Ok, so I'm really late on the Instagram thing, but now that I'm in, I'm loving it. I held off on Instagram for the longest time because I just didn't quite understand it. I downloaded it pretty much right when it came out, played around with it for a few minutes, and then stored it away in my photo apps folder where I never looked at it again. I basically just saw it as a photo filter app, and as far as that goes, I already had a number of apps that I thought were superior to it in that way (Camera+ and Snapseed, for instance). Sure, the filters in Instagram were cool, but they were basically the same thing I could find in one of these other apps, and then I wasn't limited to a square crop, which I thought was ridiculous. "Don't limit my creativity, man!" I thought (apparently I'm a pretty big hippie in my imagination). If I wanted to make a 3x1 image, why shouldn't I be able to? Also, the last thing I needed in my life was another social network to keep up with. I could already share photos on Facebook, so why not just do it there, where I would be constrained to a certain ratio and probably more of my friends would see it anyway? Then came my friends Matt and Alana's wedding in LA where they did one of the more fun things that I've seen at the wedding. They set up a computer at the reception to play a slideshow of all the photos that people had taken with the hashtag #alanaandmatthew on Instagram. It was an incredibly fun way to get to see little glimpses of the whole event from a number of different perspectives, instantly. Everyone really got creative and it was so interesting to see the things that caught different people's eyes. It managed to capture and cover the event in a fun way that no wedding photographer ever could. Then, after the event was over Matt and Alana were able to take all of the pictures and put them into a book that they also made available to all guests of the wedding that will forever remind them of what a fun day it was.
When I heard before the event that they were going to be doing this, I knew that it was a fantastic idea, and that I would have to join in on it. Since then, I have continued to Instagram occasionally and I'm starting understand what makes it so addictive. First of all, it's a social network that is strictly built for sharing via photos. So while you can share photos via Twitter or Facebook, there is something about a service that only allows you to share visually that makes it a lot more appealing. People are more likely to value and engage with images that you take because they went there just for that one purpose of seeing a visual representation of what is going on in people's lives at that moment. A picture really is worth a thousand words, and so while status updates are good for certain things, a quick picture will convey what is going on in your life so much better than an entire page of writing will.
It's also a fun challenge to think about the most unique/exciting/concise way to express your current status visually. I love anything that challenges me creatively, so I view this as just another activity to hone my skills. Yes, I'm never going to become a professional Instagramer (or am I!?), but I think that the creative thinking that it forces will translate to other creative endeavors that I take more seriously.
And as for that absurd square crop, I've grown to like it. No matter what you're creating you will always have some form of constraint, whether it is budget, a certain message that needs to be conveyed clearly, a given audience it is intended to reach, etc.. The square crop is just that, a creative constraint to operate within, and after you accepting that, it forces you to think even more creatively. You have something to ground you -- "I know I need to fit this image within a square, so what is the best way to do that?" I've found, for instance, that I think that the square crop really lends itself to symmetrical photos. With other crops, the rule of thirds is what one usually wants to follow to create a balanced and interesting image. With a square, it seems that it's easy to make a very unbalanced feeling image using that technique. Sure, there are times when I think it could be used to great effect, but a symmetrical photo with a square crop just feels solid to me and creates a clear focal point (if there is one in the photo). I find the challenge of creating interesting square images exciting, and now whenever people stray from the square crop by using a matte on Instagram I just want to say, "You're doing it wrong!" (couldn't throw on the "man" at the end of that one because in that imagined scenario, I'm clearly much less of a free spirit).
So if anyone out there is on the fence about Instagram, let it be known that I am for it, and encourage you to try it out. And if you want to follow me, my Instagram handle is theparkness. Here are a few of my favorite shots since I started: