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Instagram, the Devil, and You

When a photojournalist uses Instagram, the devil smiles. He keeps it handy, in the top drawer of his toolbox, sitting right next to true love.

Like most of his tricks, it promises the user fame, fortune and the admiration of one's betters. Despite knowing this to be a lie, photographers, even the good ones, often succumb to the temptation.

After all, he's the devil and knows exactly how to play us.

To be fair, Instagram does deliver a hollow sort of fame. Not the kind of Gene Smith, ready to take a beating in the name of truth, type of fame. More like the 7,200 people saw what I had for lunch and that'll keep me feeling special until dinner, type of fame.

It delivers the fortune too, just not for it's users. Instagram became more valuable than the New York Times practically overnight without having to pay for a lick of content. That's 25% of what Star Wars just sold for and it took George Lucas a good thirty years of hard work to destroy that content.

As for the admiration of one's betters... scorn, admiration, hey take whatever you can get. There’s no such thing as bad PR, right?

Listen, I just bring this up because once again the press dropped the ball on a huge story that impacts the lives of millions of people (No, don't be silly I'm not talking about the presidential race). I've looked through the images made of Hurricane Sandy and I'm stunned by the lack of excellence.

Most of the photographs are REALLY bad. This stuff is important. It’s history. It changes people’s lives. You're not allowed to make excuses or drop the ball, but sadly most of you did.

Maybe the editors were too busy culling images submitted by their readers. Really, I gotta say it's sad to see the New York Times and the Washington Post begging for user generated, ahem, free content. (This just in.. A tree fell in Brooklyn!) Where's your sense of dignity people? These are trying times and here you are stealing desperately needed content from your local FOX affiliate.

The worst of the offenders has to be Time's Lightbox. Normally I love this site, but sending photographers out to purposely shoot Instagrams is the journalistic equivalent of stringing together an essay from a bunch of tweets. It's shameful and you should be embarrassed. Not to say these shots weren't well seen (which is the hardest part), just that they were poorly executed. Which is to say they fail as photographs.

For the record, with natural disasters you need a couple of images that show the power of Mother Nature (is it alright to capitalize that without capitalizing devil? I’m not sure). Even though it was at night, John Minchillo got a few of these. Check. Now move on to the important stuff, and by stuff I mean people and the experience they’re going through.

We don’t need more than one picture of a floating car, instead we got dozens. We don’t need to see point pictures, as if you’re documenting a crime scene or making pictures for an insurance company.

All we need is people.

Thankfully, we got a few. Chang Lee’s shot of a patient being evacuated was nice, but somehow rare. Where are the shots of babies being born by candle light and nurses manually respirating patients?

Keith Bedford had a real nice image in the Washington Post, something beyond the normal, here’s a sad person in front of devastation, picture.

Allison Joyce made refreshing images of people being people in the midst of abnormal times. Susan Walsh also had a nice one of these. Mel Evans had several.

There was a nice picture in The Daily Beast's feed of people at a bar under candlelight, but I screwed up my notes and don't remember who made it (sorry).

Still, overall I was disappointed by the lack of remarkable images.

As for you Instagramers, twenty years from now you’ll be sorry. You’ll be more sorry than I am when I look back on a picture I made twenty years ago with a 20mm lens when I should have used a 28mm.

Years from now, you’ll awake in the middle of the night and suddenly realize putting a fake border on a picture makes the whole picture fake. You’ll understand that the technical choices you made destroyed the longterm credibility of both you and your images.

Instead of having a body of work to look back on, you’ll have a sad little collection of noisy digital files that were disposable when you made them, instantly forgotten by your followers (after they gave you a thumbs up), and now totally worthless.

You’ll wish you’d have made those images on a Pentax K1000 and Tri-X (at the very least or most depending on your age and perspective), but the times you failed to record properly will be long gone.

But don't listen to me, listen to all your Insta-friends. They love you.



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Ken Jarecke

Thank you all for your comments.

