Julia Turner recently wrote an article for the New York Times called In Praise of the Hashtag, in which she explored the growth, uses and value of the hashtag on Twitter. Most interestingly, she argued for the humble hashtag as a sort of literary device, able to communicate sarcasm, irony, self-reference and act as poetic refrain.
If the Twitter hashtag can transform the written word, I wondered if and how the hashtag works to complement the photographs shared and tagged on Instagram—often referred to as the ‘visual Twitter.’
Instagram first added hashtags in January 2011, three months after the app’s launch. Following Twitter’s lead, this addition allowed users for the first time to label, categorise and sort their photographs. It also provided brands with the ability to promote content. Cleverly, if Instagram users’ accounts were linked to their Twitter accounts, the hashtags also worked there.
Unlike Twitter, where hashtags are primarily used to link tweets to a wider conversation, Instagram hashtags are also used to anchor a photograph by contextualising its content, location and place in time. Some of most popular tags on Instagram (#girl, #cat and #sunset) are representational, identifying the contents of the photograph, while at the same time grouping all these tagged images into a big group album. Then there are the emotive tags that describe feelings associated with the image (#love, #fun, #beautiful). Both act as virtual signposts, adding to the viewer’s experience of the photograph. Location-specific tags (#newyork, #london, #losangeles) identify where the photo was taken, and event tags, often replicated from Twitter (#hurricanesandy, #election2012), provide additional, topical context.
Hashtags are also being used to define or consolidate user conventions on Instagram. For example, the #latergram tag tells followers that a photo was not taken and uploaded straight away. Unlike representational, emotive or location-based tags, #latergram is good etiquette, and helps the viewer understand that the photo falls outside the ‘insta’ part of Instagram.
Josh Johnson was one of the first users to harness the power of tags through his #jj feed. By setting daily photo tasks based around simple themes (e.g. #love, #summer, #white) Johnson has turned #jj into the unofficial community hub and showcase for Instagram fans. Incredibly, more than 28 million images have been shared on his tag. Johnson now has a team of editors to help sort and select images uploaded to the daily photo contests. You can see the daily #jj winner on the Connect front page.
Real world communities have also developed around location-based hashtags. As I wrote about a couple of months ago, Phil Gonzalez created ‘Instagramers’ to help people find and meet users through shared local tags. My local Melbourne Instagramers group relies on the #igersmelbourne tag to identify members, and showcase and coordinate group activities. In turn, peripheral users are actively participating in the community by tagging their photos #igersmelbourne.
I myself created a hashtag in order to uncover and curate quality photography on Instagram. Using the tag #instaburb, I conducted an Australia-wide competition to find the best photographs of Australian suburbia, with the winning photos assembled into an exhibition and book. A few of my favourite photo curators on Instagram include Connect contributor Brad Puet who uses the #wearejuxt to highlight innovative photography. Other interesting curation tags include #volumemag and #emotiondaily.
Artists are also starting to explore the conceptual impact of the hashtag on photography. Miss Pixels, a Canadian artist, constructs physical hashtags from 3D lasercut letters. By placing these real hashtags into her photographs, Miss Pixels explores and challenges the relationship between virtual social networks and the physical world.
Brands and advertising agencies continue to experiment with hashtags, searching for a way to reach and retain an audience through Instagram. For example, earlier this year, Levi’s used the #iamlevis to find a fresh face for the brand, while the shoe brand Aldo using the #Aldo tag to give away 500 pairs of shoes. Tags are also increasingly being used to identify and track a user’s brand affiliation and interests. For example, Radium One is using their own dedicated apps to auction user hashtag mentions back to advertisers. This is one obvious way that Instagram’s parent company Facebook can monetise the app, since its users are already meta-tagging for free.
Third-party apps are also exploring how tags can be used to reimagine the Instagram user experience. One app, Instatag, is using geo-location to find and present recently used tags in the user’s location, adding another dimension to one’s real world interaction with hashtags.
As the uses of the hashtag expand, a number of challenges have also appeared. Most problems relate to the abuse of hashtags in order to maximise photo exposure, to increase likes and followers. The worst example of this is known as ‘tag-bombing,’ where users bulk tag their photos with well-known hashtags (regardless of context) to increase their visibility. As such, the best tags can often become victims of their own success. Even my own #instaburb tag, as it became widely used, started to attract photos unrelated to the theme. In recent months, it has also become clear that popular hashtags have been targeted by spammers. The easiest way to reduce space is to reduce the use of popular tags.
Clearly, hashtags have become a central part of the Instagram experience and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next. I’m also left to question whether photos uploaded to Instagram really exist if there are no hashtags? Have we become reliant on tagging to caption our images? Are hashtags the only way to guarantee a degree of permanence to a photography? After all, by tagging your photo you ensure that it can be discovered again and again by anyone interested in a particular tag. I know some photographers who take the opposite path, avoiding hashtags altogether in order to relish the impermanence of a digital photograph. If you have any thoughts on these or any other functions of the hashtag, let us know in the comments section below.
Misho Baranovic, @mishobaranovic, has worked as a photographer for many years and is prominent in the emerging practice of mobile photography. His street photography has been exhibited internationally and in 2011 he held his first solo exhibition, New Melbourne, in Melbourne, Australia. He is a founding member of the Mobile Photo Group, and the author of iPhone Photography.
|splat by Eb Swarbrick|
from Album cover for a rock band
|Madagascar1 by Jaklab|
from Mind and matter - the creations of humanity.
