How Instagram's Changing Photography (and Making Us Fall In Love With It Again)
Posted by David in Digital on April 08, 2011


I'm a bit of a photography hobbyist. Starting with SLRs and medium format cameras back in high school and college, I would clock in many hours in the schools' darkrooms back in the day. In the 90's it was all about the digital compacts, starting with 2 mp Cybershot models and moving on up to 8 mp IXUS's. I then switched back to manual cameras, playing around with Lomos, Actionsamplers and the like. The 2000's is the age of DSLRs, which is what I use now. So I've pretty much tried it all. But for the past few years I've been taking much less photos. The size and weight of my DSLR made it difficult to take it around everywhere, and I wasn't happy anymore with the quality I got from my digital cameras. Plus I had too many goddamn cameras!

Last August I purchased my third iPhone, the iPhone 4, with its HD screen and 5-mp camera. I loved that I could finally have an excellent camera inside my phone. Even then, I only used to it to for visual note-taking and the occasional family photo.

And then along came Instagram.

I've played around with other photo apps before, but there was something about Instagram that got me hooked from the start.

1. Its fast, responsive, and easy to use: upon opening the app, its clear exactly what you need to do. Theres a very simple and single-minded path, making it no-fuss and reliable, perfect for spontaneous shots…..its not trying to be a whole bunch of different things (which is where other photo apps have failed), and its great at what it does do.

2. Your photos look damn good, maybe even a little bit better than it should. Their camera filters are that good. This was a huge insight on the app developers part. Their focus on making these kick-ass vintage camera emulators totally nailed the reason why photo hobbyists love playing around with cameras - because of the individuality and nuance each camera gave to their photos. The Lomo is an excellent example of this, known for its contrasty, saturated colors and grittiness. I used to tweak my digital photos in Photoshop to make them look Lomo-like! To get the same effect with Instagram, you press the "Lomo-fi" button. Purists may condone this, but I think its amazing what the developers have done. Along with all the other filters, Its like carrying 15 cameras around with you. Now with the new tilt-shift filter, you now have instant (simulated) depth of field. It just gets better and better.

3. It automatically saves and tags all your photos with data that helps you store, manage and organize your growing photo collection with ease - this isn't just a camera app, its a photo sharing app.

4. Every photo you take is shared amongst your friends. This point is subtle but important. Knowing that your photos will be saved to your feed and sent to your friends forces you to self-curate your own photos. It has made it a pleasure to look through all the feeds of my friends, and even just randomly browsing other users photos.

Within its first 6 months, Instagram has gained over 2 million users, so it's been a pretty big success. But its not the only player in mobile photosharing app market. There's Path which is also quite popular with some people. Its still about taking pictures and sharing them, but the whole experience I feel is centered around the "sharing life's moments with your friends" experience rather than art of photo taking. Plus, you have to pay to use their filters. 


Color is another interesting one, there has a been a lot of buzz surrounding this app, mainly because of the reputation of the founders and the amount of seed capital ($41 mil) they received to develop this supposedly game-changing app. Personally, its been a bit of a puzzling experience using this app, but I think we have yet to see the full potential of what this can do, especially when enough people start using it. Color can mean a total shift in what we know now as social photography.

All these apps means that theres theres a big variety of photo apps out there, and there's something for all types of photographers. But for now, Instagram is my dude.


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