I [Heart] Instagram (But Not The Filters)

IG logoI love Instagram. It’s awesome for quickly taking photos on my trips and building mini-communities on the road. I’ve met more people from IG (and had better interactions with them) than with any other chat or social-media application (including Yahoo Messenger, FB and Foursquare). Photographers love to share images and comments, and are usually keen to grab a coffee or a beer if you happen to be visiting their town. IG interactions are intense … and that’s what I love most about this app.

What I don’t like much (or rather use much) are Instagram’s built-in filters. There are a few that I use now and then (such as Earlybird or Sierra), but I find most of the effects to be too strong (like Nashville or Kelvin) or to give the photos too much of an “Instagram” stamp. Instead, I prefer to use separate photo-editing apps that I’ve downloaded from the IOS apps store. Often I use more than one app to edit a photo.

Here’s a quick list of my favorites and a few words about why I like them:

* Snapseed: This is easily the best mobile photo-editing app on the market (in my opinion). It’s great for making basic edits (crops, straightening) as well as standard fixes like brightness, contrast, saturation and white balance. I also really like Snapseed’s “ambiance” control, which allows you to brighten or darken foreground or background elements. Other great features include “drama”, which adds an adjustable HDR element to your pics (though use with caution — too much drama is a sure sign of an IG amateur) and “retrolux”, which adds a randomly chosen retro effect, complete with light leaks, fades and scratches. All of the effects are adjustable, and I find myself tuning them down quite a bit. Still it’s great fun to see what the app comes up with.

* VSCO CAM: I am relatively new to this app, which appears to be the hottest effect on the market these days. VSCO Cam’s claim to fame is to give digital images a ‘film’ effect by taking out some of the saturation, ratcheting down the brightness and adding an extra level of contrast. The result is an image that looks aged and faded (but no scratches or cheesy light leaks). It’s a favorite among minimalist photographers.

* Instant (Polaroid): In keeping with IG’s retro bias, this app turns your snaps into images that approximate old-style Polaroids. I use this only sparingly, but when I do I usually like the results. You can choose from a menu of retro effects, and when used in combination with other editing apps, the result is something that looks unique (and usually pretty cool). As with original Polaroids, there’s a strip of white at the bottom of the photo where the app allows you to write messages.

* Noir: Another app I use only sparingly, but it’s perfect for moody black-and-white shots. The app allows you to move the primary light source around the image (handier than you might think) and to create artificial shadows and highlights to your heart’s content. You can adjust the light intensity and choose from various b/w ‘colors’ – like sepia tone or a washed out green or blue. This app takes some getting used to and practice makes perfect. It’s ubiquitous on Instagram, so once again, moderation is the key.

* Colorsplash: I love this app and when I use it, my photos instantly get twice as many likes as usual (though it feels a little bit like cheating). Colorsplash takes a color image and converts it to black and white. Then, with some clever and easy-to-learn editing techniques, you can selectively add back the color where you want. Think for a moment of a photo of colorful balloons in the air. With Colorsplash, you could take all of the color out of the shot, and then selectively add back color only to the balloons, for example, to make striking dots of color against a gray sky. This app is also popular and recognizable on IG, so if you want something that really looks unique, try it in conjunction with other apps and effects.

Other apps that I’ve used in the past and still have on my iPad are Camera+, Pixlromatic and Picfx (among others). I have since grown tired of their effects (a common malady among IG addicts), but all are fun to use and play around with.

Some Sample Shots

Here’s a photo gallery with some of my most popular photos on Instagram and a short explanation in the caption of the apps I used:

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