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Is Instagram good for photography?

Posted: , by Michael H.

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Is Instagram good for photography?
We have not been so subtle in our critique of Instagram. We have repeatedly said that the app doesn't really do much more than make people feel like they are better photographers than they really are, because the filters make it easy to turn a bad photo into a reasonably acceptable one. However, there is another theory out there that seeks to contradict ours, and we have to say, it has some sense behind it. The new Idea Channel from PBS is one of our favorite new finds in the world of the Interwebs, and has some pretty interesting ideas (like "Is Super Mario Bros the world's greatest piece of surrealist art?") And, this week the question is if Instagram may be "the best thing to happen to photography". 

Right out of the gate, we were skeptical, but the logic is fairly sound. The idea is simply an extension of the 80/20 rule - 80% of the photographs that are taken with Instagram may be nothing more than a bad photo with a filter on it, but what if 20% of those pictures at the very least get the photographer to think more about color, composition, and subject? You know, those things that add up to quality photography. 

We can see the value in that. It may be hard to ignore the 80% of crap, but if people are becoming more engaged and interested in learning about photography, that has to be a good thing. Right? What do you guys think?


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posted on 27 Apr 2012, 23:20 3

1. the_s2 (Posts: 206; Member since: 22 Nov 2011)


Well, yes... I agree 100%. First, it was like, 'Any fool out there with a DSLR thinks that he's a good photographer.' Now the DSLR part is replaced with instagram.

posted on 27 Apr 2012, 23:29 8

2. JeffdaBeat (unregistered)


It's what Guitar Hero was for rock. Kids who would have never picked up a guitar got the rhythm basics of playing guitar. Some went further and purchased an actual guitar. I think people who are interested enough in making awesome photos will explore outside of Instagram. I know a few folks that have. I don't see anything bad with that...

posted on 28 Apr 2012, 04:39 4

11. remixfa (Posts: 13903; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)


ooh. good point with the guitar hero analogy.

posted on 01 May 2012, 11:52

27. nandito01 (Posts: 7; Member since: 01 May 2012)


i must say thats a very nice way to say it with the guitar hero analogy.

im my own opinion instragram its just a new way to experiment something and to get people interested in what real photography is
im gettig tired of all this noisy, blurry, dark, over exposed pictures but its nice to find once in a while someone who actually tooka time to take a decent image and thinking about the filter that would fit the best with the image and concept.

im not 100% excited about instagram to me its just anohter application to make some people feel like they have control over something, in this case an image.

posted on 27 Apr 2012, 23:38 1

3. theruleslawyer (Posts: 108; Member since: 23 Apr 2012)


Anything that gets people to think about photography creatively is a good thing in my book. Sure most of it is a bunch of crap, but at least people are trying.

posted on 27 Apr 2012, 23:40 4

4. bbblader (Posts: 579; Member since: 24 Oct 2011)


I heard you use instagram on your photos.You must be a professional photographer

posted on 28 Apr 2012, 02:03 4

5. Muhannad (Posts: 455; Member since: 20 Sep 2011)


9GAG reference. :P

posted on 28 Apr 2012, 17:02

20. vvelez5 (Posts: 623; Member since: 29 Jan 2011)


Doesn't know where the meme comes from. ^

posted on 28 Apr 2012, 02:53 2

6. XiphiasGladius (Posts: 801; Member since: 21 Aug 2011)


ahhh. . . I see what you did there. . .

posted on 28 Apr 2012, 08:04 2

15. AndroidTroll (Posts: 359; Member since: 05 Mar 2011)


I'm a professional photographer/DP and I despise instagram. Lomography and Polaraids produce horrible photos with light leak, lens vignetting, chromatic abberration, and excessive noise. Why try to recreate what those old technologies did so badly at? I strive to take images with the most dynamic range, sharp focus on subject, interesting compositions, nice bokeh, low noise, etc. I believe the standard to reach for is to recreate the picture the way the human eye sees it because the way it captures light, color and dynamic range is amazing and unparralleled. Btw I also hate the square aspect ratio of instagram. One day, people will look back on it and ask themselves why they messed up all of their photos with that nonsense.

posted on 28 Apr 2012, 12:56

17. Marco151polo (Posts: 9; Member since: 28 Nov 2010)


The way the human eye sees things is also distorted by perception/tunnel vision/will or lack of will to see what is literally there. Plus what the eye sees is not just a still image but a film constantly involving what I just mentioned. Photography is the art of capturing something on some medium and invoking a perception/thought/focus about what was captured. With professional photography these things can be accomplished by using different lenses/filters/and photo editing programs like Photoshop/Lightroom. With armature photography these things can also be done using the modes from the point and click camera (sepia, b/w, etc..) or a program on a smartphone.

posted on 28 Apr 2012, 03:16 2

7. geoffers247 (Posts: 19; Member since: 06 Apr 2012)


Great bit of software for novice photographers that don't know how to edit photo's

posted on 28 Apr 2012, 03:42 3

8. AppleConspiracy (Posts: 629; Member since: 18 Oct 2011)


Michael H., I'm almost allways against your attitudes and theories for which I think are fundamentally wrong, however you allways shoot at the right content for me to activate myself in commentary. It looks like we are destined to be arch-enemies :-)

I'm currently preparing a paper for symposium on art&media, in which I will problematize the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction, a theme coined by Walter Benjamin in 1936. in essay of the same name. I will extend it to account for what is happening today with photography, film and music.

