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I love Instagram.

As I’ve mentioned before, my journey into photography may have had it’s first start when I was very young, but honestly, Instagram was a turning point for me. Never before was it so easy to take an image, edit it and then share it with both friends and the world at large – and all in seconds.

Prior to IG, I started getting into iPhonography via Hipstamatic. I remember telling people about the app & the cool, lomo-style effects it could add to your shots.

A shot of a blonde woman, taken on an iPhone with Hipstamatic to give it a retro, lomography feel.

Hipstamatic turned me on to digital lomography.

When Instagram came out, I became something of an evangelist.

“It’s like Flickr and Twitter had a baby, with Hipstamatic performing the delivery!”

I’d extoll, before having to launch into an explanation of Flickr, Twitter and Hipstamatic.

Train tracks, disappearing off into the morning mist.

Tracks to nowhere

Fast forward to today and Instagram’s new Terms of Service:

A lot of people got (understandably,) confused and angry about what appeared to be clauses that would allow Instagram to be able to sell your photos, at any time, without the original photographer getting a single penny. Cue people threatening to leave IG, (or actually leaving,) or else posting photos of varying levels of taste and humour with ‘watermarks’ saying things like “Try selling this one Instagram!” (Some of them were actually pretty funny.)

My reaction was one of disappointment, but not of shock or surprise. After all, the company had recently been bought out by Facebook , and Facebook had done almost exactly the same thing not that long before.

Instagram has a number of issues, which have largely remained unaddressed – spam accounts, some trolling, no automatic anti-duckface or sandwich blocking code … (OK, only a couple of those are genuinely serious – the other two are wishlist material,) Sure you can report users for spam or block them as per Twitter, but it’s a method of cure, not prevention. One of my personal pet-hates with the service is the amount of what I like to call ‘Bullshit accounts’. By this I mean people who post nothing other than their lunch, or their car, or only self portraits:

As I said on my personal Twitter account.

but I recognise that none of these issues are due to the service itself or the team that run it, but the fact that a lot of the users have no real interest in photography, but use it more as a pictorial blog or photo diary. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with doing that of course, I just feel it’s a waste of potential. The worst accounts are the ones that are made up of ‘funny’ pictures ripped off the internet somewhere, or else a stream of Notes screengrabs, (IT’S A PHOTO SHARING SERVICE – IF YOU WANT TO SHARE TEXT, CONSIDER USING TWITTER!) or more often, both. I suppose in some uncanny wealth of foresight, these people have assured their images wouldn’t be sold, by making them utterly crap and worthless.

Meanwhile, on Instagram …

Not that Instagram actually has the right to sell your photos anyway …

The Verge did a good run down of what the new Terms of Service actually mean and it turns out it’s not as bad as first thought. In fact the new terms actually limit what IG can do with your photos, more than previously. So maybe all this knee-jerk reaction stuff is actually a knee-jerk overreaction, as is so often the case.

In fact the Instagram blog post on the subject spells this out pretty explicitly and apologises for the confusion.  (Although the pedant in me wishes they’d chosen a URL that didn’t need to omit an apostrophe …) The fact remains however, if you use a free service, you should expect only a limited say in what happens with it. No one is forcing you to use Instagram or Facebook. They are not essential to modern life, only additional diversions.

As the Metafilter user blue_beetle famously said:

“If you’re not paying for something, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.”

Putting your photos online comes with certain risks – unauthorised reproduction, modification, being used as part of an unflattering meme, or just generally being ripped off. For those of us who make our living from photography, or hope to, some thought about which pictures we send to services like IG or Facebook is in order; definitely more so than which we put on a portfolio site or our own websites. I will continue to use the service, but I will no longer be posting portraits from my DSLR, because that’s no longer an option for me to grow my business. When you think about it, why should you be able to use a free service as your own personal marketing tool without them getting something out of it? That’s just not the way business works.


Captain Picard facepalm meme.

Picard feels your pain … kind of.

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