Instagram vs Real Images

Throughout the years, Janine and I have had a hugely successful formula for both making images and finding locations – it is as simple as being out running, riding, hiking or skiing- and just paying attention. In 2012 we started using Instagram and have really enjoyed the platform for both sharing our work and seeing what others are doing. These days we post our finds on Instagram and then, if possible, head back to the same place with a real camera. The other night was a classic example. We did a mountain bike ride from our house in Interlaken and while descending back to town I made a photo of Janine, below.Interlaken BikingTwo days later we went back, but with the real camera. This time we ran as we felt the scene and wide dirt road was perfect for the feel we wanted to get from the location. It is interesting to compare the images – a filtered iPhone image vs. a pro DSLR. Sometimes it seems we are getting so used to seeing these Instagram images, with all the effects and moody feelings, that straight images are left lacking in something – what do you think?

Woman winter running on forest road

You can follow our Instagram feeds at : @danpatitucci or @janinepatitucci


Comments 14

  1. Hi Dan,
    many of the Instagram photos I happen to get shared (I don’t seek them out actively) are pretty garish and sloppy. But then there are a few ones (like in any other area of photography) which a somewhat or even pretty deliberately and knowingly made.

    Your above instagram is already very well composed in my eye. And in the web size, the iphone quality is (at least after that filter massaging) quite sufficient. But then there are enough iPhone photos where even this doesn’t hold true for web size.

    Then you had also a very nice light situation to begin with. Light is everything, as you certainly know better than me.

    Now seeing that you succeeded in finding the same lighting situation for the DSLR photo (Sigh, when I come past an interesting scene in nice light and hope to come again with an DSLR it seems to always rain for two weeks…) I find that the two most striking differences to me are:

    The more harsh and concentrated rendition of the sun circle which is also more neutral in the DSLR photo. I like the more pleasing and softer transition in the Instagram more. And the yellowish filter does help, I think.

    And the second thing: On the DSLR photo I noticed instantly the buildings in the valley to the left whereas I didn’t notice them at all in the instagram. Now I see them there, too.

    Over all for bigger display or print the DSLR photo wins. If the suns or light rendition would be more warm and with a much softer and wider transition it would be the way better photo overall.

    So it’s a draw for me right now. Or… mmmmh, maybe the instagram wins: I like biking more than running… 😉

  2. Hey there Dan and Janine,

    My first impression upon seeing the DSLR image after scrolling down from the Instagram version was that it just seemed very plain. As you said the moodiness of the first is what we’ve gotten used to seeing and I believe it lends itself more to the artsy creative inside. In a way I feel like the DSLR image looks too perfect, it’s sharp and full of detail. To me it’s like looking at a painting. A painting due to it’s brush strokes, and at times the artist, has little imperfections which allows your mind to fill in those imperfections with something that makes the painting uniquely tailored to the person looking at it. If something is too perfect then there’s not much room left for the imagination.

    Okay, think I fell off into the deep end of the pool… 😉

    Best wishes for the New Year!

    ~ Will

    1. Post

      Thanks for the great feedback gang! I have to say I really enjoy looking at Instagram images – but I have put them into their own category, they are what they are. It’s really interesting to hear what Will thinks – that the real image is pale in comparison, what if the Instagram image wasn’t next to it? I too was curious about it – after we shot it with the DSLR I was kind of shocked at the look – the Instagram looked better… but is it the image or the expectation?
      We have now shot an entire ad campaign with Instagram for a brand, the images were even put into a book they were so strong as a collection, but for real use – outside the campaign and story – they didn’t work – whereas the real versions of the images are much stronger. Depends on the image.
      The real question is what is it all doing to our eye? Have you noticed that most every image these days is HDR? Almost everything I see has the clarity and low level HDR effects applied to them, it is just so obvious – and this from magazines and brands. It wasn’t so long ago that everyone was bashing HDR, and now? Our eye is getting used to it.
      Let’s see where it all goes – such are trends.

      1. This is an interesting post. I am fascinated by the rise of Instagram and how people have become hooked on filters. I was a little anti it originally – it felt like insta-nostalgia but beginning to embrace it on runs and bike rides.

        When you shot the ad campaign was actually shot an iPhone or shot on DSLR and then brought into Instagram?

        1. Post

          Hi Jon,
          Fully agree with you… formerly suspicious, now I like it. We shot the campaign with a real camera, for the quality and versatility, then put the images in the phone to see what filters and style/mood we liked – then did the rest with Photoshop – matching the Instagram filter we settled on. I am looking at Instagram filters more and more as a mood measurement, which can teach me something about potential on real shoots. There is much to be learned from this style that seems to speak to so many, but at some point soon, it’ll tire out and we’ll be back with…. what? That is always the question.

