The Myth About Instagram Leveling the Field

Posted on June 21, 2012

To say that Instagram levels the field for creativity is wrong. Completely wrong.

Instagram is so popular because it turns our otherwise regular-looking snapshots into unique, beautiful images. For those of you who have not become addicted, Instagram is (comparably) the mobile version of Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom, and is popular because of its simplicity and for the great results you can achieve by adding a few creative filters to your otherwise bland photos. The app is intuitive, and fairly flexible (with a simple UI) making it easy to master within a few uses. Photoshop’s desktop platform, on the other hand, can take months to master. First, understand that mobile photography is about convenience and simplicity, not complicated layers and editing techniques.

With Instagram, filters and blurs are in. For all you pro shooters out there, you’ve been taught that the purpose of creating an image isn’t to dress it up as much as possible to hide the flaws. Instagram leveled the equipment field and the production flow, not the user’s creativity. Fortunately, that still lies in the eyes, mind, and hands of the photographer.

However, there’s no denying that Instagram is giving the photography industry something to think about. I’ve seen some incredibly striking images come out of Instagram. As expected, the better known and followed users are calling themselves “professional mobile photographers.” Wow. Sounds crazy, but you know, I think it’s for the better that photography has become such an integral part of mobile and social technology. We love pictures, so why continue to make creating them an inaccessible art?

I’m fully embracing the movement, and you should to. I’d say “move past it,” but mobile photography is really a “move over,” a shift, if you will. The film to digital transition was a step up for the photography industry for many reasons; mobile photography isn’t taking over digital, it’s just a shift for consumers. If you’re scared of where photography is going, don’t be ridiculous. Although I’ve heard stories, brides won’t be asking you to shoot their wedding with your iPhone anytime soon (although they might see that as a nice addition to their investment.. *HINT*.)

On that note, here are a few tips on how to make the best of the app. Take these with a grain of salt, they are not rules. Even if they were, rules are meant to be broken in photography; showing us how you see the world, and telling a story with an image are the most important pieces in creating interesting photos.

  • Shoot with the end in mind. You know the filters by now, picture them on the subject or landscape before you shoot.
  • Crop with the end in mind, and always plan ahead. If you want the texture of the concrete to take up a large part of the image, you better back the hell up.
  • Simple rules. The best images tell a story with as little details as possible. We like to make up our own minds as to what’s going on in an image. Also, make sure to separate the background from your subject.
  • Follow the rules. Off center the image both vertically and horizontally (rule of thirds); don’t crop extremities; sharp focus; balance image elements…
  • Break the rules. (Do whatever the hell you want.)
  • Use the “enhance” button (almost) always! This is basically the “holy-shit-this-button-fixes-everything-I-ever-did-wrong” button. (If you’ve used it before, you know it’s true.)
  • Find cool light. I can’t explain what this means, just do it and use it to your advantage.
  • Be creative as hell. You’ve  basically got a fixed lens on your hands, so that means your legs are the zoom. Don’t be afraid to move around and change your perspective; get down on the ground, change the distance of the background to focus on your subject. Stop and look at ordinary objects and things you pass on a daily basis and tell a story with it. Get out of your comfort zone, go for a walk (there’s nothing cool about shit in your house,) you’ll find interesting things everywhere. Also, if the caption is catchy, I might just find the image more interesting, too.

My point is, enjoy Instagram for what is, and don’t compare your 8 megapixel iPhone camera to an $8,000 tricked out pro rig. I challenge you to change your perspective on mobile photography and own it. Either way, stay creative, no matter the vehicle, no matter the place.

Feel free to follow me on Instagram, username “zacksyl,” and on Twitter @zacksyl

The Myth About Instagram Leveling the Field by

8 Replies to "The Myth About Instagram Leveling the Field"

  • trafalmadorian
    June 21, 2012 (2:20 pm)

    i couldn’t agree more

  • botwer
    June 21, 2012 (2:22 pm)

    Excellent post. I’ve been almost embarrassed to compare my Instagram photos to those taken with an EOS-class camera, but I’ve been missing your point. There are many fast runners out there who are not training for the Olympics, and not every stunning paining hangs in the Louvre. Instagram photos can be works of art in themselves, and we should embrace that. Your photos, by the way, attest to that.

