Why Instagram Is The Future of Street Photography

(Above image: “Carlton” by Misho Baranovic)

When I was in Melbourne, I met up with street photographer and co-founder of the Mobile Photo Group (MPG), Misho Baranovic. For those of you who may not know Misho or the MPG, they essentially shoot street and documentary photography with mobile devices and share their work online through a number of platforms, including Instagram.

Being an Android user myself, I never understood the hype of Instagram. To me it seemed just like another camera app where people would take photographs of flowers, sunsets, or lattes and add tons of crazy processing (lomo or vintage film anybody?). I essentially thought it was a platform only for Justin Bieber lovers or hipsters with too much time on their hands.

Star Rush

Instagram was recently introduced to Android, and considering I don’t own an iPhone (yeah, I know I’m waiting on the iPhone 5) I only recently got started on Instagram. When I first downloaded Instagram, I had no idea how to use it, what its appeal was, or anything.

This is where Misho comes to the rescue:

He showed me how to use Instagram, recommended a few people for me to follow, and gave me some basic ”rules” or ”guidelines” or ”best-practices” for Instagram users. These are some things that he noted:

Sion Fullana

1. That you don’t have to use filters to share on Instagram. You could take your photographs on your iPhone with a camera replacement app like Pro Camera, or even upload your non-iPhone photographs.

2. Using the Square Ready app to ensure that your photos don’t appear in a square, but a rectangle (with white, instead of the default black bars added by Instagram).

3. You shouldn’t spam your followers by uploading too much, with most people uploading at least one photo a day.

He was telling me all of this, but I still wasn’t quite ”buying” using Instagram. After all, I have my Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, blog, emails, and other things to manage. How could I take on another social media network?

Then I saw the feedback, comments, and likes that Misho was getting. He told me that he averaged at least a few hundred ”likes” and a dozen comments per post. Another MPG member Oliver Lang (who I featured last week) would get several hundred, with this image, getting over 1000 likes.

Oliver Lang

Of course numbers aren’t everything. After all, it doesn’t take much effort to ”like” a photograph.

However consider this:

Imagine a thousand people standing in a room. Do you know how big that room has to be? Your house can probably fit only a few hundred (depending on how big your house is). A conference room may fit close to five hundred. You will probably need a theatre to fit at least a thousand people.

"The Beauty and the Beard" - Anton Kawasaki

Now image those thousand or so people, sitting next to one another in that theatre all looking at their iPhone or Android devices. Imagine all of those people clicking ”like” on each photograph, with 30 or 40 of them leaving some sort of comment.

That’s a hell of a lot of people.

Suddenly another quote came to mind from a tech article I read online: ”Now everybody looks at the world through a 3-inch screen”. I forget who said it, but the words ring true and got me thinking about the mobile revolution.

Theodore Kaye

Think about how society has changed. The last time you were waiting in a line at the grocery store, how many people did you see either texting on their phones or checking their Facebook? Or couples eating dinner with their eye buried in their mobile devices? The last time it was your birthday, did you get more Facebook messages or phone calls?

Society is changing via our mobile devices-the way we create, consume, and share information. Regardless if you decide to conform to the change in society or not, I still think it is important to be aware of it.

Koci Hernandez

Enter street photography:

So, where does street photography lie in-between all of this? A few points I would like to bring attention to:

1. You will start seeing more street photographers emerge than ever before

For the first time in history, the number of people living in cities outnumbers the number of people living in rural areas. What does that mean for photography? Well, as digital cameras get cheaper, more accessible, and the iPhone becomes the most popular camera– people are going to be taking a ton of photographs in the streets.

As social beings, we are always interested in the lives of others in our society. Think about how popular celebrity gossip news are. Think about all of the other people out there who love to ”people watch” when sitting outside in cafes. Think about our interest in reality television.

My point is with technology marching forward (and that our primary cameras are going to be attached to our phones) it will be easier, more than ever, to share your photographs. And what platform is currently the most used for sharing photographs with your mobile phone? That’s right, it is Instagram.

Consider that Facebook buying Instagram will make it even bigger and more popular. After all, who doesn’t have a Facebook account? And now that Instagram just released for Android, more and more people are now flocking to it.

2. Street photography will be focused on single images, not sets

For the last five years in my street photography I was always stuck in the ”Flickr mindset”– which is to upload really good single images that would get a ton of ”likes” and favorites. After all, the nature of the ”photostream” in Flickr forces you to focus on images as a ”stream of consciousness”– rather than focusing on the sets. Sure Flickr has sets, but whoever looks at them? I know personally I rarely do.

Instagram is like Flickr on crack. Once again, if you are active in the Instagram photography community, you are pretty much ”expected” to upload at least one photograph a day. And there is still no functionality in Instagram to create sets, or do ”photo essays” (although there have been some attempts for people to hack a solution by uploading a string of images at once).

Therefore, Instagram’s nature is to promote ”hyper-sharing”. You take a photograph, post-process it in-camera, tag it, then upload it straight to Instagram. No longer do you need to wait until you get home, dump your CF or SD card on Lightroom, spend tons of time post-processing, exporting your images, then uploading to Flickr or some other photo-sharing site, then tagging it and adding it to groups.

I don’t quite agree with the idea of constantly uploading photos everyday – but I will explain more of my opinion at the end of #3.

