If you’ve used Instagram in the past six months, you may have noticed the slow decline of photography on your feed. The reels are the main culprit behind this change, but there’s more to it than you might think.
I’ve always had a rocky relationship with Instagram for the photography experience, but it’s the absolute best way for artists and photographers to connect with a general audience, unlike things like Flickr, 500px, or Fstoppers, where the user base is strictly photographers. Instagram’s audience and reach have been absolutely huge, and that’s what made the platform unique. Instagram was a social media experience designed around photos, but it wasn’t just for photographers; it just allowed the photographers to flourish and showcase their work in front of everyone. It’s allowed creatives like us to have a large audience to sell prints to, find a wedding photographer, discover new landscape photography locations, connect with models for your next photoshoot, and it has even created an entire lifestyle photographer industry.
That golden age is fading, however, and over the past two months I’ve read countless online threads, heard colleagues in the field or just friends complain about the severity of the experience. Over the past six months, they’ve been pushing the coils more and more, but did you know that they’re paying people to make those coils?
Get paid by Instagram
The program is offered to random business accounts and has nothing to do with your current measurements from my observation. If you are offered to be part of the Reels bonus program, it scales based on your current following and count, which means if you have a massive following, you will need a lot more views to get the same payout . My initial bid was $1,200 for 1.09 million views over a 30 day period. Fortunately, the payouts actually scale very evenly.
With less than 20,000 views, I made over $200, which means even if you’re someone with a small audience, you can still make a little extra money. Above, I’ve included some of the progress images from my first month of earnings to make coils, and you can get an idea of the scaling. Without analyzing it too closely, it seems that after the $200 mark, the payout becomes linear.
I ended up getting lucky. While the XPan is probably the most famous body, it is far from the only panoramic camera useful in this role. In fact, there are a few cases where it’s less than ideal. The reels are pushed by the algorithm. I don’t know the science behind this, but we can make some educated guesses. From my observation, if your Reel is saved and shared frequently, Instagram keeps showing it to more people. Viewing time also matters, but that’s not an insight provided by metrics on Instagram. What’s different about Reels versus Photos, however, is that previously you had to go to the Discover page to really blast something outside of your following. Most Reels are seen by people who don’t even follow you. I don’t have a record of the stats for this specific reel from when I got the bonus for those views, but I’ve included what the current metrics are, keeping in mind that the majority of views I got stopped shortly after my payment month.
I hit my goal of 1.09 million views and got paid the full amount while gaining just over 1,000 subscribers, which was great. The next month they offered me the same payout schedule, but none of my Reels ended up being distributed like the first, so I only walked away with just over $400. After that month, Instagram moved the goalposts a massive amount, 10 times to be exact. Even though my followers didn’t grow much, they changed my view goal from 1.09 million views to 11.02 million views. I didn’t really want to chase a moving carrot, so I stopped caring after that point, but I still really appreciated that bonus.
keep the coil
The truth is, I hate doing Reels. They feel so superficial and don’t provide me with any real substance or fulfillment. The reels I created with real information performed well, but the single reels I paired with random sound clips or music performed much better on average. It was like the more I tried, the worse they did. It felt really unsatisfying to me, but as long as I approached it as a “work”, I could look past those feelings. I also noticed that all that really mattered was quantity and not quality. There was no correlation between effort and results and you only had to create a lot of reels to have one to be pushed by the algorithm. The addition of a mobile carrot to chase money drives people to create more and more frivolous content.
Even if you completely ignore Reels, you’ll still see that sponsored posts have become the first thing you see when you open the app. They’ve also started suggesting content from people you don’t even follow, and they’re working on an update that lets people post 9:16 photos instead of the previous larger ratio of 5:4. I’d be curious to see if this added photo size will bring more photos back to the stream, but to be honest, a lot of photographers have struggled to get square images or 5:4 ratios to work in their portfolio. The whole landscape genre has its own image orientation.
I know many photographers have moved Twitter, but I’m not sure it’s a great replacement. Yes, it absolutely exposes our work in a purer form than Instagram ever did. Allowing high quality images, without restrictive aspect ratios and image galleries. The problem is that Twitter is a text-centric social media platform. Words first, and everything else is secondary. Although Instagram restricted the photos we posted in many ways, it put our work in front of ordinary people because it was a photo-based platform. There are plenty of great photographers out there working on building inclusive communities as long as you don’t get too drawn into the pro/anti-NFT debate. However, none of this replaces what Instagram does best: get billions of everyday people to potentially scroll through your art.
I don’t know what’s next for photographers, and it could be the end of a golden era for the accessibility of our work to the masses. You don’t really know what you’ve lost until he’s gone, huh? I would like to know what your experience has been so far and where you think the next social wave will be.