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?

The Age of IG and the Smartphone

I recently attended the annual full moon fire festival.

The short version of the event is during the evening of the first full moon of the lunar calendar – believed to be the brightest moon of the year – large bonfires are made.

People write their hopes and prayers and tie them to the sheaf that will be set ablaze. The branches, wood, and sheaf that are strung together is called the “moon house”. It is really only 1 part of many rituals that are carried out throughout the day of, the night, and the morning after.

The “Moon House”

This year’s festival felt different. It started with how they were interacting with the “moon’s house” before the ceremony. The time when it is on display and when you are able to write your piece and attach it to the house for burning later in the evening. In the past, most people would huddle around it, and there would be a large crowd. This year, people kept their distance… why? So they could get the whole house in the frame of their smartphone camera.

Cellphones in a row.

I was looking for a specific shot when it came to the lighting of the house, but as luck would have it, my sightline wasn’t what I was expecting or hoping for, especially considering where I had set up my tripod an hour before the lighting.

So I backed it all the way up, got the whole crowd in with the fire and the moon. I was surprisingly happy with myself for making that decision. I got a few shots, not as many as I had hoped as I kept knocking on my tripod. But one that I did get I thought was nice. The thing that I noticed was that after it was lit, a good majority, maybe 70-80% of the people had cleared out within the next 5-10 minutes. Hoping to beat the traffic rush. The fire part of the ceremony was the highlight, the climax, the event everyone came to see. In the past people would wait until it burnt itself out or until the fire department (on standby) would put it out about an hour later. Not this year…

Fast forward to the next day when I got it on the large screen of the computer, and bam! It hit me right away… it looked like almost everyone had their phones up taking pictures of it! They showed up, they took their picture of it with their phone, and left.

Look at all the phone screens!

It seems to have gone from taking photos of an enjoyable time, to not being able to enjoy the time because people are thinking and worrying too much about how to make some wonderful IG post, to not even caring about the time at all, and just grabbing a photo, almost as to prove to someone that they were there. I didn’t even mention the woman who spent the entire ceremony that involved traditional dancers watching a soap opera on her phone.

Yes, you were there, but did you experience what you came to photograph? The emotional experience that once led people to make a photograph used to show in the photograph…

Next issue: Finding Those Instagrammable Spots

Stay tuned!