Is Instagram Ruining Photography?

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Tree Silhouette in the Last Vestiges of Sunset

Some globally respected photographers and critics think Instagram destroys the integrity of quality images.

Others feel the rise of Instagram pollutes traditional social network streams.

Critics decry the mobile photo network because it filters most images with a vintage Poloroid look, the resulting widespread proliferation of Instaphotos across social networks, and/or the additional doctoring that occurs through a variety of apps like Snapseed and Camera+.

Overall, critics feel that consumer access to cheap imaging technologies makes the general state of photography stale, repetitive, and watered down.

For those that remember the rise of blogging, the argument sounds familiar.

Journalists decried blogs, saying the amateur writing style devalued the media and destroyed news as we know it. In that vein, Andrew Keen made his reputation with the now timeless rant embodied as the Cult of the Amateur.

The Washington Monument

In some ways, the widespread proliferation of amateur content does destroy professional and hobbyist works, whether they be photos or articles. Suddenly a Washington Monument photo becomes a common everyday occurrence.

That doesn’t mean we should throw out the baby with the bath water.

Instagram can be used to market good photography (which does stand out), popularize new ideas, market products and services (even sports leagues), and learn the basic fundamentals of how to take a picture.

I also have some disagreement with the poor level of work argument. Confusing most Instagram photos for real photographs is akin to comparing a long Facebook update to a Pulitzer prize winning book.

For more the vast majority of Instagram users, it’s about people sharing their lives, not engaging in photography as a profession or hobby.

To me that transcends the work of art because people are sharing experiences. While not all of the 80 million accounts are authentic, real social networking happens on Instagram.

What do you think? Is Instagram killing photography?

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  • http://www.cc-chapman.com/ C.C. Chapman

    As a photographer the way I explain it is that I use Instagram to take SNAPSHOTS.

    I love Instagram because it allows me and others to quickly take snapshots of the world around us and share them with the world. The level of simple intimacy is why I love it.

    Plus, with a phone these days you can take amazing photographs if you want and Instagram can be used as simply a distribution model to share those photos.

    Haters seem to focus on the filters more than anything else and yet in my mind Instagram has always been about everything else BUT the filters.

    • geofflivingston

      I agree, the iPhone can be a great camera. I do both with Instagram. I do the day in the life bit (I’m eating a taco!), but I also use it to highlight great photos, too.

      And you know what, CC, people can tell. I can tell by the validation, I get 2-4x as many<3 with the good photos. But these people are my friends, and I'm not a pro, so I do both. It's fun!

    • sillyou

      Oh please. …99.9% of Instagram users use it BECAUSE of the silly filters. By the comments here I can tell I am in the minority since most of you seem to like this dreadful app. Newsflash, 70s pocket cameras produced photos that looked like garbage back then, and still look like garbage today when created with digital algorithms. You say you love Instagram because it allows you to take snapshots of the world around you and share them. Why do you need Instagram to do this? Why not just use the phone camera without this annoying app?

    • s1974x

      Email, mms, Facebook, Photobucket, Flickr, Picassa, Google+, MySpace (lol)… Yup, without Instagram there just wouldn’t be a way to easily share photos, and those 2 filters used on every single Instagram photo ever are simply digital “butter” used to grease up the photos in order for them to slide quickly through the internet. Without them they wouldn’t be capable of leaving the user’s device [/sarcasm]

  • http://doughaslam.com doughaslam

    I would argue instagram saves us from the naked bad photography of limited cameras from iPhones and Androids devices. I make fun of the Polaroid kitsch as well, but it actually helps cover some limitations.

    As for the erosion of professional and pro-hobbyist photography, we didn’t need instagram to make snapshots available all over the internet. Good photography is still good photography, Maybe it needs t harder work to stand out.

    • geofflivingston

      I actually think the plethora of bad photos helps make the good stuff stand out! Thanks for the comment, and congratulations on your successful ride to end cancer!

