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The impact of Instagram on photography

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The popularisation of social networking has reached the point where they are now an integral part of our modern day culture and lifestyle – particularly for young people.

Instagram, a portal for editing and sharing photos, is one of the most used social networks. The app enables you to alter photos using filters, layers and frames amongst other special effects and through the use of hashtags share them with people around the globe.

The rise of Instagram has been monumental, growing from 1 million users in 2010 to 200 million users as of May 2014. Whether you love it or hate it, it cannot be denied that Instagram is making a huge impact on the world of photography. But the question is what kind of impact it is having, in terms of both creativity and the commercial side of photography – good or bad?

Instagram is attractive because it allows anyone to be a participant in creativity, as it is a creative outlet that is accessible to everybody. The ease of Instagram is an essential attributing factor to its popularity, because all that is required is a smartphone with a camera. Nowadays, almost everyone has one of these in their back pockets so it’s convenient to be able to take instant snapshots on a day to day outing when you might not be carrying a camera.

Instagram also allows somewhat dull photos to be livened up by using special effects and selective focus effects all at the click of a button. Through Instagram, photos can be sharpened, selective focus can be applied to certain parts of the picture and different filters can be applied. This can be done in a matter of minutes or even seconds, making for a more aesthetically pleasing and ‘artistic’ picture.

The ease of being able to produce a photograph like this with Instagram has caused some disputes between professional photographers and these ‘Instagram amateurs’. It’s been suggested that the use of Instagram is devaluing photography as an artistic form. Because Instagram does the hard work for you, there are no technical skills of exposure or artistic skills of composition required.

However, Paul Bains, a photography fan and avid Instagram user, believes Instagram is a great medium of expression: “I would say that a good photo is a good photo and a good photographer is a good photographer  no matter who they are, what camera they use, or when, where, why, or how they took the photo. Why shouldn’t people simply be allowed to have fun with photography? I’m a visual person so being able to easily share and look at other people’s photos is really nice. I don’t get how someone can dictate what is real art or not. Art is individually perceptive, and Instagram is a great way to share.”

The democratisation of photography could be compared to that of music. Before the invention of electronic musical equipment, it was essential to be able to play an instrument if you wanted to play and create music. However, music is so accessible nowadays that almost anyone could do it with a laptop to hand. Some people argue that this is not real music, similar to the argument that Instagram is not real photography.

One person who has this point of view is photographer and owner of professional photography company, Splaat – Greg McClarnon: “I have no problem with people wanting to share photos. However it seems that people using Instagram want to take credit for the way the pictures look, and claim that it’s a piece of artwork. I’ve been a professional photographer for a few years now so I know how to take a good photo by knowing when to take it and how to frame it. I can see what would look good and I know the technical details of how to edit the image to make it look even better. But the reality with Instagram is that the image editing all came from the click of a few buttons on an application. This doesn’t make you a good photographer but it seems that people think that it does.”

It could also be argued whether the development of technology and Instagram will affect the commercial and professional side of photography. After all there are websites such as Instacanv.as where you can set up a gallery of your Instagram shots for people to buy as canvas prints. Therefore it begs the question, why anyone would pay money for a professional when they could just pay less for an amateur photo?

Greg McClarnon disagrees that Instagram will affect professional photography however: “I don’t think that it will affect photography in terms of people paying for a photographer. Someone who needs professional quality shots will hire a professional because of the aura attached. You will only be taken seriously if you use a real, quality camera as the results are so much better than on phones. People love the virtue of photos being taken by a real professional. It’s the principle behind it.”

The point makes sense. In a way it could be compared to food – you could pay for an expensive meal in a restaurant or go down to the local supermarket and get the same meal for a pound. At the end of the day it’s the same thing, but the quality of the food in the restaurant will probably be superior.

What cannot be disputed is the way that Instagram has opened up photography to the greater public, opening people’s eyes to the beauty that photographs and the world itself can bring. It has widened the net of those who are inspired by photography, and has given people a greater interest in photography. A student who has been inspired by Instagram said: “I recently bought a DSLR because of Instagram. Learning from it had an effect on how I saw the act of taking a photo. I learnt to look from a different perspective and take in all the different elements of a photo. I have to hand it to Instagram for giving me a passion for photography.”

Ultimately, Instagram has introduced the field of photography to millions of new people across the globe. Everybody has a different perspective of the world around us and a unique eye for photography. Instagram allows us to take in all of these different perspectives and look at life in different countries and cultures across the world. It allows people to be more in touch with their creative side and allows people to have fun with photography. Surely these can only be good things for photography as a medium?

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