Five Things I Like and Dislike About Instagram

LIKE

STREET PHOTOGRAPHY

I was thinking about mentioning this underneath the heading below, but really it’s a separate thing. Besides, I’m not confident with shooting candid photos of my own just yet, so I can’t call it inspiration as such. I love street photography though. As with most of my favourite things in life, I’m very particular when it comes to this style and whilst I continue to look for new ideas for when I eventually summon enough courage to take my own shots, I also have a fairly good idea of what I already like.

Instagram is a great place for people to promote their photos that may be uploaded to much better platforms too (more on that later). More people use Instagram than any other photo-based platform. It’s not even a close-run thing, so it goes without saying that if you’re a photographer, you’re missing a huge opportunity if you’re not using Insta. The reason that helps me is that there are untold numbers of supremely talented street photographers for me to follow and I love voraciously gobbling up their work. You can never look at too many photos, either from a perspective of enjoyment or reference for your own attempts.

GREAT SOURCE OF INSPIRATION

One of the primary reasons I use Instagram and indeed any photo platform is inspiration. The number of photographers I follow now compared to two years ago is massive, and that’s great because I’m constantly finding new ideas to try out for myself.

In the past I would beat myself up a bit whenever I saw an incredible piece of work. Now, I take it in and enjoy it, then I begin to think about what settings I could use with my own kit in order to do something similar. The thing is that a lot of people on Instagram either exclusively use their phone for their shots or they use a camera too but only upload their phone photos because it’s so much easier than faffing about with transferring photos around.

Phone cameras have the potential to do a lot of the work for you, which is fantastic if all you’re interested in is taking photos that you love. There’s nothing wrong with that of course, but I prefer to learn about how to construct great photos and attempt everything myself. I like the physical and mental input. So learning how to build a photo and thinking it through is great. Instagram’s lack of EXIF data means you have to think it through, there’s no information available to you. Obviously, copying people’s work isn’t the best idea in the world and I wouldn’t recommend it; it’s always best to do your own thing, but trying stuff and learning new things should never be frowned upon.

It’s not all technical stuff though, sometimes you see settings and locations you might not have thought of.

PERFECT WAY TO MEET FELLOW PHOTOGRAPHERS

Potentially. I’ve never done it myself, but it’s a social network. Why wouldn’t it be great to meet other like-minded people?

At the moment, I use Instagram on one account. My personal one. As time’s gone on though, I’ve grown more and more tempted to set up a separate account for my photography. I read a blog post on Eric Kim’s site yesterday regarding why you should become a photography blogger and whilst Instagram isn’t technically a blog, it sort of is at the same time. You’re documenting your work on a daily basis and sharing it with people. The thing that really hit home about it, though, was the concept of building your brand. There’s a question you need to ask yourself when setting up a separate photography profile with your brand in mind though. What do you want your brand to say about you? If all you have is your one and only personal profile, do you want to use that and give off the perception that you’re all about photography and nothing else? Is that your idea of being a serious photographer? Maybe that would come across more personal and other Instagram users would like that. Or do you want something separate? Something to suggest that you have more going on in your life. Maybe it’s as simple as you liking to keep things separate. Having a place where people can follow you specifically for what you call your ‘best work’ can work for people and yourself.

It’s worth bearing this in mind because you’ll attractc people of a similar mindset. Which do you prefer when you follow other photographers or artists?

IT’S A SOURCE FOR DAYDREAM MATERIAL

Sort of like Pinterest really. I’ll be honest, I prefer Pinterest for this kind of thing, it just feels cosier and it’s a nicer and more relaxed environment for when you just don’t feel like doing anything else other tha browsing through photos and digital art.

I’m a little bit of a daydreamer and as far as I can recall, I always have been. I can just about remember sitting in classrooms as a young child of maybe 7 or 8 years of age and just staring blankly into space or the grills of an old radiator. I wasn’t seeing the radiator though, I was elsewhere with my thoughts, imagining I was elsewhere.

The wonderful thing about the photography I love (location-based, street, candid etc) is that it all transports you to somewhere other than where you are currently as you cast your eyes over it. Within seconds you can be transported to Bakhtapur, Lisbon or Lübeck.

