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5 Things Instagram taught professional photographers in 2019

2020 is here. Even as we look ahead towards another year of innovation on Instagram, we take a moment to look back at the things that made us sit up and take notice in 2019. From the rise of video content on the world’s original photo-based social media platform to the astounding viral campaign that broke all records, here are top 5 lessons professional photographers learned from Instagram in 2019:

1. Go Natural
The unmistakable Instagram photography aesthetic of bright colors, interesting walls, and carefully positioned everyday items to create aspirational, glamorous pictures, made possible by dozens of free and paid filters and apps began to change in 2019. Some of the best instagram photos (i.e. most followed/liked) from influencers began to feature “UNtouched-up” looks in their pictures, responding to changing consumer preferences (one report cited that over 86% of surveyed Instagram users preferred authenticity in the brands they followed [1]) and the need to find something new to help stand out from the crowd.

To be clear, the “perfect” photo didn’t go away. In fact, some of the best photography on Instagram continued to be featured in superbly executed, brilliant shots that evoked classical memories of high fashion and aspirational quality that luxury brands love to project [2]. However the need to balance consistency of brand message with the new consumer aesthetic created new opportunities for professional photographers and photo-editors, and famous instagram photographers soon began posting photos in new styles like “minimally retouched”, “entirely untouched” and “behind the scenes”. We think this will continue in 2020, as brands start to choose from a greater number of photo styles to best portray their brand identity through pics even as professionals get more creative opportunities and consumers find brands that best appeal to them. That’s a win-win for all, as far as we are concerned.

2. Nostalgia is back
vintageIn 2018 and 2019 millions of Instagrammers used filters and apps like Huji, Mexture, 1998 Cam, Prequel etc. [3](in no particular order and by no means an exhaustive list!) to create beautiful retro looks. Things really took off when Selena Gomez, one of the world’s biggest pop stars with an Instagram following of over 160 million people posted cool, retro style photos using HujiCam. While some apps like Darkr created sexy B&W images with a darkroom experience, others like 1967 and Kamon let users create pictures resembling the film camera pictures of the 1960s and 1990s, complete with grain, blurred edges and over saturation, reflective of the camera limitations of the day. While some professional photographers dismissed the trend as a fad that would quickly disappear, others liked that the apps provided a nostalgic outlet.

This isn’t really about which retro-style apps were the most popular, or whether we think retro filters and apps are here to stay or a passing fad. We are making a broader point. Nostalgia is a powerful force, evoking memories, establishing emotional connect and ultimately influencing decisions. The best photographers on Instagram already understand this, and the rest of us interested in taking advantage of the instagram photography phenomenon would do well to pay attention. Professional photo-editors would do well to include era, technology and geography-specific retro style specializations in their repertoires to stand out from their competitors, because brands go through phases of recalling the past, both to reinforce their appeal to long term consumers and pique the curiosity of new ones.

3. IGTV Begins
IGTV is Instagram’s venture into hosting long form (up to 60 mins.) videos, a significant jump from the previous 1 min length limitation on the Instagram platform. IGTV, launched in 2018 is instantly accessible to Instagram’s 1 billion subscribers, and easily accessible to the 2.45 billion subscribers of Instagram’s parent, Facebook[4,5].
Why does this matter to professional photographers? First, the future of photography certainly includes video in some way. Admittedly we are quite some distance away from video frame quality coming anywhere close to professional quality still photos. However, as hardware gets cheaper and onboard and post-processing software gets smarter, there are definite applications for video extraction for stills, especially for low resolution applications like eCommerce and Digital Advertising, especially those made to target mobile users. Therefore photographers and photo editors need to upgrade their skills and take advantage of this new opportunity. Second, as more Instagram users get used to consuming longer, more professionally created videos, photographers and photo editors have an opportunity to gain a greater audience for their still work by using IGTV-enabled Instagram Business accounts, especially with specialized creative content like food photography stills stitched to resemble time-lapse videos. IGTV is about to change the world, and professional photograph creators need to get engaged.

4. Instagram Stories
Some of the best photography instagram accounts actually use their most popular pics in their Story feeds. Since Instagram introduced the feature in 2016, over 500 million subscribers have posted at least one Story. So what is Stories? In short, it is content (posts, pictures, videos, animations, stickers) that disappears from the user’s feed in 24 hours[7]. The feature fits nicely between very short posts and pictures (essentially statuses) and the permanently-stored, very long IGTV content. This is especially useful for brands which use frequent consumer interaction through contests, event announcements, etc. Some of the more interesting Stories features is Augmented Reality and Carousel. Current AR features are geared towards entertainment and fun, but Stories is likely to be the platform of choice for brands’ virtual try-on stores as well.

Carousel allows brands to post up to five pictures that viewers can swipe through. This increases the viewer’s time spent on the brand’s story or post, improving the possibility of conversion. Photo-editors can remain quite busy creating AR markers for carousel photos, thus further increasing users’ engagement.

5. The Egg

Instagram egg

By late 2018 Instagram photography had become formulaic. In fact, most of the “Top 20” instagram posts of all time have one thing in common- from a photography point of view, there is nothing interesting about them! This is rather ironic, considering Instagram started as (and remains) the world’s premier photo-centric social media platform!
All that changed with a picture of an egg in early 2019. It was just a plain brown chicken egg on a white background, and featured a post of similar simplicity, challenging viewers to help it become the most viewed post on Instagram (not easy, considering the reigning Kylie Jenner photo had over 18 million views!) It did so in just 15 days, and crossed the 50 million view mark in just three months to become the most viewed post of all time not just on Instagram, but on all of social media! To many, this was a welcome break from the shallow materialism and money-fuelled “viral” pictures of celebrities and reminded people that social media is ultimately about the collective will of ordinary people.

But that’s not the best part of the story. You see, the photo in question wasn’t even original- it was a four year old stock photo from shutterstock used on instagram by a couple of advertising professionals with zero celebrity or influencer backing. And that is the lesson to be learned. Professional photographers and photo-editors work really hard to create good instagram photos, but to get a real following that achieves great things there has to be an inspiring, well-timed message with a clear call to action.And that’s our pick for the top five lessons for professional photographers from Instagram in 2019! Did you like it?
Let us know if we left out your favourite tip by leaving a comment below. If you are considering using one or more of our tips above to weave your own future content strategy on Instagram or generally need help with professional photo editing for eCommerce, Digital Advertising or content marketing, consider reaching out to Pikspire!


Photo Credit :Pxfuel, Pxhere, Instagram and Google.