Photographer Chip Litherland initially thought mobile photography was a threat to photojournalism and a platform for visual gluttony and selfies. But once he started tinkering with Instagram, he fell in love with the medium and began making artistic, saturated double exposures that advanced his vision. Chip explains how he uses his iPhone alongside his DSLRs when on assignment and how it has changed his photography.
1. You were initially very anti-mobile photography for news use. Can you share your process in making these instagram images?
When Instagram first came out, I was a well-documented naysayer of it in news photography. In photojournalism, the only thing we had to separate it from traditional photography was a really strong ethical code that we all subscribed to — keep the truth in imagery. Photographers had been laid off, careers ruined, and publications tarnished by several attempts of overuse of Photoshop, and now, all of sudden, there was a surge in filters on pictures being awarded. I saw more of a focus on photographer and the visuals than the underlying content and story. It was hypocritical of me to think that way, especially for what I'm known for in my work - bold, saturated colors and unique compositions. I was doing the same thing with a DSLR, trying to shoot unique pictures that make people want to read a story. It's essentially what has made me have any success whatsoever in this field. Our vision is the only thing to separates each of us from this growing mass of humanity that calls themselves photographers. Having a different vision pushes you through the tiny little hole at end of a funnel we find ourselves in.
Once I started playing with the app and figuring out what I could do with it, I fell in love. My first photos on there are terribly boring, but it's kind of cool to scroll through and see how I started using it and developing a style to where I am. I see it definitely more as an extension of my brand and how I see for my editorial, commercial, sports, and travel clients but pushed over the ledge from my normal portfolio. That's the wonderful thing about the platform is that it gives me a place to play and experiment with my work without the restrictions of client demands, the ethics of photojournalism, and the permanence of a portfolio. It's kind of like kindergarten for me — playing with glue, scissors, and crayons. It's all one big, colorful visual playground with instant reach and a captive audience.
2. Do you gather source material and then find successful combinations after the fact, pulling from your mobile database? What are the apps that you use the most with this work? Are all images captured with your iPhone or are you using professional images as well?
When I'm shooting with my DSLR, I always have my iPhone with me and shoot alongside it at any gig. There are photos that just are straight crap on a regular camera, but on my iPhone have tons of potential in one of my Instagrams. My photo database is full of random details, decaying walls, light shafts, painted surfaces, etc., that I may use tomorrow or a year from now. I have no idea when it will work, but I like to see potential in almost anything I point my camera at. It's like dumping all of my daughter's puzzles on the ground, mixing them up and trying to put all the pieces back together - even it's not the same puzzle. I'll make it fit.
I don't really consider pictures professional or not based on what camera they are shot with. That's all on the eyes. I'll shoot with whatever I have with me and if a picture comes from my iPhone, then great, if it comes from a DSLR then so be it. In the end I shoot 90% on my phone though. No matter what, though, ALL of my post is done on my iPhone on a handful of apps I use to get to my final image, which is usually layers of about three to six photos at a minimum. I used to use Photoforge2 and Kitcam a lot, but you can't get those any more, so now I'm addicted to the Afterlight and Leonardo apps, which do the same kind of layering, multiexposure, and after-effects I like, but I think every recent photo on there was done with Leonardo and some tweaking in Afterlight, then exported to Instagram. Photoshop or desktop imaging software is never used in my Instagram workflow - all cheapo apps.
3. You recently took over the Instagram feed of the New Yorker magazine, how was that experience? Did you feel more pressure than you do with your normal posting?
The New Yorker feed was wonderful to be a part of. They definitely let me have free reign complete with login and password to over 250,000 followers, so the pressure was on to produce. The pressure was only there because I had to produce between 3-10 Instagrams a day and mine always take about an hour to make so I just had to prepare and be ready with a bunch of content. There has been a ton of amazing talent on that feed, although they have two feeds now, one for the mag and one for photo. Alec Soth took over the feed from me, so you can say I opened for him or he was my back-up (depending on how you look at it).
4. You've taken over other feeds like Photoshelter's as well. Can you share some of the other feeds you've taken over and what are the positives and negatives of that type of Instagram experience?
I've taken over a couple feeds - like the Photoshelter, New Yorker, and most recently Feature Shoot - and I love doing that. It's a great way to not only to get a check, but also gain followers and put work in the front of potential clients. They're all great publishing platforms that have either promoted my work or hired me, so I'm happy to return the favor with some squares. There are a bunch of positives beyond that, but any time I can cross promote to the art, commercial, or advertising world, I'm going to take it. In general, though, it's just a fun way of sharing photos beyond the reach I have personally. Strangely enough, I feel like I'm marketing Florida itself as a place to travel, so I start to expect a bunch of checks from them soon. I say that in jest, but I've been hired by tourism offices to do this exact kind of social media photography to promote the areas they're trying to market as I shoot in daily so it makes sense. It's an exciting time to be part of photography, but staying in front of technology and producing quality content is key.... then finding the right client to pay for your vision is how you unlock to door to photography heaven.
5. Now that you are instafamous, has this status helped you source jobs or commercial photography opportunities? In other words, has an art director seen this content and approached you for a non-mobile photography project?
I'm hardly Instafamous. I only have a few thousand followers unlike Koci or Ben Lowy and others with stadiums full of followers, but maybe fStoppers can help in that regard. Regardless of that I've been hired based solely on Instagram a couple of times now for very large gigs, which is not only surprising but also great. I'd love to do more social media-based advertising gigs and such - it's definitely on the brains of art buyers and companies and the growth there is huge. In general, though I do get a lot of interest from non-mobile clients just liking the vision and wanting me to reproduce it for them. I just finished a shoot I bid with my Instagrams, but the client wanted DSLR photos in the same style. It's a fun challenge every time I do and definitely have seen the return on my dollar (yes, I know Instagram is free). The growth potential is huge and a major part of my marketing now.
6. When you are on a standard assignment, are you constantly toggling back to the phone to capture images or do you just grab it when the moment strikes you? I'm thinking here of the ways you incorporate Bucs mobile imagery into the feed.
When I'm shooting at a normal gig, say for ESPN the Magazine or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, I'm definitely thinking about mobile and iPhone images, if it's not only for myself, but for the clients to use. I'll use both my iPhone and DSLR interchangeably and just gather pictures as much as I can and sort them out later as to which ones will work on my Instagram feed. Photos that work for what I do, tend to have really stark contrast and a ton of negative space, but ideally, I want color. Boatloads of it. Color is what fuels my vision and keeps me seeing and destroying. It's so much fun to be shooting right now, and I'm glad I saw the light on Instagram.
All instagram photos appear courtesy of Chip Litherland. You can follow his work at Chiplitherland.com.