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THOUGHT: Instagram, EyeEm and Co. - Or how your Smartphone Photos can become your own Art
Posted by Arne Hess - on Friday, 23.08.13 - 16:16:19 CET under 09 - Thoughts - Viewed 22626x
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Ever, since I got my first digital single-lens reflex camera in the mid 80's (a Canon T50), I was fascinated from photographing and even learned how to develop my own back & white and color films and prints when I did a couple of internships at Ilford Photo. Over the time, this experience also made a big fan of photo art. As the time evolved, I went through different Canon, Nikon and Sony cameras, first still analogue, only to became digital later. And while I still using my Nikon D80 and my Sony Nex5 for professional photos here on the::unwired and events, my daily camera became my smartphone! It's my digital eye, doesn't matter if I use it at home, while commuting or in vacations - the smartphone is 99 % of the time with me.

However, at the end of the day, not the camera lens but the photographer's eye makes the difference but for sure, the smartphone camera should have a minimum standard in terms of quality and resolution. While the early mobile phone cams (I had my first one in late 2001) were good enough for MMS only, early smartphone cams became somehow good enough for posting the photos on web sites. Today's smartphone cameras are much more than the early cameras, they can shoot high quality photos up to 13 megapixel (or 4 UltraPixel), record videos in full HD, and smartphone apps help to post-process a photo in a way which was hardly possible with analogue photography and later, with digital photography, you had to be a Photoshop master. Today we have plenty of smartphone apps, from free to expensive, as well as online photo services like Picasa and Flickr which allow to store photos online. But we also have a different kind of "all-in-one" apps and photo service like much hated but beloved Instagram and EyeEm. Services which (unfortunately) often floods Twitter and Facebook with self-portrait shots in front of bathroom or sleeping room mirrors.

But for me, there's also the other side of Instagram and EyeEm where I always try to post somehow meaningful photos to (something I don't archive all the time - I know I'm guilty too). For the rest of the daily snapshots I have Twitter's and Facebook's photo service, which I use to share photos with my friends and followers. If you follow me on Twitter (or on Instagram - my preferred service) you know that I became somehow addicted and my preferred themes are cities and landscapes. Definitely the kind of photo art I also like most from professional photographers.

In Munich, we have an art gallery called "LUMAS" (which has outlets across Germany, London, Paris, Zürich and New York as well) and all the time, when I walked along in the past, I was fascinated from the photos they presented in the display windows. Many of these photos have cities and landscapes as themes and I was always close to acquire one of these masterpieces. However, and that's the specialty, LUMAS photos are printed on disdainful paper but are presented on aluminum or under acryl glass. These methods adds a value to the photos as I haven't seen and experienced it before.

Above, the LUMAS Galerie in New York's Upper East Side

As said, LUMAS photos are quite unique, but not only by the used material and way of production, but also because each of these photos is printed up to four times only; that's it - it's a limited edition.

Fast forward, when I was in San Francisco earlier this year, I instagramed some of my impressions of the city and my girlfriend told me that, instead of purchasing an anonymous photo from someone else, we should try to get a set of photos "LUMAS-styled". As a matter of fact, she was absolutely thrilled of some of the phots and it was her first reaction I got WhatsApp'd after I uploaded the pictures to Instagram.

After a couple of phone calls and research, she found WhiteWall, the service also LUMAS is using for its photo art. And while sometimes some projects take a little bit longer (also because of the endless discussions we had of which photos we should finally select), two weeks ago I ordered a sample kit from WhiteWall since it offers a wide range of possibilities I wanted to see in reality. Acryl glass isn't acryl but "direct print behind acrylic glass", "original photo print under acrylic glass" or "original photo print under matte acrylic":

And also aluminum isn't just aluminum but "direct print on aluminum" or "dibond direct print on brushed aluminum":

The photos above are some of the WhiteWall samples which are pretty hard to photograph to highlight the differences but they might give you an idea anyway (but have a look on the WhiteWall product links above).

The WhiteWall package included even more samples which made the selection process even more difficult but anyway, we ended-up with the dibond direct print on brushed aluminum, the style I already fell in love with so many LUMAS photos before, because the result is truly eye-catching! The areas of the phot that are white or very light are not printed, but instead take on the appearance of the surface of the brushed aluminum (as you can see on the penguin belly above).

And here's the result of one of the San Francisco photos, only taken with a HTC One S and modified with Instagram:

On the left, the original Instagram photo; on the right the dibond direct print on brushed aluminum.

On the left, a close-up of the dibond direct print on brushed aluminum; on the right a direct comparison of the Instagram original and the aluminum print.

The series of San Francisco photos is 30 x 30 cm and with Instagram's 1520 x 1520 pixel photos, WhiteWall is able to produce prints up to 128 cm; which isn't too bad at all.

Another example, which isn't from the series of San Francisco shots, but a photo I recently captured in Dresden with my HTC One mini, and which is heavily tilt-shifted in the fore- and background, is the Elbe 2x2 dibond direct print on brushed aluminum landscape bellow:

The photos above can hardly express how satisfied I'm with the results but you have to see it in reality. I haven't imagined that printed Instagram photos could looks that good.

Final Conclusion

Many social media users are blaming other social media users for posting Instagram and EyeEm photos into their Twitter and Facebook streams and I tent to agree that many of these photos are rather useless (and again, I'm not free of it neither). But if you are in love with your photos as well, and also use Instagram or EyeEm for your best snapshots (or any other services - it's just an example), you can give your photos a second life as your very own self-made art. I wouldn't say that I'm an extraordinary good photographer but I also have my doubts that some of my photos wouldn't find a buyer, if on display at LUMAS.

At the end of the day, it's always about the theme, color and light and if a photo touches the observer. For parents, this could be a photo of their child, for me it's the series of San Francisco photos in the living room and the river Elbe photo in the office. As always, it comes to the eye of the beholder and if the photo tells a story. While I'm sure, I will end-up with the one or the other LUMAS photo anyway, in the meantime my best story telling photos have also found and will find in future a new place - outside the digital world; printed on aluminum or acryl glass.
And as the smartphone camera technologies will also continue to develop, even better looking photos will be possible in the future but don't forget - the eye, scenery and light makes the photo, not the lens.

PS: If you want to give your Instagram or EyeEm photos a second life as well, WhiteWall has currently a 11 % August discount and is available in many European countries, as well as in the U.S. and internationally through the U.S. (scroll to the bottom to check for your country).

Cheers ~ Arne

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