Previous news story    Next news story

Is Instagram 'debasing photography'?

By dpreview staff on Jul 19, 2012 at 19:41 GMT

Mobile apps like Instagram are 'debasing real photography'. That's according to writer and broadcaster Kate Bevan, in an opinion article on British newspaper The Guardian's website. In the article, Bevan argues that filter effect apps like Instagram, 'spoil pictures - they get in the way of the image and they distort the story the picture is telling'.

Calling these filter effects 'the antithesis of creativity', Bevan claims that 'by adding a faux-aged look to [a picture], we in effect add a history, a longevity to the image that it intrinsically doesn't have'. What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

A genuinely old photograph or a modern snapshot with a 'retro' filter applied? Can you tell?
(Picture: Kate Bevan)

(From The Guardian)

Comments

Total comments: 291
1234
mister_roboto
By mister_roboto (Jul 20, 2012)

"Don't take my special thing I know how to do and let the dirty masses have at it"

That's like saying Kodak ruined photography by making the Brownie camera- letting any fool take photos, and not the just the ones with expensive "gear"

/eyeroll

Comment edited 42 seconds after posting
2 upvotes
jdrx2012
By jdrx2012 (Jul 20, 2012)

More people than ever capture images and they will decide what they capture and what tools and techniques they like. People will do this without a care or concern as to what some photography purist snob thinks. I support them because they move the needle and are shaping the new photography.

4 upvotes
Juck
By Juck (Jul 20, 2012)

A Camera + Lightroom = The Who
An Iphone & Instagram = Kate Perry and Auto-tune (utter crap)

2 upvotes
jdrx2012
By jdrx2012 (Jul 20, 2012)

Pete townsend = child porn collector, bad comparison. And, Kate Perry = smokin' hot.

3 upvotes
iMac, therefore iAm
By iMac, therefore iAm (Jul 20, 2012)

Pete Townsend = completely exonerated of child porn charges

1 upvote
BadScience
By BadScience (Jul 20, 2012)

Pete Townsend accpeted a police caution, and has a police record.

The police do not caution you unless you break the law; and you do not accept a police caution if you are innocent.

Pete Townsend's statement: "I ACCEPT IT WAS WRONG to access this site (child abuse/rape site), and that by doing so, I BROKE THE LAW, and I have accepted the caution that the police have given me."

That is an explicit admission that he broke child abuse laws and he has accepted a police record for doing so. Accepting a police caution for a first offence is done to avoid a criminal trial.

He was NOT completely exonerated. He broke the law, admitted to breaking the law and has a police record saying so. He was placed on the child abuse offender register.

btw
jdrx2012 Let's not call these images porn. It is abuse, it is rape.

Comment edited 8 times, last edit 6 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
jdrx2012
By jdrx2012 (Jul 20, 2012)

BadScience,"btw
jdrx2012 Let's not call these images porn. It is abuse, it is rape." No need to debate what is defined as pornography here in the US vs other places. I think we are on the same team here. Either way, it was reprehensible conduct that wasn't lessend by a plea deal to avoid possible incarceration.

1 upvote
jdrx2012
By jdrx2012 (Jul 20, 2012)

By iMac, therefore iAm (8 hours ago)

Pete Townsend = completely exonerated of child porn charges
------------------------------------------------------------------
Says Who? (the sound of loud applause)

2 upvotes
ConanFuji
By ConanFuji (Jul 20, 2012)

I like how Guardian has a 'jump to comments' link at the top of the article. That feature is so needed in Yahoo and other news websites.

As for Kate's 'in the moment' comments', things are never black and white. Variety is the spice of life. Why she needs to get her panties in a bunch when the origninal file is untouched by the filters?

Filters is to photographs, as is accessories and cosmetics is to a woman. She might as well not stop colouring her hair and use eyeshadows and lipstick cos that's not how she was born.

1 upvote
BoyntonBlade
By BoyntonBlade (Jul 20, 2012)

insta-noob

0 upvotes
jdrx2012
By jdrx2012 (Jul 20, 2012)

What a travesty, eh?

1 upvote
dylanbarnhart
By dylanbarnhart (Jul 20, 2012)

The thing about special effects is that everybody will eventually get sick of them. No need to complain. They go away by themselves.

Remember duo-tone? Selective coloring? Star filters? Or recently, HDR? People don't like them anymore. They were "hot" at one time, and eventually became boring. They distract away from the main focus of the photo.

Core photography concepts don't get boring. Good light is always pleasant to look at. So is good composition.

