Chris Brogan asked the question “Does Instagram Make You a Better Photographer?” today which got me thinking about the underlying question of practice. No, I don’t believe Instagram makes you a better photographer. Yes, I do believe that the practice of making and sharing photographs does make you a better photographer. And the internet makes it easier than ever.
Sharing pictures makes you a better photographer because the act of sharing forces you to think about composition, about the “sharability” of the image or idea, and about how you’re going to share it.
Forced Composition is Good.
The neat thing about Instagram and other photo applications on smartphones in particular is that they remove many of the choices that you need to make if you were talking photographs in a manual setting. (Professional and “pro-sumer” photographer friends – bear with me for a moment – I know you like to twiddle with the settings and dials.) For the 80% (or more) of photographs most people will typically take without ever thinking about the light, the aperture, or the shutter speed, having a compositional tool like a square or a filter makes it so that the image itself is the focus.
And because you’re not looking through the lens itself, there is an interesting warping of the scene that happens with the simultaneous changing and cropping of the scene. Add in a filter or an image process and you can get an extraordinary, surprising shot from an everyday walk.
Should I share it, or not?
We all take pictures that are purely for ourselves or for our families. Yet the immediate “shareability” of social photo-sharing services makes it such that once we share it, we’re actually publishing these photos to the world at large (or at least to the world at large that cares to view our photos.) Thinking about to whom and how you might share an image helps you to think about whether the image is good, appropriate, or “shareable” in general. In effect, it’s like preparing work for a critique or a mini-show every time you publish or click the “Share to Facebook” or “Share to Instagram” button.
Where should I publish it?
There are a myriad of services to which you can publish your photographs – some intended to be public, some intended to be private, and some a weird hybrid. The truth is that once your photograph is out there in the public eye it’s extremely difficult to control where it goes, who sees it, and when it will disappear. So treat this as a freeing event: decide what you’d like to share with the world, put it out there, and find more people who like and appreciate your photos. When you get great feedback from your photos, you’ll know you’re sharing them in a place that works for you.