Test Driving Instagram

I captured this raining morning shot in the parking lot of my workplace using my iPhone 5 and Instagram.
I captured this raining morning shot in the parking lot of my workplace using my iPhone 5 and Instagram.

One of the web’s fastest growing sectors is social media that allows users to take advantage of the very sophisticated, growingly excellent cameras built into their smart phones. These applications (“apps”) include Apple’s iPhoto and its successor Photos, Tumblr, Pinterest, Hipstamatic, SmugMug, Twitter, Posterous, Flickr, and Facebook, which owns the subject of this review, Instagram.

Instagram isn’t for everyone. It takes rectangular photos from your phone’s camera and makes them square, which is a little odd, and resizes them to 640×640. (It does leave the original image in your photo library.) Odder still are the filters, which go by pretentious and not-very-explainatory names like Lark, Slumber, or Perpetua. The filters are all subtle variations of about four or five motifs, like vignetting, fading, contrast enhancement, and grayscaling.

I made this image using Instagram in Ryan, Oklahoma, and applied one of the app's grayscale filter options.
I made this image using Instagram in Ryan, Oklahoma, and applied one of the app’s grayscale filter options.

For reasons that are still little nebulous to me, Instagram’s square format and faded-print-look filters tend to encourage the use, and overuse, of negative space. I also find that with me, at least, Instagram is not my first choice for “everyday” photos like snapshots, but is my go-to app when I am trying to appear artistic to my audience.

This is one of the shots I made with my iPhone and Instagram yesterday, but I fought the sun the whole time, and find these shots much, much easier and better using a camera with a viewfinder.
This is one of the shots I made with my iPhone and Instagram yesterday, but I fought the sun the whole time, and find these shots much, much easier and better using a camera with a viewfinder.

Any smartphone app, even the built-in camera app, as well as any live-view cameras that don’t have a viewfinder, make it difficult, sometimes approaching impossible, to shoot in bright sun, since the sun can shine on your viewing surface and overwhelm the image. Yesterday at the Ada Air Expo I ran into that exact problem, and found it slowed me down and gave me a headache. Even when I succeeded in making the shot, I usually walked to a shady spot to edit and post it.

Keep in mind that with any photo sharing service, even your own web site, keeping all your photos in one place, like one album on Facebook, will eventually, even with broadband internet and a modern browser, slow to a crawl if visitors are looking at the whole album. In fact, as I write this, I am seeing this very problem on someone’s Facebook page. And now might be a good time to reiterate what I tell my students again and again: no one will look at 1200 photos of anything. This might not seem important to you, unless you post your photos with the intention of sharing them.

One of the toughest tricks about taking the dive into any new image, blogging, or social media item is not letting yourself neglect all your other good creative outlets. In the same way we saw Facebook extinguish countless excellent blogs, Instagram can lead a photographer by the nose away from far nobler, more creative pursuits. My recommendation to anyone who faces this dilemma is to expand, not replace, your creative efforts.

You can see all of my Instagram images here (link).

This is the desktop view of my Instagram profile. The smartphone/tablet view is significantly simplified.
This is the desktop view of my Instagram profile. The smartphone/tablet view is significantly simplified.
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3 Comments

  1. I hearted a couple of images, just so I could say that “I hearted” something. Not being a regular Instagram user, I don’t know if that’s proper terminology, but I clicked the gray heart to make it turn red.

    The most frustrating things for me about Instagram:

    1. You have download the app just to start an account. I only wanted to heart some images and leave some comments for another guy I know on Instagram. But there’s no way to start an account unless you get the app on your phone. (Then you can delete the app and sign in via a desktop computer.)

    2. The square-only format. Sure, I sometimes crop to a square, when I realize I poorly composed and have nothing of interest on the edges. But my entire life (with rare exceptions), photos have been rectangular, as have viewfinders, and I’ve learned to see them that way.

    (Wouldn’t it make more sense for photos to be circular, since every lens I know of has a circular opening and lets in a circular shape of light?)

    3. I can’t figure out why it’s so popular, or how it got that way. This is frustrating because usually I can figure out why a site got so popular. As far as I can see, Instagram didn’t/doesn’t offer anything that a number of other sites have offered for longer.

    What does it have, other than a trendy name, that isn’t available on better services?

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  2. I just can’t find a reason to even take Instagram for a test drive. I don’t want the app. I’d much rather shoot with my DSLR, using one of my six lenses, and I’d a lot rather edit in Photoshop. Just can’t get excited about this technology, though it does have the advantage of (at least seeming) quick and easy. Still, I appreciate this entry. Gives me a lot to think about.

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