6 upvotes
Deleted-pending
By Deleted-pending (Jul 20, 2012)

Instagram me Baby !

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J1ly7q17-tY

2 upvotes
Greg Short
By Greg Short (Jul 20, 2012)

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" I am not sure who the original quote was from, but if these apps expand peoples love of communication, then let them do so.

I personally prefer the art of getting it right in the camera.

1 upvote
aroundtokyo
By aroundtokyo (Jul 20, 2012)

I don`t like Instagram, most of the colours in the photos seem very unrealistic to me. But then again, that is just what I like and obviously a whole pile of other people think differently to me (plus I`m definitely no pro).

Having said that, I do have an Instagram account to help advertise my blog, and from that angle it seems useful for me.

But with this article, it just seems to be another case of ... if it isn`t what I had when I was younger, it can`t be as good syndrome. How many arguments have we seen over the years, cricket, tennis, baseball legends etc. The older players are often thought to be better by older people. Just my opinion :)

1 upvote
Bob Tewksbury
By Bob Tewksbury (Jul 20, 2012)

Many excellent photographers still us old Polaroid 106 cameras to get the "instagram look". I don't see how it is debasing photography. Anything creative leads to creativity. It may just be a fad.

2 upvotes
GaryJP
By GaryJP (Jul 20, 2012)

So one-click Photoshop action, or one-click Lightroom preset = good, and Instagram and Hipstamatic = bad?

8 upvotes
TacticDesigns
By TacticDesigns (Jul 20, 2012)

Filtering is just another creative layer that "can" be added to your photos (art) if you like. If you don't like it, don't do it.

Maybe it is an underlying attempt at our subconscious to go back to simpler days? Why are we driving Volkswagen Bugs again? Why has the Mustang reverted to its pony-day stance? Why do we like the Olympus OM-D so much? [grin]

Side note:
One thing that I'm sure she knows, but doesn't point out is the "editing" that happens before you push the button. Sure, you can play and edit a photo afterwards, but there is a lot of input you have into a photo (that gets filtered or not) that you can only do before you push the button. Perspective, focal length, depth-of-field (although Lytro may be taking care of that.), motion blur or not, etc, etc, etc.

1 upvote
monkpilots
By monkpilots (Jul 20, 2012)

who is kate bevan?

Comment edited 8 minutes after posting
10 upvotes
edu T
By edu T (Jul 19, 2012)

If there is such thing as "real photography", who is debasing it?

"For me, the secret of good photography is editing [which means] we can remove the ex-partner from the party shot…"
No, it's not about the Soviet Communist Party photos retouched under Stalin's instructions, she surely meant an office party...

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
2 upvotes
edu T
By edu T (Jul 20, 2012)

Here's a handful of tragicomic before/after examples of this "ex-partner removal" editing style:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Censorship_of_images_in_the_Soviet_Union

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
happypoppeye
By happypoppeye (Jul 19, 2012)

A genuinely old photo or modern snapshot? ...who cares really. If it's a modern snapshot, not only is it "filtered" but also pre-staged through the glasses, clothes and furniture.

0 upvotes
sean000
By sean000 (Jul 19, 2012)

The real problem isn't whether or not these types of nostalgia filters are ruining photographs. She finally gets to the real problem towards the end: Most people do not edit. They simply shoot and post, shoot and post. Rather than choosing the best version to share out of a series of ten almost identical photos, many people will share all ten. Whether they have had trendy filters applied or not, the truly excellent photographs get buried in a sea of mediocrity or similar shots. I only share or print a small percentage of the photos I take. Lightroom helps me make sure the truly special ones are not forgotten, and they end up getting printed, shared on Facebook, or posted to Smugmug.

As for filter effects: No they won't make a bad photo interesting, but they won't always ruin a good one either. I occasionally use such effects on photos where I feel like the filter effect fits the subject or mood. You just have to use an editorial eye and ask whether or not the effect helps or hurts.

3 upvotes
sean000
By sean000 (Jul 19, 2012)

And yes...I have see some excellent instagram photos. I've seen some where I thought it was a good use of the filter, and I've seen some where I thought the filter was a bad choice or was taken too far.

1 upvote
latinware
By latinware (Jul 19, 2012)

the guy is nuts. So, what about software like photoshop, ligthroom, aperture. he's envy and blind.

1 upvote
Jim Salvas
By Jim Salvas (Jul 19, 2012)

The other side of the coin are the Instagram elitists who say it is cheating or not in the spirit of Instagram to upload a photo taken with a dedicated camera or edited with a more comprehensive application.

