An Interview with Phil Gonzalez by Bridgette S.
B: Bridgette P: Phil
B: For those who don’t know who Phil Gonzalez is, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? When did you become interested in photography? Who or what inspired you to be a photographer?
P: I’m a 40 something, French guy, born in Paris from a Spanish working family who immigrated to France. Since I was a child, I thought about going back to my Spanish roots. When I finished my business studies I moved to Madrid where I now live for 17 years. At first, I worked for “big stores” companies as manager, and then as a marketing manager in a car industry company until 2000 when they hired me to launch a “web start-up”. Really, that was my first step in Internet and I never regretted it.
After this, I worked as content manager with Orange, a major mobile and Internet operator, and now I’m a new media manager of a TV broadcasting company in Spain.
I’m in charge of Internet and it means, communication through webs, smart TV developments, iPhone, Android, Tablets and all kind of apps and widgets. One year ago, through a friend’s recommendation, I discovered the Instagram app.
On a lazy Sunday morning, while I was in bed, I read users wondering about Instagram’s best practices… I suddenly thought I could help new users with my knowledge regarding social networks and apps. Since then I have never stopped! I first started the blog www.Instagramers.com with tutorials, apps reviews and interviews of highlighted users around the world. Soon people started to write to me and asked me to help them launch local groups with the Instagramers brand. It was a crazy idea. We launched Barcelona, Madrid and some Spanish groups and then joined London, Paris, Milan, Manila, SF and Singapore – there are 230 groups in the world so far.
I have had to leave some of my other passions aside for a while as I dedicate around two or three hours each day to the Igers Community. Even my life as a mobile photographer suffers from my dedication to this funny and humble network but I think it’s worth it!
B: What is your biggest tip/advice for those wanting to pursue street photography? How can someone overcome their fear and not feel as if they’re invading another person’s privacy?
P: Street Photography is probably one of the most important “trending topics” on Instagram.
Today there are more than 300.000 pics tagged with the #Streetphotography tag. This style exists for decades and Henri Cartier-Bresson, a French photographer, was one of its fathers. Instagram means that it is Instantaneous and Street photography is a hunt for Instants!
Instantaneous fits perfectly with the Instagram app and the way users Instagram. You can achieve great pics if you have the accurate sight and sensibility to detect the perfect moment, the perfect situation and the perfect shot.
I’m not an eminence in street photography but I can definitely give some basic tips from my own experience.
- The main one: be open-minded. Be open to the world surrounding you. There are millions of situations everyday in front of you worth a pic.
- When you think a situation can give good opportunities, be ready with your fav camera app open and ready to shoot in a few seconds. Don’t hesitate in shooting many pics, you will choose the best shots afterwards.
- Try to act with discretion and hide from people you’re taking pictures of. If not, you may kill the essence, the genuine emotion on faces or situations you want to photograph.
- I think taking pics of other people means an interest for them and most of the people should appreciate it and not react in a bad way. However, there are an increasing number of people aware about persistent polemic around Internet, personal life, privacy and image rights and you could avoid a tense situation.
There are two ways to act if you are scared of people’s bad reactions:
Personally, as most people do, I take pics using stratagems – pretending that I’m calling or cleaning the screen, taking the pic using the reflection of a window or whatever comes to my mind.
The other way is to directly ask people for their authorization. I remember a few months ago, I spent a lovely #InstameetLondon afternoon with people from @IgersLondon. There I met Gary, @streetographer (whose username is very appropriate for this interview), who is from California. We walked through the London streets together for a while and I watched his way to act. Sometimes he just took pictures without asking and sometimes he simply introduced himself as a photographer and asked for permission. Most people not only accepted but also started to chat with us and showed interest in our pictures, for Instagram and finally gave us their mails. A good way to meet people too!
One more thing – there is an interesting free app at the Apple store called “Photographers Rights” which explains the basic rights as a photographer in different countries. Have a look!
B: Some may say that printing quality photos may be hard to accomplish with an iPhone, the resolution must be comparable to that of one taken with a DSLR. Are there ways to have a maximum resolution with photos? Have you found that certain apps will lower the resolution? What is your experience?
