Instagram’s built-in image processing effects have already improved user’s photos vastly. With a simple touch of preset filter, a photograph that was flat and poorly exposed can quickly become a vibrant and high contrast image. Portraits can be made more striking with the use of select focus. Photographs can easily be turned to black and white.  And the square format, which was really only found in fine art photography taken by medium-format cameras like the Hasselblad and Mamiya, has been given a second life with the emergence of Instagram. The square has a vintage feel to it, and allows lots of fun options for composition. When combined with the preset filters Instagram provides, the images can look like old vintage Polaroids from the 70’s.

Instagram also includes tools for rotating your image, the ability to switch from back to front cameras, a grid overlay if you want to take photos with some perspective correction, adding or removing borders, adjusting depth-of-field (or range of focus) in your image, and adding more vibrant colors and contrast (which Instagram calls “Lux” but is not available on all devices). Let’s take a look at five tips below to help you take better photos with Instagram.

1. Control your exposure

sunset-instagram-exposure-control

Why try to fix a photo that’s not great in the first place? With Instagram, you can move the exposure and focus of an image to where you want it. Just touch the viewer and you’ll see a circular graphic appear. The circle can be moved around to have Instagram expose for different areas of the image. This will also set the focus to be where you want it to be, rather than letting the app decide on exposure and where the focus should be. This option is extremely useful when trying to capture sunrises and sunsets, backlit lighting situations, and high contrast lighting environments. By default, the camera software will try to find an overall balance in exposure between the darkest and lightest areas. This where you need to override those default settings and decide how to expose the image before it’s recorded.

2. Force flash when you don’t really need it

Flower in vase with and without flash

There may be times when a bit of flash can really help an image look more vibrant and intentional. Learn how to force the flash instead of letting the app decide for you. Instagram has three settings for flash: On, Auto, and Off. Auto will decide for you when flash is needed. Off will completely turn it off. But On is an interesting setting to play with. When it seems as if you have enough light, turn the flash on just to see what the image turns out like. You might find that the flash will soften harsh shadows, fill in lifeless areas, or light areas in the foreground of your composition that might not have enough light even though the main focus of your image.

3. Turn borders on/off

instagram-border-no-border

Instagram now has the option to turn on/off borders, allowing you to choose (or not choose) a border that fits with the style of your photograph. Check out the two photos below which use the Lo-Fi filter to add more color saturation and contrast. Which one looks better? The image with no border? Or the image with border that’s slightly jagged and looks like it was printed from a negative? Sometimes the right border can make all the difference. Most of the Instagram filters already come with borders, but a few, including Amaro, Rise and Valencia, do not automatically have borders.

4. Adjust the focus areas

Using the blur tool in Instgram

This one is a bit tricky to explain. Once you’ve taken a photo you can touch the little drop icon to change the focus areas of your image using linear or radial shapes. Instagram calls this option a “Tilt Shift.” The default setting is dead center, but what some users may not know is you can move those center points around. Take a look at the images below. In the first image the radial focus by default is in the middle, but in the second image the center was moved to the bottom left to put the focal point on the grasses. You can achieve this by just touching and dragging the linear or radial shapes until you get the effect you want.

5. Choose pictures from your library

Instragram bear photo

What if you’ve got a great photo from your camera’s photo library that you want to upload to Instagram, but you didn’t take it while using the Instagram app? Instead of tapping the camera icon you can tap the small icon to the left of the camera. This will bring you to your image library where you can choose an image to process in Instagram. The Instagram format is square, so you’ll have to crop your image. You can also scale the original image by pitching in or out directly on the photo. The photograph of a black bear below was cropped to center the bear, and scaled up to fill the frame better. Since you can’t zoom in with the Instagram app, taking this picture with the phone’s built-in camera app allowed a closer shot to be taken before processing in Instagram.

In case you haven’t heard, Instagram now also supports video, allowing you to take 3-15 second movie clips. There are also video editing tools, which we’ll cover in another article. For more tips on taking better photos with a smartphone, read 10 Simple Tips to Achieve Vastly Better Smartphone Photos.



Jeff Chabot

 
Jeff Chabot has a background in web development and design, as well as working in broadcast television as a studio engineer, lighting director and editor. He frequently writes about technology, broadcasting, digital entertainment, and the internet.