Both sides, of course are wrong.

0 upvotes
Alphachimp
By Alphachimp (Jul 19, 2012)

Rubbish. Maybe he's too impressed by instagram.

1 upvote
leicaman
By leicaman (Jul 19, 2012)

I do not like instagram or instagram-like applications. I must say that it IS a bit elietist to infer that it is debasing photography. I have seen out of focus and poorly framed imaged being passed off as great works of art for years now. Who am I to say that they are wrong. Though Instagram is not for me , anything that gets people making images is a good thing. They may, at some point decide to put some thought into the imges thay create.

1 upvote
imagemaker224
By imagemaker224 (Jul 19, 2012)

I am amazed at the dedication of some instagramers who seek out creative images each day. I at first was a poster of images, but now I just check in and follow the people I have sought out as having a unique style to their "seeing" no matter what filter they add.

0 upvotes
dklimek
By dklimek (Jul 19, 2012)

Just for perspective.
http://web.stagram.com/n/devincastro/
Not all Instagrams are created equal.

0 upvotes
graybalanced
By graybalanced (Jul 19, 2012)

I hear she also wants to ban fisheye and telephoto lenses, as well as high ISO sensors that see in the dark better than the human eye, because they "distort the story the picture is telling."

Not to mention using a long shutter speed to blur a waterfall into creamy smooth wisps of water. That's just an out-and-out lie that you'd never see in real life.

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
2 upvotes
roblarosa
By roblarosa (Jul 19, 2012)

I think it was a slow news day. Does every picture ever taken need to be art? Why can't it just be fun?

0 upvotes
Sch64
By Sch64 (Jul 19, 2012)

They are tools, that's all... it's how they are used that matters...they can be used to add "atmosphere" and impact to an image that might be otherwise dull. They can be used with forethought... many people come upon a scene and do think about how it would look if processed through their favorite filter. That's creative...

But, like anything else they can also be used to say "hey look at me! I can make my crappy pictures look just like the crappy pictures my mom took in 1972!"

0 upvotes
GDiesel
By GDiesel (Jul 19, 2012)

Stop arguing about what's right or wrong and just shoot. If pictures look nice, who cares how you accomplished the final result? Debating over this is is just silly, sorry. It's probably just a trend anyway.

The above text is not written in Helvetica, so you can see I'm not a fanboy. Peace.

4 upvotes
Mark Kneen
By Mark Kneen (Jul 19, 2012)

Load of bunkum... just trying to make herself heard... why should she or anyone else care. What is she suggesting... that there should be an international agreement stating how far a photograph should or shouldn't be altered and a limit to what editing software is capable of?... hahaha

2 upvotes
Roland Karlsson
By Roland Karlsson (Jul 19, 2012)

She never wrote that. She even said she used lots of manipulation and that manipulation is an important part of making images today. So ... your post is a red herring.

Now - reread what she wrote and write another comment :P

1 upvote
CameraLabTester
By CameraLabTester (Jul 19, 2012)

Instagram debasing photography?

Absolutely NOT!

It just separates the Wheat from the Chaff...

.

3 upvotes
jdrx2012
By jdrx2012 (Jul 20, 2012)

What?

1 upvote
Nismo350Z
By Nismo350Z (Jul 19, 2012)

That's quite interesting. When a working photographer or artist creates an aged photo then it's considered art, but when everyone does the same thing on their, wait for it...phone... then it's considered the end of the world or the 'anti-thesis of creativity'.

Long ago, photography used to be limited to a certain group of people and it involved the use of film. Fast forward to the digital age of convenience where everyone including their dog has a camera in one form or another. Why blame Instagram when you should be blaming the advancement in technology which puts the ability of creativity in everyone's hands (or paws)?

0 upvotes
Roland Karlsson
By Roland Karlsson (Jul 19, 2012)

Yeah ... she was somewhat unclear there. Did she dislike the insta thing or the fake retro thing? Not really sure. But I assume her main objection was that instagram adds the same look to lots of images - not that you can do it to some.

0 upvotes
Nismo350Z
By Nismo350Z (Jul 20, 2012)

I do see now where she's coming from... all this tech to get the cleanest, most detailed vivid photos of today and people rather make them look like history. These things always start out as a trend but will eventually settle down and become a part of everyday life without drawing too much attention to itself.

