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June 28, 2022

Still life or Reel life

Whats going on with Instagram?

It’s unusual for me to open up Instagram these days without someone having a little grumble about how their engagement is suffering or that their visibility to followers non existent. Never more so than in the last six months. We’ve all known for the past year or so that videos and reels are being promoted on the app. Like many, I’ve resisted leaping head first in to reel making. And like many, my engagement has plummeted.

Are you a reel convert?

They (the Instagram chiefs) want us to stay longer, scroll more, laugh louder and generally be entertained by the antics of cats and toddlers. (I love cats and toddlers, I just don’t choose to see them in my Instagram feed) The algorithm is designed to show us what we want to see apparently so I have only got myself to blame for clicking on a cat video. Once! Isn’t there another app that does the cat thing rather well anyway? TikTok, YouTube or how about day time TV?

Don’t get me wrong there are some beautiful, high quality and evocative reels done really well on Instagram. I love foodie videos especially those by the likes of @twiggstudios and @stemsandforks and my friend @ceramicmagpie has absolutely mastered the reel in showing her creative process. There are some really informative tutorials from gardeners like @anya_theflower_fairy that I love too.

Still life with foxgloves

To reel or not to reel

I know I’m not alone in my lack of enthusiasm for reels. Small businesses are suffering through not being seen or heard these days as they are drowned out by the noise of reels. Reels from people we don’t even follow! Although I admit that works both ways. If you make a reel it will be shown to non followers within the reel tab. It’s not easy being a one man band making, marketing, accounting and selling. And now on top of it, videography and art direction! Many SBO’s are not content creators and fitting in a high quality reel in to a busy day is not easy. I share some tips below on staying on top of the reel making.

A summer bowl

Still life will always be my real love

Like many people I joined Instagram because of my love of photography. I adore the creative environment and inspiring community that I belong to. I’m not against change or necessarily algorithms ,but I genuinely can’t understand why Instagram needs to be everything to everyone. I for one don’t want to be faced with a barrage of action and flashing imagery every time I look at Instagram. I joined Instagram as a form of escapism from real life and now “reel” life has made the app feel demanding, noisy, trashy and quite frankly somewhere I don’t want to be very often. However, at the end of the day this is a free app and we either embrace the changes or log out.

Foxglove love

Reels are more work

Making a reel takes more planning and more consideration than a still. You need a tripod set up to video yourself. More editing is required not to mention effects, captions and music. The video camera on Iphone is fantastic yet doesn’t offer the same ISO or DOF options that a DSLR camera does. The most recent reel I made took an afternoon. I know I can make it quicker and less polished (actually it wasn’t very polished at all) and not get hung up on the details. The more you do the easier it gets.

But it is exactly these details that me and countless other still life photographers have thought about to create a beautiful image. A still life. A moment in time captured quietly in an attempt to create a piece of photographic art to share with like minded souls. I love the process of scene styling and finding the light to create a certain mood in my still life photography. The inner peace in creating. The joy in sharing with others. Instagram used to be the app for creators. Now it seems to be crushing creativity.

The Joy of early summer

So I’ve had a good old moan and now its time to think about how to make these changes on Instagram work. And most importantly enjoy the process. I don’t want to compromise on the look of my grid so I really need to think out my reels and videos when I make them. So I’m sharing a few things that I have learnt along the way. And I do have a long way to go regarding reels. I haven’t made many and none of mine have gone viral (that is not my aim) and I’m still working out what formula works best for me and my audience. After all, if you can’t beat them, join them.

Reel tips

1.Take small clips of video when you’re out and about. I always only used to take photos, but now if I’m in a beautiful garden or on a day trip I’ll take 2-3 second video clips to bank for later. Any longer and you’ll have more clipping and editing to do.

2. Invest in a tripod that will hold your phone. It needn’t t be expensive, but you need to be able to set up the shot and besides you can’t video yourself without one. Unless you have your personal paparazzi following you around. Even better!

3. Although reels can be up to 90 seconds long I think shorter ones work better and hold the audience. Mine are usually about 12-15 seconds. The first second counts….literally to reel them in and keep the viewer watching.