Good photos stick in your mind for when your brain needs a distraction in the lulls of daily life.

IT’S NOT FLICKR

I have a LOT of love for Flickr. I’m not going to sit here and lie to you, it’s my favourite photo platform for reasons I’ll disclose later, but one of the main pulls of Instagram is that it isn’t Flickr.

I use Flickr for very specific reasons. If I want to see seriously crystal clear or sharp photos or if I want to see some expert experimentation, I’ll use that because Instagram quite simply doesn’t provide it. I do follow two people on Instagram who film swap with one another and use double exposures, but because Insta is so heavily geared towards phone users, you’re not going to see many long exposure street photos, for example.

What Instagram provides is a secondary haven where people en masse aren’t as serious about the technicalities of a photo and the processing. People on Instagram have different tastes to those on Flickr and whilst they still appreciate great camera work when they see it, there is far less emphasis on it. It’s also a platform that isn’t specifically based on photography. You’ll find people posting their art pieces and crafts on there too, along with their grainy, blurred, football away day photos.

DISLIKE

IMAGE COMPRESSION & GENERAL INCONVENIENCE

There’s not grounds for debate on this one. Instagram absolutely destroys your photos. Some time ago, there was a setting you can flick on or off that allowed you to upload your photos in HD or just standard definition. From what I can tell, that has now gone and the only information I can find online suggests that you abide by Instagram’s preferred aspect ratio. What Instagram really wants you to do is shoot in 1:1, so basically a square. It’s the only option you have if you decide to take a photo using the Insta app and even when you decide to upload a photo you’ve already taken, you’ll notice that by default it fits your photo into a square too, until you zoom out to fit the full frame in.

Your alternatives to uploading in 1:1 are 1.91:1 or 4:5. I’ve checked and neither of my cameras (Nikon D5300 and Sony RX100) shoot in these aspect ratios and nor does my phone (Huawei P20 Pro). If this is the case for me, it’s the case for most other people too. Sure, you can use Lightroom or Snapseed to crop your photos and you won’t suffer too much, right? Wrong. Instagram hates you post-processing your photos in anything other than itself. I refuse to use Lightroom because I don’t want to pay a subscription, so I keep things simple and process my RAW files in Adobe Camera RAW. I was stunned to find that even after the only process I applied was to turn one of my photos from colour to black and white, Instagram compressed it to such an extent that it looked like it had been taken on a mobile phone from the early 2000s. This was even after I’d cropped it to fit within Instagram’s ideal aspect ratio.

The other issue is that the app hates you using RAW files from a camera. It just freezes and crashes. I have to crop my photos taken on my camera, convert them JPEG, not process them with any filters and bring them into Instagram that way. Even then, the level of compression is ridiculous. I wouldn’t mind if the filters on Instagram were good, but they’re not.

I also wouldn’t mind so much if Instagram actaully provided any kind of information on getting around this kind of thing within their app. But they don’t. Some people seem to get around this. Lord only knows how, and of course I plead ignorance because they clearly know something I don’t, but the fact you have to dig so deep to even take one step towards resolving this makes Instagram a massive inconvenience for people who care about the quality of their photos.

EXPLORERS ALWAYS VISITING THE SAME SPOTS

This is a difficult one to approach, because when I scroll through Instagram I’m merely a consumer and I don’t have to look at people’s photos if I don’t want to. The thing is, I follow people because I’ve seen them upload some good stuff and I hope to see more across various locations. I follow them in hope. Maybe I’m doing it wrong. But I like to try and trust people to deliver to my taste. Hey, if I don’t like their output I’ll just unfollow them. The problem is, this happens too often.

There are too many seemingly professional travel photographers who all seem to be going to the same places, doing the same things in exactly the same spot. It reminds me of all the times I’ve gone onto Newsnow in search of football news. There’s all the typical news sources like Sky Sports, Football365, local newspaper sites… then there’s this other shit, like HITC, Transfer Tavern and so on. Sites that regurgitate news that they’ve seen elsewhere and give opinions based on no facts, and they all seem to copy one another. It’s a similar thing. There are people on Instagram who travel around the job, and good for them, they must make a living out of it and that’s great! What a dream job that would be, just travelling around, taking photos for money. Of course, when you travel, you find out what your favourite places are and I guess you’e always bound to go back there sometime. I just wish these people would stop taking the same photos of the same river flowing through Monschau, the same benches in Bremen, the same canals in the centre of Amsterdam where everything looks the bloody same from one street to another anyway. Give us something more inspiring and interesting. Show us something about Amsterdam that we’ve not seen before. Show us that there’s mroe to Hamburg than the Speicherstadt.

