I've been reading Linchpin by Seth Godin, and he talks about how we're programmed into obedience, into doing what we're told. At school, in our jobs. Do the job, follow the rules, go home. Learn this, then repeat it in an exam. Don't take risks. Don't fail. Don't let us down. Be careful. Play safe.
I wonder whether Instagram is doing something similar, or at least we fall into the same pattern in that environment too. We follow, seeking 'success', look at someone who has plenty of followers and assume we should do the same (or at least with a slight variation). Follow a trend that then becomes a cliché.
It feels safer and (usually) easier to do what's already successful, copy the patterns, follow the 'do this if you want 100k followers!' headlines. It's risky to try to find a new way, share some new ideas. Except that, really, what's the risk? What people think? Is that the risk? It only feels risky because we're taught to follow the rules and do what we're told.
(That's not to say that there isn't benefit in consistency, at least in the work that we show in a portfolio or website.)
A few suggestions:
1. Decide what we care about most. What we really want to photograph and why. (Not just because another photographer does it).
2. Care a little less about Instagram, likes and followers. And especially the influencers. Maybe we could support and encourage a few other local photographers or musicians or artists instead.
3. Find influences outside our preferred genre of photography, or outside of photography entirely. Borrow from different places rather than just other photographers.
4. Look for opportunities to be creative beyond the activity of creating a photograph. How we edit or curate or present or market the images.
5. Connect with photographers in other genres. I'm finding it refreshing and inspiring to meet photographers using very different gear and techniques and with very different ideas and styles.
There's nothing wrong with 'steal like an artist', but for me I know I need to keep borrowing from different sources and not get too sucked into the social media game. And try to keep experimenting and taking risks, going just out of my depth sometimes (as David Bowie put it).
By the way, if you want to read about real risk-taking in photography, read the amazing Unreasonable Behavior autobiography by Don McCullin.