Instagram has transformed smartphone users into a legion of amateur photographers, handhelds forever at the ready. At its best, the photo-sharing platform captures the transcendental moments of the human experience (the Perseid meteor shower; a sunset over the Manhattan skyline). At its worst, utterly delightful banality (your pancake breakfast).
Critics have condemned “the Instagram effect” as a detriment to the immense care and skill that photography demands. Some argue its easy cropping and preset filters offer an oversimplified view of the craft. But Instagram is continuing to expand, and the pros have adapted to the platform with haste and grace.
“Photojournalism has become a hybrid enterprise of amateurs and professionals, along with surveillance cameras, Google Street Views and other sources,” photojournalist Fred Ritchin told Mother Jones earlier this year. “What is underrepresented are those ‘metaphotographers’ who can make sense of the billions of images being made, and can provide context and authenticate them.”
The 14 journalists on our list are using Instagram to take photos with as much sensitivity to context, composition and texture as they would behind a traditional lens. The result is a colorful glimpse into foreign cultures and crystallized moments of pain and joy.
1. Kevin Frayer (@kevinfrayer)
Kevin Frayer is a photojournalist currently embedded in Asia, although his most recent Instagram photos have documented the devastation wrought by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. On his feed, stirring portraits and sunlit cityscapes captured in China give way to charged images of decimated city streets and survivors combing through the storm’s debris.
This photograph, one of many documenting the aftermath of the typhoon, depicts a mass grave erected for victims at the San Joaquin Parish in Tacloban, the Philippines.
2. Randy Olson (@randyolson)
Randy Olson is a documentary photographer for National Geographic and founder of The Photo Society, a collective for contributors to the magazine. His Instagram feed reproduces prints from his documentary work in Africa, India and Australia.
This photograph was taken in the Omo River Valley in Ethiopia. “The region’s life-sustaining Omo River… will be choked by a Chinese dam in 2013,” Olson writes in his caption. “When the Gibe III dam goes online this culturally distinct area will be starving and heavily armed.”
3. Ivan Kashinsky (@ivankphoto)
Ecuador-based freelance photographer and National Geographic contributor Ivan Kashinsky has published bright, buoyant photographs of festivals in the Andes and wealthy Roma families in a remote Romanian town. His Instagram photos are equally vibrant, documenting the lush landscapes of Ecuador and the colorful inhabitants of his neighborhood in a new, iPhone-only photo series entitled “Project Mi Barrio.”
The above photograph offers a view of the Cotopaxi National Park in Ecuador.
4. Benjamin Lowy (@benlowy)
Feature photographer Benjamin Lowy was one of five photojournalists selected by TIME magazine to document Hurricane Sandy via Instagram when the storm struck New York City. One of the resulting photographs appeared on the cover of the magazine. Internationally, Lowy has covered 2003’s Iraq War and has been embedded in Darfur, Afghanistan and Libya.
In this photograph taken in Juba, South Sudan, an injured child recovers in a UN Mission trauma center. “Thousands of South Sudanese civilians have fled their homes following intense military clashes in the city of Juba,” Moore writes in his caption.
5. Ed Kashi (@edkashi)
Ed Kashi is a photojournalist, filmmaker and lecturer who has recently been embedded in the Middle East while documenting the ongoing conflict in Syria. His Instagram portraits capture the daily life of Syrian refugees, with a particular focus on the children who have been displaced by the conflict. Another set of recent photographs, taken in New Jersey, offer a “then and now” look at the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy and the state’s recovery.
In this photograph, Syrian children play at the Domiz refugee camp in Northern Iraq.
6. David Guttenfelder (@dguttenfelder)
David Guttenfelder, an Associated Press photographer and seven-time World Press Photo award winner, was just named TIME’s Instagram photographer of the year. In 2013, on assignment for the AP, Guttenfelder traveled to North Korea, where his Instagram photography offered a rare glimpse into the inner life of a nation normally obscured from public view. He has also photographed the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines as well as quaint pastoral scenes from rural America.
In this photograph, Guttenfelder captures a group of North Korean seamstresses at the Sonbong Textile Factory inside the Rason Special Economic Zone. “Nobody knows anything about [North Korea] and what it looks like,” Guttenfelder told TIME of his tenure. “I feel like there’s a big opportunity and a big responsibility.”
