Instagram Isn’t a Photography App, It’s a Community [Opinion]

Nancy Messieh 15-08-2012

instagram communityOver the past month, there’s been a renewed deluge of articles arguing over Instagram’s merit as a photography tool. Every so often, tech bloggers, photographers and journalists come together in a discussion over the merits of Instagram, asking whether or not the app has added anything to the world of online photography.


Some characterizations have been less than flattering, alluding to a bunch of ‘kids’ that are enamoured with an app that gives them access to a world that disappeared when the digital revolution did away with the eccentricities and flaws of print photography. According to that writer (and photographer) it would seem that he viewed Instagram in a somewhat condescending light of us ‘kids’ trying to recreate the magic of the analogue past. Others have been far more harsh in their criticism, going so far as to say that Instagram has debased photography.

They, and many others, who decry the way in which Instagram has ruined photography, are ignoring a very important fact. They are all forgetting that Instagram is far more than a photography app – it’s a community.

Instagram may have appealed to many initially because of its quaint filters, with an ability to turn almost any photograph, no matter how bland, into an interesting piece of art. Of course, the app is flooded with just as many, if not more, photos that are anything but art. You probably don’t have an interest in what most Instagram users had for breakfast, lunch or dinner, but that hasn’t stopped Instagrammers from uploading over 7 million photos tagged ‘food’. And some of them are actually pretty good photos.

When you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that there’s far more to it than filtered photos of Sunday brunch. The level of photography on Instagram is extremely impressive. Many don’t even use the app’s filters when posting their photos, choosing to edit them on their phones with a variety of incredibly useful editing apps like Snapseed or Filterstorm. Mobile photography is increasingly becoming a recognized form of art, and Instagram has become the ideal place to share those creations.

(For full disclosure, I should probably mention that I am very much involved in the Instagram community and am actively involved in at least two projects which I have become involved with directly through using the app.)


Mobile Photography Has Come Into Its Own

As smartphones are equipped with increasingly impressive cameras, photographers are able to push the limits of photography using nothing more than their phones. Of course a smartphone camera will never compare to a DSLR, but as the adage goes, the best camera is the one you have with you. While a DSLR has its advantages, that’s not to say that you can’t achieve impressive results with a phone.

instagram community

There are several photography collectives dedicated entirely to the mobile movement. AMPTeam [Broken URL Removed] and Juxt are excellent examples of how talented, professional photographers and creative minds are coming together and putting their phones to pretty good photographic use.

As the art of mobile photography has grown, Instagram has given that community a place to come together and share their art.


Community Activities, Hashtags & More

As photographers have amassed on Instagram, they aren’t just sharing their photos. They’re engaging and interacting with each other. A vibrant community atmosphere exists within the app if you take the time to invest a little bit of yourself into Instagram.

Find like-minded photographers to follow, add their photos to your favourites, leave comments, and before you know it, a lot of photographers will be reciprocating.

More importantly, there are countless activities taking place on Instagram. Hashtags have been transformed into a way to curate the best content available on Instagram. Black and white photography in particular seems to have an extremely active community, with several accounts curating the best black and white Instagram has to offer.

instagram community


Not only are photographers sharing their work – they’re collaborating. A group of over 50 photographers come together once a week, and post their own edit of one member’s photograph, using the hashtag #bw_collaboration.

Some individuals have put in an incredible amount of time into Instagram to create an experience for their followers. Josh Johnson, for example, assigns a topic on a daily basis, and his 159,000 followers tag their photos to enter them into his daily ‘forums’. At the end of the day, Johnson sifts through thousands of submitted photos and features the best ones. To date, over 10 million photos have been submitted to the ‘JJ Forums’ as they have become known.

Johnson’s popularity has grown to the point where he is now creating a community app, and has invited other Instagrammers to take part, opening up the ability to feature their favorite photographs.

Instagrammers Don’t Really Care About Filters

The fact of the matter is that most Instagrammers don’t really care about filters. Most of them are more concerned with interacting with the community, entering their photos into contests and getting featured.


It is that very community that is pushing photographers to try new things.There is no better inspiration than seeing what other photographers are doing or taking part in daily projects that encourage you to take new photos based on certain themes.

Instagram has not ruined photography. As GigaOm’s Matthew Ingram says of the many criticisms made about Instagram:

Running through many of these criticisms is a kind of anti-amateur argument: real photography should be left to professional photographers, real journalism should be left to professional journalists, and so on. Can tools like Instagram be used to post shallow photos of nothing in particular? Of course they can, in the same way Twitter can be used to post messages about what you had for lunch, and a blog can be nothing but a repository for your ranting about cats, or whatever your personal obsession might be.

But that doesn’t change the fact that these tools also break down the barriers for participation by talented amateurs of all kinds — photographers, writers, journalists and movie-makers.

These arguments will no doubt surface again, and as they rage across the Internet driving home the point that Instagram has ruined photography, a whole lot of photographers will be continuing to create their mobile photography art, and will be sharing it with a community oblivious to these discussions.

Let us know in the comments how you feel about this issue.  Does Instagram contribute to photography or does it ruin it?

Image credit: Instagram / Andreas Øverland / Pam Lau

Related topics: Instagram, iPhoneography, Photo Sharing, Photography, Smartphone Photography.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

Whatsapp Pinterest

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Vipul Jain
    August 15, 2012 at 6:27 am

    Instagram pushes you you to be creative and try different art in everyday ordinary clicks.
    But in no way can we compare a instagram'ed sunset with an image of a real sunset that a professional has clicked. It will be downright insulting.
    A guy who did some clicks should never be compared with a guy who waits hours for a perfect shot!

    • Francisco Fernández
      August 15, 2012 at 1:36 pm

      Second That!

    • Nancy Messieh
      August 15, 2012 at 2:32 pm

      But that's just it - I'm not saying that a photo of a sunset taken with your phone (and put through Instagram filters or not) is better than a professional photograph - that isn't the point. Instagram is not just a tool to take photos with and shouldn't be compared to an SLR camera.

  2. Louis Gauthier
    August 15, 2012 at 6:12 am

    Call it as you like, but I think those filters and its users are damaging historical records (pictures) applying "retro" filters.
    It's "art", yes, but nowadays it's overuse is exaggerated!
    You will remember my words when I say: In the future they will sell de-instagrammer apps for restoring pictures in order to restore valuable information for the next generations.

    • Austin Halsell
      August 15, 2012 at 7:51 pm

      I don't understand how it's "damaging" historical records? Because they "look" like they're from a different era?

    • Earthygal
      November 7, 2012 at 8:36 pm

      I think some of the so-called snobby photographers tend to be too egoistic about their technical abilities and what they called skills and totally forgot what creativity actually means.

      A good photo tells a story, Instagram and other similar app helps ordinary people to share their stories and creativity.

      You need to have a good eye to capture "the moment", then what you do to a photo, is basically skills that you add on, so what if it's just press a button.

      I think these so called photographers are worried that their used to be "prestige" status now can be taken by ordinary creative people.

      People, are we saying drivers that drive an auto car isn't a driver?!!l

      People, get real, move along into the 2012 and beyond!!!!

  3. Padma Azizi
    August 15, 2012 at 3:09 am


    Interestingly, NatGeo has specifically requested that people submitting photos not apply filters a la Instagram

    ~ padma