Saturday, November 10, 2012

In Defense of Instagram

St. Paul's from Bankside
This is a blog post I never thought I would ever write. Funny how a few months can make...

See, six months ago I was that guy on Twitter who did not get Instagram, even writing it off as a fad - a mistake that dear Mark Zuck would regret ever making. But after signing up a few months ago out of curiosity, it is now the second most used social network after Twitter. In fact, it will probably soon usurp Twitter as my favourite social network, what with Twitter clamping down on clients and other minor irritations. Proof, if you will, that one should never write things off completely or be closed minded.
Giant robots
It is actually not difficult to see how Instagram, once I had the guts to try it, easily won me over. Once I got over the initial urge to use the default and, more importantly, optional image filters, I've come to realised that if you approach Instagram as a social platform, it really isn't any different to Twitter. In fact Instagram is more or less Twitter for pictures. While Facebook and Twitter continues to grow bloated with features we never wanted, Instagram simply wins because of its ease of use and focus on visual communications.
Fcuk the Olympix
It's Instagram's focus on visual communication rather than image quality that is important. Photography snobs tend to dismiss Instagram as a visual medium that focuses too much on unnecessary filters. Yes, there are filters available to use, and yes I agree that excessive usage can be a tad annoying, but these are optional. I know of people who would never consider uploading unfiltered pictures, and also of people who would never use them. It's entirely up to you. Personally, I will use it only if it helps convey my image better, or if it happens to repair a flaw with stupidly bad camera settings or stupidly bad camera hardware. More importantly...
...filters aren't exclusive in the digital world to Instagram! Ever used a digital camera? Well filters reside right in the camera itself. How else do you think it can tell red from blue? As for post-processing filters, well, these are just undisclosed preset editing options that can be replicated into actions on Photoshop. You heard that right, Photoshop = filters. I would love to meet anyone who claims to hates filters, but would gladly use Photoshop or Aperture to process and edit their images. I've actually seen more over processed images by 'real photographers' on Flickr, who probably also spend hours a day measuring MTF curves, distortions and whatever.
Sunset from Poplar
Sure, camera phones may never be able to capture the perfect sterile clean picture, but it really doesn't matter here. Because images doesn't age, even if they look outdated. People who uses Instagram (at least those whom I follow) love taking pictures - more so than many SLR toting owners I know. They love to share and generate conversations resulting from their pictures. Camera snobs and pixel peepers may frown on the use of Instagram, but I view them much like the old media types who frowned on the use of twitter, blogging and the internet in general. Instagram isn't about image quality. It wasn't created for pixel peepers who hounds Flickr all day long when they could be spending more time creating pictures. Besides Instagram is a visual communication social sharing platform - it doesn't matter whether the image you use is from an iPhone's camera or a 'real camera' (Nikon, Canon, Leica etc.), or whether it uses a filter or not.
Soft Rock Star
Someone once told me that when in ten years time we all look back at our pictures, we will regret ever posting low-resolution highly filtered images. Never mind that any sensible people who share on Instagram will have originals anyway, it's like saying we all regret our parents having to shoot us when we were kids using cheap Vivitars point and shoot when they could be using a crazy awesome Nikon F3. In fact using their very same argument I might as well delete every single images I took with my Sony Ericsson T610 (the first cameraphone I owned), what with its crappy 0.1 megapixel camera. Who would want to keep that cutesy image of my girlfriend in Brighton, it's just so low res? Me that's who.
Instagram do have its faults, for example the location feature of it isn't really necessary and takes away from the quick and simple element that makes it a joy to use. I do admit I use it, but am so often frustrated by its inaccuracy and lack of simplicity. People who pepper their posts with an amazingly number of unrelated tags (picture of the day, really?) in search of likes also grates on my nerves, though like Twitter, the responsibility of shaping your Instagram experience lies with you alone, so I shouldn't complain much. Spam is a great annoyance but, like on twitter, as long as you do not pepper your posts with stupid amount of tags, spammers won't find you.
Six wheelers
Many has long criticised the square format imposed by Instagram. Square format doesn't seem to get much love these days and it's a pity. I love the simplicity in such format, and yet it allows for some creative composition. I still (only very occasionally) shoot 6x6 if I feel like it. In a way, bar landscape photography, 1:1 is sometimes easier to frame than 4:3 or 3:2 we are all used to these days (god forbid 16:9 becomes a standard in still photography, it's just stupid). However, perhaps more crucially for me at least, square reminds me of almost square aspect ratio Polaroid instant film camera - the first camera I ever owned and use. The nature of capturing, sharing picture, perfect or not, is exactly what I love Polaroid and indeed Instagram, and that square format thing just lends itself perfectly.

Like a good old Polaroid camera, it's about making memories you want to share, not something to be critiqued upon with a magnifying glass. And that is exactly what makes Instagram a great social platform.

Find me on Instagram, @jon_choo

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