Updated: Apr 4, 2020
"The king is dead, long live the king!"
Yes, my friends and fellow photographers, boudoir photography on Instagram is dead-- or maybe a better way to look at it is its nothing like it was just a few years ago. So, what happened? Will there be a new Monarch to emerge? Let's take a look below...
The Instagram Of Yester-Year
It all started off with such promise. Who doesn't want to have their work seen and get the opportunity to get more customer at the same time?! Instagram was practically the perfect promotional vehicle for photographers. It was a place to shine, and show off your best photos to the world. Hard to believe, but Instagram was born on October 6, 2010, nearly a decade ago-- Boy, how time flies. In its first year, it had gathered over 10 millions active users.
I guess I came across it perhaps a year and a half after it started. I don't remember much about finding it, except I didn't really use it much at first. I do recall thinking that I didn't create square photos-- and everyone on Instagram was square-- so I didn't fit. I didn't like it. I didn't want to chop up my photos to fit this "weird" aspect ratio.
My first Instagram contribution (as far as I can recall) was rather odd. It was a photo of me reclining on my couch-- which for whatever reason I felt was a good introduction to the service. --After all, what did it matter?
Even for a while after that, I was struggling with finding a purpose in posting my photos.
You can read my caption, and see my initial frustration. It wasn't too long after that, however, where either I figured out how to adapt my photos to this "square" format, or tools became available to take my 2:3 images and scale them to fit on the service. Even for a while after that, though, Instagram wasn't a priority for my work.
I kept posting a few images here and there, and suddenly several months later my photos started getting recognized and getting likes-- some of them hundreds of likes. So, it was probably that feedback that started making me using the service a bit more regularly.
Then, it seemed it wasn't long after that when Instagram blew up, and it suddenly became a work "requirement" for photographers-- and for everyone else for that matter. For those who followed tech things, you'd hear about the growth of Instagram from millions, to hundreds of millions, to eventually over a billion users.
The frenzy was on, and the age of the "Instagram Celebrity" had arrived. I continued to use the service, but honestly, it was a chore for me, personally. Along with the rise of the "Instagram Celebrity" also came the rise of the "Instagram Expert." You know a service is popular when it spawns its own offshoots of "Experts." These Instagram business "Experts" sprouted up like weeds-- and along with them lots of "rules" about posting. I don't know about you, but I always just posted photos when I wanted. --I guess I'm a bad rule follower.
These "Instagram Experts" extolled the virtues of making schedules and posting photos at specific times to "maximize" your likes and user growth. "Driving engagement" was the mantra. Somehow these people seem to want to suck the fun out of anything. When the platform started to come to that point, it wasn't surprising things were going to change.
The #hashtagcraze was in full swing, as well. People were shelling out real world dollars to buy fake followers (to impress who?), and it seemed everyone in the world was caught up in the mania of Instagram. People would do anything and everything for "likes" on their photos to push forward the dream of reaching the all-important "Influencer" status and the lure of theoretical riches that could follow.
It was all too much! When things get to that mania level, some sort of alarm should be going off somewhere in your brain.
The Instagram Of Today
Fast forward a few years, and the Instagram of 2020 is no longer the Instagram of 2012. My how times have changed. When it comes to being a boudoir photographer, sadly it's no longer the amazing growth tool it used to be.
There are plenty of boudoir photographers with strong followings, but growing a new account may be more difficult now than it was several years ago.
Why? Well, in a similar manner as Pinterest did, Instagram has "unofficially" put the kibosh on boudoir photography--
How? Let's take a look.
Boudoir Hash Tags
One of the main tools you could use to help make your photos useful in Instagram are hashtags. We all know about hashtags. #dallasboudoirphotographer #boudoirstudio #newyorkboudoir. For what they are worth, hashtags, although over used, were useful for identifying your shot for certain groups or interests.
Now? Gone! Most major boudoir photography related hashtags are in a state of perma-blocked status... and have been for over a year or so. So using them, is fairly useless. Tagging your cute photo with #dallasboudoir to garner attention of your local community-- does nothing. You can certainly add the hashtag to the photo, but Instagram has that tag blocked, so searches for it will not show your work. This seems to be the new unfortunate future of boudoir photography on Instagram.
