Just as I eventually abandoned my film cameras for digital, and just as I abandoned my trusty manual focus 400 2.8 for an autofocus one before that, so too have I succumbed–but not necessarily willingly, at first–to the concept of the smartphone photograph.
Why? Well, for several reasons. First of all, yes, everybody’s doing it. It would appear that one needs to show some proficiency with this new genre of photography, lest they be seen as a dinosaur, unwilling to adapt to today’s technology. Second, there’s the social media aspect of it. The concept of enhancing one’s brand through sharing photos online and obtaining a quantitatively-verifiable “following” seems to be something that, if not a necessity, is, to use a highly technical term, a good thing. Third, it’s fun. And challenging. The thought of using a fixed-focus lens with no control over shutter speed and depth of field, with a reliance solely on composition, framing, content, and printing techniques to create an impactful image? That’s kinda like what I used to do when I started taking pictures to begin with.
And finally, it’s personal. I always get people–from art directors to reps to editors– who ask me, “Do you have any personal work?” The reality is that when you make a living as an editorial photographer, as I do most of the time, you spend so much time chasing day rates and preparing for your shoots that you really don’t have a lot of time to do true personal work. Perhaps the single most important thing about photography with a smart phone for me is that it affords me the opportunity, through portability, through immediacy, and through technology, to do that personal work. The chance to be there, to look around, and to just see something, and to capture it in a way that is visually interesting, is right there in my pocket.
And now, thanks to the advances in technology that we’ve been subjected to, the quality of the pictures from that opportunity is starting to be on a par with the very equipment that heretofore has been such a chore to lug around.
So I get the ‘iPhone-ography,” or”Appotography,” or whatever you want to call it, thing. I’m trying it. I’m embracing it. And yes, I’m enjoying it. As are so many of my colleagues. But there’s still something that nags at me when it comes to how we display and share these images: why are professional photographers who, before anything else, ought to be concerned with the misappropriation of our very work product, our intellectual property, our creations, for financial gain, so hell-bent on using Instagram?
If you’re curious as to why I ask the question, look no farther than Instagram’s terms and conditions. To wit:
“…By displaying or publishing (“posting”) any Content on or through the Instagram Services, you hereby grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, worldwide, limited license to use, modify, delete from, add to, publicly perform, publicly display, reproduce and translate such Content, including without limitation distributing part or all of the Site in any media formats through any media channels, except Content not shared publicly…”
In other words: You post it, we can do whatever we want with it. Including sell it or license it to others.
Ask yourself this: If, say, Getty, or Corbis, or some other agency presented you with a contract containing language like that, would you sign it? Exactly.
So why use it? As I see it, the argument goes something like this: Regardless of what we give up in the terms and conditions, photographers need to use Instagram because that’s the thing photographers these days are using to establish their online presence. In other words, despite the existence of other platforms, Instagram is the trend, and therefore we need to follow it. And of course by following it, we in turn reenforce the trend. It’s basically a vicious cycle.
I cringed when I asked a colleague of mine about that once last year. It was sort of an off-the-cuff question, a throwaway to make conversation, about whether or not he was concerned with such a rights grab. I had just started playing around with the camera on my iPhone 3Gs (remember those?) and he had been turning out some really neat-looking work on his new iPhone 4 with Instagram. I was jealous, of course, and he was giving me a little primer on how it all worked. Casually, I asked him about the terms & conditions. “Yeah,” he said. “They can do whatever they want with it but really, who gives a f*ck?”
“Who gives a f*ck.” Loosely translated: Yeah, but…? I know, but…? Nothing will probably ever come of it. The chances of anyone doing something nefarious with the pictures is slim. Or in other words, it’s probably not going to happen, and it’s not going to be a problem.
That is, until it happens. And until it’s a problem.
