Avid and often addicted Instagram users have had quite a month. First, the hashtag #iPhoneOnly became instantly obsolete in early April with the addition of millions of Android users to the photo sharing app. Then, last week, new members and old were shocked by news that social media giant Facebook had purchased the 13 person company for a jaw dropping $1B. For some, shock gave way to outrage and fear of the undoing of one of the purest and simplest forms of creative expression around.
We can be so over dramatic sometimes. Honestly, I welcome new users and the unique view of their lives and the world that Instagram makes possible. I don't mind their likes and follows either … ahem ... @robhutti. That said, I think it's worth reaching out now to these new folks to help them, help us, keep Instagram classy. These are not so much rules, but guidelines to build a better Instagram community:
01. Level the Playing Field
One of my favorite aspects of Instagram may also be the reason for its success. The #iPhoneOnly mentality of core users has created a level playing field for photography. Even after the addition of other smartphones, most of us are walking around with basically the same technology in our pocket. Therefore, anyone from professionals to amateurs have the same capacity to take incredible photos. So put the fancy cameras away, and push yourself to see what can be done on your mobile device.
02. Fill the Freak'n Frame
This is my biggest pet peeve; make sure you fill the frame. Instagram's use of the Kodak Instamatic's square aspect ratio is intentional. Not only was this a conceptual and aesthetic choice, but also allows for a much cleaner and more usable UI. To me, deciding the composition of an image is more important than what filter, frame or depth of field is chosen. When you don't fill the frame, you are throwing composition out the window.
03. Instagram Can Wait
Remember you can pull photos from your library in IG, so you don't have to use the camera within the App for your captures. There are those who would tell you that Instagram is intended to be Instant. But, I think the best Instagram users are not so impulsive. Take your time; unless your photo is newsworthy or timely, it can wait. Take multiples, explore various compositions or over/under expose it. Feel free to try other filter apps or even typography apps. Then when you have a second to breathe and really look through what you have, chose the best. Trust me, your feed and followers will thank you.
04. Quality Over Quantity
On Instagram, all a buxom female needs is her camera and a mirror to send likes, among other things, through the roof. Though my 14 year-old self would kick me for saying it; I hate this. Am I jealous? Yep. But mostly frustrated for the amateur photographers I see everyday capturing smart, unique and unbelievable snippets of this beautiful world we live in. But there's good news. Increasingly in the social space, we see a shift from how many followers and likes we get, towards the quality/substance of those with whom we are connected. Instagram is a good example of this. Don't feel pressured to post every photo you take or follow everyone you know. Instagram for yourself. Like and comment on shots you really love and you will be amazed at the people you meet and the genuine support they return.
05. The Golden Rule
Do unto others, as you would have done unto you. If you are the type of person who likes to look at other people's cats, then by all means take photos of your feline friend. But be mindful that Instagram is not just a generic photo-sharing platform. What you post should be somewhat selective, creative and purposeful. Capturing the same unvaried subject, especially if it's your kitty, will likely yield resentment and not much else. Don't get me wrong, consistency is good. Having a style is good. We all have our go-to shots that saturate our feeds; architecture, cars, round stuff and yes, even our breakfast. All I'm asking is that you try to share unique perspectives with each shot, and let me save the mundane receptiveness for my own life.
A Second Opinion
Since my measly, yet appreciated, 230 followers don't exactly grant me expert credentials, I have elicited the help of some of my favorite Instagramers for their advice on what works and what doesn't. Following these folks may change your life, or at least bring a bit of beauty to your day. Here's their advice:
Main thing CONSISTENCY. I'm most impressed when u can tell every pic was carefully shot/edited/chosen to post... instead of my feed just getting blitzed with mediocre pics. Love seeing a personal side on occasion. Getting to know who I'm following. Love honest, real, meaningful comments & replies. Shows that the person is not just a great photographer but a great person too.
Do: Find the best users that you know will inspire you. Research apps. Develop a style and theme for your stream. Be consistent.
Don't: Spam, ask for follows or likes. Don't steal people's work or post MySpace photos of yourself or your food. Don't come off desperate.
Do: show interest in other peoples work, participate in contests, check who your favorite IGers are following, be inspired.
Don't: spam, ask people to follow you, upload too many photos, post photos of yourself constantly, use heavy hdr effects.
Not to let @HerbertSchroer do all the work but he said it perfectly. Oh and no cats!
Use Snapseed and Filterstorm. Both cost some yet great apps to raise curves even on night shots.
Do: Engage your followers and the people you follow. Comment. Share. Interact. Have fun. Be sincere. Be yourself.
Don't: DON'T think you need wild adventures for great photos. A small change in routine's enough to open your eyes to beautiful pictures.
Do: Create a dialogue and get to know your community.
Don't: Become a voyeur that only giggles at his/her own grams.
Do: Always focus on basic photo skills while shooting - find good light, hold your camera very steady, think about composition.
Don't: Don't be aggressive with commenting in any way. Good photos speak for themselves.
Like the photos that appeal to you & follow the people who inspire you. Work on consistency & technique & people will notice you.