Square, us? Instagram makes its photo size rule obsolete

Square, us? Instagram makes its photo size rule obsolete

You can’t keep Instagram out of the news.

Already the brightest star in the social media firmament, IG is generating ever more heat this summer.

I wrote on this blog in June how Instagram had sparked a style debate when it redesigned its website to make it look more aesthetic, more sparse and clean.

Then, in July, the buzz surrounding IG generated another post when it became apparent that the most savvy of the new breed of style and fashion bloggers were making small fortunes by working with brands.

Now comes arguably the biggest IG news of the season: it has ripped up its rulebook and is allowing people to post any shape of photo. The square format is no longer the only option.

When posting a photo, there is now an option to change to landscape or upright to best show the photo. Or you just stay being a square.

I, for one, am happy to be square. I’m a big fan of the format as it has forced users to be creative, to think about the shot. Symmetry has become a big, and attractive, feature of IG shots as a result.

Instagram says the change will help people become more creative. IG product designer Christine Choi told Techcrunch : “You can tell your visual story without having to worry about it fitting perfectly in the app.”

But that’s the whole point of Instagram!! Now people who don’t have to think about the composition of the photo can slap anything up. You don’t even have to think, says Instagram!

One in five photos that already appear on Instagram have white space around them: now the proportion is set to rocket. The number of clean, aesthetic site of well-taken and symmetrical photos will decline.

And IG will suffer as a result. There are any number of photo sharing sites out there: Instagram’s appeal has largely been built on its rigidity.

It doesn’t allow links, you can only post via a smartphone and – until now – it was square. The hard and fast rules have put off many of the timewasters and spammers: it became a rather beautiful gallery that people put effort into.

The new rule also applies to video, while Instagram is also making its filters available in both video and still formats.

Am I over-reacting? Quite possibly. The best Instagrammers will continue to use the platform as, frankly, many have found brand recognition too valuable to throw away.

The Techcrunch report suggests fashion bloggers actually ‘hated’ the square format as, and I quote, it forced them to “crop out the shoes” on fashion shots.

Maybe that’s part of IG’s rationale. Fashion IGers are the darlings of brands who want to get their products featured: perhaps it’s too lucrative a combination to ignore.

Instagram is, of course, opening up its platform to advertisers in the next few months via its parent company – Facebook. Heaven forfend that the two are related.

Technology should of course evolve. But this is a design mistake, a loss to its credo. Most commentators on a Guardian report agree too. “Its unique square aesthetic is what encouraged creativity,” says @krokodilo.

But, hey. Which social media platform hasn’t hacked off users in some way over the years? This is just another chipping away of the ethos, another slip along the road. And we’ll continue to use it.

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Steve Keenan has been a travel journalist for 25 years. He started at a Reed paper, news editing at Travel News in London - now Travel Weekly - having spent a decade reporting general news in the UK and abroad. He also taught English in Peru, delivered cars in the USA, ran the Sydney desk at AAP and took the train home from Hong Kong. He left Travel News in 1990 to freelance for several publications, including The Times of London, which he later joined as deputy travel editor. In December 2004, he became the first national digital travel editor in the UK, running the combined travel website of The Times and Sunday Times. The introduction of a paywall at the papers in 2010 persuaded him that the connected world might continue outside of Wapping and he left to co-found Travel Perspective. The company runs the social media seminars at World Travel Market London, and works with Reed Expos and others in helping the travel and tourism industry best communicate stories in all forms of publishing.

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