Finding Those Instagrammable Spots

WARNING: This is not one of those kind of posts…

Instagram, in the beginning, was a curious thing. (When I say “in the beginning” I mean before its purchase by Facebook.) It was one of those things where, it was, to me, “Hey I can take photos with my phone and add these little presets to them.” Nothing more, nothing less. I really didn’t see the point of it all. After all, I was a landscape photographer and I preferred my camera and having no digital filters.

Then everything changed. A photographer by the name of Nick Laham was shooting portraits for the New York Yankees during spring training. He set up in the bathroom, apparently as there wasn’t much space anywhere else. After he finished his “pro” work he pulled out his phone and grabbed shots of the players using the Instagram app.

The photos went viral. Well as viral as they could in 2012. About a month later, Facebook bought Instagram.

Now deals of this kind of magnitude and dollar figure take time, so who knows how long the negotiations were. But one could easily get the idea that the popularity of these shots was the stepping stone to what Instagram has become.

It’s blown up to degrees that I don’t necessarily agree with. The idea of the “influencer” makes be cringe every time I have to see, hear, type, or say the word. With that being said, it is the world that we’ve made and everything that comes with it.

One of the side effects of Instagram is having to make almost everything photogenic (aka Instagrammable). Restaurants used to ban customers who were taking photos of their plates before eating in part because it was annoying the other customers as people would stand on their chairs to get the overhead angle. Some of those same restaurants have now changed their interiors, uniforms, and even chefs who have more artistic presentations to encourage the practice of photographing the meals.

Some restaurants here in Korea are now offering freebies for anyone who snaps a photo and shares it on Instagram, Facebook, Kakao Story, etc. with a list of hashtags. I got a free drink for these two. It also gave me the chance to test out the closed beta test of the new Photoshop Camera app that will be coming soon. (My favourite has actually been the food mode.)

This practice has spilt over into the landscape and travel photography field as well. Tourist locations are setting up Instagram-like frames for people to use as frames for their feeds. Bloggers and magazines alike are posting more and more “The Most Instagrammable Spots (Locations) in (enter city name here)

I get it. People want to be loved. They want to feel a sense of accomplishment. But what level of accomplishment is one actually getting from this? After all, hundreds if not thousands of people are literally lining up to take the exact same “Instagram” shot.

Case-in-point:

This was about 33% of the line-up waiting to take a picture with or in the “Instagram” frame. I didn’t even think about trying to get the whole line in one shot, I didn’t have a wide enough lens nor the software to stitch a panorama together.

From a strictly selfish standpoint, I love them. They herd all of the tourists and influencer-wanna-bes who don’t give a rat’s behind about the history or geography of a place, let alone respecting it enough not to vandalize or damage property because they think it would be a better photo into one place. So it opens up the rest of the area for me to search for other angles that haven’t been photographed yet or as much.

But photography should be about art and creativity. The “Photo Zone” or “Kodak Spot” was bad enough, but these things are sucking creativity out of people. It’s not just these spots, either. It’s Instagram as a whole. The person behind the Instagram account “Insta_repeat” is a genius. One of the things that I find amusing is how some people get so angry in the comments. Clearly (stealing a line from Digital Underground) “the image and the style” is similar if not exact, and there are thousands of them. Do a Google search for “Starfield Library COEX Seoul” or even better, do an Instagram search for “Starfield Library“. How many of the escalator in front of the rounded corner shots can you count? Right? Every time I see a new post with this or some online “magazine” with this shot I want to scream.

It’s a big place. Get around and look. The COEX account actually left me a comment.

But if you really, really, really, must have that escalator with the rounded corner, you can mix that up, too:

Or without the reading man:

The point is there is so much more going on in that space than the escalator. No one can reach the books higher than the 4th or 5th row from the floor anyway, that huge wall is all decoration… sorry.

How people expect to stand out by doing the same thing that many other people are doing blows my mind. It’s one thing to study and research a location before you go, but looking up what is “Instagrammable” and then going to do the same shot, it’s a hard “no” from me. Listing 5 to 10 places that you should go to for that “Instagrammable” shot will never come from me, and I hope that others at least cool down on it.

