It can be instructive to look across different creative industries…
We’ve been talking about Instagram so long that it seems quaint to continue to hear the “on-going debate” about whether professional photographers should be using it (and cellphone photography) or not.
VII’s John Stanmeyer pretty much destroyed any argument against the iPhone as a serious camera in a recent blog post:
“Don’t waste your time nor mine on any bit of that dinosaur debate. Why? Because the iPhone 4s, which is nearly always located in my shirt pocket, produces (albeit for now as jpeg only) images in bright sunlight and shade nearly just as well as my first ever digital camera, purchased nearly 11 years ago in 2001 to cover the war in Afghanistan — a Nikon 1Dx [sic]. At the time it cost well over $6000 USD.” – John Stanmeyer
Yours truly had two of those D1x’s and I can tell you that he’s absolutely right. The iPhone has more megapixels and better dynamic range than the Nikon did, and oh, it also transmits wirelessly without any additional hardware.
But that is not the point of this entry. Instead, I want to counter any notion that Instagram isn’t a serious photographic tool because it is so frequently associated with the art filters. As you probably noticed, there were literally thousands of photo apps that preceded Instagram, and more continue to be developed. But what made Instagram into a
billion dollar $700 million company wasn’t that the camera was better than anything preceded it, it was the fact that it provided an unprecedented publishing platform with social media characteristics (i.e. “Follows,” “likes,” and comments). Twitter with Twitpic simply wasn’t the same. The closest analogy is really Flickr, except now Instagram only exists in another dimension called mobile – not on the World Wide Web.
Think about this for a moment because it’s pretty mind blowing: For almost two decades, we’ve been accustomed to technological innovation through the Web, and the interconnectedness of the Web is what made it so potent in the first place. This links to that. This search reveals that. A new website offers novel functionality. Daily discovery through referral (links) and search.
Suddenly, Instagram comes along. Yes, it piggybacked onto the Web in that it uses your pre-existing Facebook network to help you initially find friends to follow – but once that formality is completed, you’re basically done with the Web part of it. Now you have a photo-centric publishing platform to build an audience around that exists on your phone. The audience is different than your in-person or web audience. And the app doesn’t care if you take a photo with the phone or not. Many photographers like Sports Illustrated’s Walter Iooss (@walteriooss) or stock photographer David Sanger (@davidsanger) have uploaded film and DSLR images into their Instagram stream and built massive audiences. Other photographers like Ben Lowy (@benlowy), and Scott Strazzante (@scottstrazzante) use Hipstamatic and then upload those images into Instagram.
One could make the argument that this is “cheating” and defeats the “spirit” of Instagram. I sometimes feel this way because I’m more inclined to enjoy professional photographers who use it for iPhonography or behind-the-scenes type work. But this is nitpicking, and when David Sanger gets 3,000 likes for a stock photo of the Golden Gate Bridge, it’s proof that Instagram is an efficient distribution tool with a built-in feedback mechanism.
And please don’t use the argument that “no one is making money from it, so it’s not a real pro tool.” It’s been 15 years since most major publications moved to the Web, and many still aren’t making money off those properties. When you’re able to build a massive audience, and have sway over that audience, you will find a way to monetize that relationship (Just ask Justin Bieber).
Finally, I’d like to point out that even the Mars Curiosity rover has an Instagram feed (@marscuriosity). Surely if a robot 225 million kilometers from Earth can bother to reach its audience via Instagram, you can too.