Changing Expectations with Instagram’s New Avatar

a_texan_winestopper_-_october_21__2016_at_0507pmFor me, Instagram has always been a place to share my phone camera’s photos. I have seen others including National Geographic and 500px share their professional shots and I’ve come to accept that. But personally, I like the constraints that a phone camera (aka iPhone for me) imposes on you. Initially it was the square format but now you can post your 4×6 photos as well. The filters allowed you to treat your photos like art (I never really understood the #NoFilter [1].)

With each iteration, phone cameras are getting better and better. Right now, even with the smaller sensor size, they allow for RAW capture that you can edit in apps like Lightroom, Enlight, Snapseed, VSCO, etc. that are almost as good as their desktop versions. With speciality apps like Prisma, there’s no illusion for depicting reality as it literally urges you to treat your photos like art. That’s a direction I like. However, with Instagram, if you follow the right people, there’s always the expectation of showing off your best photos. Although now you have your ‘camera’ on you all the time, the pressure to capture great photos can get to you and more often than not, you’re less likely to post if your previous one was really good.

more_lucy____-_september_24__2016_at_0751pmOf course, there’s an entire parallel and even larger community that is using Instagram to share photos, good or not. But most of this community had been living on Snapchat where no one is appreciating your photos but rather looking for where you are and what you are doing. The photos take a backseat and sometimes literally, with the countless overlays of emojis and text. To take that on, Instagram launched its newest feature – Stories. Photos that you’ve taken in the last 24 hours can be added to one stream with no captions, titles, or even locations [2]. But more importantly, there’s no pressure to edit your photos or present the best of them. You just click and share with minimal tagging with colors, emojis, or text. More importantly, like Snapchat, these stories disappear in 24 hours.

So with one notable addition, Instagram has resolved that dilemma of whether a photo is good enough to share on your feed or not. Now you basically can ‘dump’ your so-so photos in the Stories and curate the best ones for your main feed. Think of your main feed as your primary gallery showcasing your best works and your stories as the behind-the-scenes process. It’s the director’s commentary for your movie. Heck, the commentary may be for a movie that never made it to the screen or a movie that has no commentary at all. All the rules are out the window.

I follow some insanely talented photographers on Instagram and their ‘stories’ in terms of the photo quality can be crap but it’s fun taking a look behind the scenes. Or the cook who shares the final product on the main feed and all the steps involved in 10 separate photos on the Story, with a few videos thrown in. This Instagram I like and it may be Mark Zuckerberg’s wisest acquisition at what now seems like a steal.

  1. I never quite got the intent behind #NoFilter. Is it meant to indicate that this scene I’m presenting to you is just as glorious as it looks? That implied that your other photos are heavily edited to make them look pretty. I’ve no problems with either except I don’t believe photos always are intended to depict WSIWYG unless you’re doing photo journalism in Aleppo. []
  2. A sign of my greying age is that I had to google to find out how to use it the right way. But soon, I was somewhat mollified when others asked me about it []

My Photo Management Approach

I’ve been interested and involved in amateur photography for a while now. I started shooting with film and even got around to developing in a darkroom before photography went completely digital. I think my parents still have my crappy first attempts at shooting the Taj Mahal when we first visited it in 1989.

Not Windows XP

Butler Park, Austin

It takes time to develop the technique and have an eye for capturing the right moments or the right angle but all I can say is that it gets better, the more you shoot. Shoot a hundred, keep about 10, and show only 3 and soon people start thinking that all of your photos look like the 3 you show them. You don’t have to dispel that notion.

But given the ease and often ephemeral nature of photos these days, don’t neglect the importance of backing up your photos. I’m describing the approach I use and yours may be different given the tools you use.

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The Missing Likes on your Instagram photos

Update: This seems to have been quietly fixed on Facebook now.

There are two ways you can ‘like’ a photo on Facebook when shared with Instagram. One is when you click the photo to enlarge it and click on ‘like’ and the second is when you just click ‘like’ in your News Feed without enlarging the photo. Strange, right? Especially since both ‘likes’ are for the same photo.

Instagram lets you connect to Facebook and share your photos on your Timeline the same time you publish it on Instagram. You can also go back to a photo in your Instgram and click Share on Facebook and enter a different caption than the one you used on your original image within Instagram. These two methods worked seamlessly before but nowadays are at best unreliable. You choose to share on Facebook and for hours nothing shows up on Facebook so you go back to Instagram and explicitly share again and now two copies show up. At other times, the first method works as advertised.

