Originality Is Dead: Long Live Instagram

Great article over on fstoppers about how instagram has created a wash of homogenized ‘photography’ that is all the same and intended to sell a lifestyle rather than promoting creativity.

Curious to hear everyone’s thoughts as NPN is intended to be the opposite; inspiring creativity and not promoting popularity or a certain lifestyle. Do you think instagram has been bad for photography overall?

1 Like

Yes - and it goes way beyond Instagram. 500px and 1x, the latter despite all of its purported “artistry”, are every bit as bad. How many different low-key black-and-white images of piers running out into still water can you possible come up with? Of rolling green hills with a couple of cypresses and fake light? Of disgustingly oversaturated sunsets over rocky coastlines with impossible colors? Of weirdos in bowler hats and umbrellas floating in thin air? Of hobos in run-down buildings or awe-struck princesses in red velvet dresses riding unicorns? One could write a compendium on photographic bromides in the digital age.

And there are other expressions of the age of uniformity. In my local photo club there is this lady with more money than she knows what to do with. This lady travels all over the world and her only photographic gear is an iPhone (latest model, of course) and a whole bunch of “apps” that will render her “shots” in all sorts of “artistic styles”. She shows her “production” to drooling audiences in monthly meetings, makes prints and won quite a few prizes in club contests. I once tried to point out in a meeting as politely as I could (which is not terribly polite, I’ll admit to that) that I had some concerns about the way these images were being generated and presented as works of photographic creative art. No dice - with the exception of a few old hardliners like myself (though more polite), all I got were glares of uncomprehension mixed with a bit of horror. I think that one comment from the audience was something to the effect of “I wish I knew how to use those apps as well as she does”. I decided that it was pointless to pursue the point. But since I am on the topic of software that will take care of your creativity for you, in my opinion all of this also applies to the innumerable fancy programs and plug-ins available for Lightroom, CaptureOne, etc., that will take your raw image of a flower and convert it into a Georgia O’Keefe painting, or your image of a prairie with trees and make an impressionist landscape out of it. It may look pretty, but it ain’t the real thing - there is no creativity nor art in this process.

The devastating effect of “social media” on culture, education, understanding of the simple truth that both history and science are based only on documented facts, and much much more of urgent concern for the survival of civilization as we know it, goes way beyond Instagram and photography. But those topics are not appropriate to this forum, so I’ll stop here.


Thanks for the link @David_Kingham! I’ve had a 500px account for awhile, Instagram too, and when I first starting posting images I was definitely chasing “likes”. For whatever reason, Instagram has never been my go-to spot for inspiration. But…I’ve spent a ton of time on 500px.

I fell into an empty cycle of looking at a landscape photographers images, and then trying to be just like them. I’d look for an image taken in Colorado, and then try to duplicate it, most of the time I’d try to stand in the exact same spot. Even if I did come away with a good image, I always felt like I was cheating. I definitely wasn’t being original. And then, the worst part, I’d post the image, and wonder why nobody liked it, or why I wasn’t getting 5000+ likes?

I started taking landscape photographs because I enjoyed being outside, and surrounded by stunning scenery…not because I wanted “likes” and “follows”. Until I admitted what I was truly focused on, I’d never be happy with my photography.

I want people to like my photographs. I think anyone who is being honest with themselves is looking for at least a little bit of recognition…even on NPN. What I like about NPN, and what I was craving, is learning how to create better photographs free from the pressure to get empty likes. Getting honest feedback, and learning how to do the same for others.

I’m not sure originality is dead, but originality isn’t top-of-the-list for most people. I’ve discovered many amazing photographers who’ve been quietly doing their thing for years, some without any recognition at all. A lot of them have original work, and many of them have photographs that I’ve seen before. In some way, that encourages me. What I want is true love of the experience. Holding on to the moment I snapped the shutter, and not chasing the “this will kill on Instagram” fix. I still post to 500px, and Instagram. I’m getting better at not looking every few seconds, to see if somebody liked my photo…but I’m not there yet.


I recommend that every member who’s interested in original compositions spend time looking at the wildlife paintings of the Canadian painter Robert Bateman. He has an amazing collection of paintings with some very striking compositions (may of which would be roundly criticized here at NPN).


I think it’s as easy to jump on the “what’s happening to our beloved art” discussion bandwagon as it is to duplicate art itself. People passionate about photography are threatened by the ease by which the “commoners” can make their own photos. The digital age and the camera in everyone’s pocket has made it less likely that people want to buy someone else’s shot. And so they come up with ways to criticize the trends of the masses. It’s a bit of an art snob thing IMO. If you want to get the attention of a curator of photographs, then you probably have to worry about originality. But a photo I take at Oxbow Bend is no less beautiful just because thousands of other photographers have also been there. Many, many viewers of my photograph have no idea that it’s not an original location or idea.

That being said, I would much rather be here where people do give much more thought to what they are looking at and to the comments they make and reasons WHY they like or don’t like something. But even here, we can fall into the ruts we’ve been trained to follow. An example: IMO those of us who have spent any time in forums have been TRAINED to be “distracted” by elements in a photo from the smallest barely seen insect to grass stems and tree limbs and more. In many of those cases a viewer who is not a photographer would never even notice these things. So in that sense, are we any more original in how we produce our final product? Or are we just driven to comply with a different, maybe more subtle set of norms?


