The digital world is awash in social media, and it’s not all pointless commentary and duck-lipped selfies. Amazing creativity is happening in cyberspace, especially in the realm of photography. Perpetually improving cell-phone picture quality and platforms such as Instagram provide local photographers opportunities to become globally known artists.
Jill Emmer and Janet Skalicky of Edina have embraced Instagram as a way to display their creativity and build online photo galleries. Along the way, they’ve experienced the added benefit of an online community of photographers who share a passion for capturing great shots.
Photos by Jill Emmer
Jill Emmer was always the girl with a camera on school field trips and family vacations. So Instagram seemed like a natural fit for this Edina mother of two. “I had a private account for a year before I started a public account,” Emmer says. Her private account is where she posts pictures of her family and where she followed others who post pictures of funny bumper stickers or their kid’s new shoes. “I thought that was all Instagram was,” she says. Then one day, Emmer captured a shot of a running deer. She posted the photo on Instagram but noticed her friends were uninterested even though she knew the picture was pretty good. So she started posting pictures on a public account, titled after a Pink Floyd song lyric, and immediately her work began getting positive feedback.
“I thought I was a nature photographer,” says Emmer. But that only lasted three or four months before Emmer’s more minimalist aesthetic began to show up in her photographs. Now, her work is more modern and ethereal; no more sunsets. Art lovers, news outlets and retailers have taken notice. “People have asked to purchase prints of my photos,” Emmer says. And companies have contacted Emmer to enlist her help in promoting events.
Emmer offers some prints for sale via shineonphotos.com. But she’s selective about which photos to post online. “I only post photos I’d want to frame,” says Emmer, who considers Instagram her gallery.
Her attention to quality and creativity has gotten worldwide notice. “Instagram has regular photography challenges,” says Emmer. “I like the challenges because they inspire me to do things I wouldn’t usually do” like take a series of photos featuring balloons. Emmer has had one of her photographs featured three times through Instagram challenges, resulting in 800-1,000 new followers in 48 hours. She’s now a suggested user on Instagram.
Photo by Jill Emmer
Instameets and Instagram etiquette
Instameets are organized events where Instagram photographers gather in person to socialize, be inspired and, of course, take pictures. Janet Skalicky’s first Instameet was at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum last fall. “It’s not a place I would usually photograph. I went to meet people,” she says.
Emmer adds, “The social aspect is my favorite part of shooting for Instagram.” She tells of a series of photographs she shot using a rainbow-colored umbrella as a prop. She received many compliments on the photos and also requests about where to find a similar umbrella. Instead, Emmer opted to ship her umbrella to Instagram friends who requested it. She says, “It’s currently with an Instagram photographer in Australia, who was so excited to get it and begin posting photos using the same hashtag I did.”
The social spark around this shared passion is so strong that Emmer and Skalicky admit they could have conversed about Instagram for hours after our interview for this story ended. Since their initial meeting at the arboretum, the two have become friends.
Photos by Janet Skalicky
Skalicky began using Instagram while on vacation when her then 17-year-old daughter taught her how the phone app works. Skalicky’s creative background includes a college photography class and her work as a freelance graphic designer, where she often art-directs elegant food photos for magazines. But Skalicky has always been attracted to gritty photographs of abandoned or historic buildings, rusted metals and patinated artifacts. It’s those types of photos that have emerged as Skalicky’s signature work on her Instagram account.
Becoming an Instagram photographer has changed the way Skalicky travels. She now plans trips around Internet searches for abandoned buildings where she finds beauty in forgotten remnants of history and industry. But as an artist, Skalicky is choosy about the photographs she posts. “Not all abandoned things are pretty,” she says.
Photo editing software helps Skalicky crop her photos and highlight the most interesting elements. Her photographer’s toolkit also includes an iPhone-specific tripod and an Olloclip, a photo lens device she attaches to her iPhone to capture wide-angle or macro shots.
Instagram photographs can be grouped using hashtags, or descriptive words placed immediately after the # symbol. For example, some of Skalicky’s photos might include hashtag captions such as #urbandecay, #urbanart or #beautyindecay to help likeminded art lovers find her work by searching the hashtags. “I often think in hashtags and keep a hashtag file for inspiration,” Skalicky says.
In addition to her newfound passion for phone photography, Skalicky has discovered connections to Instagram’s global social network of photographers and art lovers. She’s also found a new way to connect with her adult son who lives in Chicago. He shares Skalicky’s interest in photographing abandoned buildings and the two go on urban exploring adventures whenever she visits. She says other photographers at the same sites are always friendly. Although when people ask where she took a particular shot, Skalicky is typically tight-lipped, as her photo sessions are mostly stealth missions with an element of risk not suitable for everyone.
Photo by Jill Emmer
Tips for Artistic Instagrammers
- Post what you love.
- Post only one to two photos per day.
- Use hashtags to group your photos and help create community.
- Interact by commenting on others’ photographs.
- Attempt an Instagram challenge.
- Attend Instameets. Bring a creative idea; be conscientious about others’ ideas and refrain from co-opting them as your own.
- Try editing apps such as InstaSize or SnapSeed.
- No selfies unless they are truly amazing self-portraits.