Does Instagram Make You a Better Photographer?

records, by Steve Garfield

I saw a selection of Steve Garfield’s photos on Instagram (well, technically, they were on a site called Inkstagram, so maybe that’s related?), and it got me wondering: does using a social sharing service like Instagram (or Flickr, or Facebook) make you a better photographer? And by better, I don’t always mean that you figure out the right F-stop or aperture settings, etc, but maybe I mean a more “mindful” photographer. Do you think differently about the kinds of photos you intend to take and share?

I’ve long since teased the users of Instagram by saying “It’s like turning your insignificant photos of your life into instant album covers for fake albums.” With all the filter effects and over-bold colors, Instagram makes some photographers cringe, citing an absolute lack of subtlety. Not me. I think it’s swell how everything gets a lot more bold. But that’s not really my point.

Does the act of sharing photographs on social sites make you more mindful/a better photographer?

That’s the question at hand. I’m thinking yes. I’m thinking that it differs from site to site. I’d say that Instagram is on one end of the spectrum, where most people tend to want to shoot thoughtful photos of everyday life. I’d say that Facebook seems to be more for social sharing. I’d say that Flickr’s in the middle, with a blend of uses, as some people share their professional work there, and others take photos of whatever happens to rush across their lens. Beyond these three sites, there are many more “focused” communities of photo sharing, I’m sure.

But what about you? Do you share your photos on social sites? Does it change how you curate what you post? Does it change what you consider a “good” shot?

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  • Calvin Lee

    I think shooting a lot of photos makes you better photographer and make better photos. For me, it’s about how you’re framing the photos or telling the story. I try to post only good, interesting or funning photos. I try not to post every crappy photo I take, like some people do.

    I know there are many people pushing as many photos as possible because of Klout and Empire Ave to game it. Sad!

    - Cal

    • Sukhraj Beasla

      I agree with you Calvin. I also know how selective you are with your photos :)

  • Sukhraj Beasla

    I agree with Calvin since I know him personally and the kind of photos he takes into consideration. I think I’ve passed his test :P

    As for mindfulness, yes I agree but never thought of it until now. I’m careful about what I push through instagram. Anything else goes on Posterous, Twitpic etc. Photographers might balk about this but we can all be creative, can’t we? Instagram gives us that. 

  • Dan Thornton

    I actually posted yesterday about the effect curation has had on my photography, even on a family day out (While my comment with the link is being approved – it’s on my blog, titled ‘Everyone’s a Curator’)
    Partly it’s the fact that I actually take into account curation and sharing of photos before I take them, and partly it’s the fact that so many non-techy people aren’t necessarily getting into curation yet, but when they do there’s a heck of a lot of data that’s going to be coming online

  • Anonymous

    The difference is that people are taking photos with the intent to publish now, rather than just for their own personal record/memories. Instagram and the ones that encourage tweaking, bring this out more than the other sites, but I think it’s true for all of them (it is for me!).

  • Anonymous

    My situation was a bit different, but when I lived in California and was trying to get a photo business off the ground I used photography on social media (my blog and Facebook) to promote myself.  The twist was, nobody cared about me so instead of posting pretty pictures I photographed people at events (i.e. – the beer booths at a beer fest, local bands, etc.) and then posted photos that cast them in a positive light.  It worked wonderfully and to this day I rarely post photos that aren’t promoting someone else even though I have moved states and am in a completely different field.

    I have a friend in Bonaire that shoots gorgeous underwater photos ( and gets a lot of traction on Facebook with them. Ultimately, if you are producing quality content (writing, photos, video, art, etc.) I think you will do very well online. After all, I read your blog every morning Chris not because you are a ruggedly handsome guy (you are) but because you bring great educational content on a consistent basis!

  • Anonymous

    A friend just posted a few photos from our summer trip on her blog with some stories of the trip.  I shot 900 pictures and sent her a dvd.  She saved 120 that mattered to her family (the 900 included tons of pics of my kids!).  She said going though the pictures was a “mini-vacation” (it took me 2 months to get around to sending her the disk).  Shooting more photos is a key to getting some great shots that become the “forever” memories.

    I have always been a photographer.  I was the only guy with a camera everywhere we went in college (now EVERYONE has a camera on their phone!).  

