Popularity Lessons

The image above shows the 9 images I posted on Instagram in 2020 that received the most “likes”. I think there are a few lessons to be learned here.

First off, I usually don’t care much about how many “likes” I get on an image; it’s really up to the social media platform how often my photos get shown to people and so the audience appreciation is largely out of my control. I mean, the image does matter, but often the most liked photos are not ones I consider my best.

In my opinion, photos that “do well” on Instagram tend to feature the train dominating the frame. Photos that do well on Facebook seem to be more “environmental” photos, more like you’d see in a railway magazine.

Here are a few lessons I am taking away from my “top 9”.

Wedgies Don’t Rule

The only wedgie

A common railfan term is “wedgie”, which is short for “wedge” or “3/4 wedge”. The view above is a wedgie – photographing the train from a slight angle off the nose, showing the nose of the locomotive and the train receding in the distance.

It’s a common shot because it’s easy – point the camera at the train as it is approaching a crossing and you have a wedgie. There’s nothing inherently “wrong” with the angle or the shot, except that everyone does it and so it’s hard for your photo to stand out as unique.

Out of the top 9 photos on my Instagram page in 2020, only one was a wedgie. “The masses have spoken”.

The lesson here is to try different angles – experiment.

Old Photos Are Still Good Photos

From 2006!

This photo of NB Southern 9803 leading a train across the Reversing Falls in Saint John was taken in February 2006, with a Kodak C340 5 megapixel compact camera. I don’t even know why I had that camera; I don’t recall owning one of those.

This photo was my most-liked photo of 2020. A 14 year old photo taken with a highly obsolete digital camera.

Don’t get me wrong – I love the photo and I’ve always liked it. I’m just saying that older photos in your library are still good and deserve to be shared again. I’m pretty sure that most of your current social media followers have never seen your old photos, or have forgotten them. Share them again!

Drone Shots Aren’t Overused, Yet

Not quite overused

Three of my “top nine” photos from Instagram in 2020 were taken from* my drone. I think the unique angles that drones can provide give a different perspective than the “usual” angles. This is pretty popular at the moment.

I do think that drone train photography is becoming common and a drone photo won’t guarantee an avalanche of “likes”. It still has to be a good picture and you can take bad photos with a drone just as easily as with a handheld camera.

* I struggled with the wording of this. I initially wrote “taken by my drone” but changed it to “taken from my drone”. I could have written “taken with my drone”. The key was that the drone may have recorded the actual image, but I was the one who positioned it and commanded it to take the photo. We don’t write “my camera took this image” – it’s always “I took this image”. Why would I give credit to my drone? Language is weird and wonderful.

Light Over Darkness

One last thing I noted from the “top 9” photos is that all of them are relatively bright. There’s no dim, moody shots in the group. That may be because I don’t tend to take or post many of those, but I think bright, colourful photos catch the eye better when people are scrolling through their social media feeds.

It’s All Bunk

In the end, none of this matters. You shouldn’t be taking and posting photos to get more “likes”. You should be taking photos because it’s fun and you enjoy the challenge of trying to craft a better image. You should be sharing photos because you want others to enjoy your photos.

Did you “like” this post? πŸ˜‰

4 thoughts on “Popularity Lessons”

  1. I’ve done a similar analysis and have found that the images generate many “likes“ are definitely not the same that I “like“. I much prefer the train as part of a larger scene (Eg. Erik Lindgren’s style).

    Anyways, I would second your findings about the dominance of the train in the frame as very popular in IG as I have observed it as well with headshots (straight on close ups of power).


    • It’s funny, isn’t it, Dave? I guess people like what they like, and we can either chase that or post what we like.

      I like Erik Lindgren’s work (aka coloradorailphotographer on Instagram) too.

      I think the size of the subject relative to the overall image probably speaks to how people browse Instagram. If you’re scrolling on a phone’s small screen, a tiny train in a beautiful landscape is harder to see than a big locomotive nose.

  2. Interesting observation Steve.

    On my “Top 9” only two train photos were selected and those two were wedge-style shots. Those two photos wouldn’t have been my top shots of 2020, but that is what some algorithm picked…

    Your end paragraph says it well “…You should be taking photos because it’s fun and you enjoy the challenge of trying to craft a better image. You should be sharing photos because you want others to enjoy your photos.” Couldn’t say it better myself!


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