How iPhone apps like Hipstamatic and Instagram have saved the art of child photography.
Back in the 1970s, your parents used to bore their friends and family with vacation slideshow “parties,” forcing guests to stare at images that only meant something to the people who took them. The rise of digital photography had the same impact on kid pics—with the cost of printing eliminated, new parents were free to snap a bazillion photos of their offspring and spam their friends’ inboxes and Facebook feeds.
Now, this may read hypocritical to my own Facebook friends, considering the admittedly ridiculous frequency with which I’ve posted pics of my own son Emile since he arrived two years ago. But something else was born around that time—Hipstamatic, followed a year later by Instagram.
The primary problem with digital photography is that it’s too perfect—the point-and-shoot variety may accurately capture reality, but reality has almost nothing to do with photography.
Analog photographers created art though composition, film stock (I was an Ilford Delta man, myself), aperture/shutter settings and, of course, the printing process, where an enlarger allowed them to crop the image, amp the contrast and bring out the grain.
When the Hipstamatic app first came out, many derided it as retro-fetishism. Sure, the silly name didn’t help, but the retro thing is a red herring considering the popularity of these sorts of photo apps—with their square shapes, hyper and hypo saturation, colour filters and assorted effects—have made their images as much a visual signifier of our times as Polaroid or Kodachrome were of earlier eras.
Hipstamatic costs $1.99 with subsequent hipstapaks of lenses (some designed in collaboration with noted photogs like Ben Watts and Guy Aroch), film stocks, cases and flash gels costing another buck each. But I prefer Hipstamatic over the free Instagram because its combinations produce more interesting and unexpected results during the picture-taking process rather than applying filters after the fact, which almost feels like Photoshop-esque cheating. That said, Instagram boasts a more robust social-networking side and a tilt-shift feature that makes your child look like a miniature doll (though you can always run hipstaprints through Instagram’s filters afterward).
What all these apps do, despite being software algorithms, is bring analog art to digital photography. This is especially important when taking multiple images of the same subject, which is what new parents do. However, iPhone photography also allows for spontaneity because it’s always in your pocket, and that’s the most important trick for taking good pics of your kid.
Unless you’re a professional, trying to set-up a studio-style shoot—or even getting your kid to pose—is generally a fool’s errand. Kids are impatient, bad at following instructions and lose interest faster than Kim Kardashian. You may have a proper digital SLR, but even the time it takes to pull out the camera—much less make sure you have the right lens and settings—can result in a lost moment in time, not to mention that it turns your child’s attention to the camera rather than whatever they were doing. Whereas an iPhone (or any other smartphone) lets you quickly capture unguarded moments in the playground or backyard or bathtub without sparking the faux smiles that kids tend to put on in front of proper cameras.
Add in the variables and effects of photo apps—which can make mundane situations like splashpad-playing or Lego construction look magical—and you just might turn your figurative work of art into an actual one.