Comment edited 4 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
jm67
By jm67 (Jul 19, 2012)

This is just another in a long list of "cool effects" that people can use to try to turn their mundane and cr*ppy "photos" into something "cool". Sorry, but it's still just a mundane and/or cr*ppy shot that now has a nifty, spiffy keeno effect. Hence these images that should not have been taken and should be forgotten will live on, at least until people get bored with it and move onto the next fad.
Heaven help me I can't wait until someone asks if I can "retro" their wedding photos. I guess I could start by screwing up the MA.....

0 upvotes
rjx
By rjx (Jul 19, 2012)

Who cares.

People aren't using their phones for serious photography anyways. And if they were, let them debase it. The more people try to produce photography that looks like everyone else, the more thoughtful photographers that try to create unique high end images will stand out.

1 upvote
CyberAngel
By CyberAngel (Jul 19, 2012)

If you don't paint it yourself - it's just a technical equipment doing the job, no risk, no skills of painting techniques required, e.g. it is not Art(TM)

Yes, sarcasm!

1 upvote
GCHYBA
By GCHYBA (Jul 19, 2012)

Instagram is simply a way for people who don't know how to take or edit a picture to make the picture look cooler than it would if they left it alone or took it and edited it correctly.

0 upvotes
DotCom Editor
By DotCom Editor (Jul 19, 2012)

Me not care.

0 upvotes
Jogger
By Jogger (Jul 19, 2012)

who cares?

0 upvotes
GaryJP
By GaryJP (Jul 19, 2012)

Wow. Luddite central.

2 upvotes
Glen Barrington
By Glen Barrington (Jul 19, 2012)

All iPhone and Android photo apps I've seen so far debase photography as an art.

0 upvotes
ijustdontknow
By ijustdontknow (Jul 19, 2012)

I heard a rumor that Ansel Adams may have manipulated his photos. I also heard he burned and dodged, but I didn't think he was draft age during Vietnam, so I could be confused. Turns out photography may have been free-based a long time ago because I heard Richard Pryor talking about it.

7 upvotes
Asa Hearthrug
By Asa Hearthrug (Jul 19, 2012)

You are very funny.

1 upvote
Roland Karlsson
By Roland Karlsson (Jul 19, 2012)

Actuall ... I dont think it is funny. Or at least it is not a reply to the article. Where did she say she did not like manipulation?

2 upvotes
ijustdontknow
By ijustdontknow (Jul 19, 2012)

She says she does not like one click manipulation but is OK with hours of multi-click and slide manipulation. I frankly don't see the difference and am not concerned whether a sepia toned photo is 100 years old or 100 seconds old.

If you want to get into semantics, my reply is more of a sarcastic "comment" to the whole concept of how a tool that allows people to add one click creative filters is debasing photography but old fashioned burning and dodging or new fashioned photoshopping is OK and more creative.

2 upvotes
wll
By wll (Jul 19, 2012)

IMHO, she is so wrong.

Photography is not about a picture, it is about the image you want to create. The photo you just took is just a beginning of a process of how you want your image look.

I believe she is way off base.

wll

0 upvotes
Roland Karlsson
By Roland Karlsson (Jul 19, 2012)

OK - I say it once more. You are yet another one that have not read the article.

2 upvotes
Doug Frost
By Doug Frost (Jul 19, 2012)

If photography is being "debased" it's not due to any camera or camera app. It's because of photographers. Instagram is a fad. The aged film look is a fad. And like all culture fads, it dumps a lot of worthless drivel onto the public, and then people get bored with it and it dies. Instagram will die too when people have had their fill of phone camera pictures that look like 30-year old Ektachrome. When it ceases to be a novelty it will cease to be cool and people will move on. We're almost at that point now. The real question is why Mark Zuckerberg felt it was worth $1 billion of Facebook investor money.

Comment edited 3 minutes after posting
4 upvotes
skytripper
By skytripper (Jul 19, 2012)

Crappy photos mindlessly posted on the internet do debase photography. But taking film to the corner drugstore for developing plus terrible prints also debased photography, and yet real photography somehow survived. So I suspect that photography will survive smartphone "photography" as well.

2 upvotes
Maverick_
By Maverick_ (Jul 19, 2012)

Debasing photography? Not possible. Photography by the public was practically at its death bed before digital came along. Before digital, people's main tool for taking pictures was disposable cameras. That's the lowest form of photography. Digital brought the public back into buying cameras.

And then came two revolutionary inventions, (1) social media, which demands that the public capture every insignificant moment of their lives and (2) cellphone camera which put the camera in our hands and by our side at all times.