4. I usually edit in Inshot, a video making app, but you can do it in the reels app. ( I have heard that making it within the reels app will make it more favourable to the algorithm) I find there are more editing options in an app such as reversing, slowing down or speeding up a frame

5. Do use some well considered hashtags. Maybe 6-7 in the caption. Really make the first line of your caption count too as the viewer won’t be able to see as much as when a still photo is posted.

6. Sharing how to do something or your work process captures the audience. I’ve seen some great interior makeover reels showing before and after. And I’ve definitely added more destinations to my holiday wish list thanks to travel reels. You can use photos to make a reel. I like to do this to summarise the month with seasonal images.

7. When making a video consider everything you would for a photo. The quality, composition, lighting and backdrops are just as important. A reel ratio is 9:16 so it’s a good idea to imagine the composition in those dimensions.

8. Add a cover to your reel. I like to choose a seasonal image from my camera roll that sits nicely in my grid.

9. I always choose the music once I have edited my video and uploaded it in to reels. This takes me longer than anything else, but I really enjoy the process of bringing the video to life through the choice of music. The algorithm favours trending music, but I prefer to choose something that suits the mood of my imagery. ‘Running up that Hill’ feels like something I should be playing, but it’s not the right vibe for my work.

10. And as with photography, if you find yourself having a creative day stock up on stills and videos for future use. Most of all enjoy the creative process.

The first rose of the season

So will you be making more reels?

So good luck with your reel making. If you haven’t dipped your toe in the water yet it needn’t be a terrifying experience. You don’t have to perform like a circus clown to get noticed. Or dance. Or even appear in a reel. Just do what suits you when you can.

A still life photograph will always be my first love and I believe that’s what my audience want to see from me. However, I do love a creative challenge so whilst I won’t be putting away my DSLR camera just yet I will be working on making reels in my own way.

Do let me know if you have any reel making tips to share or whether you are resisting them altogether.

Janne x

Photography and styling tips

  1. Kiki says:

    I am a late joiner to IG, hopped onto the train just before they became part of Facebook. I already didn’t like what happened from then to now, but the reel thing is something that makes me ponder every day whether I should pull out of IG completely.

    I do watch reels of people I follow, but often just because I feel it would be rude not to since I follow them. However, I get very quickly fed up with reels, especially the unsolicited ones. I joined IG for my love of photography, and I don’t really want to see reels. I could go to YouTube for that.

    Every day is a fight within to determine whether I should stay or go; even if I would miss out on a lot of beautiful pictures (like yours). People don’t seem to care about blogs anymore, but I’d rather follow someone’s blog than be bombarded with reels…

    • Janne Ford says:

      Hi Kiki. Thanks so much for your comment. I guess when you go to YouTube, TV or even TIKTok you know what you are getting, but with Instagram they are always changing the goal posts. I also wonder what I am doing on the app these days and have decided to invest more time in my blog. I think blogs will make a big come back. I also love Pinterest for beautiful imagery, but even there video adverts come blaring through before you realise what’s going on. All these apps are free so I think we have to play the game until another creative app comes along.

  2. Jill Clarke says:

    I wish there could be a retro insta app to transport me back to photos only. Instagram is an amazing app enabling massive audience very quickly which is great for marketing but not so great for relaxing and escapism any more. Not for me anyway.

    • Janne Ford says:

      Hi Jill. Yes i agree. The Instagram of old used to be like dipping in to a lovely magazine full of inspiration and ideas. Now it’s the equivalent of reality TV. Maybe something else will come along for us all to try out soon. Jx

  3. Ann David says:

    Hi Janne,
    Thank you for sharing your beautiful images and thoughts today. I love taking my still life photos and my nature shots and sharing them with my IG community.
    I have no desire to learn or do reels. The noise and time is too much. I also find
    That if I start to look at peoples Reels I spend more time on IG and have less interaction. Also the loud music bothers my hearing aids 😂. Ann xxx

    • Janne Ford says:

      Hi Ann,

      It’s the whole process of setting up the image and taking the photo that we love so much. It’s an art form isn’t it and I feel that will be drowned out by reels on Instagram. I’ve resisted reels for so long, but I’m going to view it as a new creative challenge and see what happens. They do take much longer to create though. And often the ones that prove popular haven’t had much thought at all! Jx

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