And thus my question: Why are professional photographers using it? I can understand why “regular” folks–people with no real skin in the game and/or who don’t know any better, or care, about how the product of their creativity is used–wouldn’t give a whit about this. But photographers? Every time we submit to such conditions–i.e., submit a picture–we help to foster the notion that everything on the web is and should be free, share-able for all and usable by anyone. We’re giving a tacit approval–however small–that this is an acceptable way of doing things. Bit by bit by bit (pun intended) we’re chipping away at the foundation of our business; individually, we only see it as one little throwaway, “fun” image, but when millions of images from professional photographers are uploaded under those terms, we’ve basically crowdsourced away one of our core principles, and with them the value of what we–and others–create. Why would we want to devalue our work that way?
Instagram is the trend because “everyone” is using it. If we used some other platform, wouldn’t that become the trend? Somebody help me out here, because I think the logic is bass-ackwards on this one. There are other services out there for linking imagery to your Twitter feed, ones that do not have the rights-grab inherent to Instagram. Other than their not being the in-thing right now, why not use those?
We photographers–especially those in my primary line of work, sports photography–are notorious procrastinators, and we tend to downplay things that we should be paying attention to when they’re right in front of us. We know something’s potentially a problem, but we rarely do anything about it because we generally don’t see the real harm until it’s too late. People with “real jobs” showing up for free, in exchange for credentials, at ball games was just something we chuckled at, and brushed off as insignificant–we basically said, “who gives a f*ck”–until a bunch of so-called “wire service” outfits bit us in the ass with bargain-basement subscription prices and the value of our stock images plummeted. Now we sit around and wonder why our statements show $1.25 web usage sales and bitch about the market for stock photography disappearing. Simply put, it wasn’t a problem, until it was a problem.
Or to put it another way, we saw it coming. Until we never saw it coming.
But now, unlike then, we’re faced not only with another clear-cut example of something that has disastrous potential, but in this case we actually have an out, should we choose to take it: We can go somewhere else. We can do something about it. We can actually be proactive.
There are other ways to do this. About a year ago, UK-based photographer John Boyes wrote up a damned good synopsis of the different image-hosting services and their terms and conditions. Have a look at it. It’s worth the read. Then check out something like yfrog, which specifically states that it:
“…will not sell or distribute your content to third parties or affiliates without your permission. Third parties may exercise the following options regarding your content:
• Third parties may hyperlink to the page that displays your content on the ImageShack Network without modification and with proper attribution to you.
• Third parties may request permission to use your content by contacting you directly.
All requests for permission regarding your content usage directed at ImageShack will be forwarded to you. All uploaded content is copyrighted to its respective owners.”
Now, someone please tell me: What is wrong with that instead of Instagram? Ease of use, perhaps? Granted, you don’t get the cool, near-instantaneous filtering and digitization that Instagram is famous for, but what about using another app to take your pictures, process them, and then display them? Or is it trendiness–the idea that since everyone is doing it it must be pretty harmless? Since when do (or should) simplicity and ubiquity trump one of the principles of what we do?
In the gallery above, for example, I’ve used Hipstamatic to create all of the images (and no, I haven’t uploaded them to the Hipstamatic site so those T&C’s don’t come into play). They’re shot with the “lenses” and “films” I’ve chosen for the desired effect, been tweaked and (sometimes) converted to black-and-white in Photoshop, and then I’ve uploaded them via yfrog to be linked to my Twitter feed. My images are still getting out there, my Twitter followers can still see them (and new followers can join in if they’d like), and therefore my online presence, or brand, or whatever you want to call it, is still present and functional. All that without giving up any claim to, interest in, or ownership of what I create.
In other words, everyone can still see my images in my Twitter feed; followers can retweet them, and new people can follow me as a result. But nobody can legally grab one of my images off of my feed and use it in a blog post. Or in an advertisement.
And the problem with that is what? Given the fact that there are alternatives out there, what is it that makes using Instagram a necessity instead?
I’ll ask it again, as a still somewhat young-ish dinosaur who took to smart phone pictures like he took to social media, and to digital photography before that: slowly, deliberately, and after much consideration. Instagram’s terms and conditions suck. There seem to be other far fairer and more favorable means out there that we can use to achieve the same ends. Is being trendy when it comes to displaying our work worth the risk of sacrificing our financial interest in it, or the principle that goes along with that? What am I missing here?