If you’ve used Instagram in the past six months, you might have noticed the slow decline of photography on your feed. Reels are the main culprit of that change, but there’s more to it than you might think.
I’ve always had a tough relationship with Instagram for the photography experience, but it’s been the absolute best way for artist and photographers alike to connect with a general audience, unlike things such as Flickr, 500px, or Fstoppers, where the user base is strictly photographers. The audience and reach within Instagram has been absolutely massive, and it’s what made the platform unique. Instagram was a social media experience designed around photos, but it wasn’t restricted to just photographers; it simply allowed photographers to flourish and get their work in front of anyone and everyone. It’s allowed creatives like us to have a huge audience to potentially sell prints to, find a wedding photographer, discover new landscape photography locations, connect with models for your next photoshoot, and it even created an entire industry of lifestyle photographer.
That golden era is fading away, though, and in the past couple months, I’ve read countless threads online, heard from colleagues in the field, or just friends complaining about how bad the experience has become. Over the past six months, they have increasingly pushed Reels, but did you know they are paying people to make those reels?
The program is offered to business accounts randomly and has nothing to do with your current metrics from my observations. If you do get offered to be part of the Reels bonus program, it scales based on your current following and numbers, meaning if you have a massive following, you’ll need a lot more views to get the same payout. My initial offer was $1,200 for 1.09 million views over a 30-day period. Thankfully, the payouts actually scale very fairly. 

Scaling Reels pay.
With less than 20,000 views, I made over $200, meaning even if you’re someone with a small following, you can still earn a bit of extra money. Above, I have included a few of the progress pictures from my first month getting paid to make Reels, and you can get a sense of the scaling. Without analyzing it too closely, it seems like after the $200 mark, the payout becomes linear.

Stats taken from the time of this article.
I ended up getting quite lucky. While the XPan is probably the most famous body, it’s far from the only panoramic camera useful in this role. In fact, there are a few instances where it’s less than ideal. Reels get pushed by the algorithm. I don’t know the science behind it, but we can make some educated guesses. Based on my observations, if your Reel gets saved and shared frequently, Instagram continues pushing it to more people. Watch time also matters, but that isn’t an insight provided by the metrics on Instagram. What’s different about Reels than photos, though, is that previously, you had to get on the Discover page to really have something blow up outside your following. Most Reels are seen by people who don’t even follow you. I don’t have a recording 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 the views I got stopped shortly after my payout month.

Not a carrot I want to chase.
I hit my goal of 1.09 million views and got paid the full amount while also gaining a little over 1,000 followers as well, which was great. The next month, they offered me the same payout scale, but none of my Reels ended up getting distributed like that first one did, so I only walked away with a little over $400. Following that month, Instagram moved the goal posts by a massive amount, 10 times to be exact. Even though my following hadn’t grown all that 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 all that much after that point, but I was still really appreciative of that bonus.
The truth is, I hate making Reels. They feel so superficial and provide no real substance or fulfillment for me. The Reels I made with actual information did fine, but the simple Reels that I matched up with some random sound bite or music did so much better on average. It was as if the more effort I put into them, the worse they did. This felt really unsatisfying to me, but as long as I approached it as “work,” I could look past those feelings. I also noticed that all that really mattered was posting quantity and not quality. There was no correlation of effort to results and that you just need to make a lot of Reels to eventually have one to get pushed by the algorithm. Adding a moving carrot to chase for money just drives people to make 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 are working on an update that allows for people to post 9:16 photos instead of the previous largest ratio of 5:4. I’ll be curious to see if this added photo size will get more photos back on the feed, but if I’m being honest, many photographers have struggled just getting square images or 5:4 ratios to work within their portfolio. The entire landscape genre has its own image orientation.