HORRIBLY EDITED ‘MOODY’ PHOTOS

I suppose this is more of a taste thing than anything else, but part of my soul dies every time I see a photo with #moody in the caption or if I see it’s posted by an account with ‘Moody’ in the name. Again, I’ve got to be careful here because the last thing I want to do is deter people from trying new ideas and experimenting. I don’t want to slag anyone off either. I’ve no doubt there are people out there who adore so-called moody photography and there will be plenty of people who are making money out of it, which I can only dream of doing at the moment. It’s just a little frustrating, and I’ll explain why!

I have my own idea of what I class as ‘moody’ and it rarely falls in line with what these people class as moody. Maybe I’m in a minority. I probably am. To me, orange leaves against an over-exposed, white sky with a bit of fence as a background is not moody. A macro shot of some splintered ice is not moody. A ladybird upside down on a flower is not moody. A slightly desaturated, under-exposed photo of a girl in a field with her back to the camera, combing her parted fingers through her frizzy hair against the backdrop of a few trees isn’t moody. Is that supposed to invoke emotion? What am I supposed to feel? What’s mysterious or melancholy about that? Just because you slap ‘moody’ all over the caption, your name and the hashtags in your posts, it doesn’t mean that it is. I think that’s the biggest problem I have with it. I’m being invited in like ‘Hey, look at this,’ and being told ‘This is moody!’ Well, no, it isn’t. Instagram is rife with this type of thing.

In my opinion, which is the only one I can comment on with absolute certainty, it’s worth looking up Emiliano Grusovin and Koen Jacobs on Flickr if you like the idea of moody photography. They’re both great at it, without being defined by it alone. Koen is on Instagram too.

THERE ARE BETTER ALTERNATIVES, PEOPLE JUST DON’T USE THEM

As an overall platform, Instagram isn’t actually that great. Sure, it’s a pleasure to use if you’re just consuming other people’s stuff or if you’re just using your phone as your main camera. There are over a billion people using it though, and to put it meekly, there’s a lot of dross you have to wade yourself through to find the good stuff at times. This means that there are some great photographers that won’t get the exposure they probably deserve.

People like Roger Poultney (dogmeister on Instagram), urban_takes and Emma Wright (emmafwright) don’t have Flickr from what I can tell and they deserve more credit for some of their work. It’s hard to knock Instagram for not being Flickr, but there are some fundamental flaws and drawbacks to the app that sadly prevent people from showing their photos off in their best and clearest form. I guess the main problem is advertising. Flickr, despite being no small fry itself, is almost left to be discovered. Certainly when compared to Instagram, which is everywhere.

The other issue is that if you see someone’s photos you love, unlike on Flickr, Instagram provides absolutely no EXIF data. As I’ve pointed out before, this means you have to imagine the settings used if you want to take a photo with similar qualities. That can be seen as a positive or a negative. To me, it’s a negative. If the information is there, I can choose to use or ignore it. At present, that option isn’t there.

SOMETIMES IT FEELS LIKE AN EXTENSION OF FACEBOOK

Technically, it is. Facebook own it. Instagram above all else, is a social media platform. It’s not designed to show off your finest work that you pride yourself on. It just isn’t. It’s simply a photo and video sharing platform for people who prefer to look at pictures rather than the many poorly written statuses on Facebook and Twitter. Its main demographics are teenagers (72% of teens use it) and women, who make up 68% of its user base according to a study by OmnicoreAgency.com. I’m probably not its target audience. Certainly according to the demographics anyway.

Anyway, the point is, Instagram feels like a social media platform rather than a photography showcase platform. That’s because it is. It is what it feels like. Sometimes, I like to get away from Facebook and look at some photos without going too serious and entering the Flickr world all the time. Maybe I’m just following the wrong people.

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