Back to the original problem of two sets of ‘likes’ on the same photo. Facebook changed the way Instagram photos showed up on the News Feed. Earlier it just showed up as a photo upload and marked it as Via Instagram just like it would if you uploaded it using iPhoto or Lightroom on your desktop. Now it classifies Instagram as an app and says, ‘XYZ took a photo with Instagram’ with XYZ, photo, and Instagram all hyperlinked. So if you like this ‘activity,’ you end up liking only this activity that has one photo, akin to liking an album versus liking a photo in that album. Only if you click the photo, you end up liking the actual photo. People in a hurry end up liking the Instagram activity involving just one photo whereas others like the photo. But strangely, those two types of ‘likes’ never meet.

Why would Facebook make this so confusing? If only they bought Instagram and made photos uploaded via the app, part of Facebook…oh wait!

Tough Guy Challenge 2009 Photos

Amazing photos from what they call the “the safest most dangerous taste of physical and mental endurance pain in the world” called the Tough Guy Challenge. Why ‘Tough Guy’ when I can see at least one woman in the pictures or is it generic as in ‘hey guys’? I love the guy in the Borat costume; you wouldn’t want to wear that when running through fire.

Photos of the Sun

Amazing pictures of the sun. And so many of them remind me of the eye of Sauron.

Images from Hurricane Ike

Hurricane Ike

Images from destruction wrought on by Hurricane Ike. Fortunately, our town College Station remained largely unscathed and only a few toppled trees, scattered vegetation debris, and gushing streams provided any indication of a passing hurricane.

A Texas Fall

I know it is December and time already for snow to fall but you see, in Texas we like to savor our season and tend to hang on to them for a little longer. I’m sure Texas doesn’t readily leap to your mind when you think of a glorious autumn with red trees along melancholic yellow pathways. no one ever drives down here to get a taste of the brilliant fall season but when one lives here, you got to make do with whatever you have. Especially when getting out of the state alone is equivalent of driving through five northeastern states.

I wouldn’t bother heading out trying to capture whatever fall presents us in Texas but as I have repeatedly hammered into your heads that I just bought a Nikon D40, the urge to look for pictures everywhere is kinda overwhelming. My only class this semester although technically on-campus is located in a building that is considered the westernmost extent of a sprawling Texas A&M campus. Although Texas A&M with its military-style barrack (not baroque) architecture (thanks to its Corps of Cadets history) finds itself in a list of the country’s ugliest campuses, it has its share of beauty.

The building I mentioned before is actually part of the privately-owned Research Park and is landscaped with an artificial creek and tree-lined pathways where townsfolk come to get their dogs loose. I have been eying this park ever since I have attended three classes in this building (getting a certificate in ArcGIS, you see). So thanks to the newly-acquired (ok! I know you know) Nikon D40 and hints of falls visible, Ash and I head out there one evening. We are blessed with an unusually pleasant and warm evening with only a nip in the air. Lots of people with their dogs going crazy and absolutely still air with an occasional whiff of breeze. As the evening progressed, the sky decided to flare up with bright reds and oranges (not the fruit). Texas is known for its brilliant skies and sunsets but this evening was extra-special as if it was making it worthwhile for us. The air was absolutely still at times which reflected the skies perfectly in the water presenting unique photo ops that I went crazy over.

More pictures after the jump. Click for larger view:

The Lake at Centeq Research Park, Texas A&M

A lake full of sky

Green Parkway

Orange Skies over Texas


Finally a DSLR

After waiting for more than two+ years, I finally got myself a DSLR – a Nikon D40. Although I had a digital point-and-shoot Olympus C-770 Ultra Zoom for nearly two years, the pleasure of taking photographs with an SLR is something that you cannot explain. Most professional photographers tell you that the camera does not matter but we don’t see them using a point-and-shoot. There is something different (as in Maggi Ketchup different) about handling and shooting photographs with a SLR.

Before the whole digital pixels exploded, I was quite comfortable with my Nikon F60 film SLR but seeing everyone clicking away to glory while I patiently weighed the pros and cons of consuming one frame in my 36-photo film roll helped my green monster rear its ugly head. And going from a SLR to a point-and-shoot even if it is digital isn’t easy on your amateur photographer morale although I must admit, the Olympus one was almost there.

But thanks to the upcoming wedding and potential for cashing in on all those blessings for the married couple, I got myself the Nikon D40. I had my eyes on the D80 but the price difference was too much. After carefully poring over Ken Rockwell’s reviews for both the models, I decided to go for the low-priced yet powerful camera. Don’t ask me why but I’m a Nikon guy so although I did look at Canon models, I didn’t really seriously consider them. I am aware of all the limitations of the D40 including the primary one that the autofocus motor isn’t in the body but in the lenses thus making buying additional lenses an expensive proposition. But I don’t see myself going beyond the couple of other basic lenses i.e. 55-200mm AF-S DX VR and 50mm f1.8/D (if you are still wondering what to get me as a wedding gift, the hints cannot be any more obvious) simply because I don’t intend going professional or try selling my prints.

