It has now become a very common sight to walk into a restaurant or club or bar, and find people snapping photographs of their food/their drinks/ themselves, while it/they just sit there on the counter. Look into their phones, and you’ll see frantic swiping being done to “pick the right filter”, and as soon as they’ve found it, the exultation that accompanies the photograph being uploaded to social media. Welcome, to a world of Instagram.
Instagram is an online photo-sharing, video-sharing and social networking service that lets users take pictures and videos, apply digital filters to them, and share them on a range of social networking sites, including Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Flickr. Since its launch in October 2010, the service has seen phenomenal success, with over 100 million active users globally as of April 2012. Recent innovations such as the new option of recording and sharing upto 15 second videos have attracted even more users to this rapidly growing photo-social network.
Instagram is noted primarily for two features: the way it treats photographs, through various digital filters it offers, and its inter-connectivity with other networks. Instagram confines all photographs uploaded to it to a square shape (very reminiscent of Kodak’s Instamatic and Polaroid images), rather than the 16:9 aspect ratio typically favoured these days by mobile cameras. Once a user has captured an image, they can then view it in the app, and choose one of 19 available “digital filters” to give their image a “different” look. Over time, Instagram has kept adding new filters (and removing some unpopular ones), so each new update to the app ensures that users don’t tire from giving their photographs the same look over and over again.
The ability to share your “creative” work with the world of social media is Instagram’s second big calling card. As mentioned previously, the service supports tie-ups with a wide variety of the most popular social networks on the Internet, and allows users to share their photographs and videos with all of them. In 2012, Instagram created web profiles that allowed users to use the service like a true social media network. The web feed is a simpler version of the phone app, and this added functionality has only made the service more popular.
Many people have decried the spread of Instagram as the death of “true photography”; that is not entirely true. It is true that more and more people are turning to the service for capturing snapshots of their daily lives, and besides, you’ve got to admit that there is a certain guilty pleasure in clicking a picture, instantly making it “look artsy”, and uploading it. However, this has by no means affected the higher end of photography. Even professional photographers who use Instagram – and there are so many of them – like the service more as a novelty than as a means of livelihood. Instagram, at its root, is yet another tool for maintaining a presence on the Internet’s social media, and its rise is likely to have no detrimental effect on photography; in fact, it is likely to open new avenues for exploration.
However, the bigger problem is what this article opened with: the obsession with clicking images, and “Instagramming” them, wherever you are. The service may be great, the filters may be a lot of fun, and the experience may provide a certain joy, but if you’re going to click a picture for Instagram in all situations instinctively, perhaps the network may turn out to be more of a social bane than boon.