This complete guide to Instagram was written to help you create better images to share, get the most from the included filters, find features you didn’t even know were in the app, and see just how deep the Instagram rabbit hole goes!
Learn about the ever-growing online services surrounding Instagram, and gain access to a constantly updated webpage with more tips, an in-depth look at filter treatments, and the ever-growing list of third-party solutions.
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What is this page?
The following content is supplemental information to what’s included in the book. This is all the really tech-geeky stuff that just didn’t belong in the book itself, but some of you will still find interesting!
There exists a type of lens for dSLR cameras called Tilt-Shift (TS) lenses, who’s origins actually go back to the those old plate film cameras you’ve possibly only ever seen in a photo of Ansel Adams standing with his camera, or maybe in a museum somewhere, or perhaps your grandfather’s curio cabinet! These are the cameras that have a large plate of film on the back (4x5 inches or 8x10 inches or even larger—compare that to your pinky-nail size camera phone sensor!), a lens on the front, and flexible bellows in-between. The lens mount could be tilted and shifted, literally moving it off-axis from the film plane, as desired. The same technology can now be found in TS lenses for your dSLR. So why would you do this?
The purpose of a TS lens is to correct for parallax error, primarily when shooting architecture. This is easy to understand—point any normal camera at a tall building, and angle the camera up to include the whole thing in your frame. Immediately you’ll see a perspective shift in the building—it will taper inwards, turning your straight building into a pyramid. For high-end architectural photography, this is generally considered unacceptable. An architect wants to show the building as it actually is, not distorted by the camera lens. The only way to keep your lines straight is to keep the film or sensor plane parallel to the building. And the only way to have that plane parallel to the building and to show the whole thing is to a) be far enough away to show the whole building without tilting the camera, and b) to ideally center the camera on the building so half the frame isn’t filled with the ground. That means if you’re shooting a 40 story building, you need to be on the 20th floor of a building across the street—which is obviously not always possible, feasible or even desirable. So to solve that, the tilt-shift concept was born. You can tilt the lens to include the whole building but not tilt the film plane, keeping the lines straight. And you can shift the lens up higher—no not 20 stories high, but a slight shift in the lens compared to the film plane makes for a big shift in the apparent height. Voilà, your lines are straight and true.
Photographers quickly realized that this wasn’t the only use of the TS technology. One of the side effects of tilting and shifting the lens is you get an extremely shallow depth of field. Shallow depth of field is key to professional photography; it’s what makes your subject “pop” out of the background. So, for example, where a normal lens might give you six inches of depth of field (that’s how much is in focus) before the rest of the scene starts to get blurry in a shot of, say, a person standing right in front of you, that same lens would give you several feet of depth of field for a person standing down the road. But introduce the tilt-shift lens, and now you can get that 6-inch depth of field for that person down the road. Cool! But it’s unnatural; we simply aren’t used to seeing photos that way, so our brain tries to figure out what’s “wrong”. If you see a photo of, for example, a train track winding through the countryside, and all that’s in focus is the track but the hills are really blurry, your brain says “model train set!”. So when you use a TS lens to get that really shallow depth of field where it shouldn’t normally occur, everything starts to look like a model toy set. Airports, parking lots, crowds of people—it all looks like toys. Photographer Vincent Laforet is probably one of the modern photographers most credited with making this “look” widespread. Check out some of his work of that style at his website, LaforetVisuals.com, select Fine Art Prints, then under Limited Edition, choose Commuters.
So what does this all have to do with Instagram?! Back to the Tilt-Shift function. Software engineers figured out some clever ways to simulate that TS look in the computer. They do this by allowing the user to define a very narrow band of “focus”, wile then blurring everything outside of that line. Of course it’s not totally realistic, because in a real TS shot an object in front of the narrow plane of focus will be out of focus, yet in software, anything falling under that line — no matter where it is in the real world — will stay sharp, while the rest of the scene goes soft. But on the right photograph, it can be extremely effective.
Personally I’ve only played with a T-S lens once, and wrote about it here: Fun With Tilt and Shift. They are great fun, but definitely take some getting used to!
I created and imported a solid 50% grey JPEG as well as a photo of a color chart into Instagram, and applied each filter to them both. The grey card shows clearly what textures, vignettes and borders are being applied by each filter, and the color chart shows what happens to the colors with each application. Here are the JPEG files I used; click to download them for your own free use if you like.
And here’s each filter. Click any screenshot to see full size (640 x 960), all taken on an iPhone 4.
X-Pro II increases contrast dramatically and increases color saturation. Whites shift towards yellow. Details in the darker shadows are lost. A subtle vignette is applied to the entire image. A rounded black border is applied.
Lomo-fi increases contrast dramatically and increases color saturation. Whites remain white. Subtle color gradations are lost. Details in the darker shadows are lost but midtones are brightened. A large vignette is applied to the entire image. A rough black border is applied behind the cropped image, against a white background.
Earlybird reduces contrast and color saturation, while applying a heavy brown tint or overlay to the entire image. Whites and blacks all take on a brown tint. Subtle color gradations are retained. A large vignette is applied to the entire image. A textured “old photo print” rounded-corner border is applied to the image.
Sutro increases contrast, mostly by crushing the blacks (shadows) and reducing color saturation, while applying a heavy brown tint or overlay to the entire image. In addition, a dramatic texture of scratches, and a slight lens flare from the top right, is applied. Whites take on a brown tint, as do blacks, but not as much. Subtle color gradations are retained. A subtle vignette is applied to the entire image. A simple black border is applied to the photo.