  3. Hi Dan and Janine,

    There’s no substitute for a trained and/or talented eye, whether it be a filter enhanced Instagram shot or a perfectly composed professional photo.

    I personally prefer the first photo, one because of the ‘mood’, albeit artificially, created, two because I prefer riding bikes and finally three I don’t have a commercial interest in my product being captured with absolute clarity and a central focus.

    Thanks for the post I love the comparison between the shots.


  4. I think you’re comparing tangerines and oranges. The images are only barely related (location, subject). One is taken with a phone camera and has post-processing effects. The other is a DSLR image with no (or little?) processing. I think a better comparison would have been to apply similar post-processing to the DSLR image first. That is, if you recreate the Instagram image, does the DSLR image give a more pleasing result?
    Of course, maybe I’m the one missing the point, but I’d be interested in seeing the comparison I just described.

    1. Post

      Hi David,
      You made me curious so I did just apply similar effects to the DSLR image and it became a bit more dreamy, but without noise, less sharpness and the “grungy” effect of the iPhone with two filters applied, Clarity and Instagram – it still wasn’t the same. It still looked good, but in this case good is sharp and clean – like a proper image, but it was over processed. Point being though – this feeling that Instagram provides – of imperfection, dreaminess, and contrast – is it here to stay? What is it doing to our eye when we see a “real” image? Are real images becoming dull? Does the subject matter now mean everything because reality must compete with effects? Nearly every image I see is over processed by a “standard processing” definition. And to clarify, the real image is processed, with a tiny hint of HDR and clarity – but we tried to keep it to how the scene looked as it is a stock image, and a proper starting point of what the scene was all about.
      This is an interesting discussion – thanks for the input. Love to hear more of all your thoughts as the full range has been expressed, from real is the best, to a preference for effects.

  5. Hi Dan
    Interesting thoughts, cheers. I’d be interested to see how the dslr image shapes up once cropped to the same proportions as the Instagram.
    In my mind a dull image is a dull image regardless of the camera or filters applied, as long as the photographers “spark” is in the image I think we will remain drawn to that image.
    Thanks for the interesting discussion.

  6. So the Instagram photo looks overexposed, has worse dynamic range, and really, I can tell the DSLR photo is a lot sharper even after resizing. So putting some funky filters on an inferior phone image just doesn’t do it for me. Besides, if you shoot RAW with DSLR, you have a lot of freedom in post production. You could make that Instagram filter mood with a little bit more effort and much higher quality.

  7. Hi Dan,
    This is interesting. I’ve never instagrammed anything so I’m not really in a position to say here’s my two cents: first off, I much prefer the square format of the instagram in this picture. Maybe that’s because it’s reminiscent of medium format or maybe because of what it gives me here in terms of composition. I can see the shape of a mountain hinted at in the back. The iphone picture was obviously taken a little bit later in the day, not much, but enough to make a difference when shooting at the sun (I like the flare, too).

    Also, as has been said, you can’t see those houses on the left, which are distracting in the dslr. What’s more, the dslr shows all the leaves on the ground which makes it very nervous. By contrast, in the instagram I see road tracks. Most important to the composition though is the subject itself, which is much more evocative in the instagram: here the biker is not shoved in your face but further away and has a long shadow stuck to her. She is also clearly on a road. The feeling transmitted (being alone but striving toward a goal -the setting sun and another peak to climb up in life- on a clearly shown path; serenity, distance, focus in life) is much stronger than in the dslr, in which the viewer is positioned right at the feet of the runner who is running over leaves but not toward anything specific.
    So I suggest placing an instagram filter on the dslr picture, or maybe just up the contrasts and give it good shift toward red and yellow. Give it some grain and defocus and resize so that you have the same format. And then compare. I am sure that you will find the composition of the first picture much more compelling, all other things being “equal”.
    Thanks for this interesting exercise!

    1. Post

      Hi Sascha,
      This is a great comment! Thanks for the taking the time to really think about it.
      Your thought about the foreground being less nervous is something I noticed as well, in this and many other images – due to the quality of a real DSLR, images can be more busy simply due to the amount of info captured, where the phone sort of naturally blurs it. Of course this can be done in the computer as well, but the look is different. We did try applying the same Instagram look to the image and it was never the same, you actually need to destroy the image a bit to make it look the same. Clearly, for a working photographer providing work to clients, the quality must be there, this allows for options.
      Thanks again for your thoughts,

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