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Instagram Overview and Steps to Get the Most Out of Your Photo

A quick overview of Instagram:

Instagram is an awesome app to take photos with. Earlier this past week I did a review on another similar app called Streamzoo. In many ways Streamzoo does things better than Instagram but Instagram has more stability and some easier features to work with. Streamzoo is something for those who want to start getting in the photography industry. Obviously it’s not professional software, but a good place to practice ways to take photos.

Instagram is much popular though. It was exclusive to iOS for many years and just recently made its way over to many different if not all Android devices (obviously outdated devices won’t get supported). Instagram is a great way to share quick photos with your friends and family (most of the times its what your eating for dinner or lunch). Sharing these photos is integrated with Facebook and Twitter to get your photos across the internet easily.

Taking photos with your phone is great, but Instagram has a built in advanced camera function that will improve the overall quality of the shot. How it does this, I do not know and probably will never know. It is a handy feature as I have noticed a bit of a difference in my photos. After taking a photo, Instagram offers many different ways to add filters and borders around your photos. Adding focus and contrast is another option to add to your photos. I’ve also noticed that a lot of people would rather take regular shots without adding a filter and then upload it to Instagram, Facebook and Twitter (not everyone wants to look like a professional I guess). Instagram being a great way to easily share photos, is the worlds main choice of photo editing software for Android and iOS devices.

One of the cool things about Instagram is the very consistent updates and very good customer support service. When a bug is reported I swear there is an update within the next one or two days. If only other companies were this fast at getting bug fixes out! Adding filters and cool customization on photos you take always help ‘enhance” the memory according to some reviewers. This is true for many people. Filters are a huge thing if you just go into the Featured category on Instagram. These filters are used very nicely though and aren’t just thrown on a random photo you took of your dinner plate last night.

Instagram also allows you to follow your friend and others to do likewise. Following your friends will add their photos to your Instagram stream much like friends on Facebook saying something and then adding that to your Facebook stream. It’s essentially another Facebook, except instead of statuses your seeing photos on the social network. Comparing it to Facebook might be a stretch, but as of late, companies have been hopping on board the Instagram social network bandwagon. Obviously they do this is to increase business much like a Facebook page would. It’s a great addition to the social network platforms and has been obviously working (business wise) otherwise companies wouldn’t be joining in on this.

Adding the correct filters on your photos to create memorable photos may seem difficult to do. I’m no expert wither, but I have been using it for quite awhile (@statusq3) and personally think I’ve found a cool few ways to manipulate photos with the image editing program. Instagram offers a variety of many features to manipulate photos and really, adding filters is a “easy” way to make a photo look good. There’s only one problem, adding the correct filter for the correct setting may just be a hard choice for you to choose.

I’ve written up a small few steps on how to make the best out of your photos:

Dark Photos:

Dark photos are tricky because often the photo is either blurry or way to dark to brighten up. With Instagrams contrast feature you’ll be able to brighten up the photo immensely. Obviously, this will look terrible with the added fake lighting. To fix that it’s usually best to add a grayscale filter or a sunset type filter to spruce it up a bit. At this point it’s not too bad and it’s not too great either. One last thing we can try to do to make it look as good as possible is add a focus to it. If you took a picture of someone in the dark adding focus to their face with usually eliminate a lot of the ugliness in the photos. I know this probably does not look perfect, but at least it’s a way to spruce up the photo. The ideal way would be to delete the photo and try again, but if it’s a moment you’ll probably never see or experience again, these steps will help you to spruce it up enough to the point that it’s fairly enjoyable to look at. Most dark pictures look like junk, but this is one way I’ve found to make those types of pictures look a lot better.

A second way to spruce up dark photos (not pitch black dark) would be to add a filter like X-Pro to your photo. This is a darker filter but also has some nice contrast in it to help lighten up the photo. Do not add contrast to this filter as the filter already has its own built in contrast. You’ll be able to see that if you look closely on the edges of the picture. If you add the custom contrast Instagram has, it’ll make the picture look terrible. Again, this way is not going to make your picture look perfect but at the very least it will look half way decent. Your friends and family might also enjoy it if they don’t expect super high quality photos from you all the time.

