Recently I talked about why I use Flickr and all the positives it’s given me over the years I’ve been on board.
Next up in this loosely related series, why I use Instagram.
Because I’ve been with Flickr eight years, it’s become the yardstick by which I measure other photography connected sites. Which is perhaps a mistake, as Instagram is very different.
Whereas Flickr feels a long term investment and archive, a way to steadily build a body of work and have its long tail gather an audience over years (as well as feed 35hunter with photos), Instagram feels like an fleeting, breathless, smash and grab it right now experience.
My first post on Instagram was March 2016.
I dabbled with it relatively steadily until around mid August. Struggling to see the point, and my online time being precious, I couldn’t justify time spent on Instagram with no obvious reward or enjoyment. So I decided to have a couple of months off.
When I returned to Instagram, I realised I’d been away 13 months!
Since September I’ve been trying to post two or three times a day, attempting to find interesting people to follow and talk with, and figure out if it could become worthwhile to me.
Here are my personal impressions of Instagram today –
- There are a huge amount of talented photographers on Instagram. It’s not difficult to find breathtaking images by the hundred, maybe thousand. This is good in that you found them, but the medium through which you’re viewing their masterpieces is woefully inadequate. More on that later.
- The number of Instagram users I’ve come across is mind boggling. I only follow about 60 people but it feels most of the time that I never see the same face twice, aside from maybe four or five people who, ironically, I already knew via Flickr, their blog or my blog anyway.
It feels like being in the middle of a huge crowd at a sports game or concert or shopping mall. The kind of places I almost entirely avoid (you’ll recall many of my photographs are taken in churches, churchyards or the middle of the woods, all entirely devoid of people!)
- When I’m talking to the people I know on Instagram, mostly I’m thinking “I’d rather be talking to you somewhere else”. On Flickr, via comments on one of our blogs, or via email.
This is partly down to me not much liking using my iPhone for any lengthy writing, and partly because it feels like we’ve bumped into each other in a frantic marketplace and are now huddling in a doorway half shouting at each other trying to make ourselves heard amongst the chaos.
- I don’t get the size thing. I had an interesting chat with Frank about this the other day. Not on Instagram, of course. The crux is, why are we photographers obsessing over mega pixels, sensor size and resolution, then most of the time sharing and viewing photos on screens even smaller than those on the rear of a typical DSLR?!
I like to see pictures at a decent size to appreciate them. My 15″ MacBook has a screen around 13″ x 8″, about the size of a decent print. It’s a pleasure viewing photos on Flickr, on blogs etc, on this screen, I can get lost in the experience.
My iPad’s 9.7″ screen is around 8″ x 6″, again a decent size for a print photo. I use the iPad purely for viewing photos and reading, and for this the screen size is very enjoyable.
Whilst I have Instagram on the iPad, I don’t really use it. It never looks quite right and I have to turn the screen the opposite orientation to what feels natural. I use Instagram almost exclusively on my iPhone. With a screen that’s overall only 3.5″ x 2″.
Also, once you’re in Instagram, which forces you in portrait orientation, a landscape photo appears at a size of approximately 1.5″ x 2.5″. This is about 1/25 the size of a landscape photo viewed on my MacBook!
It’s like going to a Rothko exhibition expecting to see original paintings two or three metres in either direction, then instead being shown a series of Rothko postcard prints.
Yes I know Instagram was conceived for square photographs originally, but even then you’re only seeing about 2.5″ x 2.5″.
Yes I also know that I don’t have the newest, largest iPhone (a 5C), but I want my phone to be pocketable (like my compact cameras, funnily enough!). I don’t want to carry around something virtually the size of an iPad which even if I could squeeze in a very larger and stretchy pocket, I would likely never be able to prise it out again.
So the device Instagram is optimised for, is ridiculously inadequate for a medium such as photography. Or is this just me (and Frank!)?
- It’s all too fiddly. My typical process for uploading to Instagram is this – Find photo on Flickr, click share button, click Instagram icon. Switch to Notes app, find the note where I’ve said batches of hashtags, select and copy, switch back to Instagram, paste, add any further hashtags, post.
This only takes a few minutes, but it just feels so fiddly with an iPhone. And often once the post is there, I bemoan again the postage stamp size, as I remember how much better the image looks full size on my MacBook…
- It’s all so transient. Although I haven’t made a great deal of physical prints of my photographs (I had some made just yesterday, and it won’t be the last time – more on that in a future post), I do love the romance and connection and emotion that comes with holding a physical image in your hand.
It doesn’t matter whether it was made with a Brownie by your great great grandmother a century ago, or your iPhone last week. Just having that print to hold feels like a permanent, tangible connection.
The internet generally moves fast, but you can build a presence over time. I’ve been on eBay 15 years now, on Flickr eight years, had a blog of some form for over 12 years and 35hunter for a few days less than two years.
This is all a mere flutter of an eyelid compared with holding a century old print, but a history nonetheless. Instagram feels incredibly fast paced. I only follow around 60 people, yet I could revisit every hour and see dozens of new posts.
I’m not one to serially refresh my sites online, and usually only visit a couple of times a day. On Instagram half a day seems like half a year. Everything has changed, everyone’s moved on. I don’t like this pace.
- It feels all surface and no feeling. Yes there are wonderful images. But 99% of the conversation around them is made up of pointlessly brief comments like “Beautiful!” or “Love!” or even worse a silly string of emoticons. Interspersed with the original poster’s responses in equally brief snippets like “Thanks Man!” or again those dumb colourful little pictures. What’s the point??
If you’re going to comment, why not say something constructive and meaningful? It’s similar to “likes” on blogs, another pet hate of mine. If you genuinely “like” something, in the original sense of the word, then please have the courtesy to tell the writer what you like and why?
- I don’t see what I have to give, or to gain, from Instagram. With Flickr, I listed ten good reasons for using it. Having a blog is similarly useful, rewarding and enhancing to my general photography passion. But Instagram… Even in the best case scenario, what could I give or get? I really don’t know.
In starting this post, I had intended to highlight a few of the benefits of Instagram.
As it turns out, I’ve pretty much talked myself out of using it at all.
A day after writing the first draft, in the interim I’ve been exploring a few other options, and for now have decided to put Instagram on pause again, and revisit Google+. I was on here a couple of years back, and really like the general format and interface, and how everything seems well synchronised (including, I’ve discovered, WordPress).
I also have the option of using Google Photos as an archive, again neatly synched in with Google+ and 35hunter. I now just need to explore again and see how many photographers are still there!
What are your views and experiences of Instagram? What am I missing? Or do you have many of the same frustrations? Please let us know in the comments below.
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