I’ve been using Instagram on Android since it came out, and it’s fair to say I’m an addict. It’s a great, immediate way to survey the world around you and capture something you might miss because you didn’t bring your big, expensive DSLR out that day. One of the most important rules, I think, of photograpy is “always have your camera with you”, and with my smartphone + Instagram, I have that. Now, I’m completely aware there’s no photography rule that says “always have your camera and a set of age-ifying instant-vibe photo filters with you”, but as someone who processes his RAW images heavily in Lightroom, I enjoy the Instagram filters. Most of the time.
No hugely popular, artistic-enabling app is going to appeal to everyone all the time, and there are certainly things I dislike about Instagram. Some of these are things that have to do with the app itself, while others are how people use it. There’s a technical / philosophical debate about Instagram amongst “photographers” and tech-minded people as to whether it’s destroying photography as we know it. I’ll get to that later. First, I want to talk about what I like.
1) Always Having a Camera With Me
Sure, I could say I have a camera with me all the time just by carrying a smartphone around. After all, it’s what captures the pictures I process in Instagram. But having a mobile photolab, of sorts, with filters and cropping, takes the picture-taking process from simply snapping a pic with a cameraphone to planning a shot and lovingly bringing it from inception to final product. All within the context of the device. This leads me to shoot more, whether it’s with the smartphone or one of my “real cameras”, and that’s always a good thing.
2) The Social Aspect
Another huge reason Instagram is cool. Finding and following photographers using the app in interesting ways, having a dialogue with them both in text and image is almost as fun as creating the pictures. I have a huge respect for photographers taking pictures solely with their mobile phones and creating these breathtaking images. I like seeing photographers I know locally use the app independently from their DSLR Flikr-bound shooting, watching their process as they sketch or create fully realized images with their own special Instagram-specific style. Finally, having someone like your photo and comment on it is a big ego boost. I don’t get that on Flikr.
3) It’s a digital Holga
Being constrained to square crop and by the limits of my cameraphone’s pretty crappy camera, I’m forced to plan my shots and think them through from the start to finish. That doesn’t stop me from experimenting, however. I’ve snapped and processed lots of pics, even uploaded them to Instagram, only to delete them because they just “didn’t work”. You start developing a personal aesthetic that may or may not translate to your other photography endeavors. Like a Holga, or any other Lomo camera, the limitations are part of what make the process fun. They also challenge you to wring the most you can out of the genre, emotionally, visually, and viscerally. That definitely translates into your other photo endeavors.
4) The Filters
Ok, ok, this one is only half true. Some of the filters are horrid (I’m looking at you, Toaster). But some, when used right (and in conjunction with the little “Instant HDR” thing), can add just the right amount of punch or vibe to your photo to make it seem sort of timeless. Or more interesting. Or whatever. Is it cheating or cheap to be filtering photos to look old-timey, retro, or punchy with the push of a button? Depends on who you talk to. I process the hell out of most of my photos in Lightroom. Maybe it’s just a phase, but I like the heightened sense of reality you can achieve with post-processing. For me, the Instagram filters are an mobile extension of what I would do at home with my DSLR shots, so I don’t find it cheap or cheating at all when others use them with noble artistic intention. They help create or heighten the narrative of your still image.
What I Dislike
Loosing pictures because the app crashes. The clunky interface, mostly manifested when choosing pictures from a gallery. Unstable Ingragram servers, subject to Amazon EC2 outages. Filters causing your picture to go completely blank, usually when also using the “HDR” button. Obviously these technical problems don’t prevent me from using and enjoying the app, but it definitely creates frustration.
2) The Popular Kids
Instagram changed the nature of the “popular” page in the app recently to a “discover” sort of thing based on tags. Before this change though… wow, just wow. The sh!t that got thousands and thousands of likes and attention was just mind-bogglingly bad. You can’t expect everyone to use the app like you use it (as a professional camera substitute with the intention of creating “art”), but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to rip the phone out of these people’s hands and only return it once they’ve had a few lessons in “what-not-to-do-on-the-internet”.
What kind of bad am I ranting about? Let’s see, shall we :
The Screen Capture
Some people seem to think Instagram is sort of like a Facebook, but with images : that is, they happily serve up whatever snatch of daily life they think is funny or important. Usually it’s neither. Unfortunately, iPhone users have the ability to take screenshots very easily, which leads to stuff like this. This image, btw, has 1784 Likes.
The Inspirational Meme
So. Many. Of. These. Trite platitudes delivered by dull people. The one below has 17,614 Likes. I can only assume the person who posted it is famous or something. Bleh. Also, nice cropping job.
The Reposted Web Image
No. Just don’t. We all have Google image search, so we don’t need you to post other people’s images and get 3841 Likes. BTW, this also includes taking pictures of existing pictures and posting them Instagram. Don’t do that. Please.
Nice capture, bro. Oh, wait, you’re a girl. Maybe you’re a musician or a model or a chef or something? Is that fork made of some amazingly rare material? I’m trying hard to figure out why a really shitty picture of pasta has 3169 Likes and you have almost 200,000 followers. Someone, please explain this to me.
Look, I get it. Straight people and lesbians like tits. Gay dudes and straight women like man-tits. But do we have to be so goddamn predictable? Let’s not turn Instragram into another Myspace / Camwhoring / Teenage Wasteland / Egomine. Oh, wait, it’s too late.
“Cheating” and Follow-Mania
I also have a thing about people taking pictures with their DSLR and processing them with Instragram. If you want to talk about “cheating”, there’s where I feel the problem lies. I feel Instagram’s limitations, and the limitations of your cameraphone, are what makes the experience interesting and challenging. Some people seem to think that the app exists as an advertisement for their “real” photography or their Instacanvas gallery. They have no scruples about presenting an image that was created in an entirely different ecosystem, sometimes not even processing it with Instagram filters at all. I’ll happily argue that this goes against everything that makes Instragram interesting even though I understand lots of people have no problem with it. It’s just my (strong) opinion that it’s cheap.
You also get lots of comments from people offering likes-for-likes or follows-for-follows. I just don’t get it. Maybe it’s the same sort of collectionism that leads people to amass thousands of “friends” on Myspace or Facebook. Whatever the reason, you’ll never see me doing it. I’d rather have no followers or likes then take the time / energy away from creating and posting interesting pictures and looking like a shill. Then again, I’ve always been a horrible promoter.
The End Of Photography
For all of it’s flaws and annoyances, many of which are present in any sort of “social-networking” environment, Instragram is a fun and fascinating take on photography. Those that complain it’s ruining photography are usually the same people who will tell you shooting with a digital camera isn’t really shooting at all. Or the kind of people who posit recording with ProTools will never be as good or real as recording with analog tape. People so obsessed with the authenticity of a medium that they disregard it’s output as valid are completely missing the point. Instagram, like Hipstamatic and smartphones in general, are introducing the masses to photography in a way never seen since the introduction of the first mass-produced film camera. Think of it as the Polaroid of our generation, complete with faded sepia, crushed blacks, and mis-developed printing accidents. For every picture of food or tits there’s an astounding array of amazing art. The ISO50 Blog has a great Instagram feature that showcases some of these masterpieces.
I’ll always enjoy the output of my DSLR and film cameras, but I’ll never stop taking pictures with Instagram. For me, it’s all different parts of the experience or seeing the world around you. Screw the naysayers and the crappy photos : there’s gold in them thar hills.
You can find me on Instagram as “jjbbllkk“
View : my Instagram gallery on INK361
View : my Instacanvas gallery