Tuesday, 17 April 2012

On Fun and Liberation

Vignette, Camera360, LittlePhoto, FX Photo Editor, and others all have more effects and filters than Instagram. And almost any other Android photo editing app (for example, PicSay Pro, FX Photo Editor) has far more real editing features than Instagram. But neither of these factors is the real point of Instagram.

It's about taking a quick shot of something you find interesting, quickly applying an effect that might otherwise take much longer in Lightroom/Photoshop/whatever, and uploading it onto a photo-sharing site in less than a minute. Then depending on your followers, the photo might get thousands of 'likes' over the next day or so. And if it's considered to be good, you'll get more and more followers. It's a 'social' app much more than it is a photography app. Its addictive appeal is in quickly creating images that other people will find attractive. And, of course, there's a huge ego-stroking element to it. Not unlike Flickr, but perhaps more instant.

I've used it for a bit less than a week now and for me the main attraction is that I find myself getting photos of subjects I wouldn't normally choose, such as the one shown above. I feel that I can point my camera at anything just to see how it will come out, rather than having to consider myself a serious photographer. And I don't have to slave over Lightroom for hours. It's fun and it's liberating.

If Facebook wreck it, I'll leave it and won't miss it. But, for now, I'm enjoying using it.


Using Instagram on my phone has brought me right back to the basics of photography. If you want to get a blurred shot of a skateboarder, you need to make sure your shutter speed is fairly slow, given the amount of available light. That's not so easy to do with a phone; at least, not with mine - it doesn't give me manual control over the aperture and shutter speed. So I have to learn how I can affect these settings on my own.

The ceiling in the skateboard park at London's South Bank reflects light more than the dark floor. The graffiti at the back is somewhere in between: a midtone in the light-to-dark scheme of things. So if I angle my phone down, it sees the dark floor and compensates by lightening the whole picture up. This results in a faster shutter speed, which tends to freeze the subject. However, if I angle the phone up so that some of the light ceiling is in the shot, the phone compensates the other way, darkening the picture down. This, as you'd expect, results in a slower shutter speed, so I get my blurred subject.

There is a limit, though. I really wanted a more blurred subject than this. He's just landed on the floor after going across the top of the slab behind him, so I wanted some forward motion blur. But I got more blur from the way his body swivelled as he landed. If I'd had more time I'd have tried as many shots as it takes to get what I want. Or I could have waited for a skateboarder dressed in all-white to come along.

Interesting how a change of camera, with a change of inbuilt functionality, brings us back to the lessons we learnt right at the beginning.

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