There are some smaller boudoir related hashtags which still are functioning (a.k.a. have not been blocked yet,) but it looks like the future of the boudoir hashtag is pretty bleak-- if not already finished.
This doesn't seem to be a temporary situation, either. Before posting with hashtags, make a quick search to see if your favorite hashtags are still functioning. If you haven't looked at them in a while, you may be surprised.
A.I. Is Watching You
Boudoir photography is predominantly shots of women in lingerie of some sort. Even though in your eyes your work is pretty, Instagram doesn't necessarily see it that way. You are operating in that fringy gray area of the platform.
Instagram uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to scan content. The extent to which this is integrated into the system I don't know, but the next time you have a boudoir photo deleted... odds are it may not be a person reporting you, it is their artificial intelligence scanning and trying to identify content that doesn't follow their community guidelines.
Instagram has released information regarding how AI is used to select content for your Explore tab-- so you can only presume this technology is also used in other areas of the platform. With over a billion users, the task of moderation is just too vast for human moderators to manage.
Are you familiar with image below?
If you are a boudoir photographer, you may want to get familiar with it.
Computers are rapidly "learning" about images. These systems can identify and know the content of your photos. Need a practical example? If you are a Google Images user, go to the search box and type in a search term like "dog," or "beach," and Google will magically show you all the photos of "dogs" or "beaches" from your camera roll.
This works without any type of physical tagging-- most people do not tag photos. They have used the power of analyzing the billions and billions of photos and taught their system what a "dog" is, and how to identify them.
Likewise, and as silly as it sounds, Instagram is well aware what a "fully-nude buttocks" is and has taught it's system to identify and purge those photos. --I'm guessing that "partially-nude" buttocks get a pass... but that's another whole discussion.
Of course, the intention of all this artificial intelligence is good. A service like Instagram is forced to walk a difficult line... and they can't please everybody all the time. Finding the right balance using a technology like this is tough, and I can't imagine it's going to get it right in every instance.
I've personally been the victim of this. I have one particular photo that existed in my feed for probably two years. I re-posted it, again, a couple of months ago, and within ten minutes I received the "Your Post Has Been Deleted" message. Interestingly, a few days later I received the message again-- and this time it was for the other copy of that same photo that peacefully existed in my feed for a few years.
Receiving this message is a bit jarring at first... What did I do? That photo has been has peacefully existing on the platform for a few years... why now? Well, it most likely wasn't a person doing this, it was their A.I., which once identifying the photo as "offensive," does it's thing, and when it was spotted again, removed it from my feed.
Looking back at that particular photo (which was a boudoir close up of a buttocks-- although it wasn't nude) I can see it may be have pushing the line a bit. It was maybe a bit much for Instagram, and to a degree I get it. Lesson learned.
The bottom line is that Instagram is stepping up its moderation policies. I don't know the exact limits, or the number of strikes that you can receive before being banned, but boudoir photographers need to be a bit more vigilant about the type of content they are posting. If you are going to exist on Instagram as a boudoir photographer you are going to have to play by their new rules.
So, where does this put Instagram as a tool for boudoir photographers? Well, the walls are certainly closing in. The "Wild N Free" days on the platform may be behind us.
It seem, for me at least, Instagram may be slowly falling out of favor as a way to promote my business.
The combination of the facts that it's getting tougher and tougher to gain new followers, the implementation of the overseeing AI, and the blockage of industry related hashtags, growing your account may be more challenging than ever. In addition to that, there's also evidence your feed isn't being seen my as many followers as it used to be. In the same manner Facebook chopped organic reach of it's Facebook Page users, it may be doing the same thing to Instagram users, as well.
So, where does this go from here? As always, you need a strong foundation "at home." --Meaning your website and mailing list. Instagram can't stop you from displaying whatever photos you want on your business website. They also can't stop you from promoting your website as you wish, and in the manner that works best for you.
Trends come and go. Who knows how much longer people will be interested in Instagram. Take advantage of the platform while you can, but its never smart to have all your marketing eggs in just one basket-- especially one that you don't control.
What are your thoughts?