No One Likes My Photos

Why Instagram is the wrong place for me to validate my fine art photography and why I’m sticking with it

Lawrence Lazare
Live View
7 min readFeb 6, 2024


Once a tool loved by photographers, Instagram is now much derided and ignored by many photographers I know. Rather than abandoning the platform myself, I decided to conduct a little experiment to understand how to best use it. After the experimentation and lots of observation of how others use it, I’ve decided to stick with Instagram for a while longer, and if you read on, I’ll tell you why.

In the beginning

I remember discovering and joining Instagram in the winter of 2011. I had recently begun taking photos with my work iPhone. This was when the whole world of mobile photography and photo editing was opened up to me. Back then, Instagram seemed like a fantastic place to share photos with a community of like-minded photographers.

During my early years of mobile photography, I found myself shooting highly colorful images that I would edit on my phone. This was also the beginning of the HDR era when many of us posted overwrought and oversaturated HDR images that we now find cringeworthy.

With my highly colorful Instagram feed, I felt a growing excitement that came from amassing likes and followers. Having been born in 1960, I grew up before the video game era, and I never really took to them. But posting a new photo and watching the likes and re-posts pile up gave me a video game-like shot of dopamine. “Wow, that photo got 300 likes and got reposted, what can I shoot next that will do better”? I thought to myself. Sadly, posting photos to Instagram became about the likes and not about the photography itself.

An embarrassing glimpse into my mid-2013 overly saturated Instagram feed

The more I posted those oversaturated photos, the more likes I received. Soon, I had more than 2000 followers, and some of my images received hundreds of likes. The funny thing, though, is that I wasn’t necessarily proud of the images. It was all about that quick hit of dopamine. When I wanted to share my more “serious” work, I posted it on Flickr, where I had been sharing my digital camera images since 2004. My mobile work went to Instagram, and the work I was more proud of went to Flickr.

The start of the Museum Gaze era

In 2013, I began a series of photos taken of people interacting with art in museums. I discovered that that little 6MP iPhone camera sitting in my pocket was my secret weapon for taking street and museum photographs. By then, it had become very common to have people staring at their phones in public, so holding my own iPhone aloft, I could photograph almost anyone or anything anonymously.

A few years into my museum project, I had amassed a growing collection of images that one day I shared with my wife, who is a sculptor, art professor, and curator. She told me that this was the best work I had done. Having never shown this work on social media, I posted a few of the shots that my wife thought were my strongest on Instagram and… crickets. Turns out that even though my other work could get me a couple hundred likes, this museum series got me maybe 4 likes at best.

I shrugged off this poor Instagram reaction and posted those same images to Flickr, which was where more “serious” photographers shared their work. The reaction there? Crickets. Finally, I shared the images on Facebook, where most of my FB friends are actual friends, and again … crickets. I was three for three, striking out on getting positive social media feedback on my museum work.

From the “Museum Gaze” series — This image gets attention from curators but is ignored by my followers on social media.

Over the next couple of years, I continued to get the same reaction to my museum shots, so I understood that the reaction was not an isolated occurrence. I knew the work was strong because the same images that had been soundly rejected on multiple social media platforms were getting attention in the real world.

Having submitted both my pretty landscapes (that received lots of attention on social media) and my museum shots to juried museum and gallery shows, it was the museum shots that got juried into shows. It was those same museum shots that got the attention of F2.8 Press, which just this week published my monograph “The Museum Gaze” (the subject of my last article).

Determining Why No One “Likes” My Photos

My poor showing online had little to do with the quality of my work. It had everything to do with how it was being seen - my images appeared for a second or two on a screen a couple of inches in diameter.

The challenge with viewing images on a mobile device is that neither subtle nor complex work can compete with bold and/or colorful work that commands the viewer’s eye. The issue was not that my museum work was bad, it was just not visually commanding enough when the viewer was scrolling by for a second or two.

Testing my Instagram Hypothesis

Although my Instagram following now is a fraction of what it was a decade ago, for the writing of this article, I decided to conduct an experiment with my 500+ followers. My goal was to validate my hypothesis that my subtle work would get less attention than bold, colorful work would get, regardless of quality.

Confirming my Instagram Hypothesis example v1 — the bad but colorful HDR image

For the first experiment, I posted a subtle image from my Museum Gaze monograph, an image of a man staring at a lifelike sculpture of a child. The next day, I posted a 10-year-old mediocre, overly saturated HDR image of red leaves. The results were as expected. The mediocre but colorful image of leaves received 4x the number of likes the image of the man looking at the sculpture received

Confirming my Instagram Hypothesis example v2 — the colorful museum image

I then replaced the bad HDR image of red leaves with a vibrant pink/-red image from my Museum Gaze collection. The results were the same as with the colored leaves image, the brightly colored museum image received 4x the number of likes as the subtle image of the man looking at the sculpture.

What I’ve Learned

Although my little experiment was not scientific nor exhaustive, it confirmed what I’d been seeing for a while; my subtler work just won't get many likes. As I’ll discuss in just a second, I’m okay with that.

Based on my own observations, along with some friends who are active Instagram users, here’s what seems to work on Instagram these days:

  • Brightly colored photos
  • Photos with an easily identifiable subject
  • Photos with people or animals
  • Photos with text in them
  • Photos that are shared in the form of Stories.

The Main Reason to Stay on Instagram

Despite the lackluster reception my work gets on Instagram, there’s one huge reason for me to stay there — it’s the main tool that folks in the art world use to share their work. It’s also the tool artists and curators use to explore the work of other artists.

My wife makes her living in the art world, and so I attend lots of art openings with her. At the openings, I observe artists and curators interacting with each other, and the question I hear over and over is, “What’s your Instagram feed?”

In addition to Instagram being a central gathering place for artists, it also gets them work. I have friends who tell me that Instagram accounts for many of the shows they get, and sometimes it even generates a commission. For almost all the working artists I know, their Instagram feed is their defacto portfolio, replacing their personal websites as the vehicle for sharing work.

The Instagram profile of my good friend Julia Gorton — she gets shows via Instagram

Finally, younger artists do not, as a rule, maintain personal websites; they maintain an up-to-date Instagram feed. As a current art school attendee myself, if I want to see the work my fellow students are doing, there’s one place to find it — Instagram.

I think I’ll Stay…For Now

As an old-school Instagram user for more than a decade, I don’t like the current iteration of the app. I hate the massive amount of ads. I hate the algorithm and what it chooses to show me. I hate that they prioritize stories and reels more than photos.

Although there’s a lot I hate about Instagram, I’m sticking with it, and I’ll use it as a portfolio for my most recent work. I’ll use it to search out and view the work of artists and photographers I admire. I’ll stick it out, for now, despite the fact that no one there likes my photos.

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Lawrence Lazare
Live View

Legally blind photographer and former e-commerce product management lead. Now working on a BFA in Studio Art at the University of West Florida. IG:@llazare