I’m fairly new to Instagram. Well, to be more precise, I’m fairly new to using the Instagram account I’ve “owned” for a while but had very little idea how to use. Despite having posted a smattering of photos over the last year or so, I’m still only on the first step of the ladder when it comes to optimising any benefits that it might offer.

The question I keep asking myself is: does Instagram really have that much to offer to amateur photographers? Well, we can post our photos without incurring any significant financial cost and the platform provides ready access to a potentially huge, global audience. Our photos sit in the same pool as those posted by professional photographers and other creatives and, to all intents and purposes, it’s a level playing field. But here’s the thing; posting photos and actually getting them seen are at almost polar extremes to one another.

This isn’t a complaint, by the way. We choose to post on Instagram and we know (or we should) that becoming an Instagram “god(ess)” requires a lot of dedication, an awful lot of posts and a thorough understanding of the game to be played to obtain a committed following and the “likes” that will, hopefully, er…follow.

But what then…?

For businesses, and those who aspire to become professional photographers / creatives or earn revenue from clicks, a high profile Instagram (and other social media) site is a must have. Used well, it can provide a commercial advantage. I doubt it’s any accident that there are many businesses on Instagram that offer their services to provide a ready-made following to get you from ground zero to tens of thousands in one, easy step. For a fee.

Of course, this is frowned upon by Instagram, as is posting photos taken on anything other than the camera in one’s smart-phone. There some very talented photographers out there who can achieve really good results from smart-phones. I’m not one of them and have no desire to be. This isn’t snobbery, it’s just that I see a phone as being for making phone calls and, by necessity, sending texts and emails. For photographs, I have various cameras that allow me to produce output with which I am much more comfortable than that I could achieve with the camera on my phone.

Then there’s “who” and “what” we like, on Instagram. I have a number of friends, former colleagues and internet buddies from photography forums who use Instagram. I love looking at their photos. However, aside from them, Instagram offers an incredible array of photography and other art style and content. Attach the right hashtags to your posts or to your searches and you’ll soon be heading down a rabbit-hole at dizzying speed. In no time, you’ll be following several hundred photographers and may well have quite a few of them following you. Great, but then every time you look at your Instagram account, every photo from everyone you follow will be paraded before your eyes. If you’ve clicked on the “enable notifications” button (I haven’t, nor will I ever), you’ll be notified when someone you follow posts something.

I follow a few photography channels on YouTube. One such channel is owned by Sean Tucker: . Aside from being, in my opinion, an extremely good photographer and thinker, he also recently affirmed a conclusion at which I’d arrived - namely, that it’s own own responsibility to curate the content of what we watch and what we view. If it doesn’t inspire us or help us to improve, just hit the “unfollow” button. That might sound harsh but we have finite time available to us. We can spend it profitably or not - just don’t complain if the content is boring or meaningless. As far as that is concerned, we are in control.

So, what’s in it for Instagram? So far, we’ve only really seen Instagram as a receptacle for posts. Well, they make money from selling advertising; advertising that pops up when we look at our account and posts from those we follow. Some very clever algorithms allow Instagram to harvest data from what we post and what we view and then target us with advertising for goods and services that fit our profile.

None of this should come as any surprise to us. We get to use social media services for free but the quid-pro-quo is that we allow our data to be used as a source of income. It’s much the same with Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google and dozens of other global service providers. It’s our choice to use them but we do need to do so with our eyes wide open.