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The rise and rise of Instagram photojournalism

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The rise and rise of Instagram photojournalism

Photojournalists around the world have been increasingly using the online platform for exposure, as magazine and paper publishing numbers compress with each passing month.

Although recent copyright issues have smudged Instagram’s reputation, most photographers just want to have their photos seen by as many online users as possible, and Instagram can deliver just that, being backed by web networking giant Facebook.

iPhone Fotografie book, exclusively filled with content from Apple's smartphone. Pictures taken by 5 professionals
“iPhone Fotografie” is a book that features exactly what it says in the title: photographs taken by 5 professionals, including samples of Instagram photojournalism.

Instagram’s calculated formula for success developing into professional use

The application started as a simple editing tool, featuring a couple of filters, used by smartphone owners to improve the look of their shots, and to share them online.

Back in 2010, mobile cameras were still underdeveloped, and Instagram cleverly made use of this. It could phony up a bland snapshot into an elegant, vintage looking “photograph”, with a single click.

Today, its feature range has soared along with its popular appeal, thanks to the buyout from Facebook. Instagram is the most popular photo-sharing app, with a monthly reach of 100 million active users worldwide.

Photojournalists have made use of Instagram’s fast and wide-ranging service, along with upgrades in smartphone camera quality

Is it the perfect online photo report tool? It could well be now, but photojournalists were skeptical, at first. Rightfully so, because, as a professional, you need to get paid for your work and Instagram doesn’t provide that.

Starting off shy, with cuisine shots (like everybody else), followed by behind-the-scenes and “throwaway” photos, most photojournalists have quickly developed mass followings. After all, they’re professionals, and skill gets immediately recognized. Nowadays, some share their best works – sometimes taken with a phone – through Instagram.

With the advent of quality smartphone cameras, news photographers have begun to scrap away extra gear. Even though a DSLR is irreplaceable, the pros may face situations that can end in seconds, before mounting the right lens. This is where smartphones come in. Actually getting the shot is far more important than its quality and a capture device that you can quickly reach for is essential. Instantly posted online, the photo can be the first to cover an event, which must be a thrilling experience.

Smartphone journalism in print

In one of Instagram’s biggest moments, the coverage of last year’s Hurricane Sandy, five photographers were commissioned by Time magazine, to be there from the start: Michael Christopher Brown – Time editorial photographer, Ben Lowy – National Geographic collaborator, Ed Kashi – VII Photo Agency member, Andrew Quilty – World Press Photo Award winner, and Stephen Wilkes – well-known for his large-formats.

By then, four of them were already using Instagram in their professional work, this being the main reason why they were selected.

Kira Pollack, director of photography for the magazine, authorized them direct access to Time’s Instagram feed, citing speed as being mandatory. The photographers posted hourly updates, which attracted hundreds of thousands of users. One of Lowy’s iPhone shots landed on the subsequent Time cover.

Hurricane Sandy devastation, as captured by Ben Lowy, with an iPhone
This photo of Hurricane Sandy’s aftermath was captured using an iPhone. Credits: Ben Lowy

Even books have started to feature photographs previously shared using Instagram. In the case of National Geographic’s iPhone-Fotografie book, the content was recorded exclusively with Apple’s smartphone. Christopher Brown has contributed to this project also, along with 4 other professionals: Richard Koci Hernandez, Damon Winter, Carsten Peter and Carlein van der Beek.

The number of photographers who get to have prints published is tiny. Instagram is being accused of contributing to this situation, and that is, likely, true, to a degree. Wiser folks call this progress, and shrug it off.

Truth of the matter is that, with every technological development, those who embrace it have the most chances for success. This more recent, albeit controversial, case of Instagram photojournalism proves it.

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The rise and rise of Instagram photojournalism