Dave, you've hit on my next blog post!


I couldn't agree more with this article Ken and I am so glad that I am not the only one that feels this way.
I was so disappointed to see how much Instagram was used in the recent Hurricane coverage. All of the photos were absolutely terrible, both in terms of composition and quality. They were so noisy and the quality reduced even more by the zillions of filters that had been slapped on top of it.

Instagram is fine for personal use, but too many people rely on their filters to get a good looking image and then somehow think that deems them a professional photographer. This is built upon by the number of people liking and complimenting the photograph for it's 'great colours' etc. If you take away those filters - the image looks terrible as they have no awareness of lighting, camera set up. Put a lot of the instagram heroes behind a DSLR and they wouldn't have a clue how to use it. I see guys on Instagram using about 7 different editing apps - surely if it was a semi decent image to begin with they wouldn't need to do that?

Furthermore, the resolution on Instagram is TERRIBLE. I have clients sending me Instagram pictures to put on brochures, flyers etc and they look awful as soon as you take them away from the smaller screen.

I have seen a lot of newspapers using Instagram photos on their coverage and the detail is so bad and noisy - you can't see anything.

I understand why in the TIME case they used the phones as they were asked to, but I really hope this isn't a sign of where Photojournalism is going in the future. If this is the case, the future certainly isn't bright, it's more of a washed out, dull looking, vintage style 'bright'

Jason Orth

I don't get the vitriol lashed out at Instagram, and especially in the context of the history of photography. Instagram is simply a delivery platform.

The whole ascendance of Leica was based on the tradeoff for portability exceeding 'image quality.' What about the pictorialists who deliberately eschewed from sharpness and other benchmarks of so-called 'quality.'

The article also assumes that quality will matter in the future. What quality will we require? What is the viewing medium? It's not the art gallery, nor is it the magazine. Face it, even 2.7 MP images from a D1 were capable of running double-truck in print. A straight-from-the-camera iPhone image will run double-truck in Newsweek....oh, wait...nevermind.

That's my point. The viewing device of the future will definitely be able to support the viewing of images we have today. And as time goes by, the viewing medium becomes physically smaller and we see it today. Whether it be the mass-market paperback or a tablet, the viewing medium can easily support images produced with current technology.

max s. gerber

taking pictures for a living there are always times when the burden of that starts to drag on your motivation and desire to take photographs for the simple joy of the act - to a large extent having the (admittedly easier) outlet of using the iphone camera has relieved some of the drag for me. over the summer i shot a lot of corporate work that was fairly restrictive in its creativity. i felt the drag a bit, and started an instagram portrait series just to keep some juices flowing. it was never intended for publication at the outset.

i love my iphone camera, and instagram, obviously, but it serves a very different purpose than a more traditional camera. using an iphone camera over the past few years has definitely affected my relationship to photography. it's opened up subject matter that i previously never really considered. there are pictures i've been able to make that i know wouldn't exist otherwise. in some respects this is just because i actually had a camera with me at the time, and in other respects there is simply a way it feels to shoot with the phone that's fundamentally different than a DSLR. certainly it feels different than a DSLR and a carful of lighting gear.

there are some ways that i agree with you, ken, though i think to dismiss iphone photography outright is short sighted and limited. i view the iphone camera's main function in my greater photographic life over the past few years as being sort of like a camera-sketchbook; the ease of use and availability gives me the opportunity (permission?) to explore some things in pictures that never would've happened otherwise. regardless of what you think of the technical quality of the images, that's a good thing.

my iphone camera and my DSLR serve very different functions. in the venn diagram of cameras i'm far, far more interested and aware of the areas where these two machines DO NOT intersect, rather than the areas in which they do. there are wonderful pictures ((both mine and others) that have happened and are important in my life that have only happened because of iphone photography, and there are wonderful pictures (both mine and others) that have happened and are important in my life that have only happened because of traditional DSLRs, or hasselblads, or rolleiflexes, or leicas.