  • Susan Cellura

    No, it’s not killing photography. People are just complaining to complain. I agree it is fun to use Instagram. I have a friend who is an expert photographer as his hobby. People have asked to buy his shots off of his Flickr site. He doesn’t play with Instagram. I have a friend who is a PGA Tour photographer. Obviously he doesn’t use Instagram for his day job. But he has posted fun photos of his dog in the pool on FB, using Instagram. I’m in the mood to say, “Chill, people”. :)

    • geofflivingston

      There are always people who seem to freak out over change. This seems to be the latest example. Oh well.

    • PHOTOMASTER PRO RICH GUY ALPHA

      You’re an asshat and my DSLR would slam any of your lame ass instadouche ‘photos’ into the pavement face fucking first.

      • geofflivingston

        I’m sorry, but this comment is uncivil. Per my about page, you can comment with a differing opinion sans the derogatory remarks.

  • http://www.facebook.com/zasylvan Zack Sylvan

    I completely agree with @cc_chapman:disqus. Instagram is more of a shift, or an expansion of photography in my opinion.

    The app has made photography more accessible and popular, but those of us who appreciate the hard work that goes into creating stories through images as opposed to a simple snapshot shouldn’t feel threatened. Creativity doesn’t come to us any easier just because we have a mobile phone. That, fortunately still takes practice and a steady hand.

    Instagram is a great asset for photography and social. Pictures make people happy, so why not make them more accessible?

    I wrote about this a few weeks back: http://youdontknowzack.wordpress.com/2012/06/21/does-instagram-level-the-field-photography-mobile/

    • geofflivingston

      You are right, of course. And I love how your post coaches people. Instagram can be an exciting gateway for people into photography!

      For me, I first began playing with photography as a result of Twitpics with a Nokia mobile phone. Folks said I had raw talent. It encouraged me to go deeper. Am I pro? No, but I think I can take a decent pic or two at any given moment. I owe that to social network sharing of photos.

  • http://twitter.com/sarmishtha sarmishtha

    No, I do not think it is destroying photography. I view them as moods/ expressions, its quite fun to see the world from so many different people’s eyes. Its fun with qualities akin to twitter. Its here to stay in some shape or form.

    • geofflivingston

      I agree, I definitely see it as a major addition to social networking life!

  • http://twitter.com/JonMikelBailey Jon-Mikel Bailey

    Not at all. Just like I don’t think autotune has ruined music. What ruins things is laziness. If you choose not look for art that you truly appreciate then the loser is you. If my only channel for photography was Instagram, my only channel for music was MTV and my only source for food was the Olive Garden I would be suffering a serious cultural deficiency. Great post as always Geoff!

    • geofflivingston

      But there are some great photographers on Instagram, too! I hope people choose to follow them. Perhaps a follow-up post for me. Good example with MTV!

  • http://twitter.com/howardgr Howard Greenstein

    Instagram is a good delivery method for pictures I already want to share. Or, a reason for me to take the camera out of my pocket and take a shot that I might otherwise walk by. The convenience, sharing model and simplicity are the key elements.

    • Matt Foot

      I think you’re all sitting around with FAR too much time on your hands, with which to analyse something which really IS NOT important at all.

      It seems many people are insecure within themselves – just go and do what *you* are doing with your photography (and your LIFE), and if Instagram makes people happy, EVEN IF it doesn’t make them amazing photographers, then that is great, and no business of anyone else’s! Not everyone NEEDS to be “validated” by an internet crowd. I do not use Instagram, but should I choose to do so, I will, and would I care what anyone thinks about it? Well… pffft… you’re pulling my leg, right? Not a bit.

      Too many judgmental, pretentious buffoons in this world. Even IF they take rubbish photos, it gave them happiness, and that is what God wants for his children! :)

  • http://twitter.com/gstreet Glenn Street

    Photography equipment and distribution tools have become intuitive to the point that nearly anybody can take great shots and share them with the world.

    Which is good. Pro photographers have always been too snobbish for my taste (I’m a former professional). It took only a few months to teach my wife principles of lighting and composition. She now takes photos that equal what I took years to learn how to do. The equipment has made it easy for her to become a quality photographer. She always wanted to. Now she is.

