Ever had one of those weeks that seemed so inhumanly busy and emotionally draining that you simultaneously feel like only a day or two has passed AND feel like it’s been dragging on for years? Well that was the first week of October for me. I’m finally starting to catch up now, which brings me to the long-awaited Photocalypse Re-cap!
Every day in September (or approximately every day as the case may be) I followed the Instagram prompts posted by Princessdeia and took a picture to upload to Instagram. I also edited each of those photos on my computer to compare and contrast my Instagram style with my usual editing routine. The results were fascinating!
Locations and Lighting
During my month of photography I tried out 13 different locations, but I frequently stayed within my photography comfort zone – my bedroom, the living room, and the backyard. Even though these locations were already familiar to me I did learn a few new things about them. The lighting in my bedroom is best in the daytime near the window. Check out this awesome photo! I had no idea my bedroom could get such great natural lighting!
The other side of my room pretty much sucks for photography. The overhead light just makes everything look flat.
I used to think the living room was a terrible location for photography, but if I take a few seconds to open the curtains and remove some clumps of cat hair that red futon is a great background!
Everywhere else in the living room is still a no-go though. I mean seriously, look at these.
Outdoors is always a good choice for photography, but I learned to love the clouds and shadows. The best lighting was always through heavy cloud cover, of which there was plenty during this stormy month. Early in the morning there is some especially fantastic lighting.
If it’s really bright out with hardly any clouds in sight, the shadows provided by a few small trees is great place to shoot.
There were a couple of surprisingly good new locations I found through all of this experimentation. The side yard proved to be absolutely magical for yarn photography!
If I need to photograph something at night when I don’t have access to natural lighting I should head to the bathroom.
If I want a dark background with dim lighting I should go to my sister’s room.
Another spot with good natural light in the house is the small desk in my mother’s room. I just have to move all the cat bedding to get to it…
So those are all the locations and conditions I found that work well for photography! I also figured out what to avoid. The kitchen is definitely off-limits. It’s brightly lit, but the lighting seems to come from odd angles and the counter and backsplash are way too busy to serve as a decent background.
I can catch some more natural light in front of the back door, but to one side there’s a cat tower, a chronically fur-covered curtain, and a cluttered desk, and to the other side is an ugly fridge covered in coupons and reminders, so it’s pretty much impossible to get a shot without some distracting background elements.
My bedroom has a similar problem with distracting backgrounds as I could see from my very first photo in the challenge.
But if I turn off the overhead light and rely only on the natural lighting from the window and use my bedspread to cover up the bottom portion of my bed, then the distracting parts of the background are far enough away that they fall completely into shadow. I can’t really pull off that kind of trickery in the dining room.
I also learned about my own personal photography style. I always try to photograph things from several different angles and distances so that I have lots of options to choose from when it comes time for editing. You may not realize this though, because I always seem to choose the same shots. I seem to overwhelmingly prefer the shots that were taken level with or just slightly above the subject with both the subject and the horizon line near the center of the shot. I call that angle “The Monolith.”
It makes even the smallest and dullest of subjects look interesting and important. I use it A LOT. It’s almost obnoxious.
I also seem to have a fetish for close-ups.
I guess all of that just shows my disdain for staging decent-looking backgrounds. I’m a lazy photographer.
Instagram and editing preferences
One of the goals with this challenge was for me to get used to Instagram. I used 12 of the 19 filters available in Instagram during this challenge, and I did start to show some slight preferences. I used the Sierra filter the most often, closely followed by Mayfair and Hudson. Depending on the original lighting, one of those three filters was usually able to correct for color or provide the right amount of glow to the photos to make them more appealing than the original. Here’s an example of each:
I really enjoyed the borders on all the photos. It very quickly got to the point where it is looked really weird to NOT have a border. Some of the Instagram filters have more creative borders than others, but my least favorite border is the one for the Nashville filter.
What IS that? It’s a decent filter, but the border just kills it.
I also had lots of fun playing with the Lux and Tilt-Shift settings. I learned how to control the size and location of the blurred sections with tilt-shift which helped refine my photos even more. While I LOVE both functions, they were not universally appropriate. I used each function on only about half of the photos, and for a third of the photos I didn’t use either.
I’m not sure exactly what Lux does to the photos, but it was something that I couldn’t replicate with iPhoto. In the Coke photo the Lux function was the only thing that made the badger show up on the glass. Here’s the iPhoto version:
See how the badger is nearly invisible? In the Instagram photo the Lux function made it visible.
