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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Snapshots of the Instagram Debate, Through the Lens of Professionals

At a movie theater within the City Hall in Newtown, Conn., on Monday.Mark Peterson At a movie theater within the City Hall in Newtown, Conn., on Monday.

“During Hurricane Sandy, I was on assignment in Arizona. At the hotel where I was staying, they had really bad cable. The best way I could follow what was going on with the storm was by seeing the photos being posted to Instagram. It was amazing.”

That's how Mark Peterson, who has photographed many stories for the magazine over the past 20 years, described to me his regard for Instagram. But now Peterson is one of many professional photographers, many of them Times contributors, who are upset with the photo-sharing service for changing its terms of service on Monday to allow for the possible use of posted pictures in advertisements. Though Instagram has since clarified that posters retain rights to their work, Peterson and others still worry that their photos may be appropriated for advertisements or other uses in the future.

Yesterday, Peterson told me he had put up a black picture on Instagram. And, he said, “I won't post anything more until I hear more news.” As a result, the picture above, taken in Newtown, Conn., where Peterson was reporting last weekend, did not appear on Instagram; he said he would have posted it there but for his frustration with its policies.

That same impulse led Benjamin Lowy, an early adopter of iPhone photo technology, to refrain from posting this picture on Instagram:

Benjamin Lowy also reported in Newtown, Conn. He took this photograph of his son after returning home on Monday.Benjamin Lowy Benjamin Lowy also reported in Newtown, Conn. He took this photograph of his son after returning home on Monday.

Lowy, who reported his Afghanistan photo ess ay for the magazine last year with Hipstamatic, another iPhone app (when we saw its results, we switched our plans to use shots from his 35mm camera), explained that Instagram is a “community of like-minded individuals” and that photographers flocked to it for that reason.

“Professional photographers can be cagey about their work,” Lowy told me. But Instagram provides an unusual forum where they feel more comfortable being open and, he said, are “able to inspire each other.” Also, there is “less of a barrier” when it comes to taking pictures with an iPhone, as opposed to a large camera with a long lens. “You shoot with both eyes. That's unusual in the photo world.” Lowy added that he has been able to find work based on the photography he posts to Instagram. (The magazine itself has turned to Instagram for new photography; in August we published a photo essay of Instagram photos readers sent us from their rooftops.)

Another appeal of Instagram among professional photographers is that it's a good platform for experimentation. Peter van Agtmael told me he finds himself photographing things he wouldn't otherwise photograph, like still lifes and scenes from the street. Van Agtmael's most recent work for the magazine was for an article on recording the sounds of nature.

Red Hook, Brooklyn, Dec. 19, 2012.Peter van Agtmael Red Hook, Brooklyn, Dec. 19, 2012.

No one I spoke to assumed that the technology would remain free forever. “I would pay $100 a year for the app,” said Kathy Ryan, the director of photography for the magazine. “It gets me looking at things more closely. It's this graceful, liberating escape from the day where you can quickly make a picture.” Alex Prager, who was responsible for last year's Hollywood portfolio, suggested that Instagram require users to pay a subscription fee. Lowy, for his part, proposed that Instagram charge users a set amount and then divide that money between Instagram, which would keep a certain percentage, and photographers, who would collect a fee every time someone “liked” one of his or her photos.

For now, many photographers are waiting to see how Instagram revises its legal terms before making a decision about whether to use the app in the future.

In the meanti me, photographers are still taking Instagram-worthy photos, even if users may never see them on the app. Below, such a photograph from Damon Winter, who captured Venus and Serena Williams for the magazine earlier this year.

Juneau, Alaska, Dec. 18, 2012.Damon Winter Juneau, Alaska, Dec. 18, 2012.