Toaster reduces contrast by lifting (brightening) the blacks and dimming the whites, while applying a light brown tint or overlay to the entire image. In addition, a subtle weave texture is applied. Whites take on a brown tint, as do blacks, but not as much. Subtle color gradations are mostly retained, but can get blocky in some areas. A large subtle vignette is applied to the entire image. A simple white border is applied to the photo.
Brannan leaves the contrast fairly native, and reduces overall color saturation slightly. Whites, especially light greys, take on a slightly brown/tan tint. Subtle color gradations are retained. A very subtle vignette is applied to the entire image. A simple black border is applied to the photo.
Inkwell is a simple greyscale conversion with no additional contrast or brightness or color changes included. A simple white border is applied.
Walden increases contrast slightly, while applying a dark, desaturated blue tint or overlay to the entire image, with emphasis on the shadow and mid-tone areas, while adding less color to the highlights. In addition, a subtle crackled and ringed texture is applied, which also contains a slight brown spot in the middle of the image. Subtle color gradations are mostly retained, but can get blocky in some areas. A large subtle vignette is applied to the entire image. A simple black border is applied to the photo.
Hefe increases contrast and saturation slightly, while applying a brown/tan tint over the entire image which incorporates a scratched circular texture, eminating from the lower right corner. All colors take on a brown tint, with emphasis on the blacks. Subtle color gradations are mostly retained, but can get blocky in some areas. A very subtle vignette is applied to the edges, falling off quickly. A simple black border is applied to the photo.
Apollo reduces contrast by lifting (brightening) the blacks and dimming the whites, and desaturates the photo dramatically. Meanwhile, a mostly grey speckled texture that appears to be a photograph of a star field with a bright-spot in the center overlays the entire photo. Subtle color gradations are retained. A large vignette is applied to the entire image. A simple white border is applied to the photo.
Poprocket maintains normal contrast but applies a heavy pink/magenta overlay that colors the entire photo dramatically. In addition, a subtle zoom texture is applied. Subtle color gradations are mostly retained. A large heavy vignette is applied to the entire image, with an emphasis on blueing the edges. A simple black border is applied to the photo.
Nashville reduces contrast considerably by lifting (brightening) the blacks and dimming the whites, while applying a dirty-cream colored tint or overlay to the entire image. No texture is applied. All colors take on an aged, brown tint. Subtle color gradations are mostly retained, but can get blocky in some areas. No vignette is applied. A black border is applied to the photo, with “film negative data” added to the top.
Gotham is a high-contrast B&W (black and white) conversion, with shadow detail crushed in anything under about 30% brightness. Blues and greens are rendered extremely dark, with reds and yellows going extremely white. No texture or vignetting is applied. Subtle gradations are mostly lost. No vignette is applied. A rounded black border is applied to the photo.
Lord Kelvin maintains contrast but applyes a very heavy brown overlay to the entire image. No texture is applied. All colors take on a clean, brown tint. Subtle color gradations are mostly retained, but can get blocky in some areas. No vignette is applied. A ragged, “torn edge” border is applied to the photo, with white behind it.
1977 reduces contrast considerably by lifting (brightening) the blacks and dimming the whites, while applying a pinkish-mauve colored tint or overlay to the entire image. A dramatic texture of worn spots and scratches is applied. All colors take on an aged, faded effect. Subtle color gradations are mostly retained. No vignette is applied. A simple white border is applied to the photo.
If you’re an Aperture user, I have a detailed article, along wtih a recorded video podcast on my site ApertureExpert.com explaining how to harness Instagram and Flickr to (nearly) automatically get all your Instagram photos into Aperture—and how to take advantage of the extra metadata provided! The article is Instagram, Flickr and Aperture, Oh My!
Instagram on the iPad
Instamap — An innovative way to view the stream, and the only one that lets you view the whole world through Instagram eyes. You can set up subscriptions based on location, such as your favorite cafe or your hometown or a place you’re planning to visit (plus a 5km/3mi radius), and also subscribe to #tags. At a glance you’ll see new photos falling into these subscriptions, and even see where they are on the map. It does seem to limit to the most recent 16 photos, though, which is odd and something that will hopefully change. In a busy area, there could be hundreds or even thousands per day, and I’d like to explore them all. You can view and add comments and likes as well.
Instagallery — The simplest of the three, essentially replicating the viewing capabilities of the native Instagram app. You can view your feed, popular photos or your photos, as well as view and edit comments and likes. It features a full-screen mode as well, which, along with the comment system, is nearly identical to that in Instamap.
Instaframe — A basic interface hides a cool view of Instagram. By default and on first launch, it shows you the photos within 5km/3mi of your current location. It’s also the only app that doesn’t require you to log in to view photos, which is nice. Instant gratification; launch and there you go. This is one to fire up when you’re sitting somewhere new just to see what’s around you. Neat!
Apps that publish to Instagram
Statigram — Shows you all kinds of interesting information about your account, such as your most-liked photos, who likes you and who you like the most, which filters you’ve used the most, and more. It’s a fun overview of your Instagram history.
Artflakes — Super easy stickers; just punch in your Instagram name, and all your photos are immediately loaded and ready to order!
Instagoodies — Another simple sticker service. Just log in and go!
Postagram — An iOS app that lets you select an Instagram photo and have it printed and shipped to you or a friend, all from your iPhone.
Postalpix — Another iOS app for ordering prints from your phone, with quite a few options on sizes and formats.
Printstagram — A service that will print a 20” x 40” print, including between 50 and 200 of your Instagram photos.
Collage — A Mac app that lets you do collage layouts easier than anything I’ve played with before. It’s not free, but it works well. If you want a totally customized collage that you can print yourself or print through your favorite print service, this is the way to do it.
TeenyTile — These folks will print your photo on a 2” square tile!
Got a tip or a comment, or know of a great app I’m missing? Tell me here!