It's not easy being one of the world's biggest social media platforms. You've got to keep tweaking the formula to stay relevant for new audiences and against new competitors, but every change risks alienating some of those who use the app. Instagram's been alienating stills photographers for some time buy betting big on video – particularly its TikTok-inspired Reels. But the social media giant has clearly decided this is where its future lies.
It's just announced a raft of updates for Reels, which is going to make them even more ubiquitous. Almost all video posts will now automatically be shared in the Reels format whether users like it or not. And, unless you opt out, people will be able to use any of your public posts (including still images) in their own Reels. If you're a creative who uses Instagram to promote your work but haven't yet adopted Reels, now might be the time to get started with our Instagram Reels tutorial. Or if you've decided that you've had enough altogether, see how to delete an Instagram account.
Instagram Reels updates
There are two major changes in the new updates. The first is that within a few weeks all new video clips shorter than 15 minutes will automatically be shared as Reels; not as video posts. Fifteen minutes is hardly short by social media video standards, so this is likely to cover the vast majority of video uploaded to the platform. According to Instagram, "Since Reels offer a more immersive and entertaining way to watch and create videos on Instagram, we’re bringing the full-screen experience to your video posts, too."
What does this mean? There will no longer be any difference between Reels and video posts and the tabs on your profile will be merged. Reels will no longer be restricted to 'short' videos (their maximum length was previously 90 seconds videos), and all videos will be shown in vertical full screen orientation – so you'll probably want to film them that way. Horizontal videos will be letterboxed to make them fit. The change will only apply to new videos – any videos you've already posted will remain as they are.
The other big change is that Instagram will now allow people to use any of your public posts in their own Reels. Until now, users have only been able to remix Reels. Now they'll be able to use photos too. If you want to maintain control and prevent the possibility of your posts turning up in strange mashups, you'll have to turn the function off. You can turn it off indefinitely in the 'Reels and remix' section of the Privacy settings, or you can turn it off for individual posts after you upload them by clicking on the three dots to the right of each one.
New Instagram Reels tools
As well as these two major changes, Instagram’s also rolling out some new creative tools for Reels – some of them again inspired by TikTok. New remix layouts give a choice between a green screen, horizontal or vertical split-screen, or a picture-in-picture layout. The latter will allow creatives to add their own video commentary to existing reels. There will also be a remix option to show the original Reel and then your remix sequentially rather than side by side.
Instagram’s also expanding access to Reels templates, which allow users to take the format of popular Reels to use for their own videos. Meanwhile, a new Dual camera mode will allow simultaneous use of your phone's front and back cameras so you can film a scene and your reaction at the same time.
We have the feeling Instagram's not done yet and that there will more changes to come for Reels and how videos appear on the platform. Meta's made a lot of other tweaks to the platform this year, rolling out the ability to add music to still images to more people, allowing feed posts to be pinned to the top of the feed the way you would pin a post on Twitter or Facebook. And we're likely to see more shopping developments coming our way. After all, Meta's already revealed that it plans to try to sell us virtual designer clothes via the platform.
Some of the changes make Instagram more useful and more complete. But at the same time, it risks losing what made it unique, becoming more like a combination of other social media platforms. Instagram says that Reels is its fastest-growing content format, so its decision to take inspiration from TikTok (to avoid using the word 'copy') seems to have paid off. It makes sense that it's now doubling down on the format, but a lot of photographers who have been around since day one won't be happy.
Instagram's clearly looking to give videos pride of place on the platform (and generally short videos: it ditched IGTV, its attempt to be YouTube). It recently tested changes to the feed to show all posts full-screen, something that would make it even more like TikTok. People hated it and it's unclear whether it will become a feature or not. But either way, it seems impossible to escape from the fact that Instagram is increasingly about video.