If you are looking to buying the D40 as well, I must suggest that you stay away from the two-lens kit that Amazon recommends because the longer zoom lens doesn’t come with VR (vibration reduction). Trust me, you may not need VR with the kit lens but you sure do with the longer lenses as vibrations tend to be amplified over long-distance zooms. Anyway, a tripod is a must if you insist on getting close from afar. However, if you must get both lenses at the same time, just get the D40 with the kit lens and add the 55-200mm separately. Nikon has a deal going on right now where they knock off $100 from the price if you get both the items. I bought the camera a few days before the deal was announced and no matter how hard I tried wrangling this deal for me, the customer service at Amazon had only one insanely wasteful suggestion – return your new camera and buy it again with the deal. As far as necessary accessories go, don’t forget the UV Filter which is for protection of your lens from physical damage rather than UV, an extra battery that comes in a smart bag, and of course a memory card with ample space. Don’t fall for the more-the-megapixel-the-better myth, 6MP ought to be enough for everyone unless you are in the billboard printing business.

Anyway, the process of buying apart, the Nikon D40 is a breeze to use and is ready to shoot right out of the box although I recommend charging the battery fully before first use. Its amazingly light weight makes it easier to carry around especially around your neck when you are out the whole day shooting. The LCD screen doesn’t offer a preview of your shot but just the shooting info. You must use the viewfinder to preview your photo before shooting just like a traditional SLR. Although this may seem like a major downside, it in fact helps in conserving battery which may last for 400-500 shots. You can always review the photo once you take it. The 18-55mm kit lens should suffice for most amateur and hobby photographers.

Menu options are readily available on the left of the screen and best of all, it preserves your settings even after you switch off your camera (my Olympus didn’t). The colors are vibrant and sharp. They can be juiced up even more by using the Vivid option in the Custom Setting Menu or the Color Booster in the PicturePerfect bundled software. The White Balance fine tuning is another setting I use quite often. It is a must if you are addicted to sunset shots. For the purist in you, the Autofocus can be switched off and you can go into complete manual mode. As Ken Rockwell suggests, I recommend using the Continuous shooting mode so that you continue to take pictures as long as the shutter button is pressed down. You can always select the best picture later (ah! the luxuries of digital). And if you hate fiddling around with controls, there is always that reliable Auto mode for you. I call it the ‘wife setting’ :) Of course, no offense meant to those excellent women photographers.

I am still playing around and experimenting with the camera so I may not be aware of all its capabilities but you can take a look at my first attempts (posted after Nov.19). If you have been using the Nikon D40 and have discovered personal tweaks, feel free to share it.

Supari Ganpati

Supari Ganpati

This is a Ganpati carved from a supari that rests on one of our side tables. I admit, the photo doesn’t indicate its size but if you know how small a supari is, you get the idea. And yes, this was taken by my latest acquisition, a Nikon D40. And nope, it wasn’t the first photograph I took with a new camera as some like to do for good luck. That honor goes to this image. Doesn’t this ‘scuplture’ remind you of the umpteen rocks that are painted with vermilion and worshiped? More on the camera once I’ve explored it enough.

Sanjaya Malakar moves on; Shyamali falters

This post on the singing Malakar siblings has attracted more than 2,500 a lot of visitors to this blog; one of the most popular pages after I installed Mint. I guess I should provide a little update on their progress on American Idol. The Indian-American brother sister pair made a splash couple of weeks back when they wowed the judges with their melodious voices.

However, today in the preliminary rounds during which only 40 contestants made it, the Malakar siblings were split up in separate rooms. One room would make it and the other wouldn’t. It turned out that Sanjaya made it and Shyamali was eliminated. Too bad, they would have made for perfect reality TV material. But I guess, the better singer got through. I had contacted Shyamali via her MySpace profile page to ask her about the American Idol experience. Actually I had contacted both siblings but only Shyamali got back. Unfortunately they are bound to Fox contractually that doesn’t allow them to speak to anyone which is perfectly understandable. Maybe I’ll wait a while and contact her again.

Sanjaya and Shyamali were all smiles before the rounds began but unfortunately it ended quite different with the brother consoling his crying sister instead of wildly celebrating like other participants . I’m sure they fight a lot at home but certainly make an ideal sibling pair on television.

