Photographers face a dire challenge on Instagram: Get reels or fade away. While once the domain of still imagery social updates, Instagram’s algorithm now prioritizes Reels over other forms of content. This means most still photographers need to adapt short videos or “motion pictures” to promote themselves or accept less visibility. They must become videographers in some form.
To the casual observer, this may seem like an obvious transition and an easy one at that. Nope. Moving from still to video photography — and to make Reels short vertical video — is not easy.
It’s like moving off the line as an individual performer and becoming a manager in the same profession. The transition may seem obvious, but it is not. These are two different skillsets.
The best videographers actually use different cameras and lenses to capture their content. So there are techniques and approaches that are unique to video, the most difficult of which revolve around capturing good audio. But there are other subtle differences like the 180 rule and ensuring white balance is on point.
Then there is the editing side of the equation. While Instagram makes this easier in some ways with its Reels editor, and Apple iMovie and Adobe Rush offer light consumer editing tools, they are not Apple FinalCut or Adobe Premier (or Spark). At some point, serious videographers become intimate with the professional video editing techniques they offer.
Hybrid Still and Video Photography
Some pros may have already transitioned to the hybrid model. It has become more and more common for photographers to capture some form of video at events and the like. As a VP of Marketing Communications, I want both from events and since I also happen to be the camera guy, I can capture it.
Today’s mirrorless cameras make it much easier, eliminating many of the challenges presented with audio capture and file length that older DSLRs possessed. In fact, some mirrorless cameras are specifically designed for this purpose, such as the Sony A7SIII or the upcoming Fuji X-H2. I bought the Canon R6 for my job at Evalueserve specifically for this purpose. And yes, today’s iPhones are pretty damn good for social video capture.
Photographers who want to adapt motion captures as a skillset should look at Reels as an opportunity. They can decide whether to use Reels as an opportunity to learn and master these skills. In some ways, the pain of promotion provides on-the-job training.
I think this is particularly true for photographers who successfully built a strong following on IG, but now find their images get much lower visibility. They must find another way to promote themselves, and the easiest path may be building Reels. Event, fashion, and wedding photographers would also benefit greatly from being able to offer their clients short video captures from their shoots.
Fade on IG (and grow elsewhere?)
With my personal work, I am still not quick to shoot video. It’s not where my heart is as an artist, but the marketer in me sees its obvious importance. So for promotional purposes on Instagram I need to take the extra step to think of, develop a concept or script (because in general, I don’t like off-the-cuff content), and capture that extra video.
I did create a Reel for this blog and the tulips images in it. But it was a bolt-on, not the real purpose of the photography. I simply like photographing the tulips every spring. What can I say?
Because I have a full-time job and am not taking on clients right now, I have less urgency to post Reels (as evidenced by my profile grid). I am active in other venues, namely my monthly photo email newsletter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Flickr. Plus I am a bit disincentivized to focus heavily on promotion right now.
As a result, I am more comfortable slacking or fading away on Instagram than fighting to become a top Reels creator. That may change quickly in the future, but for now, this seems to be the course of things.
I know many photographers who promote themselves in other venues and avoid Instagram, and they seem to do well in their businesses, too. It may just be that Instagram’s core legacy of photography is just not that important anymore for professionals. Or at least not the only way to earn mind share for still photography.
What do you think?