One more option is that you can take your photo with Instagram’s advanced camera feature. Upon taking the photo, do not add contrast to your photo but add the filter called “Rise”. This filter brightens up the photo with a pinkish contrast fade. It’ll turn darker photos into a lighter theme, kind of like the sun is setting, but not that bright. Very close though. After doing that, adding a black border around your photo will also help brighten it up a bit. Well, it does not help brighten the photo but helps the filter stand out a bit more than it already was. That way, your darker photo can look really classy and ready to show your friends and family! The rise filter is one of my favorites for Dark Photos as it always brightens them up as described earlier. It’s also one that comes without the white border, so you can add the black border by yourself by pressing the square button at the top of the Instagram UI when editing a photo or photos. Hopefully this feature helps, otherwise…you may just have to use the last option if you’re desperate enough.

Lastly, this option is fairly extreme, nor will this work with pitch black photos as the first option did. You can always transfer your photos off of your phone, throw them on your computer and load up Photoshop or some other image editing program like Gimp. Once you open that program up, (there are some tutorials online to look at too as I am no expert) you can add your own contrast from there. I’m not sure how well that works, I’ve seen some videos of people doing that, but if you’re taking the photo in Instagram I really think your best bet is to just use the previous two steps. You’ve already taken the picture in Instagram, so if you save it I don’t know how well that would change in Photoshop, Gimp or really any image manipulating program. I’ve only ever seen professionals do it, so it’s probably very complex. That is an option if your willing to put the work in and the previous two steps are not good enough for you though.

Blurry Photos:

These kinds of photos are the worse. This is most likely to happen if you have a 1.6MP camera and even a 4MP. You’re simply not going to get the blur out of your photo. 4MP is the resolution of your camera and that’s that. There are ways to disguise the blurriness with some filters. We won’t be using contrast as it will just put more of a focus on the blurriness then the photo itself. There are a lot of people who have these lower types of phones due to expenses or even because their contract isn’t up yet. What you’re going to do is take your picture with Instagram’s advanced camera function and if you don’t have that available for your phone that’s completely fine. Some phones aren’t capable of using that feature due to their limited hardware, but if you do have it I highly recommend using that feature.

We won’t be using the rise filter this time as it feels like its more for brightening up pictures than anything. Use the Sierra filter for this type of photo. It’ll throw a white border around your photo eliminating the outside blurriness while adding a bit of a glow to the core of the photo. That way, the photo isn’t entirely blurry, it still is blurry, don’t get me wrong, but it looks a lot nicer than it previously did. You can try adding a black border instead of the white to darken up the photo. That will help eliminate more blur, I’ve found, but I guess it really depends on what type of phone you have as all phones take different pictures than others. My Atrix 2 won’t take the same photo your Galaxy Note will.

After taking a picture, another filter you can try is the Valencia. This adds a lightness to the photo whilst adding a darkness on the outer edges. It’ll brighten up the blur in the center of the photo and darken it on the inner edges. This is probably only something to use if the previous options don’t work because again, this has a type of contrast in it so the blur is going to be more vibrant and the main focus of the photo. I’d suggest only using this option if you’re really desperate to keep your photo. Blurry photos are really hard to edit and put in good condition due to the resolution and pixels of the camera. Even professionals that use Photoshop, Instagram and other image manipulating programs have trouble with blur a lot. In some cases, blur is great! in the case of a 1.4MP phone, I can gurantee you’re not going to get a whole lot out of your photo.

Lastly, again, you could try Photoshop. Try and touch it up a little bit, it might help. Again, even professionals have issues with blur, so adding some features to your photo via Photoshop might help reduce the blurry look, but it’ll still be there, just disguised.Obviously this will take a lot more work than you wanted when you originally just wanted to edit a photo and make it look pretty dang snazzy on Instagram. Between watching tutorials and trying to find your way around you can expect to work on your photo for at least 2 – 3 hours. It’s pretty difficult.

Bright Photos:

Bright photos are probably the easiest of them all to solve. Just adding a dark filter and a white border and your photo should solve the problem. There are tons of different darker filters to choose from. Using these dark filters does not make your photo dark though, it brings it to a regular state instead of being to bright or being to dark. In my experience, I’ve found that X-Pro is one of the best darker filters. It does have contrast in it though, which helps brighten photos. So with the darker filter and the contrast, you should have a really good photo with that one.

