I’m keeping my Instagram account: here’s why.


If you opened a web browser and saw the news today, you’d see outrage at the proposed changes to the Instagram Terms of Service, a response from the Instagram team, many people on many social networks vowing to move, archive, or otherwise change their photos in response.

I’m not sure what your assumption was all along when you started using this free service. My assumption was that when I posted the information to Instagram’s servers that I was trading utility (hey, isn’t it fun to post cool pictures that can be seen and shared by other people) for control (because I pay nothing for this service, I expect that it could go away at any moment.) The basic idea is that “If You’re Not Paying For It, You Become The Product” (you can read the original discussion here.)

“Move to Flickr!” some say – cool, I’m there too, and I’ve paid for a subscription to Flickr since 2006 because I understand that if I pay for a service, I have better contractual rights and have the opportunity to have my voice heard. I also know that Flickr is not the only place that I can post my photographs (some of which are whimsically styled food pictures) and that the vast distribution universe of Instagram gives me a much better way to share content with a large potential user base than does the combination of marketing my own Flickr site. (Let’s shelve for a moment the question of whether Flickr should’ve or could’ve created Instagram, because it’s now a laggard or fast follower, depending upon which view you take.)

I’m keeping my Instagram account because I like the combination of fast image cropping, imaginative filtering, and the dopamine “ping” of getting a photo liked. I get some of those things from Flickr, and I’ll definitely be using their new iOS app more (note to Instagram: the focus and zoom on the Flickr camera app is outstanding). Ultimately, I’ll continue to use a mix of free and paid services because it’s always fun to try new stuff. Some of the paid services (and some of the free ones, too) will fall by the way side, and nothing has come along yet that’s 10x better than Instagram. So, find me on Flickr and on Instagram, and I hope to share great images in both places.

We carry instant memories with us

Sleepy Cat

If you’re like me, you’ve gotten into the habit of carrying your phone most everywhere you go. You use it to make notes, to answer emails, to view Facebook (too often), and to take photos. I used to wonder how we would be able to have multiple devices with us when we went places, and now I’ve realized that the compromise for an “almost-good-enough” camera is a good trade for being able to take pictures and video from almost anywhere.

I don’t remember faces all that well – I’m much better with matching names to concepts – and you might have seen a slightly blank look on my face when I’ve met you again after a while. And my phone really helps. By getting into the habit of taking these instant memories, I’ve been much more successful at stitching together the fragments of memories and better matching people to experiences.

In the last 5 years I’ve gone from taking the occasional photo to taking as many as several dozen in a day that I want to keep (and lots more that I discard.) Photos are a window into our present (and our past) in a way that words don’t describe for me. It could be that I’m just visual by nature, and I can’t stop taking pictures.

A perfect solution for cataloging and managing these instant memories might include geo-location, context, and other sorts of automatic tagging, along with the “nearby public photos” that other people are taking. So why can’t I mine Facebook for this information? Sure, I can look at the Timeline, and I can (sort of) search Twitter, and I can see the Instagram profile now (cool.) What I’m missing is the ability to identify, categorize, and manage the kind of Lifestreams that Gordon Bell has pioneered, without the massive storage and processing power that this would require in today’s world. Yes, it’s possible – and not quite feasible for the average person.

Yet there are signs that an aggregator that would allow us to manage lifestreams is (sort of) already happening. All of the big services would like to provide this utility, from Facebook’s timeline to Twitter’s profile and other similar photo album and status accumulators. And they are all not quite like what you’d imagine when you think of Vannevar Bush’s idea of a memex.

Why is this ability so fragmented? We could examine the usual suspects like: “corporations want us to have one source for knowledge,” “data hasn’t been coordinated to work together,” or perhaps “it’s hasn’t been important enough to us yet to develop.” I believe a memex will be developed in my lifetime, and in the meantime, I’ll continue to take pictures every day to fill in the gaps.

What makes a photographer?

Lake Washington

Originally uploaded by gregmeyer

Chris Brogan’s post yesterday on Nikon’s request for him to test a D300 spurred me to think more about being a “photographer”.

When I was a kid, I thought a photographer was someone with fancy equipment, who worked in a darkroom and made neat tricks with emulsion, burning and dodging, and smelled of funny chemicals. When I was a teenager, I thought photographers were artists who worked in large-format Polaroid cameras and got their subjects to take signature poses (Annie Leibovitz). When I was in college, I thought photography was about documentary (Mary Ellen Mark, Library of Congress, war correspondents).

As an adult I gave up on the idea of being a photographer for a while. If no one was going to pay me to take pictures for a living, I thought, why bother? I spent a long time not taking pictures (too bad), and then gradually made my way back into the hobby. Last year I bought a Nikon D5000 and love the advances that technology has made, the easy of use, and the ability to avoid stinky darkroom chemicals and still end up with great pictures.

Now, I’m entering a new phase. I carry a camera (iPhone) with me every day. I realize now that being a photographer is a state of mind. You can capture the world with a Nikon D300, like Chris did (and nice pictures too), or just see the world around you with an iPhone camera and you’ll get some interesting views as well. A picture may not be worth a thousand words, but it definitely tells a story, raises questions, and makes you think.

Composing a Sunset Photograph at the Beach: Tips and Tricks

Pacific Sunset with Random Guy

Originally uploaded by gregmeyer

What’s the recipe for a successful sunset photograph at the beach? Clearly one prerequisite is a clear sunset — not often found at the Oregon Coast — and another is a camera. But there the easy point and shoot ends. While I’ve sometimes gotten good results from the “automatic” point and shoot setting, this time I got much better results by focusing on aperture, composition, and repetition.

Setting the right aperture is key for allowing enough light to expose your photograph but not too much to wash out the color. You can find lots of opinions on the internet, but the one I liked suggested setting the F stop to F11 and maintaining a shutter speed that won’t cause hand-held blurring (let’s say faster than than 1/250). Using aperture priority mode (on my d5000, that’s the A mode) allows you to force the camera into automatic mode for the other parts of the exposure and still provides rich depth and color.

I also considered composition when I was thinking about a good sunset picture. Unless you use an ultra-wide angle lens or have a landscape feature (rocks, lighthouse, etc) to provide contrast and scale, it’s difficult to tell how far away the surf is crashing. It’s also incredibly boring just to look at waves and sun (we’ve all seen this picture, and probably taken lots of versions of it before). In this photo, a lone beach walker provided an excellent scale for the sun and waves. Using the small aperture also helped the subject to appear in shadow, increasing the drama of the composition.

The final suggestion I have for taking a good sunset photograph at the beach is repetition. Over the span of 30 minutes, I probably composed and shot 70 images — settling on 12 or 13 that I liked later — and didn’t worry whether or not I was getting the perfect shot. Fail early and often, and you have a better chance of succeeding (either by accident or by design).

I’m happy with the result, though I’ll be back out at the beach the next time I’m at the coast. Next time I think I’ll take a tripod, and work on the other parts of the exposure that I didn’t consider. I’ve also had many friends suggest shooting in RAW format to take advantage of the bracketing that can be harnessed after the fact. The purist in me hates the idea of manipulating the image later; the technologist in me thinks, “I ought to try that … next time.” First, I have to find the next sunset.

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