10 Ways You Can Save The Otherwise Doomed Instagram Community

April 17, 2012

Instagram, Instagram, Instagram. It doesn’t quite roll of the tongue like Jan Brady’s whiny “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia,” but the mobile photography app sure has been the talk of the Web (and beyond) lately. First came the much-awaited Android version of the 18-month-old app, then came news of a $1 billion cash-plus-stock acquisition by Facebook.

In the midst of it all, I heard a segment on the wonderful Marketplace Tech Report (John Moe for President of Radio, right?!) about a comedian of some sort who’s on a quest to take the instagrammiest Instagram photos possible – putting some of the photo-app community’s finest clichés front and center: hearts and flowers and feet and feet in hearts and so on.

That got me thinking: I could totally write a decent rant about Instagram clichés! Here goes…

At the heart of the problem is this: Instagram doesn’t make up for bad photography. It does make up for the bad color-capturing quality of cell phone cameras (usually), but it can’t fix the fact that your lunch, your shoes, your cat and your beer mug are fundamentally uninteresting photo subjects. Unless you’re actually trying to frame up a decent scene and capture something visually interesting, Instagram ain’t gonna help.

But that’s been said a million times, so let’s just make fun of some photos (including my own)!

Total clichés you see way too much of on Instagram:

Painted fingernails: Congratulations, 14-year-old, you painted a pattern with bright colors. Do your homework.

Photographer’s reflection in a mirror: Unless you’re showing off the black eye you just earned after saying you “don’t care for Springsteen” in a New Jersey biker bar, skip it.

Feet: Unless you’re Elton John or Imelda Marcos, your shoe collection cannot possibly be interesting photo fodder. The following photo is from our own Alex Weaver. Nice kicks, sure, but I think she was just excited about finally having Instagram on her Android. (In response, with equally little purpose, I posted an instagram of her instagram.)

Beer: Yes, you like obscure craft beers that often have funny or clever names. Just drink it already. The photo below is one of my own, but in my defense, I was sending a message to a buddy who’s a border patrol agent — so I had a good reason!

Coffee: See: Beer. (Thanks for the photo, Alex.)

Cats: My friend and colleague Jenny Zanatta is a wonderful person – and a pretty good photographer (I’m buttering her up because I think this is a sensitive subject) – but her cat has been the subject of more paparazzi-like photography than Lindsay Lohan.

Enough already, cat people. The only thing more over-done than pet photo is…

Kids: I’m a serial violator on this front. My sons – one 2 years and one 2 months – have a DSLR or a camera-phone in their face so much they probably think I work for TMZ. But they’re really cute. It’s like Instagram was invented for my boys. Seriously, how cute is this kid?

Food: There is almost no exception to this rule: Do not take pictures of food. Do not do it. It never works well with your damn cell phone camera. Anything less solid than a bratwurst will look, without fail, like vomit or other excrement, and that bratwurst will probably look like a severed limb on a bun. Resist the urge. If you can’t, take a photo of the cooking or baking process – that’ll at least be a bit more interesting.

There are more, but I’ve had enough fun. Before anyone accuses me of getting all high and mighty, I fully concede that I’ve violated just as many of these as anyone else. But I try to do so a lot less than everyone else. So here’s my final plea: Think about what you’re shooting. Good photography can make the world a happier, more beautiful place. Do your part.

(By the way, about that headline: I didn’t even count how many clichés I listed in this post, and the community isn’t doomed, and even if it were, you probably couldn’t do much to save it. It’s just that those “X ways to do Y” sorts of headlines seem all too popular in the blogosphere, as the kids say, so I thought I’d give it a try.)