Howdy, APUG folks. I posted this over on Rangefinder Forum, where I've typically been a more active user, but having moved out of RF photography for the most part, this seemed like a better place to put it. This is actually my first post here on APUG, but from my interaction with folks here (exclusively through the Classifieds up until now), it seems like a nice place to be. I'm just going to paste the entire post as I originally wrote it. Happy to be here!
I know that dreaded app is anathema for a lot of folks on here. My own opinion of it is that it's fine. I use it myself for the occasional picture, and I've seen some folks who do great work with it. I've also seen plenty of pictures of cats and people's brunch on it as well, but to be perfectly honest, I've seen pictures of the same things taken with a Leica MP and a 50mm f/1.4 Summilux ASPH. I don't think there's any harm in finding new ways to spark people's interest in photography, and the technology that Instagram has developed to enable the sharing of those photos is superb, far better than any other photo sharing software I've seen in the last 5+ years.
Having said all that, my intention with this post is a little different. I'd like to talk about how Instagram changed the way I view that extremely polarising picture format: the square. I was never a big fan of the square. I always seemed to see things wide. I'm not that keen on portrait orientation, either, to be honest. My affinity for composition seemed to suit the wider formats very well, whether it be 24x36, 6x4.5, 6x7, or 4x5. I had a Mamiya C330 for a little while, which was my first dance with the square, and I got a few pictures out of it that I was happy with, but I sold it when I picked up a Pentax 6x7, and didn't really miss it.
Now, however, I've got a solid year or so of using Instagram under my belt, and it has completely changed the way I approach the square format. I've developed a much bigger appreciation for it, and find that it presents new and interesting composition challenges that I no longer feel when working with more rectangular formats. As a result, I did something the other day I didn't think I ever would. I bought a Hasselblad 500c/m and a full compliment of lenses. Perusing around on Flickr, I find myself more inspired by the work I see others doing with the Hasselblad than anything I've seen from the Leica crowd lately. I know it's just personal taste, and maybe I'm drinking the Hasselblad Kool Aid, but I'm looking forward to shooting with it.
So there you go. Instagram can't be all that bad if it can foster interest in more creative growth with real "serious photography", can it? I used to work at a video game studio where we made games called Guitar Hero and Rock Band, which, for those who don't have kids or don't know anyone who does, are games designed to simulate the experience of playing music in a band with real instruments. Imagine if the idea of karaoke was extended beyond singing into playing the guitar, bass, and drums, and then turned into something you do for a high score. We used to have to defend it all the time to "real musicians" who would get all huffy that we were making light of the hard work it takes to learn an instrument. "Why don't you just get a real guitar?" was the line we'd hear the most. However, in the time I worked there, I met countless kids who would enthusiastically tell us about how they had gotten their first guitar/bass/drum set for their birthday or for Christmas or whatever, and it was playing our games that inspired them to start making music in earnest. That's kind of how I see the relationship between Instagram and "real photography". Think of it as a gateway drug. Maybe only 5-10% of people will pursue photography more seriously after having a lot of fun with Instagram, and I think that's a good thing.