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#Picture perfect

Why we all love Instagram

If a picture tells a thousand words, Instagram would never shut up. Every month, 300 million people share photos on the social-media network – and it’s still only four years old. Sharing on Instagram has a built-in reward – that little heart button. Get 11 people to like your picture and your list of admirers turns into a heart with a number. We know it’s not important, but we still kind of like seeing that little icon.

Every day, there are an average of 2.5 billion double-taps (the gesture you make to ‘like’ a picture). Research by image marketing firm Curalate last year looked at just what makes people press the heart. They analysed more than 8,000,000 images and found those with a single hue performed best, while the low-saturation ‘washed out’ look proved popular, too. Photographer Henry Knock (@knockoclock) finds that people respond to certain types of image. “The shots that get the most likes are vanishing points, sunsets, London landmarks and spiral staircases.” No surprise about the landmarks: the 10 most geotagged locations in the UK were in London, with Tower Bridge being the most popular.

But filters may not be the key to instant Insta success. “I find the Instagram filters a bit naff, so I sometimes use VSCO or Snapseed to edit saturation, contrast and brightness,” says Knock. “The photo should looks like a photo, which I think can be lost with the overuse of filters.”Sue Llewellyn, former BBC journalist and now social-media consultant, also notes a move towards the filters on the camera app VSCO, or simply ‘#nofilter’ at all. “As a news journalist you appreciate knowing that something is real. Instagram is increasingly useful for breaking news as it’s so immediate – but ethics-wise, say you snap a picture of a fire and use effects, that then becomes untrue.”

In the Instagram world, direct connections are less essential than in other social media: you don’t have to be friends to like someone’s photo. This means the community works differently. Portraits are a classic of photography, but Knock has found that they aren’t as popular on Instagram, as people have less of a direct connection to the person in the shot. That’s where interest groups and hashtags come in: food, travel, cats, hairstyles – if you like it, you can search it. “You see a lot of themes on Instagram,” says Llewellyn. “Inspirational quotes, beautiful food. I like sharing photos of my dog, and when I use #dogsofinstagram, #fluffoftheday and #dachshund, I see a lot of likes from people who don’t follow me.”

Knock agrees: “I’ve heard people get annoyed when they see too many hashtags, but you need them to get your work noticed. I use hashtags so other IG hubs can find my work and then feature it.” They’re also a way of getting involved in events – such as Instagram’s own Weekend Hashtag Project – or finding like minds. Last year, #love was the most-used hashtag, but right now there are 224,815,143 images under #selfie and a huge community of 7,860,260 tagged #curlyhair. And how many photos under #tbt do you expect in your feed tomorrow?

As in life, though, we’ll like what amazes us. Whether that’s a beautiful sunset, an amazing brunch or an incredible shoe, it’s your choice to double-tap.

Words: Siobhan Morrin

Find us on Instagram @EmeraldStreetEmail and see if you fancy double-tapping us (that came out wrong).