According to a Reuters report, US Congress is urging US companies to sever ties with Chinese manufacturers of communication equipment.
A firm launch date is still forthcoming, but in the meantime a sample reel from Kodak's new Super 8 camera has been released.
HTC's newest handset, the HTC U11 Eyes, improves on the standard U11 by slapping a dual camera on the front for 'portrait mode' selfies with real-time bokeh simulation.
Missile scare notwithstanding, we spent a lovely few days in Hawaii shooting with Sony's newest APS-C E-mount lens. See how it measures up capturing the spectacular scenery that the Aloha State is known for.
Now that we've completed our review of Panasonic's Lumix DC-G9, we've updated its entry in our Best Cameras Under $2000 and Best Cameras for Sports & Action buying guides.
Hasselblad has introduced its next-generation multi-shot camera body, built to shoot 400-megapixel photos by using sensor-shift technology to combine up to six exposures into a single monster image measuring 23200 x 17400 pixels.
CVS is banning digitally altered beauty imagery on its store-brand beauty products, and plans to mark other brands' images as "Digitally Altered" if they're not up to snuff by the end of 2020.
Canon has announced that it will introduce a series of printers that allow users to refill the ink tanks themselves—a surprising shift that could, in theory, save customers quite a bit of money.
Adventure and lifestyle photographer Lucy Martin put together a useful little video that goes over her 18 favorite Lightroom shortcuts—a great guide for beginners.
Following a series of allegations of sexual misconduct against Bruce Weber and Mario Testino, magazine publisher Conde Nast has severed ties with both of the famed fashion photographers, and released a code of conduct for future photo shoots.
Photographer Christopher Payne captures the 'colorful world of craft and complexity' you'll find in the General Pencil Company's factory in Jersey City... and almost nowhere else.
A new feature in the Google Arts & Culture app compares your facial features to its database of thousands of artworks, finding your fine art "doppelganger."
Recently, we spent a day in Los Angeles with photographer, cook and food blogger Kylie Mazon. Join us and see how Kylie approaches the challenge of shooting lifestyle and promotional images for a downtown hotel with the Canon EOS M6.
Leica has announced a pair of short telephoto lenses for its SL full-frame mirrorless camera. The APO-Summicron-SL 75mm and 90mm F2 ASPH lenses feature an apochromatic design to reduce chromatic aberration, one aspherical element and minimum focusing distances of around 0.5m.
The Panasonic G9 is the brand's top-tier stills camera. We've updated our already large sample gallery with even more photos to enjoy.
The latest product of Huawei's collaboration with Leica is a smartphone with a great all-around imaging feature set that left us very little to complain about.
In this quick video, award-winning travel photographer Bob Holmes shares nine of his most basic and straightforward tips for finding great images, even when you're in a rut.
Gudsen has launched a new gimbal that’s aimed at mirrorless photographers. With a payload of 3.9lbs/1.8kg, the new Moza AirCross can provide stabilization to a mirrorless body even fitted with a cinema lens and a new in-handle option can provide power to Sony and Panasonic cameras.
The Lensbaby 46mm Macro Kit comprises of three stackable filters with different magnification levels, which can be combined with several of the company's "bokeh effect" lenses.
Nikon Rumors is reporting that an upcoming full-frame mirrorless camera from Nikon will sport an all-new "Z-Mount" with an extremely short flange distance of just 16mm.
A lot of people still have positive associations with the Kodak brand and its iconic logos, but it’s worth clearing something up: not everything with the Kodak name on it has much connection to a bunch of clever people in Rochester, New York.
A leaked image of a Galaxy S9 retail box indicates the new model might come with a variable aperture lens and a super-slow-motion video mode.
The portable little scanner features a 3.5-inch color screen, an integrated SD card slot for saving your scans, adapter trays for different types of film, and an HDMI port for viewing your scans directly on an external display.
Yesterday, Canon Italy and Canon Spain accidentally shared a composite photo that contained stolen elements shot with a Fujifilm camera. Today, in a response on social media, the company somehow managed to make things worse.
We've got a pair of Sigma 16mm F1.4 DC DN lenses in the office: one for Micro Four Thirds and the other for Sony E-mount. In this article we have some impressions of the MFT version, as well as some other lenses in this class worth considering.
Most wedding photographers are probably open to a little bit of feedback from their clients, but one Hong Kong couple was reportedly so upset, they provided their photographer with a detailed 30-page report full of their grievances!
It appears Huwei's ties to the Chinese Government and a fear of espionage have played a role in AT&T's decision not to offer the Huawei Mate 10 Pro and it's Leica-branded dual camera to customers in the United States.
The Autel Robotics EVO looks like the first serious competitor for DJI's Mavic Pro Platinum. With a better remote, slightly better camera, and a slightly cheaper price tag, this drone could steal some serious Mavic market share.
Sony has released firmware version 2.00 for its flagship a9 mirrorless camera. The most notable improvements are to continuous AF, but overall stability has been addressed, as well.
Kodak just debuted a bitcoin mining machine for rent at CES, leaving photographers slack-jawed and confused, and cryptocurrency mining experts balking at what they claim is an outright scam.