What is interesting is that the concept of high-fidelity mechanical reproduction, with its mimetic capabilites of being almost transparent to reality (ultra-high definition photography, sound and cinematography) is not focused on mimicry of reality anymore, but on mimicry of the PAST MEDIUM.

The postmodern theories have on numerous ways proved that we are living in simulacrum in which we are reproducing and recycling the "old", taking "old values" through "retro", "nostalgia", "retrofuturism", "revival", "recycling", "hommage" and so on, allegedly because we now live in a world with no history (endism theories). That means, anything truly new doesn't fit in the metalanguage of "value", and therefore the value is in reproduced, NOT produced objects of our reality.

So, long story short: I we simulate "old photography" by mimicry of the past medium which was less transparent (polaroid film, 35mm film, B/W, graininess and so on) through means of the new, more transparent mediums (digital photography), it will be intuitively considered more valuable and more "artsy" regardless of actual content. Of course, the mimicry itself will add many of the things we tend to attribute to photogrpaher.

So, it's adequate to quote Walter benjamin himself: "Past things have futurity"

And that is the true reason why Instagram is successful. It enables photographers-wannabes, hipsters and all the others to feel like a legendary photographers and to reactivate their nostalgic memories toward the content they are seeing in present.

The conclusion is that "art" and "artism" are two very different things. First does not actually exist anymore, and the latter is a metalanguage, through which everyone can indentify himself - he just needs to select a "style" for filter. It's almost poetic how we have become consumerist robots - we are consuming "art", litteraly.

posted on 28 Apr 2012, 03:56 2

9. AppleConspiracy (Posts: 629; Member since: 18 Oct 2011)


I need to add something to this after this theoretical approach.

In practice, I think Instagram was planetary successful because of iOS exclusivity.

So, after it's transfer to Android, the Instagram will be reduced just to filters for Facebook.
It's not Facebook's aquisition of Instagram to blame, but the decision to "spread" to Android. They have signed their death sentence.

Why? Because iOS exclusivity perfectly fitted into this whole Apple thing - of artsy, design-aware aestheticians who think of themselfs as more profound and and more stylish.
They just loved Instagram, because they could enjoy in their illusion of what is "valuable" in photography and simultaneously feel unique, just as they feel unique to own an iPhone (intersting is the fact how feeling of uniqueness can be achieved when you are actually the least unique).

Now that Instagram is not iOS exclusive, it will be overflown by Instagram alternatives and variations. The very thing that gave Instagram its place under the sun is now destroyed. The "nostalgia" paradigm will continue to be in trend, but it will not be associated with Instagram anymore. Therefore, after aquisition, Instagram will become just filter for Facebook and eventually loose its name.

posted on 28 Apr 2012, 10:59

16. theruleslawyer (Posts: 108; Member since: 23 Apr 2012)


That's a really nice way of saying many iOS users are elitist douche-bags. We already knew that, but opening Instagram to Android really highlighted that segment of owners.

I don't know that I buy the whole mimicry idea. People crave novelty. Photo that represent what we seen in every day life are boring. The most interesting photos shot with modern equipment are those that show us the world in a new way, and those that connect with us emotionally. Connecting emotionally is hard. Showing a new thing isn't. That's why things like macro photography, or light painting interest many people. Heck even taking photos from angles not at standing height increase interest. Get on the ground, or on a ladder and people are likely to notice you photo more.

So what do filters do for us? They give us a novel way to present ordinary scenes. We can re-imagine our boring life in a different way. Sure Instagram happens to mimic some old and or distressed photography looks. However I don't think that is central to why it was popular. Exclusivity + novel presentation + the ability to share and show off are a good recipe.

posted on 28 Apr 2012, 13:28 1

19. AppleConspiracy (Posts: 629; Member since: 18 Oct 2011)


No, true novelty is never what people crave for. It's an ultimate fantasy. Total novelty would be when we encounter something for which we have no established mode of understanding, like metalanguage. It is unreadable then. Therefore, the "novelty" must be read as novelty, and that means it should be integrated in already established paradigm. So, the paradox is that for something to be novelty, it shouldn't be a novelty, just realisation of already prepared "place of new event" (for more details see Alain Baidou - "Being and event")

The "retro" paradigm is present a long time now (a few decades), and now high-tech has enabled us to use its mimetic capabilities to emulate old-mediums instead reality. For instance, today's popular music want to play with eclecticism of materials already heard in history, all the fusions, hybrid genres, and of course - intentional placement of vinyl record scratches and noises to perfectly clean, sterile digital production.
The decline of high-fidelity music reproducition and revival of old record players prove that this is global trend. Even Lady Gaga imitates old divas with Tony Bennet, becuse "oldies are goldies".