    I believe you are right that it makes you think about what is worthy of taking a photo and sharing.  I am mindful of what is just for me and what is to be posted on social media.

    Even with all the changes, a basic image still has power.  They say a picture is worth 1000 words.  Still true today in a 140 character world.

  • Rick Manelius

    I can’t speak to Instagram specifically, but I do know that because I’ve been sharing more photos online (Facebook and google+), it does influence my decision on what pictures too take.

    And yes. I’ve been way more mindful of everything I share and posts these days, knowing that things like google plus are ultimately going to impact search results, etc… and knowing that I actually have followers now.

    But that’s a good thing to me. It’s good to be mindful :)

    • Hannah Marcotti

      So good to be mindful.

  • Anonymous

    “Yeah Dog ….. Let me crack the bubbly ” < Comercial … Would this have happened before smart phones ? …. 

    No, because people are creatures of convenience ..

     Technology is a facilitator . It gives various things wings (INTUITING< what I'm going to pitch? What junk seems right and timely ? Intuiting is holistic thinking in real time and it is vastly more dynamic than prepackaged data dumps.

  • Kim Manley Ort

    I would say that anything that gets you shooting every day will make you a better photographer. However, that doesn’t mean you have to share everything you shoot. I’ve seen really boring to brilliant on all of the sharing services.

  • scottwyden

    It does not make a person a better photographer, but it does add another outlet for photographers to play, experiment and just enjoy a simple app & camera.

  • Stephanie Hackney

    I believe anything that inspires you to shoot makes you a better photographers simply because you are shooting more. And yes, I agree that we are likely more mindful of our surroundings and the everyday life stuff.

    When people ask what’s the best camera to buy, there’s a common response that the BEST camera is the one you have with you. Perhaps this is why Instagram and other phone apps are so popular – they work with the camera we have with us, the camera we use every day.

  • Coleen Thompson

    I don’t think it makes you a better photographer per say, however if might make you more mindful of what you are capturing if you know how many people will see it. Also I think it can take non photographers and at least get them interested. These days you don’t even need a camera to take photographs, a smart phone with a decent camera is all some people need to get started! What I wish people would realize is that if it’s low light it will be grainy and hard to see, I don’t want to have to squint to figure out what your shared photo is. If it’s bad, don’t share it.

  • Anonymous

    I use Facebook, Flickr and Instagram for different purposes. From personal to more public. I like to shoot pictures of my environment with Instagram/ foursquare and for Path/ Facebook I try to get faces on my iPhone lens. Yes, Instagram tries to get anything artistic out of me, as far as that’s possible of course ;-). I haven’t used the more interest based photo sharing services out there.

  • Courtney

    Using Instagram doesn’t make me a better photographer, but because of the changes I can make to the photos, I find myself being more thoughtful about the pictures I’m taking. 

    I like to share those pictures on Facebook and G+ because they’re usually my more creative pictures (due to being more thoughtful) compared to my regular camera photos.

  • Tom Studer

    I would say that instagram has shifted my focus to try and shoot or capture an idea daily. With the ability to search via hashtags, I can join conversations and be inspired by those with the same interests that I do. Whether or not it makes me a better creator of images, I doubt it. But with a constant deliberate effort, I think it definitely aids in maintaining a creative outlet that is much needed.

  • THylen

    This reminds me of a recent post by a favorite mom blogger friend of mine. Recently she stopped taking so many pictures of the day to day with her daughter because she found herself not really enjoying the moment, rather thinking in her head as she snapped photo after photo how she could caption them via her blog, or what her post would entail later that night.
    Relating this to instagram and sharing nearly everything we do with others, I think so many of these sites edit out the reality and share only the shiny moments. Which is not all bad per say. But sometimes I wish people would take breaks like my blogger friend and live more in the moment instead of trying so hard to snap the perfect picture to share along with a clever caption.
    I personally use instagram but don’t share my stream. I also blog to document my children’s lives with images and stories, but it’s only private for my family and friends to read. It keeps me authentic in my parenting and for myself and I worry not about if I have hundreds of followers but rather keeps me on top of recording my favorite moments of every day- uncensored.
    I kind of went off on a tangent here but my point is, I think we should share LESS and live MORE instead of thinking so hard about how we appear to everyone else via our social streams.

