers said. It may reinforce what you’re doing with or make you rethink your approach to Instagram and its ilk.
Melissa Groo told us “I use these platforms principally as a way to get people to care about wildlife. At this point, I have a pretty decent sized following on both Instagram (52k) and Facebook (13k), so sometimes that might influence what I shoot. If there is a subject that’s not well-understood or appreciated, I am eager to find ways to make that animal more appealing or sympathetic. Maybe I will highlight its particular, unexpected beauty, or an interesting behavior it exhibits. I am always hoping to change attitudes and influence how we view and treat animals.
“I find that I tend to crop in a bit more as I think that, at least when it comes to wildlife, when you’re dealing with such a small image on social media, a tight shot does a better job of grabbing the viewer.
“I also love to accompany my photos with educational information, particularly in regards to conservation issues. Sometimes I will pair a photo with a quote or a poem. I think that words and images together can definitely be more powerful than images alone.”
For Tom Dwyer, Instagram and social media are something he could take or leave. “Social media hasn’t affected the way I conduct my photography. Actually, I seldom post on social media, except for notices of my blog posts. Personally, I try to make my photographs about what I’m experiencing in the field and not necessarily about what anyone might think of the end result. Certainly, I appreciate positive comments, but at this point in my photography life, my photography isn’t influenced by what someone (who I may not even know) thinks or likes.”
Haley Pope doesn’t count social media among her favorite ways to share her work, though it certainly is one of the easiest to use. She recognizes that Instagram and similar sites have their plusses but also their down sides. “The main frustrations I have with Instagram, and other social media platforms like it, are that they play on one’s self-confidence, and feed the hunger for instant gratification in our society. They don’t encourage patience or genuine connection, community, or collaboration.
“I am seeing an epidemic of too much post-processing and photo manipulation, done to make those images immediately more attention-grabbing than a more realistic representation, yet also less original. Why? Because, to get your images seen and liked by thousands of people, you almost have to over process your images. Otherwise your shots will get lost in a flood of good photography.
“And, yes, I am an Instagram user, too. I try not to let it dictate what kinds of images I make, or how I feel about my photographs later. While I don’t take a photograph with the end goal of posting on Instagram, I’m not immune to its powers. I can become more self-conscious about and critical of my work and wind up paying too much attention to how many ‘likes’ I will get. The result is that I sometimes end up feeling discouraged and overlooked when I feel I have an important image or idea to share.
“While Instagram gives one access to an endless amount of creative photography and art, I’m not convinced that it leads to greater genuine creativity because of the way most users use it.”
Melissa Groo also noted an occasional problem in the Instagram world. “I often feel frustrated,” she says, “by the many photos on social media that depict captive animals passed off as wild, or that show clearly stressed or habituated wild animals, or have over-the-top and heavy-handed post-processing. I feel that, for those of us photographers who are trying to truly represent nature in all its wildness and authenticity, it’s become incumbent on us to be clear in our captions [see NANPA’s Truth in Captioning Statement], in order to distinguish ourselves from the photos and practices that don’t really honor or represent the natural world.”
What about you? Has Instagram and its siblings changed the way you approach nature photography? Send your thoughts to email@example.com.
Melissa Groo serves on NANPA’s Conservation and Ethics Committees.
Tom Dwyer is a member of NANPA’s Awards Committee
Haley Pope is a NANPA member.