    Nothing “kills” photography. The tools simply make it easier.

    I gave up on photography and began recording audio. Was looking for a challenge, and found it. Recording audio is reminiscent of the days I lugged a manual-control Nikon around (circa 1960-80). Fortunately, the gear is compact except for the myriad of microphones.

  • http://www.jasonkonopinski.com/ Jason Konopinski

    I’ve had this same discussion a few times with local photojournalists. The fact is that when someone picks up a phone or camera and captures an image, they’re creating something – and that’s good. I know quite a few professional photographers who LOVE Instagram and the attention that they pay to composing a shot is apparent – but it really is ultimately about capturing and documenting things in simple intimacy. I’m not an Instagram user so I tend to use Path in that manner, sharing to Facebook or Twitter.

    A friend of mine has exhibited her work shot solely with an iPhone 4S. Great images.

    From a brand perspective, Billboard is doing some really awesome things with their Instagram account.

    • geofflivingston

      I love the perspective of simple intimacy. You are right, it is about the moments. Some few photogs and brands use it to market, but I agree, generally that’s my stream. Love what you do on Path!

  • http://mountainlyon.blogspot.com/ JoLynne

    Of course it will change things. But when color photography came out, there were experts who thought it meant the death of photographic art. Clearly it wasn’t, and I’m sure photography will survive Instagram, too.

    • geofflivingston

      There you have it. Thanks for the comment!

  • Dan

    I wrote about this a month or so ago… Interesting topic and even more interesting to me are people’s opinions on it. Seems fairly polarizing with some viewing the service as a social tool first and then a photography tool, and some seeing it as the opposite. Here were my thoughts if you’re interested (and a subsequent TV spot I did on it) http://www.danandholly.com/index.php/2012/06/why-i-hate-instagram/

    • geofflivingston

      You are not a fan! LOL. Well, you know that you are not alone and others share your view. Thanks for the differing viewpoint!

  • http://www.markjp.com Mark J P

    I don’t think it is ruining photography at all. I think it allows and probably even encourages people to take and share photos that otherwise would not be taken. It’s a fun and gratifying process. Perhaps some Instagram users will go on to develop a deeper passion for photography and choose to explore non-Instagram styles of photography while others will be perfectly satisfied with Instagram or an equivalent application.

    I think the only people really making a fuss are the elitists or those who have some kind of agenda (i.e. the fearful photographer, concerned that Instagram is somehow going to eat their lunch). I think there is plenty of room for all styles of photography and for photographers of all levels.

    Why shouldn’t people simply be allowed to have fun with photography? The purists can do their thing and the Instagram crowd can do theirs. There’s absolutely no reason why one style should impact the other. I’m sure there are Instagram purists who create amazing art. Who has the right to say one style of photography is more valid than another? Personally I love both.

    At the end of the day from my perspective it is all about the photography, regardless of the techniques or technologies used to get there. Photography is very subjective, so I say to the Instagram haters that they should simply ignore the stuff they don’t like and spend time enjoying the stuff they do, rather wasting time ranting about it. If you believe that Instagram cheapens photography then you are of course free to use all of your experience and creativity to produce photography that will impress people far more than an Instagram shot ever could. Actions speak louder than words after all! ;)

    • geofflivingston

      This is a really good comment. You are spot on about the motives of those who are railing against Instagram.

      And you know what, i love stories! I love hearing about people’s lives. What better way than a caught in the moment of photo. I even like foodie photos!!!

      Well said, thank you!

    • Josh

      Couldn’t have said it better: “I think the only people really making a fuss are the elitists or those who have some kind of agenda (i.e. the fearful photographer, concerned that Instagram is somehow going to eat their lunch). I think there is plenty of room for all styles of photography and for photographers of all levels.”

      If Instagram gets more people involved with photography, or if it generates more curiosity, interest, and access to photography, how is that a bad thing?

      I liken it to Bob Ross. Elitists hated him because he “watered down” art. They couldn’t see that he opened a door and made painting accessible to those who might have been afraid to try it, who might have been uncertain of their abilities, or who sometimes needed some confidence to help discover a hidden talent. Ross was merely a springboard for the mind, for creativity, and for the imagination.