  • mama bb

    I don’t think sharing on Facebook made me a better photographer. In fact, it made me a more slothful one, I think. But project 365 definitely made me more focussed (ha, see what I did there?) in my approach to shooting.

  • Diana Brennan

    I think it does make you a better photographer, *if* you take advantage of the other people in the community. When I started my photo biz the first thing I did was get involved with a critique site where other photographers would rate and comment on my work. Absorbing those critiques and applying them to future images made a huge difference.

    Social networking sites are less likely to provide criticism, and more likely to provide praise, but that can still be useful. I use Flickr, Google +, Facebook, etc. as filtering mechanisms to see which of my images are truly worth selling as prints – they’re the ones that get the most comments/hearts/plus ones… It’s also useful to compare the ones that people loved with the ones they didn’t, and figure out why.

    Also, seeing what other folks are posting is helpful. It can help get the creative juices flowing if you’re stuck in rut, but it can also help you hone in on what you like and why. If I notice a particular photographer whose work I’m really drawn to, I try to figure out what it is about it that I love. Without ripping them off, I try to see if there are elements I can incorporate in a general sense, like colors, or mood, or light.

    So yeah, that was a long-winded response. The short version is “yes” :-)

  • James Whatley

    Ok, having now read *the actual post* and not just reacted to the title.. I would say I agree with your closing points.

    Facebook I put everything; friends, family, etc… Flickr, I’m a bit more strict on the quality control and then finally, Twitter, I don’t share a thing without meaning or context. I’ve only just got into Instagram [thanks to my iPad] and I love the social aspect of it, and yes – I think you have a point – to me it is about the creation of something arresting and visually engaging enough to evoke an emotional reaction.

    That’s me anyway… :)

  • Wells Baum

    First off, the iPhone makes you a better photographer.  There’s no better camera than the one in your pocket and retina screen is amazing!  To your question, yes, Instagram makes you a better photographer because of the multiple effects.  Upload a crappy picture, snip it, and put a cool hue on it.  Awesome. 

  • Sweena

    Instagramming a turd doesn’t change the fact that it’s a turd.

  • JudyHelfand

    Ok, I am up early. Check out your link to Steve Garfield’s photos in Internet Explorer 8 ( IE8). Very funny.
    Here is what I think. As soon as you have any kind of camera in your hand it means you probably intend to share the moment (barring insanity). The photographic process is the one ongoing tool that connects us to mankind and our history. Of course, books tell a story, but what if you can’t read?
    And I don’t know about you, but I think I can remember every camera throughout my life. My mother had a Kodak Box Camera. All the photos from that era are the same wonderful rectangular shape. The other day I looked at a photo of my 1958 birthday party. Aside from remembering the children that my mother captured in the photo, I also cherished her own shadow that appeared in the bottom of the photo. Pretty neat when you can recognize a person’s shadow.
    I remember when my parents bought their first Kodak movie camera. Of course, they bought it when my baby brother was born. Polaroid certainly added to our lives. Right? I have a polaroid photo from 1953. My family is standing in South Dakota at Mt. Rushmore. Sadly the photographer didn’t pose us with Mt. Rushmore in the background.
    In high school I served as one of the photographers for the yearbook staff. You can actually see my work being sold on AMAZON these days. I am a “contributor” according to Amazon. I think that means I don’t get any part of the $79.95 asking price. All the photos were taken with a 4 X 5 large format (backslide) camera.
    The list goes on. In answer to your basic question…YES, I do share my photos on social sites. But not only do I share new photos, I scan old photos to share with friends and family.

    We’ll talk soon.

  • Watty

    It doesn’t make you a better photographer. It does makes you ‘practice’ more because you’re taking more photos than you usually would, and trying to get a more interesting photo to share vs. “Here’s me and my drunken cousin at that party I don’t even remember.”

  • Derin Beechner

    I believe that it DOES make one a better photographer.  How many times do you open a photo album and you see variations of the same shot 5 times?  Not on FB or other social sharing sites, you pick out the best one, post it, WRITE a blurb about it and go on.  The blurb part is also something that makes one a better photographer/scrap booker.

  • Ryan

    Don’t forget Tumblr – massive photo sharing taking place.

