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How I started on Instagram

The other day, I saw somebody I follow on Instagram celebrating their “instaversary” (or however you name it). And it made me think about how I started on the platform myself.

I’m a sort of compulsive early adopter when it comes to apps. I get very excited about everything new that seems novel and disruptive enough. And so, I jumped on board the Instagram train very early.

Some background

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 usually wait for at least the 3rd generation of devices before I make an expensive purchase… 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 exciting. And I fully embraced it.

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It was an interesting period in that specific tech field. For the first time, internal cameras started to directly impact phone sales. A whole new generation of users called themselves “iPhoneographers”, people shooting pictures solely with their phones. Well, iPhones really, because the 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 a 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

Instagram has had a very good marketing department since the beginning: within our iPhoneographers community, we 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, and so on. I wasn’t shooting anything remotely interesting (to others, at least).

But within a few months, I decided to relocate to London as a new step in my career.
I was excited and was still shooting everything I could possibly shoot. And I somehow grew fond of the Tube stations, particularly 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 many photos of empty corridors, staircases, and interesting corners, both in colour and 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 received a lot of attention, and my followers grew.

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) 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 with the same idea for her photo project, @MissUnderground. We took 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 opened another account 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 exhibitions, so they gathered a lot of interest.
The group still exists today and is always very active on Meetup, and sometimes they even go together abroad. At times, around 40-50 people gather at one meetup. To me, such numbers were becoming overwhelming. I enjoyed the company very much, but the crowd distracted me from my creativity. And so, I never officially departed, but I didn’t go to other meetups. I still follow them and meet them individually. And maybe will join a meetup again. Who knows.

The following years

The Tube project was going well, as you expected for a niche account, but I started feeling it was repetitive. So I tried to take the same approach but apply 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 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, 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 being 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.

I might have become more active with the introduction of Stories, but I was still not present enough.
In hindsight, it’s a shame because I could have made 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.

Today

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 past years, I’m confident it’s never too late. Especially if you put out good content.
I follow recommendations from users who have been on Instagram less than I have 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 went almost viral and drove a couple thousand new followers to my account.

I am doing some experiments there as well.
I am currently running a photo series in my feed, a theme-based series of 9 to 15 pictures.

In Winter, I took advantage of the long 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 were shot in different cities around the world. I even created a specific hashtag for the last series, #theneoncities. I’m probably the only one using it so you can easily find my images.

There are photographers who look back and start hating their past photos.
Myself, I still love all of them for the memories they bring back. I have archived a few from my Instagram feed, but I still keep 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 you for reading this post to the end. You legend.

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