      It’s the same with Instagram (and most things in life). The cream always rises to the top. If you are good at your craft, you have nothing to worry about from apps like Instagram. If you aren’t so good? Well, yeah, you’re probably among the critics…

  • http://twitter.com/tburgess57 Todd Burgess

    I recently started using Instagram and quite like it. I think the limitations Instagram forces on you both in terms of the camera and post-production facilities forces the photographer to think more about the visual design to produce a quality image.

    Sadly, too many photographers obsess over their gear and the technical aspects of the image production at the expense of the visual design of the image. I think any tool that forces us to give more thought to visual design and allows us to share our interpretation of the subject is a valuable tool.

    • geofflivingston

      You have to know how to frame a shot. I think photographers also overvalue the equipment. It’s really about developing an eye. I’ve seen bad Android photos (resolution wise) that were well framed and had decent light tell a good story. That’s what it is about.

      • http://bombtune.com Wells Baum

        Right, all about perspective. I walk NYC every day and have seen some amazing stuff simply because Kevin Systrom created an app that trained my eye.

  • Geoff

    Sounds to me that the pro’s are a little snobbish! Leave the little man alone and let him enjoy his fun…!

    • http://bombtune.com Wells Baum

      Little man making all the noise. Photographer’s biggest challenge?

  • http://www.facebook.com/desiredlawson Ladi Mckenna Lawson

    As an amateur photographer, I use Instagram to see what other more experienced photographers are doing, as well as share my life, particularly how my photography is growing.
    What seems to be a problem with Instagram for me is the ‘Popular’ pages which you would expect to be completely filled with Dynamic, Outstanding, Manipulated, Surrealist or Conceptual images but is instead filled with ordinary, standard caught on ‘my iphone’ images. This is mostly because of the celebrity boom or people in the spotlight (a recent uploaded image from one of the kadashians depicted her breakfast porridge and nothing else, this achieved 8000 likes), while actual interesting and gifted individuals are lusting behind with little attention and do not get the recognition for the hard work and ability to capture more beauty in life than just their over plucked reflection. I’m not sure what the resolution to this problem should be but personally I avoid the popular pages and concentrate on finding and promoting these gifted individuals. I only wish other people could show the same initiative.

  • http://twitter.com/CarolLynnRivera Carol Lynn Rivera

    I’ve heard this “complaint” before and always thought it was kind of stupid and baffling, to be honest. Instagram is a consumer sharing tool that’s not going to ruin photography any more than the instant Polaroid did or the quick 35mm camera did. Any more than crayons ruined art or playdo ruined sculpting. I don’t really know where this argument comes from. Ok, so there are now bazillions of photos of the Washington Monument floating around? How is that any different than what we’ve ever seen since consumers got their hands on a camera, except now…ooooooooo….. we can put a GLOW on it! Wow. Game changer. (not)

    And blogging certainly didn’t ruin the bestseller. We’re comparing apples to oranges. If “real” photographers are worried that the Instagrammers will suddenly take over their wedding gigs and National Geographic shots then they probably SHOULD get another career. In a mental institute.

    • sillyou

      you say “Instagram is a consumer sharing tool that’s not going to ruin photography any more than the instant Polaroid did or the quick 35mm camera did” which is nonsense. People in the 70s used crappy pocket cameras because they were affordable. The difference is most people back then weren’t delusional to think that their “creations” were cutting edge art. With Instagram and Hipstamatic, the core users are purposely celebrating the look of these filters so they can be be “ironic”.

      • http://twitter.com/CarolLynnRivera Carol Lynn Rivera

        Well I don’t know about being ironic, I guess everyone has their motivations. But I still can’t imagine anyone (except maybe the ironic people?) confusing kitschy filters with art. It’s a bunch of kids who just got their first box of Crayola 64s and they’re drawing on walls. Maybe THEY think it’s art? If so, then the “real” photographers weren’t going to win their demographic over anyway.

        • geofflivingston

          I am inclined to agree with you!

