Fashion Photography in the Age of Instagram

By Tashika Varma

Take a look around: Today nearly every 12-year-old and up has a “smart” camera phone.  Not surprisingly, amateur or “citizen” photography has flourished in this environment.

Citizen photographers have often been the first to provide news organizations with photos of breaking stories like Hurricane Sandy, Superstorm Nemo or the Super Bowl blackout.  These photos then go viral on image-oriented social media sites such as Instagram and Vine.

Professional photographers agree these changes have altered the dynamics of their profession — but they’ve adapted by staying ahead of the game with a higher quality product.

Steve Lee, an SMU professor and a freelance entertainment photographer, shoots many concerts at American Airlines Center.  He has photographed performers from Lady Gaga to Kelly Clarkson to Taylor Swift.  And in a dark indoor concert venue or fashion show, Lee says, smartphones can’t compete with his more sophisticated equipment: “You can’t do [with a smartphone] what I do.”

Photo credit: Pegasus News
Kellie Pickler opens for Taylor Swift at American Airlines Center in Dallas on March 11.
Steve Lee photographed the concert.

Lee says he uses social media to promote his photography.

“Most of what I see on Instagram and Vine is clearly poor quality,” he says. “When I post a picture on Pinterest, I get so many repins because the pictures were shot with a Nikon, not an iPhone.”

These same limitations have led Sidney Hollingsworth, an SMU sophomore and professional photographer, to avoid using applications like Instagram to promote her work.

Photo credit: Sidney Hollingsworth
Sidney Hollingsworth photographs people on the boulevard before the first football game of Fall 2012.

“I gave in about three to four months ago and got an Instagram [app] but I only use it to post personal photos,” she says.

Hollingsworth says she has run into legal copyright issues with social media.  For instance, in several cases, people have copied promotional photos from her by cropping out her watermark and then using the photos on other sites.

“It was upsetting to learn that something I was sharing was being used for a profit by other bloggers,” she says. “I learned a lot from the experience and am now communicating with those bloggers. I’ve also increased the size of my watermark on my photos to about three times bigger.”

Thus, instead of relying on Facebook, Hollingsworth plans to search for a host site where she can market and sell her work.

Of course, not everyone has $7,000 worth of camera equipment.

Kelsey Charles, an SMU senior and fashion blogger, uses social media constantly to promote her new posts. Her blog, Loft 222, uses photos from the web as well as photos she’s taken via applications like Instagram. On Instagram she posts her “outfits of the day,” known as “#ootd.” These universal hashtags help drive traffic to blogs like hers.

Photo credit: Loft 222
Kelsey Charles posts her “outfit of the day” during her time in Washington D.C. for the presidential inauguration.

“It [the hashtag] gets your name out there on a national level instead of being so specific,” Charles says. “It’s all about driving traffic to your account, and it’s easier to do that on a larger scale with broader hashtag and key words.”

But Lee’s not worried.  He’s not competing with smartphone-wielding fashion bloggers.

And even with the anticipated improvements to camera phones, they will not be sufficient to allow amateurs to match the quality of photos taken by professionals, Lee says.

“These new camera phones could possible compete with a simple digital camera, but not a DSLR [digital single-lens reflex cameras],” he says. “The quality between a DSLR and a camera phone is so different that there is no comparison.

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