It may come as no surprise to hear that Instagram is one of the fastest-growing social media applications in the world. A study by the digital business analytics company comScore found that the picture-sharing site surpassed Twitter in active users for the first time in August, with 7.3 million active users per day to Twitter's 6.9 million, and that Instagram users were spending more time interacting with the service.
It's still behind when it comes to active users per month, however, but that may change with the recent announcement that the Facebook-owned Instagram is now in the process of rolling out Web browser-based profiles. Until now it was only available on mobile devices.
If your social network is anything like mine, that's going to mean more and more images of food and drinks to scroll through. The thinking seems to be, if you consume an alcoholic beverage and don't instantly post an image of it to social media, did you really drink it?
"I think Instagram has shifted from being a showcase for great mobile photography, though that's still a major factor in its popularity, to being more about people simply sharing whatever they're doing or thinking at a given moment. It's the closest thing we have to a visual version of Twitter," explains Kris Holt, a social media expert and staff writer at the Daily Dot, the self-described Hometown Newspaper of the Web.
That adds up to a lot of shared cocktails. Millions of them. And only about 85 percent of those pictures are boring.
"People love to eat and drink, and they love to tell their friends what they're eating and drinking," Holt says. "Showing is better than telling in most cases, and being able to do that instantly, while they're at a restaurant or bar, has helped make Instagram as popular as it is."
Whether we actually want to see what our friends are eating and drinking is another matter. While many have complained at one point or another about friends posting photos of meals and cocktails on Instagram, the practice doesn't appear to be going away anytime soon, so we might as well try to get a little better at it. Here are a few tips for Instagramming like a pro, or at the very least, a slightly more interesting amateur.
Choose your subject wisely
Do you have bad taste in drinks? Guess what, you're also bad at Instagram. No one wants to see a picture of your basic bottle of macro-swill next to a plate of half-eaten nachos. A surprising, or hard to find, or newly available brew? Yes please, let us know about it; that's newsworthy.
Yes, a skilled photographer can manage to tease out the beauty of the most mundane of objects, but you're not a skilled photographer, you're a nerd at a bar with an iPhone and crippling social paranoia. Choosing your subject matter wisely is the first step.
Get up close
Did you take that shot of your cocktail through the window of a plane? Get up close and personal with your drink. Show us a detail we wouldn't normally see. It's the difference between recording an event that happened and introducing us to a new way of looking at something we've seen before. Art (and cocktails themselves, actually) is about specificity of detail.
"Don't shoot from your normal eye height," says photographer Stephen Sheffield, who has an exhibition of his work showing at the Panopticon Gallery. "Mix it up. Shoot from low, shoot from straight down, angle the view."
"If you ask me, the closer the picture of food or drink the better," says Jon Berkowitz, a writer for BeantownEats who tweets about cocktails at @BeantownDrinks. "Different angles and partial pieces of images work wonderfully on Instagram to create interest and a sense of wonder for other viewers. Most often, when a whole dish or drink is photographed, you lose that sense of wonder and viewers probably have seen it or something similar before. By showing them a different side of familiar, it creates a new perspective for them."
Show and tell
Looks like you've got yourself a nice tall glass of, uh, something right there. What are you actually drinking? Is it a cocktail? Tell us the ingredients. You don't have to go into the exact recipe ounce by ounce, although that's appreciated, but what you've got there just looks like reddish brown liquid to us otherwise. There's a reason why people spend so much time staring at the little placards next to pictures in art museums — information is more compelling to us than abstraction. A picture is worth a thousand words, but a picture with a couple dozen words attached is worth, like, 1,024 words.
Light it up
Is the condensation on the glass playing pretty tricks with the bar's lighting? Is there actually lighting in the bar? If not, spare us the shadowy blob shot. Once the subject matter is chosen, photography is essentially about the manipulation of light. "Sneak the table-candle or an existing light source behind the drink to get it to glow through the liquid," recommends Sheffield.
"The main suggestion I have is to take cocktail photos, or any food and drink photos, close to a good source of light," says Holt. "Camera phones aren't often great in low-light settings, so the more natural light you can get at the restaurant or bar the better. Sit close to a window when it's light out, steer clear of directly overhead spotlights, keep the light source behind you if possible, and avoid ever using a flash."
But, he adds, "if you have a particularly colorful cocktail, applying an Instagram filter might wash out the color and rob it of its main effect. Instead, try using the tilt-shift feature to make the cocktail pop." That's good advice. In fact, lose the filters altogether when you have a good shot.
Context is key
"This is possibly the most important aspect to not having boring food or drink photos on Instagram," says Berkowitz. "Circumstances can make or break your picture. Telling your followers the reason for a cocktail gives them a deeper understanding and also tells a story. A glass of champagne is a pretty boring picture but a glass of champagne on a special occasion changes the picture dramatically. Be sure to caption your photos appropriately."
Similarly, let us know where you ordered the drink. It seems obvious, but so many people leave out this type of crucial information. Is this something from your new favorite bar in town? That's information the rest of us can use.
Follow Luke O’Neil on Instagram at @lukeoneil47.