7. Lynsey Addario (@lynseyaddario)
Lynsey Addario’s work as a humanitarian documentary photographer has taken her to Afghanistan under Taliban rule and to war zones in Iraq, Lebanon, Darfur and the Congo. Although her editorial work is weighted with the solemnity of the conflicts she depicts, her Instagram feed is decidedly lighter and more playful, with richly hued photos of sacks of olives in Lebanon and luminescent jellyfish at the London Aquarium.
The above photograph depicts a morning puja ritual in India.
8. Phil Moore (@philmoorephoto)
Phil Moore is a freelance photojournalist based in East Africa. His editorial work captures stirring images of sectarian violence in the Congo, the arming of Libya in the wake of Arab Spring and crippling drought in the horn of Africa. On Instagram, Moore showcases sensitive portraits and snapshots of the sweeping African landscape in a wash of lush greens and browns.
In this photograph, Somali laborers work on a water catchment, or berked, which gathers rain water in anticipation of the dry season.
9. Michael Christopher Brown (@michaelchristopherbrown)
Michael Christopher Brown is an American-born photojournalist and contributor to National Geographic currently embedded in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He was featured in the HBO documentary Witness: Libya for his combat photography of the Libyan revolution and has also traveled along the railroads of China and to the remote, disputed Russian island of Sakhalin. The colorful compositions he shares on Instagram of soldiers and youths in the D.R.C. are interspersed with throwbacks to his tenure in Libya and moments of levity captured on the streets of Manhattan.
This serene city snapshot was captured in Goma, in the D.R.C.
10. Amy Toensing (@amytoensing)
As a National Geographic contributor, Amy Toensing has traveled as far as Aboriginal Australia and as near as the Jersey Shore. In between, she teaches photography to children and adults in underserved communities. Her Instagram photos are saturated with color, depicting lively landscapes and portraits of women and children.
This photograph was taken on a rickshaw ride in Vrindavan, India.
11. Laura El-Tantawy (@laura_eltantawy)
Freelance British-Egyptian photographer Laura El-Tantawy has a penchant for the abstract in her Instagram photos. She’s often captivated by the ripple of fabric, the sun peeking through the clouds or the droplets of rain on a pane of glass. The portraits she shares on her feed are taken at close range, zeroing in on just the subject’s face, to seem especially intimate, and they are usually accompanied by a brief story about the subject.
This photograph, captioned “City of 1,000 Minarets,” depicts two ornate mosque spires in Cairo, Egypt.
12. Andrew Quilty (@andrewquilty)
Australian-born photographer Andrew Quilty is currently embedded in Afghanistan, where he captures black-and-white portraits that focus on daily life in the capital city of Kabul. His high-contrast landscapes are equally striking, depicting the city in a wash of warm blues and earth tones.
This photograph of two youths in Kabul was taken from the window of a moving car. “In most other places you’d pull over, jump out and take it all in,” Quilty writes in the caption. “Here, it’s not always advisable to leave the passenger seat.”
13. Glenna Gordon (@glennagordon)
Glenna Gordon’s African photography has documented the dangerous literary pursuits of Northern Nigerian female romance novelists and displays of wealth in Nigerian marriage ceremonies. Her Instagram photos, in contrast, often focus on the details and textures rather than the sweeping stories, depicting instead the frost-covered leaves on the streets of New York City or the thatched roof of a Darfuri refugee’s shelter.
The above photograph was taken in Nairobi, Kenya.
14. Marcus Bleasdale (@marcusbleasdale)
Marcus Bleasdale is a documentary photographer for National Geographic with a focus on human rights issues. In his editorial work, Bleasdale presents a jarring portrait of African nations in conflict. His most recent posts to Instagram juxtapose images of violence in the Central African Republic with idyllic photographs from the U.S. and Europe that are no less attentive to detail and composition.
The above photograph depicts a camp for displaced persons in Bossangoa, in the Central African Republic. “Hundreds of thousands of people are displaced in towns and in the bush as Muslim Seleke fighters attack Christian villages burning and looting homes,” Bleasdale writes in the caption. “In response, Christian Anti Balaka (Anti Machete fighters roam the villages with artisanal weapons seeking revenge. This conflict which has been ongoing since late March 2013 is largely unreported and many the the needy displaced on both sides of the conflict are in desperate need of medication and international intervention.”