Everyone has different likes and experiences. What was good for me, may not be your cup-of-tea and vice-versa. But if you like a frame that I’ve published, I’ll be more than happy to tell you where it is or how to get there if you ask me. I’ve given out exact GPS co-ordinates to some of my favourite spots. But I’m not going to make a list, the searching for and finding it on your own is part of the adventure that makes photography so much fun and rewarding.

But hey, my main Instagram account is under 350 followers, I’m probably not one to be giving Instagram advice … but it does lead nicely into the next issue …

So What’s Your Point?

Starting Down the Path of Photography

Photography can be anything for everyone. 

It can be art, history, meditation/relaxation, escape, adventure, exploration, enlightenment, sport, or a soap box.  This can be true for both photographer and viewer.  The beauty of photography is that these reasons can be interwoven and mixed with any percentage to make each brick or stone along your path to say what you want it to say, or mean what you want it to mean.  It is your experience, your world, and only yours, which is what makes your path in photography so different.

For some, the path itself may be very similar, or even the same, but the cobblestones are arranged in a different order and/or using any number or other aspects that I didn’t mention, as they venture along their experiences.  My path, as a photographer, started with the historical stone. I love to travel, and I wanted to take photos of the places I had been to show friends and family, and as a keepsake for years down the road to gaze upon and reminisce and daydream.  This stone lead to exploration, the search for more daydreams and places to reminisce about.  This lead to relaxation and escape as I started to find more and more places that allowed me to exhale and say, “ahhhh.”  As I started to get off of the beaten path, I got to see a lot of things that woke me up to how the “real world” is, which lead to my soap box, trying to get more people to see how difficult the world is for many people who are undeservedly suffering.  Which lead me to enlightenment, as I use photography to help me become a better person.  Recognizing how much love and how much people are willing to give regardless of how much or how little they may have for themselves, and how much I want to be like them.  

Within this enlightenment and soap box, I try to maintain the same constant throughout the path: art.  I may not have any one brick that may be exclusively ‘art’ as so many other photographers around the world have, but it is the common thread, the mortar if you will, that holds my bricks together.  But it is also this stimulus that allows, no, forces my path to meander through my experiences.  A straight path from A to B may be the quickest way, but there are so many more interesting stories to experience when the road zigs and zags.  Likewise, the stories are more interesting when there is the artistic element intertwined in each turn. 

It is also the artistic side that allows my style, and yours, to change over time, and even from shoot to shoot.  There are so many different factors that happen in each photograph, that no matter how many times something has been photographed it will always be different than the ones before it.  That is the individuality of each photo and each person. Theses are the things that I hope to explore together with you as we make our treks down our paths, and with a little deeper understanding of my reasons and experiences of my photographic journey.  Together we can learn from each other, and I hope that we can inspire not only ourselves but the people and subjects around us.

To quote the Japanese poet Matsuo Basho, “Everyday is a journey, and the journey itself home.” Everyone is at a different point on their paths, some are just starting and others have been on their journey, if you will, for a long, long time.  My hope is that this column will inform without teaching.  By that I mean, I will not for the most part, be going through the numbers, exact shutter speeds, f-stops, and hyper-focal distances.  (I may touch on them from time to time as each story may dictate its necessity.) That is being done everywhere in books, seminars, and online. Mr. Basho also said, “Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought.”  When it comes to art, and especially photography in today’s world, this quote is one of the keys for me.  So let’s start down our paths together and seek what the wise sought. 

I also hope that this column can inspire without prejudice.  It shouldn’t matter where each of us is on our paths, they are just that, “OUR” paths.  I hope that those who have been taking photos for years can get the same amount of inspiration as those who are just starting out.  We’re all under the same sun, same moon, and same clouds, and they don’t care if you’re taking a photo with a phone, a DSLR, or a disposable film camera.  The only thing that matters is your own  interaction with your experience and the building of new bricks for your path.  Let’ s welcome these new experiences with open arms and let the art guide us down our paths.