I can't agree that the majority of these photos are crap. But the ideas presented in this article are antiquated at best. It's really sad that humanity is going through its greatest transformation ever, yet so many (especially older generations, completely don't get it)... They can't connect the dots of what is going on in reality. In reality it is the job of the photographer/journalist, to document historical events... In reality it is not the job for people to stop documenting these things... Some people probably grabbed really amazing photos that really tell the story with their DSLR, but why are we to say that one perspective is acceptable... For some reason older people hold onto this idea that there has to be the hero, the one photographer who is really pushing the boundaries of their fields... Well shit doesn't work like that anymore.... Get over it, technology is phasing out everyone's jobs, you are not the only one. Instead of focusing on the joy of taking the photo, this author wants to take the joy of being in the limelight, which is equally if not more shallow than the opinion that everyone has a voice and it is their freedom to express it, using whatever tool they may choose (he describes it to be much more bleak). Truly this is a cry from the generation who thinks "NO! I am the one that is special!", denying all knowledge of what human beings are.


The Iphone to me seems like a journalists dream. Lets see...A camera, a voice recorder, a note pad, a cloud file sharing system (dropbox) and timecode stamped and dated. All in one...I am no wiz, but am I missing something?

Jim McHugh

that's what they said about the Leica in WW II - Iwo Jima was a 4x5 Speed Graphic..not a bad choice either. The newest Canon or Nikon is just a very fancy iPhone.


"Not to say these shots weren't well seen (which is the hardest part), just that they were poorly executed. Which is to say they fail as photographs." So, it is the equipment that matters. Fair enough. Buying the best camera makes you the best photographer. Simple. That goodness they all have AUTO modes.

Theo Stroomer

Earlier commenters have argued that there's nothing wrong with embracing new technology and methods of storytelling. I agree completely. We need experimentation and risk-taking to push our craft, and our business, forward.

What I took from Ken's post was about the *quality* of the storytelling. And in this case I agree with him. I was not impressed with the quality of the storytelling that came from those Instagram photos. I think it would have been better, more varied, and ultimately a more useful historical record if done differently.

That's a value judgement on my part. Fine. My opinion. I judge every piece I see. Like Ken, the photos won't stick with me from this one. BUT...

From a business perspective, TIME hit it out of the park. Tons of media coverage, debates like the one going on right here, a huge spike in traffic. A news outlet made an outstanding business decision AND drew attention to the situation they were covering. Why aren't we talking about that?


This was never about the tool used. It was all about how horrible the pictures were. Strong photos documenting how the hurricane affected the PEOPLE. Anyone can take a photo of sunken cars and crashing waves. But it takes a true photojournalist to document how lives go on after the tragedy.

Ken Jarecke

Thank you, Ezra. I've been guilty of making this an academic discussion whereas at the end of the day it's all about the failure to tell the story of the people impacted by the hurricane.

Levin Pix

Ummm, nothing remarkable really happened.....its an overhyped storm. We had 2,000 dead in New Orleans, the entire city was air evac'ed. Yeah, its tough in the Rockaways and Long Beach. but on the scale of natural disasters, its like a 3, at best.

Julia Held

Interesting. I didn't think serious photographers used their phones for important work. Seems they would be just quick snaps. Coulda woulda shoulda had better camera and glass.


There's a Ben Lowy hipstamatic photo on the cover of Time this week. http://mashable.com/2012/11/04/time-magazine-hipstamatic-cover/ I'm sure if I had not read about this I never would have known how the photo was made.

I stated my photo career as a wire service stringer in the early 80s. The only choices we had were Nikon F3/FM2 or Canon F1. We all used Tri-X, we heated up our chemistry to develop the film faster, we dried prints with a hair drier (or on our shirts) and did whatever else we had to do to get the photo to waiting newspapers as quickly as possible. If we had had digital cameras, or even iPhone cameras then, I think we would have gladly used them.

iPhone It may not be the best choice for archival, fine art photography/photojournalism, but then again, I've seen some great photos taken with pinhole cameras. My feeling is that photography is about personal choices - cameras, format, film, filters, exposure, lens, where to stand, when to press the shutter release.

