Quick sharing of photos whilst outdoors: Instagram

Over the last few trips, I have been experimenting with different services for ‘instantly’ sharing photos. I am by no means a good photographer, but often I see something I think others will find interesting and I want to point, shoot and share to my preferred networks from my phone with the minimal amount of hassle. On a recent trip to Dartmoor I had a play with Instagram, and was pleasantly surprised with the results.

I currently use the official Twitter Android client which, whilst it still has a lot of problems, seems to be the best overall for how I use  Twitter. Unfortunately one of those problems is that photo uploading is very unreliable, especially with intermittent data signal. I am not a great fan of services which automatically upload photos (for example Google+) – not every photo I take is for public consumption and there is usually additional steps required to share to my chosen social networks. I have also tried uploading to Flickr and Picasa direct however, whilst both services seem to be more reliable for uploading, there are again additional steps to share further afield (without automatic service to service sharing which, as a general rule, I avoid). Instagram on the other hand combines reliable uploading with some great sharing options.


If, like me, you are late to the party, Instagram is ‘a fast, beautiful and fun way to share your photos with friends and family‘. Instagram started life as an iphone app, but was then opened out to Android before then being bought by Facebook for 1 billion dollars.

The app lets you take a picture, chose the (square) part of it you want to share, apply one of several filters (as well as tweak light levels, add a border etc) and then upload it to Instagram, with options to share it to Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and Tumblr. Once uploaded other users can like or comment on it. Instagram is also a social network in it’s own right – you can follow other users to view the photos they upload and you can view the most popular photos. All this is done through the mobile app – the Instagram website itself is nothing more than a means for non-app users to view your photo and any like or comments.

Screenshot of Instagram

Here is why I found Instagram worked so well for quickly sharing photos outdoors:

  • Easy to use – the app is very quick and easy to use, and uploading a photo is only a few steps which is ideal in an outdoors context.
  • Better photos – the combination of my poor photography skills and a phone camera means my photos are usually fairly poor – applying filters make them look better!
  • Upload reliability – photos uploaded are automatically resized and compressed for web viewing which significantly reduces the file size, meaning better reliability on dodgy data connections
  • Custom sharing – it is quick and simple to chose the networks you want each photo shared too
  • Geo-data – for each photo you can add geotags (latitude and longitude), as well as linking it to an existing location (powered by the Foursquare database), giving the photo geographical context
  • Interaction – I found photos uploaded to Instagram got more interaction (likes and comments) than from other services, both from existing connections and from general users of Instagram

There are a few issues that may or may not affect your use of Instagram:

  • Photo quality – not all the filters are to everyone’s taste, and the resizing and compression does mean that the final image can be slightly poor quality. For me, especially as I usually also take photos with a camera for uploading when I get home anyway, I am happy to trade off final image quality against speedy and reliable instant sharing.
  • Square – you photos all end up square and I found myself thinking in terms of square photos whilst taking a picture
  • Limited archiving – there does not seem to be an obvious way to view and export your previously uploaded photos. If you are not using some kind of archiving system (like a backup to Dropbox or an IFTT rule), or linking your Instagram photos to a Social Hiking map, then they are only really ‘for the moment’.
  • Facebook – once the sale has been completed, Instagram becomes part of Facebook. They say they want to keep the service as a separate, but who knows (and I still have not forgiven them for Gowalla, even if their last update was awful anyway).

A similar, and arguably more powerful, alternative to Instagram is Steamzoo. I personally found it less usable outdoors, although I am willing to give it another go on my next trip.

What do you find is the best app for sharing photos quickly outdoors?

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