The Language of Pictures and Composition on Instagram.

When I get to the point that I think I have already photographed the whole of the city it is time to meet up with other Instagramers. This helps me to realize that I have neither seen everything, nor have I photographed everything. Other people’s viewpoint helps me to see something new in that which is old and familiar. This viewpoint can sometimes get lost in day to day life.

Some of my followers told me that they would recognize a photo of mine immediately. That is definitely essential if you want to be successful on Instagram. It is the only way my photos stand out from the multitude of photos on Instagram. Behind it, however, is also the challenge to develop a unique photographic viewpoint, your own picture language. Developing also means to continue to expand and refine this viewpoint and language. If someone wants to know, they can follow the development of my photos by looking at my account. For this reason I also only very rarely delete an old photo. This is because the many photos tell the story of how my viewpoint has changed. Here are a few examples which demonstrate this:

The first photo shows a tourist at the streetcar station. The streetcar is just arriving. This photo is taken with Hipstamatic. The colors are very reduced, as a matter of fact, the whole photo is quite dark. It was essential for me to show the individual person as comparatively isolated. Two elements found in my photos can already been seen in this relatively early photo: an individual person who is waiting, and a moving train, i.e., something in motion. This photo was my first on the Instagram Favorites page. If I’m not mistaken, at the time you had to have 20 likes within 20 minutes to score a transfer to the favorites page.

At the time the photo was shot I had had my iPhone for more than six months and had taken over 1,000 photos. I was familiar with it. I had uploaded about 150 photos to Instagram and had about 200 followers. Mind you, I had been taking photos for quite a while. The significant thing as far as my Instagram account was concerned was that I had started a project in 2004 whereby I had snapped (at least) one photo every day with my small digital camera. I commented on each of these photos. The photo was in some way connected to the day: Either it described something from my life or it made reference to an event that happened in society. I sent the photo and the text to a friend. Back then I learned to ask myself: What is important today? What is it about this day that I would like to remember later on as well? There was definitely a proximity to the blog as a medium. And the picture of the young lady waiting for the streetcar brought back the memory of this chilly, damp and dark day in early January 2011.

Technically this photo is very different to the photos I post via my Instagram account these days. What has remained, however, is that I like it when a streetcar or subway adds movement to the picture. In addition to this, the color yellow can be found throughout my photos. In the following photo I have combined the movement with a classical picture division (2:5) and a central perspective.

By way of the tracks, which seem to go on to infinity thanks to the perspective used, I try to compensate for the inherent weakness of an iPhone camera: The photos are sharp in the foreground right through to the background. Any depth has to be created by the lines in the picture.

An example of a photograph which applies the golden ratio and design lines is the next picture of the bridge Seebrücke in Sassnitz on the island Rügen. As a tourist location, Sassnitz is comparatively unimportant. The Seebrücke itself also does not have a little hut or similar attached. A person standing at the bridge will be disappointed. When I was there last, the sun was at its zenith and therefore the conditions for a photo were extremely unfavorable. However, the combination of clouds and colors made the photo a eye-catcher.

On Instagram, composition is important. The compositions, however, do not always have to conform to the conventions. Some Instagramers (some of them with over 250,000 followers), stubbornly ignore the golden ratio. Their photo’s horizon is exactly in the middle of the picture. Not everyone likes this. But it is nonetheless possible. For reflections in a puddle, a centered arrangement is particularly beneficial.

The fast-moving nature of the medium challenges you to be constantly producing pictures, it forgives redundancies, maybe even demands them. In this way a series of the same objects (e.g. a coffee cup) or places can easily be realized. Guido from Coblenz, a passionate jogger, takes a picture with his smartphone of a row of trees at the side of the road while he is out jogging every day. This educates the eye – also that of the viewer. Thus an impressive series was created. Have a look at it! I am not quite so consistent. However, I often photograph the subway when it, as above, emerges from the tunnel. A different mood is conveyed, depending on the weather, the time or day or the season.

An example of a typical composition from my street series is a photo I took on a cold winter’s morning in Vienna. The motive (street scenes, movement) is still recognizable. Nowadays I edit the photos differently. In this way they are more cheery, like here, where the sun is mirrored in the windows.

If you would like to see how my photos are changing, you are more than welcome to look at my “old” photos. I like looking at other Instagramers’ old photographs myself. I am also developing my own viewpoint by engaging with other users’ pictures.

Jörg Nicht

Jörg lives in Berlin and has been taking photos since he was 12. Now he has more than 270,000 followers on Instagram.

Instagram: www.instagram.com/jn
EyeEm: www.eyeem.com/jn_
Twitter: www.twitter.com/joergno
Tumblr: www.jnstagram.tumblr.com

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