The other day, I saw somebody I follow on Instagram who was celebrating their “instaversary” (or however you name it) and so I thought about how I started myself.
I’m a sort of compulsive early adopter when it comes to apps. I get very excited about everything that’s new and seems novel and disruptive enough. And so I jumped on board of the Instagram train very early.
It was 2009. I had just purchased my first iPhone, the 3GS. I’m an early adopter but I don’t like wasting money so I wait at least the 3rd generation with devices… 😉 And I was very much enjoying snapping shots with its camera.
Back then, I still had my old big Nikon DSLR and I was using a Hasselblad for a commissioned work. So, the idea of having a small smartphone in my pocket that could take good enough pictures was quite exciting to me and I fully embraced it.
It was an interesting period in that specific tech field. For the first time internal cameras started to have a direct impact on phone sales. A whole new generation of users called themselves “iPhoneographers”, people shooting pictures solely with their phones. Well, iPhones really because all competitors never had good cameras until a few years ago.
And famously, it was when Chase Jarvis wrote the book that kicked it all off: “The Best Camera Is The One That’s With You” (still available on Amazon).
All of a sudden everybody was out shooting photos with their phones.
But in such context, there wasn’t a dedicated platform where to publish this new ever-increasing array of photographs. Web services existed, like Flickr, but they were still desktop sites. The iPhone revolution made everything doable from inside a phone device, therefore after shooting you needed a dedicated mobile-only app to publish. And so in October 2010 Instagram fulfilled this need and launched its iOS app.
My Instagram early days
I suppose Instagram had a very good marketing department since the beginning: within our iPhoneographers community we pretty much all knew about the launch within a few days. But everybody already had a Flickr account, some were even paying the Pro subscription, so why bother with a new app?
Well, myself I simply MUST try what’s new, so within the first 3 weeks I opened my account @fabienb. And I’ve been using that same account since.
I used my phone to snap any shot I could possibly take. My first posts were of my cat, my in-laws’ dog, a rare snow in Florence, concerts, friends’ portraits, so on and so forth. I wasn’t really shooting anything remotely interesting (to others at least).
But within a few months I decided to relocate to London as a new step of my career. I was excited and was still shooting everything I could possibly shoot. And I somehow grew fond of the Tube stations, particularly at times when they were empty. They are such a busy space almost all day, so the emptiness felt quite surreal. And so I made this my project.
I’m a Designer at heart, so I’m often drawn to symmetry, patterns, graphic elements, etc. And the London Tube had them all.
I took lots of photos of empty corridors, staircases, interesting corners, both in colour and in black and white. And people on Instagram were interested, probably because it was a thoughtful project, not just the occasional pet or postcard. So I was receiving a lot of attention and followers were growing.
At the same time, Phil Gonzalez started the Instagramers community (IGers). And London had one of the first Igers communities, of course.
I went to their first exhibition in Brick Lane (October 2011 if I remember well) to get in touch. And soon after I started going out with them. Being new in town, it was a good way for me to make like-minded friends 🙂
Among the group, I met another photographer who had my same idea for her photo project, @MissUnderground. Together, we went for day-long missions to photograph all the stations in a single Tube line. Like here, around the Circle Line. And yes, even the 2-branched Northern line 😉
She has another account now, but still keeps this one dedicated to London Tube shots.
With Igers London, I had the opportunity to showcase my photos in exhibitions, which was really cool. They were some of the first mobile-only photography exhibition so there was a lot of interest around them.
The group still exists today and is always very active on Meetup and sometimes they even go together abroad. At times, there’s around 40-50 people gathering at one meetup. To me, such numbers were becoming overwhelming. I found that I very much enjoyed the company but the crowd was distracting me from my creativity. And so I never officially departed but I didn’t go to other meetups. I still follow them and maybe join one again, who knows.
The following years
The Tube project was going well, as you expect from a niche account, but I started feeling it repetitive. So I tried to take the same approach but applying it to the open world.
I looked at the same patterns and symmetry in archways, streets and buildings. And I was travelling a lot for work, so I had the opportunity to do the same in other countries.
But while travelling, I also became more interested in everything else that the places I visited had to offer. And while I was shooting most of the previous photos in black and white, I felt that the world needed to be shown in full colour.
So my style changed, and my feed grew to a travel photo feed. I think the stepping stone of the change was my visit to Cape Town. It was so colourful and vibrant and diverse that it required this new style.
Anyway, to this day, my Instagram photo feed reflects my passion for travelling and enjoying the world’s diverse experiences.
But in all these years, despite having been an early adopter, I always kept seeing Instagram as a fun distraction. I was never fully committed, I didn’t care about growing my account, or else. Mind you, I would even stay months without posting in my feed.
With the introduction of Stories, I might have become more active, but I was still not present enough.
In hindsight, it’s really a shame because I could have made a better use of all my years on Instagram. Even exploiting its flaws like many did.
Travel photography is also a very competitive niche: while I was a superstar in the early days of Tube shots, I was a drop in the ocean of travel photography.
So it was fun, I had my good moments, but it was also becoming stagnant.
I decided to take things more seriously this year, as part of my personal growth as a photographer. While I lost terrain for not being too active these part years, I’m confident it’s never too late. Particularly if you put out good content.
I follow recommendations from users who have been on Instagram less than I but managed to make it their job. And I’m developing strategies to finally grow my account organically. Things are going well. One of my photos even went almost viral and drove a couple thousands new followers to my account.
I am doing some experiments there as well. I am currently running photo series in my feed, which are theme-based series of 9 to 15 pictures. In Winter I took advantage of the longer dark hours to post cityscape shots at night. Right now, it’s something similar but perhaps darker: pictures of narrow alleys with a touch of neon colour. All of them shot in different cities around the world. I even created a specific hashtag for the last series, #theneoncities.
There are photographers who look back and start hating their past photos. But myself, I still love all of them for the memories they bring back. I have archived a few from my Instagram feed, but I’m still keeping most of them. Even those that don’t belong with the content I publish now. They still narrate my story, and I hope that people can relate.
I’d be happy for you to visit my profile @fabienb and have a look, maybe there’s something you like. And maybe you’ll stick around 🙂
Either way, thank for reading it to here.