In early May of 2011, I posted my first photo to Instagram. It was a shot of my then-girlfriend-now-wife, sun-drenched, waiting for the streetcar. In truth, a typical shot for any Torontonian waiting for the lacklustre TTC.

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My first photo on Instagram, 2011.

That photo hasn’t received any likes. I’m not sure how many people followed me at that point. Probably null, too. Now that I have decent following on Instagram and photos that average around 200 likes per post, it started from pure passion. And fun.

It is the community on Instagram that helped me become a better photographer. To help me assess and edit each photo I post. To get real-time feedback from the community that like one of my shots or give feedback in the comments. To learn from fellow grammers on what angles they shoot, how they see a landscape, how they arrange a model, what filter(s) they use, how they use light, what lenses they use for a specific shot and so on. I still learn every day. It’s a perpetual study.

I still learn every day. It’s a perpetual study.

At first, I would shoot anything that interested me. Photos of Hank, a baseball game, my friends, landscapes from travels and the CN Tower, of course. One of my favourite subjects. Slowly, I started getting more and more traction. This, of course, was in the nascent years of Instagram, before Facebook bought the platform for a mind-bending $1 billion back in 2012. I was getting a hang of angles that worked. Timing. And what photos I wanted to share on Instagram that I truly liked. Like this one:

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An Instagram shot from Havana, 2013.

Compared to other social networks like Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook, I found Instagram more about creative expression. Using photography to capture a moment in one’s life. To express oneself through visuals. It wasn’t as negative as Facebook or as quickly forgotten as Twitter. Instagram, conversely, was creative, typically positive, expressive, and just plain fun.

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An Instgram shot from Ghana, 2014.

All along, I’ve progressed and learned from fellow grammers. What hashtags to use (see this photo for an example). When best to post a photo (later in the evening I find). How to engage with your audience by commenting back. How to take a risk with a photo. To experiment with various styles.

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My best Instagram shots of 2015.

But most important, all along, to learn. Here’s to you Instagram community. Here’s to photographers everywhere. And here’s to always looking for the shot.

Cheers.

Let’s connect on Instagram: @ryanbolton.

Written by Ryan Bolton

Ryan is a Toronto-based writer and photographer that likes to break the rules. His work has taken him around the world to do what he truly loves—storytelling. And drinking cold beer.

20 comments

  1. I feel the same! Instagram has definitely boosted my confidence when it comes to taking photos. I realize that I can turn just about anything into art. It also helped me play with perspective and angles, like you were talking about. Before the days of instagram, I pretty much would take a shot of something head on, but now I think about coming at it from above or below, where the sun is hitting and how would it look with some filtering. Great shots. Love the kids in Ghana. Made me smile.

  2. I love the photos, the kids running one is my fave! and I love Instagram, I find it to be a great form to communicate and reach out to people with similar interests, also it is a great way to express creativity and to share ones works with the world. I also gives the people who “aren’t artistic or creative” the opportunity to be more in touch with their creative side. I think Instagram is one of the best apps created.

  3. This is a fantastic post… I just signed up to Instagram a couple weeks ago and hope to have as great of experience you have had (although I’m amazed at the quality of photos out there…). Cheers ~

  4. It fells so true, I’m also a “better” photographer, at least I learn the see thing in a different way. Instagram is definitely a much better social network than the others. Like we all like to say: “A picture is worth a thousand words”.
    Great post 🙂
    MM

  5. I read your interview with A-103-year-old and i really enjoyed it. I lost your link on my word press before i could read anymore. After 30 minutes of determination to discover who i was reading i found this post. At which point i wanted to ask a question. From a professional. I have a polaroid. Nothing amazing or fancy. What advice would you give for capturing that perfect shot. As with that type of camera your shots are limited to your supply of film?

    Regards
    Luke bawden

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