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News & Insight

Instagram’s Biggest Stars – Cell phone photos that inspire

By Matthew Saville on December 5th 2012

Many photography purists are quick to judge the Instagram bandwagon, and it’s low-fi photographers who snap photos of every little mundane detail in their lives as if it is all fine art.  “All you did was click ‘Nashville’, how does that make it art?”  There are plenty of stereotypes out there.  Photos of breakfast and desert are gold.  Pretty much anything from a crack in the sidewalk to the dreaded self-portrait is fair game.

Personally, I have always tried to reserve judgment of the cell phone photo snapping fad.  But it’s true, many people just take photos of anything, click a trendy sounding filter, and call it art.  Way to often, viewers are saying “ooh!” and “ahh!” about some pretty boring stuff.  Are we lowering our standards?  Are we building a pedestal for, well, crap?  Not necessarily.


Steph Goralnick is one of Instagram’s biggest stars, and her images prove why!  In a recent article, “#NoFilter” went behind the scenes with four popular Instagram photographers, and showcased some of their work.  Click HERE to view the other interviews, and to see more images!




The way I see it, the stereotypes are often true about fads in general but the truth is that there is indeed an artist inside all of us.  Apps like Instagram aren’t guilty of ruining photography as we know it, they simply do two things for us:  ONE, they allow anybody and everybody to explore their inner artist, and TWO, they keep the playing field level so that true talent can still shine.

Sure, it may be a little more difficult to tell apart a boring photo from a half-decent photo nowadays, but in my opinion the incredible, stunning images will always rise to the top. In other words, legendary “snapshot” photographers such as Gary Winogrand and Henri Cartier-Bresson might have a little scolding to do when it comes to what we say “ooh” and “ahh” to, but they would still be head over heels for cell phone cameras and photo apps like we have today.

Of course, what do YOU think?


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Matthew Saville is a full-time wedding photographer at Lin & Jirsa Photography, and a senior editor & writer at SLR Lounge.

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Q&A Discussions

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  1. Peter Hudson

    this commentary reminds me of an argument over 180 years ago:  “is photography art?” . for me, it is all about holding up a mirror to our own version of reality.  steph is an artist.

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  2. Joven

    “TWO, they keep the playing field level so that true talent can still shine.” I’d love to agree with that, but it seems as if some of the most popular people are on Instagram (IG) are shooting on their DSLRs first and then upping to IG via cell. The avg person doesn’t notice, b/c they don’t know how DOF works, or long shutter speeds happen. It’s def my biggest pet peeve about IG.

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  3. bgarst

    Ian made a good point in his blog post that I think most nay-sayers of Instagram are missing.  It’s not about the tools or the simplification of the process, and the fact that it functions on a low-res camera phone with automated filters and processing apps doesn’t mean that Instagram can “ruin” photography.  Instagram is about having fun with images.  It’s about capturing something in the moment, and at it’s most serious level, it’s maybe about practice.  An exercise, or simulation, for those who take photography seriously, and otherwise it’s purpose is the pure celebration of photographic images and making it fun and social.  If you do think Instagram somehow bastardizes the art of photography, than you are likely suffering from a case of insecurity and low esteem when it comes to your own art.  If Instagram is a threat to you, then maybe you need to challenge yourself to take better photos.  It must be hard for people to take you seriously as a professional if you are in a personal competition with the millions of users of a free smartphone app that gives the everyday person the simulation of what you do for a living.  I know plenty of professional photographers who use Instagram and have just as much fun with it as I do (I’m just modest filmmaker and freelance videographer), or as my “less artistic” peers do.  Download the app.  Take all the pictures of feet, food, and sunsets as you want to.   Why the hell not?  It’s fun.  It will make you smile.  It will make people you know smile.  What it won’t do is ruin professional photography.  Garage Band didn’t ruin music.  youTube didn’t ruin cinema.  Photoshop didn’t ruin fine art.  My take… get the stick out of your bum and relax.  If you can’t enjoy something a small, fun, and harmless as Instagram then don’t use it, and don’t bother those who do.

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  4. Ian Weldon

    This is what I think of Instagram. Well, for now anyway.

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  5. Joe

    This is quite funny, total bullshit, she says I am a photographer, well really, no you are not, you point a cell phone at something, a fully automatic device,  decide what you want in it and let the camera do EVERYTHING for you, total automation, then you manipulate the crap out of it with an app or two, hoping to get something usable.  It is pretty sad seeing someone live their life looking threw an iphone. 

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  6. Brian

    Well Matt, I think you nailed it on the head. Scott, I think your missing the point. Instagram is about simplicity. It’s about sharing life. And it’s a place even those who don’t feel they have a creative bone can be creative. Artistic. Besides who decides what’s artistic and what is not? The public and our peers. Not a teacher at school or a stuffy old man in a gallery. Those terabytes of “dross” are “really cool” images to others. I’m impressed how these few got between 200K and over 300K followers in less than one year. And their photos aren’t really any better than ones myself or my photog and non photog friends alike take. But a half million other people out there seem to think different. Hmmmm. Art? When a 3 year old draws a house and a tree for the first time they in their mind are an artist. It us that over the years have been “programed” to think what art is. Then mix in a bit of our opinion based on this. rubbish. It’s all in the eye of the beholder. And it does level the playing field. There are no crop 2/3rds or full frame. No $299 costco specials verses $6K set up. Most phones have the same cameras and Instagram forces your crop. All you are left with your eye and the apps at hand to edit it with. Unlike us with our high end, full frame cameras with “L” glass, edited on our pimped out macs with LR4 and CS6. It’s the simplicity and the simple tool to be as creative as we want or can imagine and be the inner artist we might not be otherwise. But otherwise I really don’t have an opinion.   

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  7. Scott

    I disagree on two points.

    There are plenty of people who don’t have the ‘inner artist’, whether for lack of interest, or lack of anything else. Just like I won’t ever amount to anything as a chess player, they won’t amount to anything as artists. Nothing wrong or bad about it, but assuming that everyone can automatically be [fill in the blank] is misleading.

    Instagram is just another tool, and it doesn’t level any playing field. Some (a very few) people will use it to create stunning images, others (ie the majority) will generate terabytes of dross. Much like da Vinci used paint brushes to create the Mona Lisa…just like millions of refrigerators are adorned with paintings the world over. Same tools, different results. 

    Personally I don’t use Instagram because it’s a tool full of shortcuts and compromises that I prefer to not have. Plenty of other people use it and love it. All the power to them. I’ll decide what images I like based on the final image, and it won’t have anything to do with which tools were used to create it.

    Cheers. :) 

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