Anyone who's been following my Twitter feed lately knows that I've been having a lot of fun with the Lo-Fi camera apps on the iPhone, and I had a post all written up about them, but then my friend Kirk tweeted:
Gotta admit I hope the whole instagram thing is kind of a fad. Makes all [the pictures look] like those b+w "dress up like Bonnie and Clyde"
I think he's not alone in this opinion, and he's definitely got a point. There are a lot of cheesy pictures being uploaded by people just playing with the effects. But I think he was missing something vastly more important: They're getting people to take pictures.
They're getting millions (literally millions) of people to look at the world around them with different eyes. It doesn't matter that they're going "oh, I wonder what that would look like with a quirky effect..." what matters is that they're looking. We spend more and more time wrapped up in our own little worlds. Especially those of us fortunate to have smartphones. We tweet, we text, we play games and we loose touch with the world we're moving through.
The boring walk to work or school has been transformed into an exercise in observation. It doesn't matter that people are frequently photographing mundane "boring" objects. What matters is that they are finding beauty and interest in the world around them.
Sometimes they go a bit crazy with the effects, but so what? They're being creative, and even the most brilliant artist takes leave of their senses from time to time.
People are taking the time to look up from their smartphones, and not obsessively thumbing out Facebook updates to each other.
And maybe some of them will realize there's life outside of the computer screen.
... I'm sure we'll get tired of the Lo-Fi effects soon enough, but I hope that by then the apps have evolved into tools that allow for even more expressiveness. Instagram in particular has done something I would have said was nigh-impossible a year ago. They've created a whole new social network. Sure, they snuck it in the back door when no-one was looking but they also tricked people into actively looking for creative things to photograph and share with their friends who are sharing creative photographs with them. On top of that Instagram's created a whole ecosystem of applications by opening up their API to outside developers, which makes it more fun to use, which makes more people use it, which makes it more popular, which gets more people taking pictures, and on, and on...
This isn't to say that the Instagram app is the greatest. It's certainly the prettiest of the bunch, and has the best usability and sharing features, but it's only got a handful of effects and they're not adjustable in any way. It's not surprising then that you see a number of pictures in peoples Instagram feeds that have been manipulated in other apps, but that just goes to show what an amazing thing they've created. People actually go out of their way to upload their pictures to their Instagram feeds.
These days I'm mostly reaching for Photoshow and Infinicam. Infinicam feels like it lives up to its name with a huge number of potential effects combinations, but it's a lot of random luck (and crap) until you've saved off a good swath of combinations you like as favorites that you can then apply on demand. Its sharing capabilities suck though. If it didn't have so many great borders and lo-fi effects I wouldn't bother, but the borders are great and you can easily flip through them once you've found a visual treatment you like.
Typically I take pictures with the built-in camera (so that I've got unaffected originals that can be loaded by most of the apps) and bring them into Photoshow where I can crop them square (so that fit in Instagram's format), then fiddle with effects there or save it and fiddle in Lo-mob or Infinicam. Sometimes they bounce around between apps layering effects until I'm happy, and eventually get uploaded via Instagram, unless I've decided I'm unwilling to stick with Instagram's demand for square photos.
As for the apps themselves, well, there's a lot of room for improvement. Most of them seem to offer a handful of carefully selected effects to choose from, but offer no way to combine the features of them (this border with that tint for example). Photoshow is excellent about this. Infinicam does offer it but not in a direct way. It's more about finding happy accidents and then saving the ability to recreate them. And then there's the constant square cropping. I don't mind square pictures at all, but sometimes you want a wider view of things.
Anyway, if you like these pics, follow me on Instagram (if you have an iPhone... coming soon to Android ;) ), or Flickr, or Twitter. I'm masukomi on all three. There's also Facebook. Yes, believe it or not I'm actually doing something with Facebook (friends will understand how shocking this is). But, even if you don't follow me anywhere... pick up a camera and go find the beauty around you. Then share it with people. And have fun. :)
For the iPhone there's: Instagram, CameraBag, Toy Camera, Lo-Mob, FX Photo Studio, PictureShow,Infinicam, and more... For the iPad there's: CameraBag for iPad, FX Photo Studio HD, and not much else, but that it starting to change now that the iPad 2 has a camera.