I quickly became OBSESSED with the tilt-shift function. It didn’t work for every photo, but when it did work it made the photos SO MUCH BETTER.
Take the $5 photo for example. Here is the computer version with no blurring:
It’s a perfectly fine photo. If you turn on the tilt-shift function in Instagram though, it makes Lincoln look 3D!
It really worked well with my “Monolith” angle to add even more depth to the photos. Even without my usual photography conventions it helps add depth to the photographs.
Observe, the computer version:
And the far superior tilt-shifty Instagram version:
I could simulate the tilt-shift effect by photographing with a huge depth of field and making sure the camera focuses on the middle of the frame. That’s what I did with the street photo. There is no tilt-shift effect used here:
I did a few photos in grayscale. The grayscale filters in Instagram – Willow and Inkwell – produced more interesting photographs, but if the grayscale was used for instructional purposes, like distinguishing color values for Fair Isle, then iPhoto’s “black & white” function showed the biggest range in values.
For each set of photos I decided on a “winner” and for about two-thirds of them the Instagram was the better photo, however it did seem to depend on the subject. As I discussed several times throughout the series, because my knitting and yarn photos are used for purposes other than the love of photography I tend to have very strong feelings about how they should be edited. For 8 of the challenges I chose knitting or yarn as a subject and for all but one of those photos I had a very strong preference for the computer edited version of the photo because I was able to control the editing more precisely in iPhoto and produce photos that accurately portrayed the color and texture of the subject. Color and texture are VERY IMPORTANT with knitting photography and those are not Instagram’s strengths. Instagram is really great at creating certain moods with the various filters though, so when photographing things just for the sake of photography it can turn some mundane photos into fabulous shots with the right filter. It was really difficult for me to recreate those effects on the computer. When the subjects weren’t setting off my rabid need for editing control I preferred the Instagram version almost every time.
I also learned a bit more about the limitations of iPhoto. In some of my attempts to mimic tilt-shift on the computer I learned that the “edge blur” function in iPhoto is completely useless. It only blurs in a circular shape and it accomplishes the “blurring” by making the edges look more pixellated. The “definition” slider was something I rarely used in most pf my photography, but during my experimentation I learned why – when the subject is something soft or fuzzy like knitting (my usual subjects) it makes the image look grainy, but when the subject already had hard lines in it (like coins) increasing the definition makes the picture look more crisp and realistic.
This Instagram challenge was lots of fun! I got pretty comfortable with using Instagram and even started taking some photographs spontaneously and immediately uploading them to Instagram. I still don’t know what’s up with those hashtags, but eventually I’ll learn what people tend to use for their hashtags and start using them. It was so fun that I’ve started following along with the October prompts as well!
Instagram will not be replacing my regular photo editing on the computer, but if I’m not taking pictures of a project I’m more likely to just use Instagram for it and not worry about editing it later. It’s a bit of a time-saver in that way!
I also learned that I may want to look for another photo editing program for the computer so I can se some of my favorite features from Instagram in all of my photo editing. I REALLY need to find a program with a tilt-shift function! It would also be nice if I could add a border to my photos on the computer. A few filter options similar to the ones in Instagram would be nice too. The latest iPhone update included some built-in camera filters, so I might try playing around with those, but I would really prefer to be able to add filters to existing photos than to have the original photo taken with a filter. I’m a control-freak.
Top 10 Instagrams
I went through all of my Instagram photos (not just from the challenge) and picked out my 10 favorite photos.
Through all of this I have made an attempt to analyze my photography aesthetic, but I really haven’t been trained to look for that sort of stuff. One thing I know all of these have in common is that they were all sort of spontaneous. A couple of them were for the photo challenges, so I did have some idea of what I was going to photograph, but I didn’t set out with a specific shot in mind. I didn’t see the “street” prompt and think “I’m going to go find some artfully arranged leaves on the pavement and photograph them at ground level.” I just found a street, looked down and saw some nice leaves and them pointed my camera at them. Same goes for the rest of the top 10. I didn’t plan the framing of them or look for something specific to photograph, I just wandered about until I found something nice-looking and pointed my camera in that general direction.
Other than that I don’t know what this collection of photos says about my aesthetic. If anyone with more photography or art training than me has some insights I would love to hear them!