In the end, its about communication and if you can tell the story with an iPhone - make an impression, capture an emotion, get someone to pause for a moment - then you've done what photojournalists try to do.

One thing Hipstamatic and Instagram have done is to broaden acceptance of obvious filtering/manipulation. Time will tell if that's a good thing or not, but I do enjoy seeing the work a lot of friends, experienced photographers and countless others are doing with these new tools. Sure I see a lot of crap, but I'm willing to wade through some of it to get to the good stuff.


As a professional filmmaker, photographer www.nazfilms.com --- great article, but honestly my feeling is that communication and point of view is king. Ever since digital photography and files came to be the level of noise as to content being produced has grown exponentially...but point of view, perspective, story, emotion are what separate the 99.9% of shitty noise to what connects and satisfies the requirements for exceptional storytelling and journalism by way of a still photograph.

I love the iPhone or any tool which allows me to make a beautiful image whether it be my super 8mm, 16mm or 120 film and yes even my beautiful iPhone...its a tool, nothing else. The editors out there allowing shit to be blogged, printed, posted are to blame. Not the content creators! I have seen iPhone pictures that tell far stronger story, with emotion and sense of presence in the context of the frame than some of the works printed in the New York Times by well established journalists who frankly are not relevant anymore nor inspired in their image making. I think @Instagram #instagram is a brilliant distribution tool for connecting with the world out there.

By the ways,

Find me on Instagram: @nazfilms


I can understand how photojournalists would feel threatened by this sort of news coverage but it doesn't seem to me that there is any attempt of replacing conventional photojournalism with this "Instagram photolog experience" or whatever you want to call it. It just seems like Time Magazine is trying something new, something that reflects the times we live in and I don´t see anything wrong with that.

Abelardo Ojeda

I think Ken thoughts are about the Instagram Phenomena, not about photographers taking this personal and trying to defend Instagram. Mostly if you don't want to use a camera for your serious work, you don't care. I say mostly, if they are exceptions, I really don't care because those few people shooting some amazing photos with any tool, are not the majority.

The real problem, at least for me, with Instagram is about an immense quantity over quality pics, because... you know? it's a phone, and most users don't care if their pics are award winning or meaningless images, they just shot anything irrelevant. It happens the same with art, if you everyone is an artist, then no one is an artist... if everything is bold, nothing is bold. Then add this things about volatile memory, thousands of pics of the same thing, gone.

Linka Odom

I don't think it matters what someone is shooting with, as long as they enjoy shooting, are having fun with it, telling a story, and expressing something. I love shooting with my IPhone & I love playing with all the apps and filters. I think it has actually made me a better photographer. I see amazing images daily on my IG feed, because I follow amazing photographers. I don't care about personal pics on IG, I wanna see creativity. Instagram inspires me & it keeps me shooting & yes I love my likes!!! @themissinglinka :)

danny bright

I can't agree more. I too, was shocked at the UNBELIEVABLY crappy photo coverage of Hurricane Sandy. Real photographers can no longer afford to practice their craft. As a photographer of almost 30 years, I know this all too well as I contemplate my mid-life career change.

danny bright

Yes, an iPhone and a $6000 camera are just tools. It takes an eye and a brain to tell a story successfully with photographs. These things are true...

However, the shear PLETHORA of free, "good enough" photographs that are able to be disseminated with unprecedented vastness and speed (Instagram®), have had a very NEGATIVE impact on the value ($$) of photography.

I would also argue that the new digital medium has elevated the global visual acumen by allowing everyone to be a "photographer". More trial and error allow the masses to experiment freely - anyone can make enough images in quantities that will result in something "acceptable". At the same time, this same phenomena has significantly reduced our global visual expectations. "Good enough" is now the new gold standard.