3. Instagram is simply easier, more streamlined, and faster

I have recently made the decision to switch my personal street photography to all-film, but it doesn’t mean that I am left out (or anyone else who shoots film). Just because you don’t shoot street photography with an iPhone or Android doesn’t mean that you can’t share.

You can upload photographs you have taken with your DSLR, point and shoot, film camera, or whatever to Instagram. In some circles of users on Instagram it is frowned upon, but as Oliver Lang said it best, ”Photography should be more focused on the community rather than the device.”

I can easily foresee that in the next few years when all DSLR’s come with Wi-Fi or 3G/4G/5G built-in. I doubt that point-and-shoot cameras will exist anymore, as they will all be integrated into the new iPhone 5/6/7 that will come out. There are already journalists who have wireless dongles that attach to their cameras (so they can instantly upload photos to their editors) to stay on top of the news.

Therefore I wouldn’t be surprised to see that in the near future, everyone will be uploading their photos taken on whatever digital device directly to Instagram.

4. Editing will be ditched for instantaneousness

The instantaneousness of instagram totally obliterates this concept of ”editing” your best work, and letting your work marinate (like a nice steak) before understanding whether the photo is really good or not. As Garry Winogrand says, ”Sometimes photographers mistake emotion for what makes a great photograph.”

The instantaneousness of digital photography nowadays makes us see our images too quickly, which makes us fall in love with the memory of taking the photograph, or the emotion we associate when taking a photograph. We have a much harder time determining whether a photograph is good or not based on the form (composition) and content (what is actually going on in the photograph).

The tough thing about Instagram is that if you are considered “active” in the community, you are “expected” to upload at least one photograph a day (to stay relevant). However I would say try to fight this. If you are a power-user in the Instagram community, I would say limit yourself to around 3 photos per week. Or even better, one photo per week?

I have some suggestions in the next point on how you can participate on Instagram (and be active) without having to personally share your own images all the time:

5. Some ideas how to participate on Instagram

So how can you be an active member on Instagram without sharing your photographs everyday? I see several ways, and have some ideas:

A) Feature the work of other photographers you admire (with their permission of course) and credit them.

B) Share inspirational photo quotes on Instagram (make it into an image to share, you cannot post text directly).

C) Share your best shots from your portfolio and spread them over time.

D) Give people a sneak-peak of the”behind-the-scenes” of your photography. Show photos of your film developing, your new photo-book, or photos of you and your friends out shooting.

E) Ask questions. Create a discussion or debate. Get people talking.

Get in as soon as you can

Aik Beng Chia

If you aren’t already on Instagram, I highly recommend doing so ASAP. After all, if you wait too long, you will be left behind.

Some people to follow on Instagram.

To start, you can follow the MPG – @themobilephoto and individual member accounts:

  1. AikBeng Chia – @aikbengchia
  2. Benedicte Guillon – @iphoneographic
  3. Star Rush – @starrush360
  4. Anton Kawasaki – @anton_in_nyc
  5. Sion Fullana – @sionfullana
  6. Misho Baranovic – @mishobaranovic
  7. Olly Lang – @oggsie
  8. Theodore Kaye – @_meanwhile
  9. Richard “Koci” Hernandez – @koci
  10. Jim Darling – @mrdarling

And of course, you can follow me @erickimphoto

Conclusion

Times are changing in photography.

I recently read a statistic that this year alone, more photographs were uploaded to the internet than the last 100 years combined. There is the saying nowadays that “everybody is a photographer”.

I personally like the idea that everyone is now a photographer.

Photography was always something that only truly obsessive (or rich people) could afford to do. After all, when photography was first introduced- shooting with glass plates on a large-format camera was a) Difficult to learn and b) Time consuming and c) Expensive. Fast-forward a few decades and only the upper-middle class to affluent classes could afford DSLR’s and such.

The beauty of mobile devices (especially the iPhone) is that they democratize the playing field. The iPhone is now the “standard” camera being used by many out there- especially on Instagram. According to Flickr, the #1 device most used to upload to Flickr is now the iPhone.

I recently went to the G-Street Photography Contest Exhibition in Melbourne – which was judged by Misho Baranovic and Tamara Voninski. Many contestants used an iPhone to enter the contest, and even had their work framed on the walls. Other contestants used DSLRs/other cameras.

By looking at the walls, I couldn’t tell which photos were taken with the iPhone and which were taken with the DSLR.

I don’t believe it matters what camera you use in street photography. You just want to use a camera that personally suits you, and that you are comfortable with. You don’t need to shoot with a Leica to get good images. You don’t need to shoot film to get good images. Just know your camera well, and have a passion for shooting street photography.

All-in-all, there are things I don’t like about Instagram (having to constantly upload images, lack of sets, over-abundance of photos of food and cats) but what excites me the most about Instagram is that a) It is a thriving and supportive community b) It democratizes photography by making it matter less about what camera you use and c) Forcing you to just go out there and shoot.

Chase Jarvis says, “The best camera is the one you have with you”. You will always have your iPhone with you – and therefore can’t make any excuse for not shooting street photography everyday.

Now just go out and shoot (and try to not upload too many photos of your cats and food).

What is your take on Instagram for street photography? Do you think it is helping promote street photography, or just producing tons of mediocre work? Leave your thoughts and comments in the comments elow! 

By ERIC KIM

Artist-Philosopher