I Never Liked Instagram and then I Actually Tried It
Cell phone photos suck.
Color rendition is poor, noise is high, dynamic range is low, and don’t even think of trying to make a print. So why would you want to make an already low quality cell phone picture even worse by adding things like blur, vignetting, more noise, and further screwing up the color?
That was my first thought about Instagram. My second was that it’s an overly simplistic (read: limited) way to make artistically poor photos look vintage and therefore somehow “artsy”. Either way, I had no interest.
And then this whole debacle happened last month with the changed terms and conditions. Instagram of course insists they never had any intention of selling photographers’ pictures (right?) but their newly updated legalese said otherwise, and apparently some people actually DO read the fine print because the users quickly went up in arms against the changes. It didn’t take long for Instagram to backtrack; the language in question was promptly removed with continued assurances that users’ photos would never be used directly for profit without consent. No harm, no foul right?
Well Instagram is a business, and businesses exist to make money. Facebook spent nearly a billion dollars to purchase Instagram so they could make money. And in the end this whole legal debacle accomplished one big thing for Instagram: people started talking about it again… a lot. That’s some high value, free publicity straight out of Ryanair’s playbook – if it gets people talking about it, it’s good right? Perhaps Instagram’s not so inept as we’ve all been led to believe…
Okay enough with the conspiracy theories. In slightly related news I got a Holga for Christmas. If you aren’t familiar, a Holga is a cheap, plastic, old school film camera that takes pictures best described as the “real” sort of Instagram. Between my new Holga and hearing so much about Instagram in the press lately I had to wonder – why do so many people care about crappy cell phone photos, and what am I missing out on? So I downloaded it and gave it the old college try.
And as it turns out…
Some of my biggest reservations about Instagram were quelled within the first few minutes of use. I quickly learned that you can use any photo stored on your phone, not just ones taken with your cell camera. Maybe Instagraming a DSLR photo isn’t fully in line with the true spirit of the app, but it’s fun to reedit your photos and see how they come out on the other end. I’ve already done up a couple of my personal favorites. Cell phone photographs run through Instagram’s filter options often look quite good when viewed on your smartphone’s small screen (although you probably won’t get good results with printing),and the edits can really help capture the feel of the moment.
Not surprisingly, Instagram’d photos have a distinct look, especially when you really push your edits with the vintage colors and blur. The editing options, while limited, are super easy to implement and you can see how your choices affect the photo in real time. It’s pretty easy to tell that the effects were not achieved optically. That means a true, authentic retro look isn’t really possible. But you can get pretty close though, and authenticity isn’t really the point anyway. So what is the point? With Instagram you can take cool looking photos, share them with your friends, and see your friends’ photographic creations too. Simply put, it’s a lot of fun. Instagram really shines when you realize how polished a job it does avoiding the muddied, complicated experience that DSLRs and Photoshop sometimes provide. I fully expected to dislike it, but now that I’ve given it a fair shot I admit – I’m an Instagram fan.
For all it’s positives and despite how much I enjoy using it, there’s still one big drawback for me. When I’m out taking photographs I’m using my DSLR. When I’m not taking pictures, I’m not taking pictures period. There aren’t too many in between times when I just need to take a picture of something but don’t have my DSLR with me. Still, it’s nice to have it as an option, and it’s a great way to share pictures from the road. And at the very least, Instagram’s distinct style has inspired me to do more with retro edits in my “real” photography. Retro is definitely in; but did it really ever leave?