Spice Up Your Photos With Instagram

Category: Photography

Almost everywhere you look, photos with interesting effects are showing up online. Some are really cool, others are just ugly. Instagram, a popular photo app for iPhone and Android smartphones, is the source. Learn more about Instagram, what it can do, and how to use it without driving all your friends crazy...

What is Instagram?

Instagram is a free photo-sharing program launched in October, 2010. It allows users to take a photo, apply a digital filter to it, and then share it with friends on various social networks. Uniquely, Instagram crops all photos to a square shape instead of the usual 4:3 aspect ratio of smartphones. Instagram is available on iOS and Android platforms.

By December, 2010, Instagram had 1 million users. Six months later, it was up to 5 million users, and it passed the 10 million mark in Septemer, 2011. As of April, 2012, Instagram claimed 30 million users.

Instagram is wildly popular, obviously. But it's also widely despised. People tend to overdo the filtering bit, especially new users who are excited about trying out all the various options. The result is a world-wide web filled with images that are grainy, unnaturally colored, and just plain obnoxious. In a Facebook poll, 2,000 people ranked Instagram photos among the most annoying, second only to baby photos. (One can only assume that kitten photos are in the top three.)
What is Instagram?

None the less, Facebook bought Instagram for a mind-boggling $1 billion in cash and stock ($300 million cash and 23 million shares of stock, to be precise). That's not a bad payoff for a company of only thirteen people! Apparently, Facebook sees Instagram as one tool that it can use to pry open the mobile market, which Facebook has yet to do successfully.

So What Can You Do With Instagram?

Instagram Lord Kelvin filter Add a feeling of nostalgia with the Lord Kelvin filter, which saturates the colors and adds a scratchy border. Use the Toaster filter to darken the corners and create a glowing effect. Sutro will filter your photo using sepia tones, giving them an "old-time" feeling.

Instagram Toaster filter Of course, taking a great photo in the first place helps a lot. I can't teach you the secrets of photography, because I'm a point and shoot kind of guy myself. But there are some excellent Free Online Photography Classes that you can study to learn the basics of framing a shot, lighting, camera angles and other essentials.

Professional and serious hobby photographers can do some really nice things with Instagram. This Guide to Instagram Filters gives some excellent advice about when and why to use the 17 different filters that Instagram offers.

Instagram Sutro filter If you've got photos already stashed away on your hard drive, or an online photo sharing site (see my related article Free Online Photo Storage and Backup), and you don't have a smartphone with the Instagram app, you can still play the photo filtering game. See my article Free Online Photo Editors for links to some awesome photo editing tools that run right inside your web browser.

If you're a PhotoShop user, many of the Instagram filters can be duplicated with that software. Do a web search for something like "Instagram filters in Photoshop" and you'll find some helpful tutorials.

The appeal of Instagram is that it gives casual photographers some limited ability to spice up their photos, to be a little creative, to express themselves through their choices of digital effects. But fairly or not, that's also the source of other people's criticism of Instagram.

Years ago, when a boss of mine saw the first version of HTML, he immediately said, "We're in trouble. The power to create is the power to make ugly." Remember Myspace? Enough said.

Are you an Instagram fan or a fed-up fighter of photo filter faux pas? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Spice Up Your Photos With Instagram"

Posted by:

Lori McNamara
07 Jul 2012

I am very annoyed by the square format on facebook. I post my paintings there and they are cropped. They can be clicked and then the image comes out correctly but I bet there are a lot of people who think that is what I painted.

Thanks for writing about it, at least I know why things are so square now. :O)

Posted by:

07 Jul 2012

Let's see, you are forced to be on Facebook and you can only use it with a SmartPhone. I refuse to use the first and I can't afford the second, so this "free" service does nothing for me. Gimp is free software that allows you to do a better job of enhancing your photographs, you don't have to give away your privacy to Facebook, and you don't have to have an electronic leash to use it. Check it out.

Posted by:

Martyn Gaunt
09 Jul 2012

I'm getting more and more depressed seeing the number of mediocre photographs that are getting ever more bizarre effects applied, then posted as great works of art. If it's a good picture, then it's a good picture; if it isn't, then you can Photoshop/Instagram it until it looks like all that's missing are the Four Horsemen, but that still won't make it all that it ain't.

Then again, we live in an age of style over substance anyway, so it's no great surprise...

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