For me, image quality has always been key. From a clean lens, to a straight composition, I am often a stickler for perfection. When Instagram, Hipstagram and the early filter services came along, I derided them. I thought it would be a passing phase, that it was just for kids.
After signing up with Instagram for a few days and using it quite a lot, I realise I was dead wrong.
This isn’t just a service for sharing your images, this is a social network based on what you see. I bet that 2 years ago, there were a thousand startups wanting to do the same thing, but there is one difference with Instagram which seems to explain it’s initial success above all others and that is the hashtag search. You see, anyone can post an image to the web, but no one can find it amongst the white noise. However, once you start to categorise that, you have a search tool that is immensely powerful, as well as making sure that users get comments and likes, which keeps them posting more.
When I started using Instagram at the start of the week, I had no idea that my main subjects would be architecture. I’m a landscape guy – I love the natural world and the light that comes at sunrise and sunset. But my day to day life is in Glasgow City Centre, where I’m surrounded by buildings, so it kind of makes sense.
So, as with any new tool, I’ve got some observations;
It’s up to you. You don’t have to use them. If your phone has a decent camera and your lighting is good, then perhaps it’s worth posting them up without. Instagram has what seems to be a clarity button which boosts the contrast and sharpness, but it’s quite extreme, and probably works differently dependent on the phone you’re using. I think the use of filters can be an excuse for poor composition and exposure, but I can see where it has an advantage, and not everyone wants to think about boosting the contrast or brightness or making more complex changes.
Terms and Conditions
As I’ve mentioned, I didn’t have much love for Instagram before, and when the furore about their Terms and Conditions blew up that was the final nail in the coffin for me. But once you have a look around, you realise that most of what is on Instagram isn’t very good. However, when an event happens and it matters that your picture gets noticed, then if it’s good, it will float to the top. But success here is short-lived. If you don’t get a burst of comments within the hour, your picture is gone – forgotten about – not likely to ever be viewed again. So the reality is that in the severely unlikely event that Instagram sells your picture, it’s probably in the public interest anyway, it will only be in people’s consciousness for a day or two, and it might give you some exposure that could lead to further sales.
I’ve always had a little ‘thing’ for square format. Record sleeves and CD covers have been that way for years, and it appeals to the mathematical and ordered way my mind works. Using your 16:9 or 3:2 aspect ratio camera as a square really forces you to consider what should be in and what should be out of your photo. Sometimes it doesn’t work out. But if you are improving your composition all the time, then when you go back to your SLR, then subconsiously that will feed back in, and improve your work.
Cutting through the crap
The big question is – how do you cut through the crap and get your picture noticed? Ironically, it’s not about the picture, though that helps. Adding hashtags will get you noticed – people have searches ongoing for things. So you might want to see current pictures of Glasgow – search for #glasgow. GPS tagging of pictures also helps – if you are in a heavily populated area, your picture will get more exposure than if you were in a sparsely populated one. Building up a load of followers by commenting on others’ pictures adds a great deal of traffic to your profile. And finally time – keep posting good, well-composed and well-exposed pictures and over time more people will gravitate towards you.