P: Last week Annie Leibowitz, one of the most important photographers recognized all over the world, said, ” iPhone is the greatest snapshot camera” (see video).
I definitely agree with her. The iPhone camera’s improvement shows an increasing and strategic interest from Apple HQ for mobile photography. There is no doubt that we are reaching high levels of picture quality. However, just because of quality (and cost) of lenses it will be difficult to have pics that will compete with Dslr cameras for a while but it is just a question of time.
At the moment, you can already have good quality pics in standard format. The big problem is when you pretend to make larger formats. But really, as Instagramers, do we need it? I think people who are professional photographers will go on using Dslr. If they need a higher resolution pic for a magazine, a poster or board, iPhone won’t give the expected result.
About Apps, there are many “HDR Camera” apps that allow you to have very high quality shots but then you have to carefully check your favorite “editing app” user’s guide.
Most of the editing apps reduce the quality of the original pic avoiding long data processing time. In some apps, like Hipstamatic, you can choose low/medium/high quality. I think the apps developers will work on improving the quality of pics edited, as mobile photographers will ask for better final results.
B: What are your personal favorite apps and why? Do you use a specific app for your black and white photos?
P: I think apps are like music. You have lifetime periods when you may love Rock and then some years love listening to Jazz, depending on your mood.
I started using HDR Camera apps with colorful pics and tilshift mode. Then one day I turned to another style and felt better with a “naked”, black and white style and very few edits. I try not to spend more than five minutes editing pics.
My favs are definitely Camera+ for its simplicity, speed and result but the last few weeks I’m in Love with “Noir”. Noir is the “Crème de la crème” app for black and white lovers. I have more than 50 or 60 apps available in my iPhone but I could probably “live” with only 3 or 4 of them.
B: What would you say to those who think Instagram is “worthless” because it’s only available on iPhone and that it’s popular because it’s free? Do you think Instagram would be as successful if it were a paid app?
P: As a developer of Apps myself, I feel very confident saying the success of an app is like the “Coca Cola” secret formula.
You wish your app will be successful but you don’t really know which will be the factors of success. You don’t even know if people will finally use the app the way you thought they would! If not, ask Twitter developers.
Instagram would have definitely been less addictive and viral if it were a paying app – although, there is a list of common characteristics for successful apps in the market.
Generally, an app must be easy to use, fast in processing and have very few technical fails. If you add the fact that Instagram connects people and provokes great sensation of happiness and community – it’s done.
As a user of Instagram, I’m not very interested in other OS people to join as I think iPhoners have the same instinct of community and it may be a factor of success.
What will happen with Androiders? Who knows?
However, just because competency threatens and investors confide, I understand Instagram HQ will have to go forward and integrate new OS in the future.
B: Let’s talk about the popular page and how more photographers are saying it’s so “unpopular”. I’ve seen some suggest eliminating it altogether or that the system of selecting featured photos be modified. What are your thoughts on improving or do you think it should be kept as is?
P: Within the last several months, I’ve been in touch with Josh Riedel (a great and humble guy in charge of community matters at Instagram HQ) and “Populars” is one of my fav topics of discussion and one of the most interesting matters for Users. How to make the Popular Page? (see link below) is one of the top consulted content in my site.
To evolve Pops, Instagram will have to improve its algorithm and Popular Formula itself. Probably focus on “ratios of friends” versus “positive comments” or versus “number of interactions” in a pic, etc.. I know Popular List means a lot for users and it’s a key point for Instagram HQ too.
I really do think “Populars” are important for the “newbies” and for “baby steps” of Instagram. In the beginning, you don’t have a lot of friends and you need an incentive to come back to the app, have more friends and produce better pics to reach the “Populars” list. I think the app wouldn’t be the same without Populars. It’s definitely a strong asset of Instagram’s Secret Formula.
B: What is the main objective behind Instagramers.com and why should everyone check it out (not just those new to Instagram)?
