Monday, September 3, 2012
The super-popular photo sharing service isn’t just for cell phone snapshots
|This Article Features Photo Zoom|
First, how to take better pictures with your phone. Ha! So I lied a little. But I'll go over this quickly. The first step to working with Instagram is to totally embrace the vintage, low-fi aesthetic that Instagram's many filters create. But to make the most of it, starting with great pictures helps infinitely. So to start, find great, and I mean GREAT, light. Soft light for portraits, hard light for drama, and directional light in every instance and you're off to a good start. Since you can't create shallow depth of field like you can on a DSLR, you've got to be careful with your compositions. Utilize simple techniques like patterns and repetition to take advantage of all that depth of field, and create super-simplified images with a single center of interest when you want to minimize all that sharpness. Since Instagram crops every shot to square, think square—and square begats symmetry. Symmetry and simplicity work in square formats especially well. Lastly, look for colorful subjects. Since Instagram is all about simplified, dynamic images, a splash of bright color—across the image or in just one part—will help your Instagram snapshots sing.
Perhaps the most fun, most notable aspect of Instagram is the funky filters. They may be annoyingly low-fi, but it's hard to argue with the effect. It's dramatic, which means some people love it and others hate it. Since it's unlikely the latter group is still reading this, I'm speaking to those of you who really like the grungy, off-color, unsharp, funky look of faded old film photos. If you do, you've got about 15 filters to choose from, with names like Toaster and Brannan and Inkwell, and effects that range from faded and washed out to vivid and bold—even pure black & white. There's no right way to do it, but allow me to share this suggestion: if your photo depends on color, consider filters that intensify the drama of that color rather than desaturating it. Whereas if your photo depends on pattern, shape, or texture, consider those filters that are less about amplified color and more about amplified texture. There's an auto-levels button that creates a one-click fix that improves shadow and highlight detail, and often goes a long way to achieving enhanced texture and that certain je ne sais qua that people expect when they see Instagram photos. That special something, by the way, is usually enhanced texture, contrast and a color shift that goes a long way to turning something “wrong” into something very, very right.
The other part of the charm of Instagram photos is that they have borders. Or at least many of the filters include borders; not all of them do. Some are crisp white borders, others are black. Some are organic edges, others recreate the look of filmstrip edges. Again there's no right answer here, but understand that your border choice is built into the filter you use. So if you want the film edge, for instance, you'll have to be okay with the resulting faded magenta look that accompanies the Nashville filter. If the borders are your primary concern, bear in mind a couple of things. First, that white borders create a softer, friendlier, more approachable feel than a dark border will. Likewise, an organic, messy or uneven/textured border will be extremely casual in feel, bordering on painterly. If you're going for something a little more refined this might not be your first choice.
The whole point of Instagram, many would argue, is not the photography—it's the sharing. That's probably why Facebook shelled out such a large sum for the company. And while you've always been able to link your Instagram photos directly to your Facebook timeline, the acquisition is sure to integrate Instagram into Facebook even more going forward. Even without Facebook, though, the Instagram network makes sharing your photos with others, not to mention allowing them to vote, comment and generally interact with you and your photographs—just as you can with theirs—a neat way to see what your photographer friends are up to. Capturing images with your phone isn't the only way to get pictures into Instagram. You can actually harness the power of the social network while bypassing the whole cell phone snapshot thing by uploading DSLR photos stored in your iOS library. Be forewarned: there's a growing movement among Instagram purists who think that uploading refined DSLR images goes against the snapshot aesthetic of the service. If you find yourself on the receiving end of some hipster's snarky comments, you'll have an idea why. But don't let that stop you from using Instagram as you see fit. The best part about social media and the sharing culture is it's a pure democracy, and you're sure to find an audience who likes whatever it is that you do with your pictures.