The title is certainly one of those “click bait” kinds of titles. Read the article and mused at some of the thoughts. Just because millions of photos are posted on Instagram each day, many of which are certainly similar in theme doesn’t mean originality is dead to me. How many landscape photographers on NPN have been to the Grand Tetons and photographed the famous Snake River Overlook that Ansel made famous, or Delicate Arch in Arches, or Mesa Arch, or Watchmans point in Zion, or … The list is endless. These are icons for a reason and duplicating the shot doesn’t imply anything bad in my book, nor does imply originality is dead. I’ll also bet that any of those same landscape photographers who have photographed any of those icons also have amazing original compositions of different locations that no one else does.

Is Instagram bad for Photography overall? No. It’s another venue that has a purpose. Clearly a different purpose than NPN, but it does have a purpose. I’ve talked to folks who have met other photographers through venues like Instagram or 500px who have inspired them to get out and shoot. Doesn’t really matter what they are shooting as long as their enjoying it.

We all meander down different paths in our passion for photography. I know I’m not good enough to think I can judge that any single venue is good or bad for photography. Some have more value for me than others. That doesn’t imply that for another person, the venues that add the most value to their journey are the ones that add the least for me.


Keith, I quite agree with you that duplicating the shot doesn’t imply anything bad. I would go so far as to say that, in any case, to speak about a photograph, any photograph as “good” or “bad” is essentially meaningless. The question that is raised for me is about vision and an artist’s willingness to take the risk and find a point of view that is authentically his or her own. That doesn’t mean we should avoid shooting at some of the iconographic sites that you’ve mentioned but rather taking the risk of finding a point of view that speaks to a vision of one’s own.


For me Instagram is like terrestrial radio for music. Both cater for a certain type of work and at the end of the day both are looking to catch an audiences attention and hold them long enough to present advertising.

Like many bands that made radio friendly singles but more creative, interesting album songs I think that photographers can enjoy both approaches.

What I find interesting about successful imagery in instagram is that it’s often more familiar than interesting. For example I must have seen a thousand photos of that tree in wanaka. Maybe abstract work will gain in popularity as the same images are recycled

1 Like

Another way to look at it is that the problem isn’t Instagram, it’s us. Instagram is just a reflection of who we are. It’s not forcing us to copy compositions or even fostering it. That’s our decision.

It’s akin to the argument that video games are responsible for mass shooting. If you’re attracted to violent games then you like violence. You’re violent with or without the games.

People shoot cliche images because they’re acceptably good. You can’t err by shooting something that everyone likes. It also takes less effort and less courage to take a cliche shot. You don’t have to look within. You offer nothing of yourself. It’s strange because photographers fly to the ends of the planet, hike enormous distances, and get up at ungodly hours only to take a cliche shot. They’re willing to undergo physical hardships yet not willing to express themselves.

1 Like

I don’t collect seashells in depth of the ocean. I collect seashells along the edge of the ocean.

I’ve found that this world is large enough for us all and we all can achieve our goals no matter the “competition” if we ignore the negativity that we perceive in situations that ultimately don’t affect us directly, which involves about 99% of the photos posted or interaction on Instagram. Instagram is a huge ocean of images. I choose to walk along its beaches. :wink:

Has Instagram harmed photography? No. It has only changed it. Photography is more popular now than ever before, and due to the influx of mediocre or cliche cell phone generated and one click plugin processed images, real, skilled, honest hard working photographers have even more opportunities.

Also, in this day and age, in the world of photography where everyone’s a photographer, cliche or similar images don’t bring the photographer any kind of lasting value. Nor are these photographers playing the same game as the average working photographer or nature photographer. Instagram is great if you want to get a free Lensball as compensation for your cliche images, err… I mean hard work. I personally am glad to be a working photographer and not just an Instagrammer… or even a landscape or nature photographer exclusively. I make a part of my money each day by scheduling client work. Work with real people. Instagram hasn’t affected the world of a working photographer, of whom only about 1% are even paying attention to Instagram.

Photography certainly has changed in the last 20 years, no doubt about that, especially in the world of publishing, but the need for real, working photographers has not gone away due to the invention of social media.

I divide the motivation of the average photographer into two categories. Truth or Fame. Instagram is about fame. What you do in your own world each day to further yourself is about truth. Truth is rarely shared or consumed online.


I wish I didn’t need to use Instagram, but it’s better than the alternative of an office job…

1 Like

I have been doing a lot of introspection lately on why I spend so much time and money on nature photography. Mainly, I just love going outside and being in a creative mindset both in the field and in the digital darkroom. However, I am really getting worn down by anti-creative and competitive tendencies of sharing photos on social media and have been looking for solutions to keep the love of the craft alive. Social media seems like a great marketing tool for business-oriented photographers, but the more I learn about the business of photography the less I am interested in it so I’m not sure that social media is right for me.

I am seriously considering closing down my facebook and IG accounts in favor of just posting images here, my website, and a quarterly email newsletter or other format like that. I know I would lose a lot of attention, but attention is not really what I’m after here. I’m just tired of thinking about social media so much, but am afraid I’d lose momentum with my photography without it. Curious if anyone has thoughts on that.



Hi Brent, I recently deleted all my social media accounts for multiple reasons. I now just upload my (hobby) images to my website - and more recently here. It’s weird at first, but I like the feeling now; kinda ‘free’. Social media can be what it set out to be, but the time-on-site model, with its horrible negative side-effects, needs to change to a (probably paid-for) time-well-spent model, with positive side-effects and human flourishing.