P: I never thought Instagramers would be such a unique reference worldwide in less than one year. It’s incredible. I’m very happy with the level of monthly visits (50.000 last month and growing 15% each month with no advertising at all). What makes me really happy are the kind comments of users which push me to go on and on with the same motivation. Instagramers.com is a place where you can find answers to your doubts, how to become popular, how to promote your profile, how to use hash tags but also how to organize an Instameet or funny posts like “how to make profitable Instagram” or “how to find love in IG”. And, every week you can discover your favorite users on Sunday through the weekly interview or find new people in the Flash On section “user grid of the week”.
B: In your interview with Xatakafoto you expressed how the number of Instagramers (IGers) by city was increasing. How many cities would you say are a part of IGers now? And, for those who are interested in joining how should they go about doing so?
P: I felt very honored when Xataca, a top technology blog in Spain, asked me for an interview as the development of Igers network caught their attention. It’s probably the first time a mobile app is generating an independent Fans network around the world – with the same philosophy, organizing events and with members contacting and helping others who live a thousand kilometers away with their tips.
Right now we have around 230 groups worldwide – some of them more active than others but sharing the same community sense. Local groups are always open to help and give their opinion. We have a kind of Intranet or “Private group” on Facebook which allows local groups or ManIgers (as I call them promoting their ideas, contests or sharing their thoughts with other people around the world.
If a group is already constituted we can integrate it without a problem. If new people are interested in launching an Igers Group in their own city, they just have to send an email to Igers@Instagramers.com and we will explain the basic process, send them a logo and integrate them in the ManIger group.
B: What are your expectations of each IGer city? Being a part of IGers Seattle, we have been doing our best to feature photographers so that they may gain exposure and in the process aim to show what Seattle is like – via architecture, music, art, landmarks, etc. In doing so, trying to be as personal as possible. What else would you like to see happen on IGers? Also, do you have any suggestions on how to make it more interactive?
P: I think Instagram will be successful if it goes on offering a value to the users. Instagram will have to evolve offering more personal gain than just having a number of followers, likes or Pops but offering more incentives like exhibits, global events or business opportunities for companies. I know people who found themselves a way to sell their pics and earn some money. Companies like Ford Europe and Burberry’s have truly innovated their marketing strategy, integrating Instagram as an important tool.
For our Igers local groups, it’s just the same – a local group will have a meaning if the group provides an added value to its members. A value can be simply featuring members and give visibility to them but it has to move to event organizations, meet ups and finding partners who will offer gifts for contests or bars hosting Instameets for free. At the end, the amazing side of Instagram is that people not only want to meet on IG but soon want to meet in person.
B: And finally, what continues to inspire you? What do you do to get out of a creative slump?
P: People inspire me, every single day. Sometimes, it’s just a kind comment that moves me forward and sometimes it’s simply the necessity to help people.
Helping people can mean giving them tips or connecting them but it can be making them laugh.
I love to feature people unknown with a different life, like @Tuana or @Ktrap, two different lives with two different meanings on Instagram:
As a photographer, really, I sometimes feel frustrated as I wish I had more time to spend in the street looking for the perfect shot, taking dozens of pics each day… but I don’t have time anymore! So I have to do my best when I go out at night, to a concert, etc. These last weeks I’m focusing on #Nighthawks (night life) probably inspired by one of my fav canvas paintings by Edward Hopper – “Nighthawks”.
It’s not always easy to take pics by night with an iPhone camera but as you probably realized, I love challenges.
About Bridgette S.
Three words that describe me are simple, social and creative – all of which have played a part in strengthening my passion for iPhoneography. What you see is my vision of the ordinary and not so ordinary, most of which are captured whilst I’m out and about with my son. As a mom to a toddler, it’s important I catch all those milestones and have a record of our daily adventures. Having an iPhone means I don’t miss a snap and it also means the world gets to see what I see – at all times. Mobile photography has also given me the chance to meet like-minded enthusiasts both in person and on the web. It’s truly remarkable to see the community grow and be amongst those who offer support and inspiration. It has opened new doors and reawakened my imagination; I embrace it and will continue to learn in the process.