Amaro is also a nice filter. This one has no contrast in it. In fact it has hints of pink and purple in it. It’s again, another darker filter. In fact, it’s really dark. The pink and purples does help lighten it up and therefore balance the filter out though. This probably isn’t your ideal filter if you have moderately bright photos. I’d think its more for something of a very bright fashion. I haven’t used this filter a whole lot either as I haven’t had an issue with super bright photos, so use this one with your own discretion.

Okay, if your photo is super bright, usually in the case that the sun is in the picture using the Hefe filter will solve all your problems. This one does not have contrast in it, so if its too dark you can brighten it up. Hopefully this filter solves your brightness problems as this is far as my knowledge goes in this area because once again, I have never really had many troubles with bright photos. Usually just the darker ones are the ones I have had issues with.

Regular Photos:

Obviously with regular photos you really can do anything you want with them. When I take a regular photo that’s in standard lighting and such, usually I will add a filter to fit my style or what the theme of the picture feels like. Say you took a picture out at the beach, a brighter summery themed filter may just be the perfect fit for that photo. It adds a sense of peace almost. Beaches add peace to your life in general, but photos of beaches with a little sprucing up could do that even more! Another example could be taking a picture of a leaf in the middle of fall. Maybe you see one leaf left just hanging on the tree. You could snap a photo with that and then add some focus to the leaf and not the rest of the picture. I then like to add a grayscale looking filter to those types of photos as it makes it feel lonely or a type of sadness. There’s all different kinds of ways you can theme your photos and these are just a few. I’ve dug up a few suggestions from other websites around the web. Reading them, I realize my Instagram talent really isn’t that great! Here they are:

“Take a look at how the light is hitting your subject. Move around until you get the perfect (to you) ratio of light and shadow without forcing the subject to squint or causing deep shadows on the face due to backlighting.” – Mary

“Composition simply means the arrangement of the parts of your picture. Imagine that the image you see through the viewfinder is divided into nine equal squares, with four points around the center square; these are the most important points in your composition. By placing the subject at one of these points, you give it importance. Crop out any unessential items that detract from the photo’s composition or the story it tells.

When composing pictures of groups of people or objects, consider the height variations of your subjects. Position them in a visually pleasing manner — usually, with the tallest in the center of the group.” – Mary

There are tons of ways to spruce up your Instagram photos and those are just two ways out of a bajillion that Mary has on her website. The amount of things you can do with Instagram is absolutely crazy. I find it amazing as to how a simple 13mb app can do all of this. You have to admit, Instagram does allow you to make nice photos that do like pretty professional if I do say so myself. It definitely is not professional as a ton more work goes into photos from real photographers than just a simple filter. So, you can’t really say Instagram makes you a professional because it simply doesn’t. Photographers deserve a ton of respect for all the hard work that they put into making photos for the world to enjoy. They really do.

Final Words: I hope that you have enjoyed this tutorial and bit of overview of Instagram. I know the post was quite a bit long, but I figured I would share some things I’ve found out since using Instagram when it first came out on Android devices. I know that some friends get frustrated with blurry and dark picture they put on Instagram and they don’t know how to make it look better. I figured that throwing some things I know about contrast and filters mixing together in Instagram might not just be helpful to them but for anyone who uses Instagram.

As I said earlier, these options aren’t going to work on everyone’s different phones because the phones are simply different. My Atrix 2 will not be taking the same photo your Galaxy Note or Galaxy Nexus is. It’s different hardware and isn’t the same hardware that Samsung used to make a pretty nice camera on their Galaxy S III. The options definitely won’t work well if you have an older phone. The section I wrote on blurriness hopefully will though. I’d hate to see some good photos really go to waste. That would be terrible. Obviously you’re going to need a better phone to start taking non-blurry pictures with Instagram. I know they are expensive, but if your look at getting a camera and know you won’t use it often, I’d just suggest getting a new phone with at the very least a 8MP camera.

I hope this tutorial was fairly enjoyable to read as it definitely was a wall of text (it felt like one when I was writing it!) If you have any suggestions or comments to add to these options feel free to leave a comment. I’m always looking for new ways to spruce up instagram photos and different and unique ways so they aren’t always looking the same.

I’d also like to note that for those who would like to say that there’s contrast in every filter, I know. When I say contrast in this post I am referring to a noticeable amount such as how the contrast option works in Instagram.