Does iPhone plus Instagram equal “real photography”

instagram_logoEver think you’d see a photograph taken with an iPhone, and edited using Instagram, on the cover of the New York Times? Well, it just happened.

As defined by Wikipedia, Instagram is an online photo-sharing and social networking service that enables its users to take pictures, apply digital filters to them, and share them on a variety of social networking services, such as media sites including Facebook or Twitter. A distinctive feature is that it confines photos to a square shape, similar to Kodak Instamatic and Polaroid images (in contrast to the 16:9 aspect ratio typically used by mobile device cameras).

Recently sports photographer Nick Laham snapped the portraits of the New York Yankees baseball team. One of the photos — that of third baseman Alex Rodriguez — was published on the cover of the Times. Cue the controversy:

In Business Insider, Megan Rose Dickey says she feels that photographers using and iPhone and Instagram to take photos is a blow to the traditional photographers of the world. What is interesting is that Erin Lodi at uses the example of the creativity of the artist where resources were at a minimum.


As Lodi suggests, a photographer is an artist that has the ability to see things that others do not and record them. Not everyone with a camera is a photographer. If that were the case the world would be filled with Annie Lieibovitzs, Alfred Steiglitzs and Ansel Adams. The act of looking through the lens, or in the case of the Nick Latham for the New York Times, lifting your smartphone, does not make you an artist. To be able to see beauty through the view finder though learnable isn’t easy. Nick Laham is an artist. And he was presented with a difficult situation and used his resources wisely. Browsing the full gallery of the photos he took that day is the proof that it’s his eye that captured the beauty, not the iPhone.

The traditional photographer insists on using film, decries the use of digital completely, and will say that anything less is not true photography. I believe that an artist should have awareness of all the tools in his toolbox, and digital falls into that realm. I appreciation for the process, but I also love the tools that the digital component adds. I gladly snap photos with my iPhone and have played with Instagram, but I see it as a novelty.

The Alex Rodriguez portrait, or even the rest of the Yankees team that were taken that day, are quite nice and fit within the current pop culture format. How they will stand up to contemporary photos taken by true digital single lens reflex cameras is a discussion that will not happen for many years.

Personally, I think that we traditional photographers are safe until someone invents the app that allows anyone to see the beauty in the world that only artists are able to find. No matter what filters Instagram comes up with or the tools that are added to Photoshop, it will still take the skill of the person.

By James, Design Works International.

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