Instagram app icon

Instagram is one of the most popular photo sharing apps available on both Apple and Android mobile operating systems.  The distinctive square shaped pics that it produces are found all over your favourite social networks.  The app features a built-in picture taking tool, provides many different presets and filters with which you can enhance your photos, and then allows you to easily publish your creations for others to view.  It’s simple to take, edit, and share your photos, all in one convenient and easy-to-use app.

Instagram login pageWhen you first launch the app, you will be prompted to enter your credentials if you already have an account, or else create a new one.  It seems that the only time you have to re-enter your username and password is after an app update, so when you make your account, be sure to remember your ID and password!  Once that’s done, you have immediate access to all of the Instagram tools.

The main focus of the app is to take photos, and so the button to enter into camera mode is highlighted in blue along the bottom row in the center.  It also has an icon of a camera to help you find it.  When you tap the button, the camera screen is shown, where the majority of the screen is dedicated to the square viewfinder.  This is a unique feature of Instagram, in that it does not take full screen photos, nor does it allow you to crop to a different size.  All Instagram photos are squares.  At first this may be offputting, but you get used to it very quickly.  It also means that the photos you take are naturally more suitable for printing, without requiring additional crops.  On the other hand, fullscreen pics taken in the default Camera app often need to be cropped to fit nicely on a photo paper.

Instagram photo capture

Above the square viewfinder are a few more buttons.  The cancel button will obviously take you out of the camera mode.  The icon with the square gridlines toggles on and off a grid overlay (which doesn’t show up in your final photos), to help you to properly frame your photo.  The grid divides the view screen into horizontal and vertical thirds, which is useful if you are trying to abide by the photographer’s “rule of thirds.”  Beside the grid button is a lightning bolt icon, which you can tap to toggle through the options for on, auto, and off.  Finally, the button in the top-right with the camera icon and the curved arrows allows you to switch from the default high resolution front facing camera to the back facing camera, allowing you to take a picture of yourself!  One additional feature that isn’t immediately obvious is tap-to-focus, which will focus and adjust the white balance to best suit the focal point.  Once you have the settings as you’d like them, simply frame your shot in the viewfinder, and then tap the large blue shutter release button at the bottom of the screen.  Once you take your pic, you immediate enter the Edit mode to customize it.

You can also import photos from your Camera Roll into your Instagram photo library.  You can do this by tapping on the small square icon next to the shutter button in the camera mode, which will prompt you to select the photo to import, and also force you to scale and crop it to fit the Instagram dimensions.  When you have it aligned how you like it, tap the Crop button in the top right to enter the Edit mode.

In Edit mode is where you can add some really neat effects to customize your photos.  The various effects are found at the bottom of the screen.  As you tap on each one, your photo will update to show the result.  If you’re not happy, just select a different filter, or tap on Normal at the far left end of the list.  There are lots of filters, with new ones added fairly frequently.  Just scroll the list left and right to try all of them.  Above the filters, there are some additional buttons.

Instagram Editing

The first icon will rotate your photo 90 degrees counter-clockwise per tap.

Instagram rotate

The second icon toggles each filter’s frame on or off.  Unfortunately, you can’t swap frame styles of different filters.

Instagram Frame

The third icon, which looks like a water drop, is the blur effect.  If you tap it once, you will see the icon light up blue with a small circle on top, and if you tap again, you will get a small rectangle on top, and then a third tap will disable the blur.  The small circle mode will apply a circular blur around the point you tap, and if you drag your finger, your image will update to reflect the change.  If you pinch with two fingers, you can expand or shrink the size of your blurred area.  Similarly, the small rectangle mode will add blur to your photo along a line.  You can pinch to shrink and expand your blur area, as with the circular blur, though you can use two fingers to rotate the blur line as well.

Instagram Circle BlurInstagram blurInstagram Rectangle Blur

The final icon, which looks like a sun with a half circle inside, is an automatic “clarity” filter which really makes your photos pop.  Instagram calls this feature Lux, and it was added in one of the more recent updates.  It adjusts the brightness and contrast of your photo automatically, and you can apply it on top of any of the other filters.  You can get all sorts of cool photos using these effects, which can make the pics look surprisingly professional!  Here’s an image of the Lux filter, without the extra blurring as above.  Compare this to the original shot above.

Instagram Lux

Instagram share pageOnce you’re satisfied with all of the filters and effects that you have applied, tap the Next button on the top right to finalize your image.  You can write a caption to go along with it, and select from the various services to share, such as on Facebook or Twitter.  If you turn on Add to your Photo Map, Instagram will also geotag your photo with your location.  Tap the Share button on the top right again to publish your photo to your Instagram account.  That’s all there is to Instagram uploading of your photos.

Instagram Explore modeBeyond the photo capture, edit, and share mode, you can also access your Instagram account or view others’ pictures from the row of icons at the bottom of the screen when you are outside of Capture mode.  The home icon will show you a list of recent activity.  The star icon takes you to Explore mode, where you can check out a random selection of other people’s Instagram photos.  If you like a photo, you can tap on it to like, comment, or tweet about it.  Also, if you tap on the photographer’s name, you will go to their profile page where you can view their other works, or to follow/unfollow them to have new photos appear on your home activity stream.  The third icon, of a speech bubble with a heart in it, takes you to a news stream that keeps you up to date of what your friends are doing and tells you of new followers.  The final icon takes you to your profile, where you can view all of the photos that you have uploaded, edit your profile, or view your photo map of all your geotagged photos.

Overall, Instagram is a very powerful and fun app to create some really interesting photos.  Having more control over the filters would be a really great addition to really fine tune the effects, but having several presets available means that you will likely be able to find one to your liking.  Also, being able to apply frames independently of the colour filters would be a fantastic addition.  However, despite these few points, they don’t take away from the convenience or popularity of the app.  If you have any photographic aspirations at all, and you are looking for an iPhone or Android photo app, Instagram can provide you with several options to create masterpieces.  If you follow along with this app tactic post, even novices will be able to take, edit and share photos on Instagram in no time at all!

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