It is the fundamental result of supply and demand. In more ways than one.

This, from a 30 year photography veteran who LOVES his iPhone!! I LOVE the new digital medium but, I also realize it is my professional undoing. Can I make great images with my iPhone? Depending on your criteria - yes! Can I get paid for them (or the ones from my $6000 camera??)?? Sadly, less and less, and less...

Rates and opportunities are RAPIDLY descending.

Account Deleted

John Stanmeyer seems to think the opposite of Ken: http://stanmeyer.com/blog/3032/instagram-its-about-communication/

Account Deleted

Google "Time Sandy Coverage Instagram" and you will get a whole slew of articles praising the coverage!

Account Deleted

On his work in Libya, Michael Christopher Brown says "He’d bring his iPhone again. “At this point I hesitate using a ‘real’ camera,” Brown said. “Using a phone has brought my attention less to the craft and more to what I am photographing and why. So, the question becomes not where I see the phone taking my work, but where the work will take me.”


Ezra Miller

I don't agree to this article I think the person who wrote this is an angry photojournalist who doesn't have a job and have the time to make something stupid like this


Instagram speaks to a mobile world evolving. The fact that Facebook was willing to shell out $1 billion for it speaks to where our world is moving: to a mobile world where we exchange information at an extremely high and fast rate. Instagram is snapshot life-streaming for the masses.

In terms of photography tools, I appreciate both my iPhone, DSLR and medium format cameras. I can take an excellent picture with all of them.

Where the evolution of Instagram is concerned, like Friendster, MySpace and even now Facebook (new users are declining) like all social media sites, I do believe Instagram to be a social media trend and like all trends there will be a backlash and natural decline. There will be another more current and relevant service to pop up (that Facebook probably buys) and people will jump to.

Instagram is good for sharing in-the-moment images of people's lives... I can appreciate this element of the community, but I will say the filters are shit and everyone seems to "like or heart" everything that their friends post whether it's a decent image or not. The reason we see cat pictures and people's lunchs is their friends reinforce shitty images. Stopping liking everything your friend puts out and maybe that will encourage them to post something else.

I think what is disappointing is when technology makes things easier, we tend to get lazy. You can take a good picture with an iPhone, put it on Instagram without a filter and it *can* look good... but when you look at how most people are using Instagram, the quality and their taste is discouraging. (Yeah, maybe I am a snob. I'm sorry I don't like mundane pictures or poor quality images.) I do believe those that use filters on Instagram, down the road people will like to see the images in their original state.

I don't use Instagram because honestly, the every-day-images, the square filtered style, does not appeal to me. I admit, I don't want my images to have the Instagram-filtered look like everyone else's too. If I take an iPhone image, I want to keep it in its original state, not degrade it with filters or cropping.
There are lots of places to share images with people, I don't need to join Instagram to do it.

The last thing I need is another social media site to join to distract me and invest lots of time using an iPhone. The time I spend on social media, taking/sending iPhone images, takes me away from using a really great camera, and focusing on taking a great picture. And yes, as I said before, I can take a great picture with my iPhone but I don't want to be so lazy that I never use a DSLR in manual mode and taking my time to set-up and focus on a great shot. The iPhone merely speeds up the process of taking a picture, but there is a difference in quality between medium format photography and iPhone photography, most photographers will probably agree they prefer the medium format image.

Having said all that, there's no right or wrong answer. It comes down to personal preference, but overall where this argument is concerned, I've come to the conclusion that sometimes immediacy/ instant gratification/ ease-of-use technology that serves external validation can be distracting and a disservice, especially if you're lazy and take the tech for granted.


The Brave and the Bold!

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(This just in.. A tree fell in Brooklyn!) Where's your sense of dignity people? These are trying times and here you are stealing desperately needed content from your local FOX affiliate. - See more at: http://kennethjarecke.typepad.com/mostly_true/2012/10/instagram-the-devil-and-you/comments/page/2/#sthash.aQlTG0zQ.dpuf

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