My thoughts on Instagram and travel photography
Was recently on a panel of travel photographers asked to contribute thoughts in Gadling’s article Is Instagram Helping Or Hurting Travel Photography?. While I turned in more answers than was referenced in the piece (understandably), I’ve decided to publish the interview in its entirety here to provide more context from my angle.
-How do you, personally, get a great travel shot (i.e. tools you use, type of camera, etc.)?
For me, getting a memorable travel shot is less about the equipment and more about instinct. Honing one’s intuition and anticipating the very next move, scene, or situation along with a solid eye for composition is crucial. It’s about relying less on getting a “lucky” shot, and actually being in tune with your surroundings to know when that “lucky” shot may occur. Knowing how to edit photos is extremely important. You might be sitting on an average shot that, once mildly edited (not HDR), could give you a spectacular image.
In terms of tools I use, I’m a Nikon girl all the way with my favorite lenses being the 16-85mm for street photography and 35mm for closer portraits and food. Both are Nikkor lenses.
-Do you think instant-editing photography apps like Instagram and Camera+ lead to misleading photographs for viewers in the world of travel photography? (i.e. If you take a shot of a sunset and then simply tap a button and filter it to look completely different)
If anything, it’s helping people discover their creativity a lot more even though that creativity may appear canned at first. It lets people train their eyes in terms of what seems awkward tone-wise versus what is manageable or okay to get away with.
That said, travel photography to me is about capturing a sense of place and culture as accurately as possible. To take the viewer there as honestly as you can. That’s very different from fine art photography which a lot of these filters and HDR effects cross into in my opinion. I personally won’t want to go somewhere where the sky is neon blue, the buildings appear more 3D than in reality, and people walk around looking like caricatures.
The bottom line, for me, can be summed up by this wonderful quote from world renown photographer Jay Maisel – “you don’t have to make diamonds out of crap.”
You really don’t need to and shouldn’t feel the need to.
-Do you think Instagram is helping or hurting the world of travel photography?
I signed up on Instagram awhile back with good intentions thinking I’d be posting travel photos as often as I can to quickly show people as I travel along. So far, I’ve got maybe five or so photos on it. Not that I don’t think it’s a useful tool in this digital age. For me, I felt like I was always trying to capture anything really so I could tweet it asap.
While I certainly understand and respect Instagram’s appeal, as a working travel photographer who needs to study one’s environment, mentally and visually compose images, as well as properly soak in my surroundings, Instagram feels too “quick”, too “instant” (pun intended) for me in one sense.
It means constantly looking through my smartphone instead of chatting with the local for a few minutes before grabbing a relaxed portrait of them using my Nikon. So all I end up with are pretty landscape shots with very little of the human element.
At the end of the day, it’s not about the quantity of images one takes, posts, and tweets, but the quality of each image. My goal as a photographer when traveling isn’t to snap thousands of filtered images, but a few hundred, many even a few dozen, solid photos that can stand on their own.
-How are these apps affecting professional photographers who often wait patiently for the perfect lighting or moment for a shot?
I really don’t think these apps affect professional photographers. One can easily tell if a photograph was shot with natural golden light or if digital instant filters have been applied, mostly because the one applying them can’t really see or doesn’t understand white balance, exposure, and other geeky technical photo settings.
If anything, it’s pushing photographers of all skill levels to keep challenging themselves in terms of composing good images. And no question, this is the direction of the future. Faster smartphones with solid high resolution cameras and instant editing at the tap-and-drag of your finger.
Maybe we’re now living in a digital age where understanding some technical aspects doesn’t matter. I don’t know.
But I do know that you can’t replace that feeling you get when you can instinctively tune into how natural light hits certain subjects or scenes. You may get a few “wooos” and “haaas” from an overly processed travel photograph, and maybe that’s enough for that photographer.
For me personally, it’s about capturing people and places which are already so naturally beautiful in their simplicity.
-Do you think Instagram is a photography platform? Should it be something separate from traditional photography?
Yes, it is a photography platform. The same way I think blogging is just a platform versus print which is just another platform. And different publishing platforms come with their own specific rules that govern content creation and distribution.
So I could still share a “traditional” photograph through Instagram without applying any of its filters if I want to (I think).
Think of photography as the raw ingredients for preparing a meal. How you cook them up shows your composition skills. How you serve the final dish is where Instagram comes into play. Either on a simple white plate (say, Flickr), or behind a blue glass-covered dish so your yellow omelet looks green (Instagram).
-Do you use Instagram? Would you for certain instances?
I do have an Instagram account and wished I used it more. As I travel (with a baby in tow nowadays), I’m trying to work out a logical balance between oversharing everything using my smartphone, making sure my child gets enough attention from me, soaking up my surroundings respectfully, and taking memorable travel shots for potential publication.
Now to you, dear readers. Do you use Instagram? Please share your thoughts below.