    Instagram is cool, but it’s kind of similar to being at a dark club? Why? It makes practically everyone/thing look good. :)

  • David Benardo

    Chris, the IG photo has sparked a new kind of conversation. It was how I found out about Steve Jobs. I’ve fallen in love with it over the past few months. For me it’s a social platform that radiates out from the photo. All of the sudden conversations & “likes” have been emerging on IG with people that I’ve followed, but never really talked to on Twitter, G+, and FB for years. As a sometimes photographer I love composing the final image within the limited 2-inch square…and, the limited 2-inch real estate/attention span of our cell phone flipping/swiping mind. cya

  • Gil Simom

    Acredito que ajuda a melhorar um fotógrafo,porque ninguém quer compartilhar lixo.

  • Rufus Dogg

    I think overabundance of visual content makes you a lazy storyteller. I think the ready filters makes you a lazy craftsman. I think taking photos of everything diminishes the value of the memory impressions of experience, specifically smell, sound and touch. I think we are confusing sharing, curating and photographing with experience.

    • Kelly Tirman

      I disagree. I am a storyteller and I use a lot of visual content. I am far from lazy. I just I feel my stories are more engaging this way (a.k.a picture books)

      • Jennifer Chaney

        As long as people are actually telling a story, it works.  But waaaaay too many people rely on just the images to tell the story. 

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  • Anonymous

    I think it can make you a better photographer, if you approach it with that goal in mind. This is true for many reasons – some of them already outlined in the comments here.

    1) You’ll take more photos and taking photos is what ultimately makes you a better photog.
    2) You’ll likely look at more photos, which can make you a better photographer.
    3) You’ll hopefully get useful feedback. This one is more hit and miss on photo sharing sites, but there can be some useful gems in the, “Hey, great one!” comments.

    That said, you need to approach it mindfully with the goal of improving.

    If you just take more drunken photos of your friends (ala Facebook) you’re unlikely to improve…unless your market is as a drunken protrait artist. If you set out to improve, Instagram and other sharing sites can help with that, but they need to be used properly.


  • Michael Martine

    I think instagram ruins more pictures than it helps. You’re gonna take a picture of fall foliage and then desaturate it? Really? LOL.

  • MarioSC

    I’m not more careful or mindful about what I photograph, but certainly more careful of what I share.  I choose what I think are the best pictures (maybe 30% of  the total I take) and then upload them to Flickr.  I post mainly pictures of my trips. 

  • Garick Chan

    Sure, of course. I think we become better photographers simply for the practice of taking more pictures. With this ability to share across social media sites, it’s up to you to capture and broadcast your life. The more practice you get, the better you become. 

    • Rick Manelius

      I think the rise of quality smart phone cameras has helped a ton. In 2002, I paid $300 for a 2 megapixel camera that I had to lug around. Now I can take 5 megapixel pictures whenever I want, giving me a ton of practice, etc.

      Add the social media component and boom… we’re all capturing a lot more!

  • Scott Webb

    I talk about instagram, mobile photography, and the generative fact that everyone is a photographer now.  It doesn’t make everyone a better photographer but it makes everyone a photographer.  Look at Mike Kus for example, prominent designer but because of his instagram photos, he gets asked by Burberry to shoot their instagram feed for the day of their show? 

    I’ve thought for the last year that if major camera manufacturers don’t do something with sharing soon (and fast) they are going to miss the boat.  It’s not about iso, megapixels, crop formats, or anything else boring to do with cameras. It’s about the ability to easily share your snaps.  Who cares if you’re the best photographer in the world using a D900xVIE IDT Rebel if you don’t share your photos.  Many people are proving, everyday, that they can create more compelling photos than a lot of photographers with their expensive pro gear and pro editing software.  

    The darkroom is in your hands now.

  • Scott Webb

    Wow you sound awesomely interesting :) Good Luck with the book! Totally agree with the things you said.

  • Scott Webb

    Very cool! Thanks for sharing your slides!

  • Mechama

    I don’t believe we may put the blame on Instagram. It is more because the act of taking photos became easy and cheap.  We did not have the possibility of exercising this sport due to the cost it used to be, Today it is part of our everyday life ,like it were for the photographers in the past,
    Instgram just makes us prouder of our job.

  • Marty McPadden

    Sharing your images on any site is a great way to gain insight on your own work as well as inspiration to create. Photography by nature is made for sharing. It’s a personal expression of the photographer’s vision and perspective at the time the image was created. 

