Photography everywhere – the Instagram phenomenon

May 4, 2011 · 9 comments

For years I have carried my trusty Nikon SLRs, camera bag, lenses, filers and flash as a prerequisite for photographing anything at all, so the notion of capturing anything worthwhile on a tiny pocket camera, let alone a phone, had never really entered my mind. Until, that is, the iPhone 4 and the clever iPhone app Instagram. What a surprise it has been.

First, there is the utter simplicity of it. Since I almost always have my iPhone with me, so the 5Mp camera is always at hand. What offers is a fast and easy way to take photos, apply one of a dozen filters if I feel like it, add a caption and tags, and right away post to the site, with optional notifications to social networks. Images are cropped to a standard 612 pixel square while the hi-res stays in the camera.
For me this has meant that whether going on a hike, to the bank, supermarket or corner store I always have a camera with me and my vision attenuated for new images: is also a rapidly growing social network, with asynchronous following of other users (like Facebook fan pages), with the simplest of interactions. Users can follow you, “like” a photo, and add a comment. One news feed shows the realtime feed of images by users you follow, and another shows your own images. Location info is also included, linked to Foursquare. What’s surprising is the breadth of imagery. Pros like Zach Arias, Jack Hollingsworth, Abby Harenberg, Jim Goldstein and Trey Ratcliff are mixed in with users from all walks of life, students, techie geeks, skilled amateurs and raw beginners. A popular page highlights trending images, picked by some inscrutable algorithm.

One of the boosts for creativity I have found is not having to worry about salability of images since they are too small to end up in a stock agency. This is surprisingly freeing, since as a pro stock shooter I am often thinking of commercial appeal, RPI and the editors’ eyes. Also, for a change, I have found that incorporating filters (retro, grunge, fade, cross-process) plus crops and borders becomes part of the creative process, all happening quite quickly on the go. Existing images from my portfolio can also be processed and posted which makes a nice balance.

There’s one other distinct difference I am finding with the instant experience of photography. It is changing the nature of the medium. In the past producing an image was cumbersome and time-consuming, first with drawing and painting, then with film processing. The result was a memento, a memory, a moment frozen in time past, an artifact which lent a particular, backwards-looking aspect to images. Even now with dSLR digital capture plus Photoshop and post-processing the process is slow.

With realtime shooting connected to the internet, images appear more as a flow, as leaves floating by on a stream of present-awareness. As a result there’s less of an effort to hold on to them, and more of a sense of images as voice. The Instagram stream then becomes a curated realtime narration, a stream of images, a present not a past

Most of all, though, with all the disruption in professional photography, the experience of Instagram is making my photography fun again.

You can see my recent images on Gramfeed and my IG username is davidsanger.

Note: There isn’t yet a native app but they are working about it. And if you are interested in the back story of their rapid rise, a million sales in 10 weeks in the app store and 2 million soon after, read CEO Kevin Systrom on Quora

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