Instagram versus photography

I’m an Instagrammer. When hearing that, most people normally think of social media influencers or “thought leaders” who have massive amounts of followers on Instagram and often team up with companies to promote products ranging from new tech to clothes, shoes, makeup, and everything in between. However, I’m not that kind of an Instagrammer. My Instagram account is private, and in the almost three years I’ve had it, I’ve managed to amass an impressive 164 followers. Might not sound like much, but to me, it’s quite something, mainly because I know exactly who those 164 people are, how I know them, what kind of a relationship we have, and why we follow each other on the platform. I don’t know if Instagrammers with 10k followers can say the same thing.

My account may be private, but I put a lot of thought and effort into my posts and the kinds of pictures I share. That’s because Instagram is how I work on my photography skills. Without it, I would hardly ever use my DSLR or be encouraged to look back on the thousands of pictures I’ve taken (mostly from my travels) on my laptop over the past 10 years.

I feel comfortable calling myself an Instagrammer and not a photographer because I don’t want to take pictures just for the art of photography. For a lot of people, photography is a hobby, made super accessible in recent years with the advent of affordable and high-end cameras, lens, and everything one might need to take pictures that look like they’re out of National Geographic magazine. I have a starter DSLR, a Nikon D-3200, with a basic 18mm lens, a camera bag, tripod, and a couple of memory cards. In theory, I have everything I need to work on my skills as a photographer, learn as much as I can about aperture, shutter speed, ISO, exposure and metering to eventually upgrade to a better camera, open an account on 500px, and start selling my work.

When I bought my camera a few years back, that’s the trajectory I thought I’d take. But four years and a few photography classes later, I’m still unable to shoot on manual mode and haven’t even attempted to do any night photography. It’s not that I don’t want to improve or upgrade my level, but I’m missing a key motivation for doing that – why?

I’m not interested in becoming a professional photographer. And more than that, I really *really* don’t want to spend hours and hours and hours editing my pictures on my computer. One thing a lot of my serious photographer friends say is that a 1-hour photography session can easily translate into 4-5 hours in Lightroom or Photoshop during post-production. To me, that sounds horrible.

Over the last few years, I’ve been trying to drastically reduce my screen time; it’s why I left Facebook, got the Freedom App to block all my social media accounts during the day, and have been trying my hand at hobbies that don’t require me to sit in front of a computer or laptop. Taking photography seriously will force me to spend more hours on my computer than I’m comfortable with, and I don’t want that.

Another reason why doing serious photography seems more like a drag than a fun activity is because of time limitations. I lead a busy life! Between cooking, teaching, modelling, writing, travelling, working on my relationships/marriage, and exercising, it’s hard finding the time and peace of mind to go out and shoot, come home, download the pictures onto the laptop, sort through them and start editing. Ain’t no one got time for all that.

Being on Instagram these past few years and following various photography accounts, and photographer friends, I’ve made a couple of observations on who exactly finds the time to dedicate themselves to photography. In my anecdotal research, I’ve found three kinds of people who are able to give photography the time it demands:

  • Professional photographers/designers who rely on photography to pay the bills and depend on it for their livelihood.
  • Photographer couples, where both partners are into the activity/hobby and often have a joint Instagram account showcasing their photographs from their trips around the world, to thousands, and sometimes millions, of followers.
  • Single people who, in my opinion, have more free time to traverse the steep learning curve of shooting with a DSLR, figuring out all the settings on their camera, and finding time to actually go out and shoot and edit their pictures.

I don’t fall into any of these categories, and would much rather read a book or write a blog post or make a fancy dish before my mind offers up a photoshoot as a possible contender for an activity. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still want to learn about how to take, and edit, stunning and eye-catching photographs.

Enter Instagram. While I don’t use Lightroom or Photoshop, I do edit my photos on my phone using the VSCO App. I recently tried to use Google’s Snapseed App for editing pictures, but it had way too many options and I didn’t have the patience for tweaking every single aspect of my photographs. VSCO has just the right amount and kind of tools I need to make my pictures pop. I don’t always rely on filters to finesse my photos, but I do play around with exposure, contrast, highlights, sharpness, temperature and a few other key settings that I enjoy adjusting till I get a photograph looking the way I want.

Another attractive feature of Instagram is the ability to tell a story through your photographs. My Instagram is like a digital diary, and when I share a picture, I’m sharing my view of the world. I’m saying “this is how I see a certain aspect of my life”, and through my pictures, show others how a situation or object appeared to me when I witnessed or experienced it. That’s why I enjoy editing my pictures – I can set the tone and mood of the picture to convey the emotions I felt when I took that picture, or the headspace I was in. It’s a way to share not just my pictures, but also my life with others, limited to the people I know and trust. I don’t want to make money off my pictures; I want to show people what my life’s vantage point looks like.

Recently I received an email from an upcoming food publication that I wrote an article for. My essay was about Pakistani food and I provided all my own pictures for the piece too. The publication sent an “about to launch” email to all its subscribers, and included only one photo in the body of their email, and it was one of mine. Seeing that made me feel all sorts of warm and fuzzy emotions. When I took that photo, I had no intention of submitting it to a food blog or including it in an article. I took it to show my friends how happy I was to cook a traditional Pakistani meal and what the table and plating looked like when I served and shared that meal with my husband. I had a reason to take that photograph. Without Instagram and the ability to share my life with others through pictures, I would have probably never taken that picture.

I’m a lifestyle photographer, and the lifestyle I’m photographing is my own.

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Ender