Chances are you’ve heard of Instagram by now.
And in Wichita, it has helped create a community of budding photographers who specialize in taking scenic pictures of Wichita and the surrounding area.
“Right now, there’s a huge street photography boom because of Instagram, and a lot of kids are kind of feeding into that,” said Xavier Leija, moderator of the IGWichita account. “It’s become huge.”
All about IGWichita
IGWichita was founded just more than two years ago by Jason Villanueva, a professional photographer who wanted to highlight the work of Wichita photographers on Instagram.
Modeled after similar accounts in Kansas City and Oklahoma, it reposts photos submitted to Instagram with the hashtag #IGWichita.
“If you look through IGWichita, you get novice to professional,” Villanueva said of the photography. “You get the entire gamut of what people are shooting all in one feed. The level and quality of images that we repost now is very different from what we reposted in the beginning.”
Since its founding, IGWichita has created a community of loyal photographers who hope to be “featured” on the account.
During the most recent Final Friday, IGWichita opened an in-person exhibition at Reverie Coffee Roasters featuring three local Instagram photographers. The group plans similar Final Friday openings at Hopping Gnome Brewing Company and R Coffeehouse later this year, Villanueva said.
Being featured on IGWichita is a big deal for a young photographer, said Caroline Ragatz, an 18-year-old Wichita State University student and frequent Instagram photographer.
“When I got my first feature, it made me feel like I was really getting into something, and it was one of the deciding factors for me to get a real camera and actually start this,” Ragatz said. “It’s definitely a community-builder.”
For her, Instagram exposure has led to gigs shooting senior pictures and establishing a photography business on the side.
So what type of photos can you expect to see on IGWichita?
“Architecture’s becoming a big thing again for younger artists, cityscapes, rooftopping – mostly just urban exploring,” Leija said. “A lot of (abandoned buildings), the whole street thing, the grungy edginess.”
Perhaps more than any other social media platform, Instagram has created a community of photographers that crosses over into real life, Leija said.
“What it’s done is it’s made people less afraid to interact with each other, in Wichita especially,” Leija said. “Until you get to a certain level, it’s always scary to reach out to people in the community, because you don’t know how they’re going to respond.
“I think it’s going to be an ongoing trend, especially in Wichita, with the way it’s growing.”
Those photos don’t go unnoticed by local businesses, either. Leija said local branding agencies and corporations have reached out to IGWichita, attempting to get hold of photographers it has featured.
“It’s become a gateway,” he said. “Because of all the traffic we’ve gained and all the positive expressions I’ve heard from other artists, business could definitely be on board. It could become the hub for photography in Wichita. There’s endless possibilities.”
‘If you’re boring, you’re dead’
Instagram may seem a conundrum for professional photographers.
Why put your professionally taken photos online where theoretically anyone can rip them off without permission?
Jim Richardson, a Lindsborg-based photographer – and frequent photographer for National Geographic – commands a following of more than 385,000 on Instagram.
He occasionally contributes to the National Geographic feed, which has nearly 75 million followers, and the National Geographic Travel feed, which has more than 16 million followers.
It’s crucial for professional photographers to be on Instagram these days, he said – both from a branding perspective and simply because “pictures always have to get in front of eyeballs if they’re going to work.”
Photos on the site often eschew traditional photography norms, he said, which can be perplexing.
“Instagram is sort of the repudiation of those old rules of what makes a good picture – now you have to say that a good picture is the one that gets likes,” Richardson said. “That upended many of our preconceptions, what we thought we knew about pictures and what people liked. It turned out many of us photographers were wrong.”
Richardson is known online for his lush photographs of Scotland and other scenic destinations. Photos like that – “enlightening and refreshing” ones – often get the most likes, he said.
But even for a National Geographic photographer, the difference between professional photographers and amateurs or hobbyists on Instagram has become “pretty much invisible,” Richardson said. The quality of photography, even from iPhones, has increased dramatically in recent years, he said.
“When I started out in photography, everyone started out in newspapers – that’s where you honed your craft and started to build a reputation,” he said. “That’s been almost totally replaced now by the social media world, in which you build a profile and followers.
“If you’re boring, you’re dead – no matter what title you have on your name.”
Richardson calls Instagram “a great lesson in the democracy of imagery and the way that photographs have become a language that we speak to people in.”
“While that was happening in other social media platforms – Facebook and all – nothing has matched the scale and popularity of Instagram,” he said. “It’s just a phenomenon of our age.”
Mobile photo apps to get you started
Sure, you can take photos directly in the Instagram app and use its filters, but there are many other photography apps for iPhone and Android that will let you take fun pictures.
A few popular options: