New Practices: How Instagram Transformed Photosharing

  January 15, 2024   Read time 6 min
New Practices: How Instagram Transformed Photosharing
The progressive daily use of Instagram shows several changes in relation to the way people use a smart phone to capture images, and how the use of the platform changes the way users approach visuality to communicate and share experiences.

Relevant changes have been observed, and they are classifiable in the constant research for photo opportunities, seeing beauty in the surroundings and framing images as squares. These changes seem to be related more to the use of smart phones than the platform itself. In fact, for many users, the real transformation has been the launch of mobile devices that allow more opportunities for visual communication. The use of Instagram came after. The substantial transformations witnessed in the progressive use of Instagram shows a continuous research for what many users define as ‘photo opportunities’.

Users’ way of viewing the world has changed since their first approach to Instagram, and this shows how Instagram alters the visual perception and experience of the surroundings. The extended use of the platform shows two types of changes: one is related to the improvement of photographic skills and the other is related to the development of the connection with the surroundings. This search for beauty also guides towards an increased capture of photographs, as Moritz highlighted. Moritz is a German guy in his early 30s who works as assistant manager and during his free time takes care of the Igers Berlin community as local manager. He defines his photosharing under the category of urban photography. His stream is formed mainly by the juxtaposition of people and architecture. Moritz is passionate about mobile photography, and the major change he has identified in his use of smart phones is that he has definitely started to take more photographs during events. Although he does not necessarily share all the pictures he takes, he feels the need to take more photographs.

Similarly, many Instagram users see themselves as paying more attention to their surroundings and the possibilities to extract pictures from them. For instance, Ektara realised that going to events is now a bit different. Before she was happy just looking; now she looks around, seeing if there is something that she can capture. Ektara is a Finnish publisher who manages the Igers Helsinki community. Her stream is formed mainly from black and white photographs portraying urban landscapes and people. In her photography, the human figure is always set in the scene in relation to the background.

Undeniably, the arrival of Instagram has changed the ways people observe and produce images. This transformation has also showed a progressive improvement in users’ literacy in photography and social media. For instance, Michela, compared to when she started, she is now able to give her stamp to the photos. While at the beginning she was photographing everything from ice cream to the book she was studying, now she gives a sense to her stories through photosharing. Users’ experiences through the use of Instagram are related to the way they look at the surroundings and the increased visual attention they put in observing it. From this response, it clearly emerges how visual attention towards surroundings are augmented. This expanded visual attention also changes users’ attitudes towards and within events.

The actual experience of events appears more often to be mediated by devices. In relation to this, Michela thinks about the time she attended Goran Bregovic’s concert. In front of her were people holding up their mobiles. So she posted a photo saying ‘Govan Bregovic in the time of Instagram’. Then she put her smart phone away and enjoyed the concert. She saw that people could not resist experiencing the event through their smartphones, and she thinks that this behaviour annoys her because she is unable to experience events without seeing people constantly using their mobiles.

The presence of smart phones shows how their ubiquitous use changes incisively the way people experience events and the surroundings. The device appears to take a middle position between the person and the object, giving to people, arguably, a completely different experience of the event. The mediation of the device displays in two moments: during the capture of the event and during the photosharing. The mediation appears consequently during the experience of the event and during the communication of the event. The increased visual attention towards the surroundings stimulates people to look for unconventional scenes. Emmanuela, for instance, when she sees elderly people doing something particular or something unconventional, immediately thinks that it is something to Instagram.

Another crucial change observed through the use of Instagram is that it presents, by default, a square frame. By tradition, photography is experienced through vertical or horizontal rectangular frames. On the contrary, Instagram possesses square frames that are reminiscent of Diana and Polaroid cameras. The use of a square frame guides users to think of the image in relation to the frame, which consequently changes the rules of composition. It means that forms and objects need to be located in the photo in relation to the frame. Even if the photo can now be adapted into a rectangular shape inside the square frame, users are still influenced by the square frame. Nicola, for example, confirmed that Instagram changed his photographic eye in thinking of photos in squares. The fact that he needs to think images in squares makes him think in a different way. Even when he shoots a vertical photo, he tries to do it by cutting it into a square. Every time he photographs he thinks: ‘this is rectangular, but then it needs to be at the centre of the square’. The entire process of thinking about photographs needs to follow compositional rules that fit the square frame. This change also seems to alter the ways that users consequently experience their immediate surroundings in order to fit their images in the square frame. If an image does not fit well in the frame, it might not be considered for Instagram.

Users follow certain strategies and compositional rules that govern the inclusion or exclusion from Instagram. This allows the identification of common patterns in the general practice of photosharing. It follows that the practice of photosharing on Instagram appears restricted by the precise procedures (see planning of photosharing) that have been discussed in this chapter. According to many Instagram users, the creation of a well thought-out Instagram account erects inescapable limits in relation to the following photosharing.

To conclude, this chapter showed how the growth of Instagram transforms substantially the contemporary practice of photosharing. It considered causes and consequences that guide the consumption and production of images in people’s daily life. The main question this chapter sought to address concerned the ways the mediation of the platform and the mobility of smartphones led to a different visual perception and sharing of the surroundings. It discussed the visible alterations that the practice of photosharing on Instagram generates to allow this book to proceed towards more specific issues, such as social relationships, political economy and social media marketing, privacy and surveillance and identity.

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