They didn’t show her performance on TV so it is difficult to judge whether she deserved to stay on.

Update: There are far more serious American Idol fan blogs out there who keep a tab on ALL contestants. I just keep a tab on two and one is already out. The Idol Blog Live is announcing a rumor that Sanjaya has made it to the top 24.

Update#1: Yup! it is official. Sanjaya made it to the next round of 24. Let’s wish him all the best for the studio performance.

Update#2: Sanjaya’s official Americal Idol interview:

Favorite male pop artists?
Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson

Favorite female pop artists?
Lauryn Hill, Susan Tedeschi

When did you first start to sing?
Once I stopped crying.

Do you have any formal singing training?

What other talents do you have?
Culinary Arts.

If you don’t make it on AMERICAN IDOL, what will you do?
Use the experience to further my career.

More Q&A at American Idol website.

Update#3: In spite of the brouhaha wanting to see Sanjaya go home, he is making little girls cry and becoming more popular.

Update#4: Since there are a lot of searches coming here for Shyamali’s (and Sanjaya) pictures, here are a few more.These are either from Shyamali’s Myspace profile page or from television screen captures posted by readers on Slimtainment’s Idolblog.

After Sanjaya’s performance at American Idol [video.]

Here is a video of Shyamali talking to her fans

Flickr Interestingness Pool

Flickr Interesting

A damn useful tool to view the Flickr’s pool of Interestingness.

Technorati Tags: flickr, photos, interestingness, web 2.0, tagging

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Texas Sky

Texas sky

One thing I like about Texas is it’s beautiful sky.

More images:

Orange Skies over Texas

Reflected Sunset

Mottled White


Fading memories captured forever

I wish I could have blogged more from India when I was down there for my vacation. But as I mentioned before, I met more people both friends and relatives than I expected to. I had imagined spending a quiet vacation at home, traveling infrequently to my maushi’s place and meeting up with few bloggers. Instead, I found myself shuttling between Panvel and Bombay almost every week honoring social and family commitments.

But of course, the time I spend at home in Panvel was special for reasons apart from hogging my mom’s delicious cooking and spending time with couple of my best friends, who have a cute kid now. I had been planning on archiving our family photographs for a long time now especially after my dad had bought a scanner several years ago. But somehow I never got around to doing it. But after looking at the tremendous loss of property during the July 26 floods, I had decided to do this if nothing else during my trip home. I wouldn’t want to lose our childhood photographs to some unforeseen natural calamity.

Couple of days after settling in at home, I brought out our entire collection of photographs; most of which were fading away to glory. My dad was an avid photographer and as my mom described it; we were the subject of his hobby. He brought out his Yashica out every Sunday and snapped dozens of pictures; of course more of me than of my younger brother. I guess, by the time you have a second child it is no longer as fun as the first time. The poor guy, my younger brother clearly has less than half the pictures as I do and most of his photographs have me in the background as well. Such is the downside of being the younger sibling; of course there are umpteen upsides.

Mostly black and white, the photographs were a wonderful insight into my childhood as my parents had painstakingly organized every picture in chronological order. Although I had seen the pictures hundreds of times before, each time I do, it reminds me of a fun childhood. It is amazing that you tend to remember much of your childhood mostly through your photographs; much like still memories than moving images. For most part
of my life, we have lived as a nuclear family so pictures of four of us dominate the memories. Of course, initial years include grandparents, paternal aunts and uncles but they have slowly faded into a hazy memory more so due to turbulences in family affairs than simply due to passage of time. The best pictures are those with either my mother or my father individually; simply because they turned out to be more candid than otherwise clichéd posed family photographs. There are entire incidents some more pleasant than others associated with a single photograph that we undoubtedly would have forgotten if not for the picture.

I managed to scan almost all of my pictures, my brother’s pictures and our memorable family vacation pictures (I hope my brother scans the rest i.e. my parent’s pre-marriage and wedding pictures and adds to the collection when he gets back to India). Although I selectively scanned them, they amount to more than 600 photographs. Now, I can print any photograph to any size I want; I already have printed a couple for my mom to put up on our fridge. I also burned them on three CDs; one each for my parents, my brother and for me. I also plan to put the entire collection up on Flickr; of course password-protected and accessible only to family members. Don’t worry; I’ll give a small glimpse into my childhood by putting up few photographs that I love the most. I hope this effort will help in preserving our family memories in a better manner and beat the ravages of time.

With my dad (1979)


With my mom (1978)


With my brother (1981)


The family on Marine Drive (1981)

So now you can see why I didn’t blog much.

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