The president’s photographer on Instagram

I just spotted this story on Digital Photography Review. President Obama’s photographer Pete Souza (one of my legion of photographic heroes) has gone instant. I wrote about Souza awhile ago after seeing the lushly produced documentary, The President’s Photographer. Souza continues to do his grueling work as the president’s official photographer, but now like the rest of us he has added randomly sneaking his iPhone out of his pocket to his quiver of routine tasks. Bless his heart! He says his favorite filter is no filter. (Showoff! ;-)) Here’s his Instagram page. I love his amazing compositional sense and his use of black and white. Not a filter man, and why should he be?

Note how I gracefully slide back into my photographic life straight from Pete Souza’s: I haven’t used Instagram as much as one would expect of a person besotted with photography. My kids use it. In fact my daughter rarely uses the iPhone camera, but rather transfers DSLR images to her phone so she can upload them to Instagram. Now THAT’S elaborate. Actually, I do have a standing Friday night dinner with a couple of friends at a burrito joint that features R. Crumb prints, plastic dinosaurs, and other arresting creatures, and I do often dial up my Instagram app to record their many provocative poses (the dinosaurs’, not the friends’).

I think Instagram is a wonderful tool and potentially contributes to community, when it is not tearing it down by embarrassing its subjects. Initially  I got into iPhone photography in a big way with Chase Jarvis’s book/app/community (The Best Camera Is the One That’s With You).  I was easily persuaded that if a professional who routinely slung all sorts of heavy equipment had gotten tired of lugging it around, then I too might have a lot to learn (and a lot of money to save) by pursuing photography with the simplest possible tool — and one that was with me all the time. I went wild. I can’t show you any of my early projects, because they have all melted away. This may be just as well. But I did find using Jarvis’s palette of filters on my own simple pictures, resized as squares by the app, to be exhilarating.

These filter apps, of which Instagram is currently the most popular, are a fun photographic crapshoot. Though it seems that you can’t save your Instagram shots WITHOUT posting them, in other ways the app is forgiving. You can try each filter and each frame, and decide which you like best, before you upload the result. Unlike Souza’s, my best stuff is NOT unfiltered. Oh well. But learning composition by being able instantly to switch views, crops, exposure, color, and lighting is priceless. Perhaps even more valuable is the opportunity, which I also seek out through Flickr, to see photo feeds from around the world.

My longtime favorite filter app is Hipstamatic. It is pretty challenging because of its huge array of choices: different “cameras” (with different lenses), and different “films.” My favorite combination is the John S lens with the Kodot XGrizzled film. This combination avoids the current and unfathomably popular washed-out look in favor of a vivid, supersharp,  though rather green rendering of your photo. Here’s Paris — a cafe by the Seine in November 2011:6461319587_ecfddf7d17_oThe holiday carousel in Place de la Concorde, the same week:6461360661_66435b1526_oThat’s enough Paris for now — plenty to come in the next few weeks, along with some more reflections on photo apps, nostalgia, autobiography, and self-publishing. (Some cocktail.) Aw heck — and here’s my own Instagram page.

I know that we like the photo apps with filters because they seem to make us into Pete Souza without much effort on our parts. But to be a bit of a Pollyanna about this playing, just as a DSLR doesn’t turn one into a good photographer (and in fact can magnify one’s flaws along with the upsizing of the sensor), using filters on a ho-hum scene doesn’t turn it into a prizewinner. There is still a lot to learn every time we sneak the phone out of our pocket. Here ends the lesson. Pete Souza, snap on!

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