Instagram is not novelty - it only enables masses to mimic old mediums from our childhoods.

posted on 28 Apr 2012, 18:29

21. theruleslawyer (Posts: 108; Member since: 23 Apr 2012)


That is a rather narrow way to define something novel. Actually its kind of idiotic. Of course we need context in which to understand art. Though even if it doesn't exist we'll create our own connection so we have a framework in which to understand it. And nice straw man by the way.

posted on 29 Apr 2012, 06:48

24. AppleConspiracy (Posts: 629; Member since: 18 Oct 2011)


If you want understand art and concept of novelty, you must be familiar with philosophy of art, antropological theories of aesthetics and philosophy of language, technology (in Heideggerian sense) and general ontology of being, time and event.

posted on 28 Apr 2012, 06:52

14. jabberwocky (Posts: 89; Member since: 21 Feb 2012)


"Art is dead"? Is that all you're trying to prove?

Yeah, that's never been done before. Lucky for you, it won't be any more true this time around.

posted on 28 Apr 2012, 13:19 1

18. AppleConspiracy (Posts: 629; Member since: 18 Oct 2011)


Of course art is dead. You can read about it in theory of art and philosophy of aesthetics from early 20th century to this date. Just if you're interested in why&how...

posted on 29 Apr 2012, 05:05

23. DIYguy (Posts: 190; Member since: 27 Feb 2011)


I have to say I agree with you. I'm not an expert on the subject but I think I understood the point you're trying to get at.

So what art that is nowadays presented as art is not art but mimicry of old works of art?

My own opinion is that "an artist" is more of a profession nowadays than it was before. You simply become an artist because you "like to do art". Not because you would have something to give, through expressing yourself.

You just kind of think of art as something you just simply create like you would build a wooden box not for an application but for the sole purpose that you're building a box.

Simply: "You create create something to be art" or "You create art for arts sake".

I think it was Shakespeare who said that "Art made for the purpose of art, is not art at all" and I totally have to agree with that.

posted on 29 Apr 2012, 07:01

25. AppleConspiracy (Posts: 629; Member since: 18 Oct 2011)


Agreed. The historical breaking point from which artworld entered its "singularity" was the moment when World decided to make art for art's sake, that is, "l'art pour l'art-ism". That means it lost its reference point of being aestheticized reflexion of the World, and became reflexion of itself. This so called "short-circuit" in being of Art resulted in explosion of avantgarde currents (and prototyped in Art Nouveau, impressionism and neo-eclectic styles) at the turn of the centuries. After those "orgies", after WWII, it lost itself in its imminent actualization and infinite freedom, and ultimately lost it's sense with no possibility of return. Now, aesthetisation of commonplace witness this effect.

And the point is, there are very credible theories of historical materialism that associate this "end of art" to advent of its technological reproducibility, or to be more exact, to the advent of photography, film and sound reproduction. However, it had an even greater impact now when this reproducibility is practiced in Internet, the "total medium" with almost infinite transparency, and that resulted in phenomena like retro styles and after all the Instagram, which emulate old mediums.

Of course, this "retro" ideology is not the only one because we live in multi-ideological and hybrid postmodern world (and therefore the World without its History), however this one is one of the most powerful among them.

posted on 28 Apr 2012, 04:37 2

10. Leo_MC (Posts: 520; Member since: 02 Dec 2011)


I think every phone camera can do what Instagram does; I remember I also had some filters on a 5 years old SE (although, I couldn't share the photo on fbk) but on my HTC this things are built into default camera software, why on earth would I be using a fking app for that?
Why on earth would I consider a phone cam can take pictures (except 2 Nokia phones)?
So, even if this app would be Photoshop, the low quality of the pictures (not to mention we're not talking about raw but jpg) would still make it an useless sh*t.

posted on 28 Apr 2012, 06:13 1

12. KingKurogiii (Posts: 5592; Member since: 23 Oct 2011)


yeah, i'd have to agree with this logic. i use Instagram and i'm more compelled to take pictures more often because of how much i can tweak the pictures and how fast i can take an "acceptable" picture and move on with my life.

posted on 28 Apr 2012, 06:33 3

13. JSern (Posts: 282; Member since: 22 May 2011)


Instagram on Android. Making the world x10 more idiotic

posted on 28 Apr 2012, 22:05

22. garz_pa (Posts: 153; Member since: 03 Nov 2011)


Hell NO. Cellphone cameras have very few settings. Not to mention the image sensors....

posted on 30 Apr 2012, 00:08

26. mindthemix (Posts: 1; Member since: 30 Apr 2012)


IG just allows you to upload your crap or great photos; it's just a tool. Because your mobile phone has a keyboard that doesn't mean you are a writer.

I'm still trying to understand why people think that all the photos in IG comes from a mobile phone; 90% of my uploads are from my Nikon and Fuji.

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