    As a photographer myself, I have found most other photographers generous and eager to share and help. Ultimately is about how an image makes you feel. Sharing on social sites and networks makes that happen in a big way.

  • Melissa

    I think personally it’s made me look at everything in a new light.  I notice my surroundings more, I look up, around – always looking for something intriguing.  I think it’s helped me move a little further as to what my style is and what I enjoy shooting.  I don’t use facebook but have been sharing photographs on IG since July.

  • Elizabeth

    I’m better because a camera phone allows for a lot more practice. And I’m happier because everything I was mindful of before, I can now share with others.  And I love being able to see the daily life of people all over the world. For me, that glimpse into their life, that understanding, is even better than a tweet.  And seeing their sunshine or rainbow on a day that’s mucky here is fabulous perspective.

  • Trainerpack

    Waiting for the new iPhone in order to have access to Instagram :P

    • HughDiego

      What a coincidence, me either~!

  • Min

    I think a conscious decision to put anything out there for sharing will compel most people to curate their content. I think instagram, with its filters, has made it easier to share because almost anyone can convincingly pass off a photo as “art” or at least something interesting for us to look at.


    I am thinking yes. I am thinking that it
    differs from site to site. I say that Instagram is on one end of the
    spectrum, where most people tend to want to shoot thoughtful photos of
    everyday life.

  • Janna Hartley

    Having learned with film, and often finding funds limited in college, I was VERY mindful of my photos due to the cost of development. With digital, I just started shooting everything! But I was still extremely selective of the photos I presented publicly or to friends/family. A possible reason for this, aside from my perfectionist tendencies, is that I opened the photos in Photoshop for review and any editing…this slows me down and gives me time to think before sharing. I think Instagram has the same affect. People take the time to try different filters and see how the photos look and make a decision to share.

  • weiiskruez

    When you posted this question, I trust you are already aware that this is an argumentative question… It’s like going to school… Some will tell you they’ve learnt nothing, while some simply absorbs more than others like a sponge…

    If you asks me, I would say, by understanding the exposure, apertures, ISOs and shutterspeed, is what makes a person a better photographer…
    Instagram only comes into the picture when one has reached his limits and in search of a more creative way of expressing a picture…

    In terms of perspective or in terms of being a better photographer, it is a big NO for me… People do not improve by looking at more pictures… For instant, I might stay in the prettiest part of the world, and the sceneries that I capture will be stunning without doing anything…
    So, for those who stays in a less attractive part of the corner, it doesn’t mean that they are doomed…

    A good photographer, is not someone who can capture beautiful sceneries (simply because they have the luxury of accessing it) or possessing a DSLR (which many people thinks, with a DSLR is what it takes to be a professional), but someone who can capture any part of the surrounding and make it alive (no matter how ugly it is)…

    And most importantly, people needs to be aware that, a good photo is not about loving the colors… Most of the people in Instagram tends to either increase the saturation, contrast or make it vintage, etc…
    How to make a photo outstand? That is for you to find out… And Instagram is a really good platform to search those creative and crazy photos…!!! :D
    That’s my view… Totally debateable, since not everyone will agree to what I’m saying at the above :D

  • Anonymous

    first off, interesting that i don’t even know what instagram is. i just share my photos on facebook, and i feel that the process of sharing with friends has made me a better photographer.

    i will say something now: taking photos barefoot makes you a better photographer. don’t believe me? try it.

    then find me and we’ll share our photos!

    dainis w michel

    ps: i have a globally unique name, so i’m easy to find! :-)

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    I think it’s a qualified ‘ yes ‘. It can make you better, but perhaps take on the kind of pictures that fit better usually on that site. Facebook wants photos of people I know. Insta grams is pleased with a rough snap of my lunch and pictures of our cat. Flickr is ok with most things, but tends to ‘ real ‘ photography. 500px demands quality.

  • Supermoney200000

    Do photographers make u take photos barefoot?

  • WildWestSEO

    I think that anything that compels you to do something more and think more about it ultimately makes you better at it to a degree.

    Also, right on with the album cover reference.  I’m recording a solo album right now and guess where my current cover concept came from…a picture I took with Instagram. ;)