  • http://twitter.com/cyinger4jw cyinger

    I prefer a real photogrtaph. It takes the artistry out of it & gives it a cold, technology feel. It can be cool, but it’s too over-done

    • http://bombtune.com Wells Baum

      You use your phone or a real camera?

      • geofflivingston

        Both!

  • http://bombtune.com Wells Baum

    Instagram is not killing photography, just as Garageband didn’t kill music, just as High School basketball doesn’t ruin the NBA.

    Just because Smartphones and 4G make it easy to create and distribute professional looking photos doesn’t destroy the art behind real photography.

    What classified as real and professional photography anyway? Just because you take unfiltered photos and upload them to Flickr doesn’t make you a worthy photographer.

    There’s always going to be professional photographers, those that take their skill seriously and market their stuff. They will get recognition, make partnerships, and monetize off their work like professionals do.

    If you’re a professional photographer, you can’t get caught up in the democratization of photo creation and sharing. You’ll lose the every time. Focus on your craft and making a living. http://bombtune.com/post/29548847365/is-instagram-ruining-photography

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  • Esteban Ramirez

    I don’t think it’s ruining photography. That’s a little extreme. I do, however, find the USERS to be annoying when they post pictures everyday in Sepia. Even good photos that were ruined by filters that make you feel colorblind. Any time a friend shows me an Instagram photo of a cool location, I ask them for the original photo. I like to see the true-to-life details in things especially if they’re wildlife and etc.

    To sum it up: I have resigned from Facebook since most of my friends use Sepia and similar filters. Hurts my eyes lol.

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  • http://www.instagramfollowerhub.com/ Instagramfollowerhub

    Though it quite ruining the photography but photographers can take advantage with instagram to make them popular.

  • Evan

    The sad part of your argument is that in this day and age, I am afraid many people don’t know the difference between a “long Facebook post” and a Pulitzer prize winning novel…

  • NOLIES

    It does not kill photography but it does kill originality.

    It does NOT make you a photographer either.

    How many times have you seen your friends and many other people using the same application, the same filters and effects offered by Instagram over and over?

    As a photographer I can tell you it does save you some time when it comes to ‘add’ something else to your pictures and make them public right away but once again these filters and effects can be found all over the net by lots and lots of people.

    If you want to stand out make sure your photographs are not touched by any free editing software (such as instagram) that make justice to your talent, eye and work.

  • assaker

    guys who ever using Instagram or other programs to shoot photos cant be called photographers or artists, they are million miles away from it. the good photos always come through a good eye shut, they ruining the real image quality and give it fake perspective, good photographers are legends for bringing quality without any tech help, and if we wanna talk about music as well this s the disaster as well we used to listen to good amazing instruments while enjoying good songs, nothing like the symphony of a piano, guitar, saxophone, violin, …… now we only see a keyboard and couple of boring instrument with lot of side effects that surely infect our sense of music. sorry guys true and tough

  • Silas

    Resource Magazine seems to think it is: http://bit.ly/14BoyOV
    His argument is kind of weak, however.

  • s1974x

    Real photography by professionals will probably be unaffected by this fad, but considering that a majority of the photographs I am exposed to are not professional I am disgusted with this bombardment of photos “creatively” damaged with Instagram. I just can’t understand why someone takes a perfectly good photograph and not only damages it, but damages it in the exact same way every other photo has been damaged from Instagram (i.e add blur, fade colors, add frame) Had I discovered Instragram early on I might have found it fun for 2 or 3 photos, but I can’t understand the attention span that finds it fascinating to ruin photos repeatedly for years on end. Sadly, the mentality that can find Instagram this intriguing is just another example of the dumbing down of our Kardassian-watching Obama-loving society, I am a hobbyist of a few things and I came here after someone on a Facebook group decided to showcase their work with photos ruined with these awful Instagram filters and was totally oblivious to the fact that they were showcasing their work with difficult-to-see photos.

  • chistine lane

    yes, it is. instragram is allowing for all the lesser biengs to participate in the sacred art of photography! it must be stopped!

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