    • Zack Sylvan
      June 21, 2012 (3:59 pm)

      I would definitely say it isn’t about quality with mobile photography. Creativity is your only hope to stand out. There’s a unique learning curve, and surveying your subject and its environment is the biggest part of it. Thank you for the compliment, I love your shots, wish you’d post more! 🙂

  • andreashesse
    June 21, 2012 (2:24 pm)

    Aaah, well, Instragram (and other apps like it) and the huge discussion about why one should try to create art the other way to begin with 🙂
    I am pretty sure, once DSLRs came up, a similar ‘fight’ emerged between people who loved (and still love) to shoot on film against the people who were going digital. The same discussion probably came up, once Digital enhancing programs came up. Photoshop, Lightroom, etc. Use these programs and you don’t need to focus on creating the picture but making art out of it. Or even when the first photographers started their work with analog cameras … how can one try to capture light with a box? Preposterous!

    But what is the ultimate answer? There are two sides from my point of view. One as a consumer (and this is easy), I want to see a result that moves me. I don’t mind whether it was shot on film, with a 5K DSLR, a mobile phone or drawn. It is what and how it expresses itself and what impression it makes on me. Instragram and sorts are nice little helpers supporting expressions, however, their functionality is limited and one becomes used to it quite fast. Also, the range of details is limited with phone photography. But there are improvements and pictures shot with camera and worked on with post-processing apps become better and more versatile. So, I as a viewer do not care that much about the way an image was created, but more about what the image wants to tell me.

    Now, as a producer of art of some sort, I do care what I work with. Again, I respect anyone who is achieving his or her goal any other or the same way since their intention might be completely different. But I like the more time intensive process. I shoot with a DSLR and post-process my images, using Lightroom. It takes time. Quite a lot since I tend to make way too many pictures (and tend to keep most of them … ). But I love it that way. I love to make four, five different images of the same shot, all with different processes (b&w, monochrome, higher contrast or clarity, etc.) and store all of the result.
    However, I am working with Instagram for the more private and fast images, too. Whenever I want to show an image right away – on facebook or tumblr as an example – Instagram offers some nice filters as we all know. And in the end, this is what counts for me as a photographer. When do I want to publish the image for what audience and how much time can I free to do so.
    Nice post of yours 🙂 Cheers, Andreas

    • Zack Sylvan
      June 21, 2012 (3:18 pm)

      Andreas, I completely agree with you. This statement you made is so true: “So, I as a viewer do not care that much about the way an image was created, but more about what the image wants to tell me.”

      Mobile photography still should celebrated because it’s still photography. I used to be a full time photographer (I hesitate to call myself pro) but I made the commitment to invest in equipment, education/practice, and time. Because of that, I appreciate standard photography to a much higher degree, especially when you blow Instagram pictures up (holy crap, the quality is terrible!)

      Thanks for your comment, Andreas, happy shooting!

  • Barb Youchah
    June 26, 2012 (3:17 pm)

    Hey great post Zack! I know I have no photography skills but the best camera is always the one with you and most often it’s the iPhone. I’m not terribly creative either and Instagram sometimes makes me feel like a superstar. It’s just fun to take pictures and share them across different platforms. Sometime I’m going to have to branch out from my two muses: the beach and beverages. Cheers!

    • Zack Sylvan
      June 26, 2012 (4:08 pm)

      Thanks, Barb! I totally agree with you! There’s just something awesome about having access to what people are seeing wherever they go (tried making that sound as non-creepy as possible.) It makes me feel included and like I’m not missing what’s going on elsewhere. Plus, it gives me a little more motivation and inspiration to just get out and explore.

      Girl, there is nothing wrong with beach and beverage photos. Keep those kinds of photos coming! I am in serious withdrawal from my home state and your photos make me feel closer 🙂


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