We at Fstoppers often talk about Instagram with a note of positivity, but not everyone tends to agree that Instagram is a "cool" thing or worthy anyone's time. In fact, many comments on those articles seem to be saturated in what appears to be a deep-seated hatred. But do we really hate Instagram, or do we hate something that we can only express by hating Instagram? I think it’s the latter, and here’s why.
Often we will see some pretty elitist photo commenters or journalists (and I’m not even excluding myself from this category) talk about how much Instagram sucks because it either ruins the integrity of a photo or “it’s not art” or “it doesn’t make you a photographer.” But then we get articles like this one, recently published by the 500px team, that show many excellent photographers (and probably every single one of those elitist commenters) take outstanding photos with their phones. However, I don’t think a single one of these outstanding images was completely unretouched, straight out of camera. So what’s the big hubbub with Instagram? Is it not just a streamlined post processing tool?
People hate Instagram because of what it makes some people think they are, not about how awesome the program can be. But for every one iPhone photographer who thinks their photos of a cup of coffee and their cat in a shoebox is the equivalent to a Monet painting in greatness, there are a thousand others who just like sharing pictures with their friends.
So more than just that people hate a small margin of Instagram users, haters hate on Instagram and iPhone photographers not because of what it is, but because of what it represents.
Photographers and videographers are under siege by a growing mass of “do-it-yourselfers” who don’t want to pay anyone to do their photo/video needs. Why pay? It’s easy! Just drop a couple thousand on some expensive equipment, and we can do it ourselves for a fraction of what that photographer wanted for just a small one-time investment!
As a very recent example, a good friend of mine who spent four years at a great university learning the ins and outs of the broadcasting industry (from shooting, to editing, to live TV, she knows it all). That education cost her a fortune, and she is now in debt because of it. She doesn’t work in the broadcasting industry because they pay basically nothing (again, undervaluing the skill set), but instead works in a different capacity. Her current job wanted to do some corporate videos, and asked some eager members of their staff, including my friend, to make it happen. Though my friend is the only person at the company who has any knowledge of the industry (precisely why they ask her to lead the project), they actually didn’t listen to her and didn’t take much of anything she said into consideration when doing the project. Instead, someone with no knowledge but a lot of enthusiasm sort of took over. They did the project on their own, poorly, and when they witnessed a sub-par final product, the execs got angry about it and asked why it turned out badly. Though my friend did her best to explain she warned everyone about this (including citing emails where the concerns were expressly stated), the higher-ups were still shocked. Did they not buy the best equipment they could get? Why wasn't it, therefore, an awesome video?
This is the mentality that is ingrained in many people now. Advertising from Canon and Nikon is the easiest to point to, showing absolutely gorgeous photos taken by what appear to be amatuers, but in no way could have been done in the situations shown in the advertisement.
It’s basically the gear equivalent of over “airbrushing” in post that is making women look unrealistically beautiful. It sets an extremely high bar, but makes it appear as though the products can get you there if you buy them.
So how does this relate? Photographers can’t really attack Nikon or Canon about their cameras because, well, they work. Really well. We all use them. We can't really attack Canon shooters if we ourselves are Canon shooters. It doesn't rationally work. So with no outlet to express that rage, the feelings move to the next thing they can feasibly attack: Instagram. Though they are totally valid options for making beautiful photos, iPhones are a much more easily rationalized object to focus rage because photographers don’t use them in their day to day lives to scratch a living. They are't the money makers. They may not be the whole problem, far from it actually, but they are a contributor to the “DIY disease” that makes people believe they are capable of more than they really are.
The value of our product, photos and video, is rapidly eroding. It is often highly undervalued and commoditized and that is only getting worse. It is a reaction to that situation, not Instagram specifically, that I believe is at the root of the hate.
Now excuse me while I go take a photo of my feet on the beach and put a sweet vintage vignette filter over it.