RE THE ABOVE TOPIC:
Post processing (PP) is an essential part of taking pictures and it's as old as photography itself. Photography has never been a "pure" art, it's a marriage of the mechanical and the electronics, even a cellphone camera needs a lens of some type. So, touch ups, filters, post processing techniques, softwares, Apps and other such tools are ALL part of it.

I have no sympathy for people who look down on PP tools and APPs.

Comment edited 3 times, last edit 5 minutes after posting
3 upvotes
IrishhAndy
By IrishhAndy (Jul 19, 2012)

Shooting raw is cheating. Manual mode is manipulation.

0 upvotes
Vibrio
By Vibrio (Jul 19, 2012)

WTF is real photography?????

6 upvotes
interstitial
By interstitial (Jul 19, 2012)

If I shoot in black and white, am I debasing the image because I should be capturing the true colour in front of me?

If I throw a ND grad on the front to keep the shutter open for longer, am I failing to capture the point in time?

Like anything it's a creative choice.

Make picture, have fun, enjoy what you enjoy and let others do the same.

In the meantime I'll leave these here:

http://www.poyi.org/68/17/third_01.php

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/10/23/magazine/mag-23Look.html

http://storyboard.tumblr.com/post/27479079539/capturing-libya-through-a-hipstamatic-lens-to

1 upvote
LiveFromPhilly
By LiveFromPhilly (Jul 19, 2012)

Interesting. I use Instagram more as a tool to share photos like say a Flickr or 500px account than anything else. Most of the time I use an Eye-Fi card to transfer photos from my D300s to my iPhone and then upload them rather than use the app and the iPhone's camera. Other times I put up photos from other digital cameras, or even scans from medium format and 35mm film bodies. On rare occasions when I don't have a real camera I'll use it for its intended purpose. Really, it's more about sharing pictures than anything. I feel like Flickr could have done something similar and remained relevant but they dropped the ball. People who are focused on the filters are kind of missing the point, imo.

0 upvotes
dccdp
By dccdp (Jul 19, 2012)

Er... what's Instagram? ;)

1 upvote
OnTheWeb
By OnTheWeb (Jul 19, 2012)

Exactly what I was thinking. Probably one of those apps that pumps out crappy cellphone photos to other people's cellphones automatically creating more digital pollution that will live in perpetuity.

0 upvotes
Samuel Dilworth
By Samuel Dilworth (Jul 19, 2012)

Jörg M Colberg, of the wonderful Conscientious blog, touches on this problem:

“The digital equivalent of Breuer’s or Brandt’s work is whatever is being created on “smart” phones, using “apps” - fake analog images. But the digital world falls crucially short here, for more reasons than one. First, there really is nothing at stake. There is no artistry here other than the application of some software filter that in a very deterministic way makes your new digital photograph look old. So there is no chance. Art without a trace of chance, a trace of an accident isn’t art. No artistic risk, not art (just ask William Wegman’s dog).”

See here for the full article, which is well worth your time:

http://jmcolberg.com/weblog/extended/archives/photography_after_photography/

1 upvote
Photomonkey
By Photomonkey (Jul 19, 2012)

Instagram is truly photography but the question was "is it de-basing photography?"

I actually think it magnifies the fact that for many photography is picture -taking and cool filters/actions/effects.

It is a fad and fads will pass.
Good images will endure regardless of the lack of hip effects.

1 upvote
ScarletVarlet
By ScarletVarlet (Jul 19, 2012)

I'm almost certain the same questions arose among painters when they saw pen and ink drawings. Scandalous.

A few newpaper cartoonists took exception with web cartoonists in some similar manner.

Is it photography? Is it art?

Yeah, only the eye of the beholder can tell you. But truth to tell, a lot of what passes for photography never pretended to be art in the first place. Embrace, fight or ignore.

0 upvotes
Ben O Connor
By Ben O Connor (Jul 19, 2012)

A genuinely old photograph or a modern snapshot with a 'retro' filter applied? Can you tell?
(picture: Kate Bevan)

YES: I can tell, its an old photography. Kids fashion looks more mature (in terms of age for sure, nor brain, neither attitue) nowadays. Father´s has more option for their glasses. The furnitures are keeping you warm physically, but not emotionally like the one, where dad sits. Its an old picture

NO: I can´t tell, it might be a fiction. They might went to a second hand store, bought all clothes and furniture. And the gentleman on foto was wearing his deceased father´s glasses.

ALSO: The scenario could have taken with a brand new full frame camera, on a corner of very big studio!

Those devices let you enjoy "swimming" . End of the day you want to spend more time on the ocean by "sailboat".

1 upvote
Total comments: 291
1234