Is Twitter the next photography space?
I know many photographers have moved to Twitter, but I’m not sure that’s a great replacement. Yes, it absolutely puts our work on display in a more pure form than Instagram ever did. Allowing high-quality images, no restrictive aspect ratios, and galleries of images. The problem is Twitter is a text-centric social media platform. Words first, and everything else is secondary. While Instagram restricted the photos we posted in many ways, it got our work in front of everyday people because it was a platform based on photos. There are a lot of great photographers over there working on creating inclusive communities as long as you don’t let yourself get too caught up in the pro-/anti-NFT debate. None of that replaces what Instagram did the best, though: getting billions of everyday people to potentially scroll past your art.
I’m not sure what’s next for photographers, and it might be the end of a golden era for accessibility for our work to the masses. You don’t really know what you’ve lost until it’s gone, huh? I’d love to know what your experience has been so far and where you think the next social wave will be.
Alex Armitage has traveled the world to photograph and film some of the most beautiful places it has to offer. No matter the location, perfecting it’s presentation to those absent in the moment is always the goal; hopefully to transmute the feeling of being there into a visual medium.
Instagram died because of Facebook, their need for profits, optimizing the “algorithm”, and the shill marketing via “Influencers”. The golden age of the Internet was 2005 – 2014
Of the users I’m following, I’m noticing less posting in general, whether photos or videos. It’s gotten to the point I only check my feed in the mornings.
As for videos, I hate ’em and just scroll past ’em.
Well then you are a kindred spirit! I dislike the reels too, and do not watch them. I go to Instagram to see still photos of wildlife and to connect directly with other wildlife photographers to learn more about the animals that I want to photograph and where to find them. I will continue to use Instagram in this way and have no interest in “growing my following” or paying to have more people see my shots (who the hell cares how many people see one’s photos?). And I have no interest in watching short videos either.
I find reels, with photography as the subject, kind of cool. Especially the ones that educate. They show how the shot was set up and the final product. One thing they do, as Alex touched on, is that they bring people to your feed that never would have found you before. I’m not trying to be and IG big shot or influencer. I just like showing my work anyway I can. Oh and here’s a shameless plug, @artemcogitatio, in case you’re wonder. 🙂
If it wasn’t for the fact that Instagram still gives me the ability to connect with people I might not otherwise then I would ditch it tomorrow. I keep it ticking over mainly for that reason but most of my effort is now going into my website. It’s kiss of death was Facebook, once they got it the writing was already on the wall and it’s a real shame.
This isn’t to defend facebook but saying it’s their fault is strange. They bought Instagram all the way back in 2012 when the app was barely even a year old. Everything we know and associate with instagram was during their ownership prettymuch, no?
Alex, I am neutral on the debate as I avoid social media; however, I find it refreshing that you have an informed opinion on the subject, as opposed to the facile, “it’s (insert your favorite big company to hate here) just trying to screw us and make profit and influencers whoring for clicks” argument. Thanks.
Alex, Instagram was just under over years old when Facebook bought it.
GOOD LUCK trying to find a model on IG, their dms are so full of spam and fuckboys they will never read your messages.
After my last experience with a model on IG, I think I’ll stay closer to home when it comes to portraits: i.e., limit it to friends and models I’ve worked with before and who know me. However, IG has been a treasure trove for MUA’s!
I am an avid Instagram user, but I really dislike reels. I have no interest in watching short video clips. They seem stupid and uninteresting to me. I just skip over the reels when Instagram shows them to me, but I “like” and comment on many still photos.
I will continue to use Instagram the way I want to, and I will not change my way of using Instagram just because Instagram wants me to. Just because Instagram changes the type of content that they promote and encourage does not mean that people need to just go along with it like mindless sheep.
These articles are tired I have been able to grow my account slowly and everyone who seems to be suffering since the update that killed podding which is the manipulation of the algorithm, are YT and IG photographers who most likely did that since it was the only way to get ahead prior.
What’s your IG?
I think you hit the nail on the head when you said you weren’t fulfilled by doing reels. I’ll do one just for fun and to see how it does. But, my main focus remains stills and getting them in front of people.
Maybe IG miss judged how popular your reels would be in the first month and once they saw the number of views adjusted so that the full payout will never quite be reached. Increasing the No. views 10 fold for the same payout is going to put many people off too. It would have been worth continuing for one more month to see if they would adjust the number of views downwards. Interesting thing would be if they payout more than $1.2 a month. If so how much for how many views.Unlikely the big influences will spill the beans.
In general its going to be hard to keep producing better performing reels each month. Also IG control the distribution as you described. If you make a great reel that IG determine is going to do well they show it to more people and it becomes a self fulling prophecy, a viral hit reel. You don’t profit from the windfall and they may raise the bar as far as No. viewers go so making it harder to earn the same amount next month. As I said a longer term study is needed but it does not look good.
I only follow three IG accounts and no reels have appeared in my very quite feed.
They are competing now with Tiktok with the same reels appearing in both Apps. It’s all about keeping people scrollling for a longer period of time so they are exposed to ads. Video does that better. I don’t like the reels and prefer photographs but its not what the majority of users are drawn to. Even the images have become totally unrealistic, over processed over coloured images.
— ” It’s all about keeping people scrollling for a longer period of time so they are exposed to ads.”
I use IG’s new “Following” feature where it shows posts in chronological order. And, as a bonus, there are no ads in this mode.
— “Even the images have become totally unrealistic, over processed over coloured images.”
Then, don’t follow them?