10 ways to give your Instagram a makeover

With smartphones become slicker and shiner as the years go by, their photographic qualities are likewise improving. However, it’s not always as simple as a click.

Here are 10 simple ways to get the most out of your snaps, and make your Instagram feed the envy of your friends.

1. Get closer

Many cell phone cameras, especially the iPhone, really start to shine when you bring them in close to your subject. The small sensor provides a relatively wide depth of field so you can get entire objects in focus where cameras with bigger sensors and longer lenses would have trouble. In close, you also get more control over the lighting.

2. Crop, don’t zoom

Many smartphone cameras offer a digital zoom function, but you’re almost always best served by pretending it doesn’t exist. Even in the liveview preview, you’ll be able to see how noticeably your images degrade the second you start to “zoom.” The camera is simply extrapolating what’s already there and basically guessing what the image looks like. It gets ugly fast.

3. Edit, don’t filter

If you want your images to be unique, the last thing you should do is paint them with the same filters that literally millions of other people are using. For the record, we’re not anti-Instagram, we think the sharing element is fantastic, but the pre-determined “retro” washes are played out. And that goes for every other app slinging the same stuff. We suggest getting a full-on image editing app like the excellent SnapSeed, Photoshop Express, oriPhoto. They’ll let you make reasonable adjustments, like contrast, sharpness, and color temperature. Stuff you’d actually do with images from your big camera.

4. Don’t add fake blur

Depth of field will always be one of the biggest challenges for a smartphone camera. Wide angle lenses and tiny sensors make any substantial background blur difficult to achieve. But faking it almost always makes things worse.

5. Pick a better camera app

This one applies more to iPhone users than Android users, but in any case, the goal is more control. There are a couple of standard choices in this category and any of them will treat you better than the stock camera app. We like Camera Awesome (made by SmugMug) because it allows you to shoot in bursts and separates the AF lock from the exposure lock. It’s also free. Other apps like Camera+ have similar options for more controlled shooting.

6. Ditch the flash

The problem with many smartphone flashes is that they don’t actually, well, flash. They’re glorified LED flashlights, thrust into a duty they’re not fully prepared for. They are bright, but the colour temperature can be gross and they miss one of the primary duties of a strobe: freezing the action in the frame. The actual “flash” duration is much too long, so you end up with an image that’s both blurry and terribly-lit. Not to mention how close it is to the lens, which makes those horrible demon eyes almost a given.

7. Keep your lens clean

Your pocket is not a clean place, and the grime that lives within loves to glom onto your smartphone camera lens. The result are hazy, dark images that won’t look good no matter how many retro filters you slap on them. So give it a quick wipe with a wet cloth.

8. Watch the lens flare

Adding lens flare is another trend in mobile photography right now that’s getting more overdone by the minute. But, this one can actually work for you if you do it the natural way. The tiny lenses are often more prone to wacky light effects than their full-sized counterparts, so you can really play it up if you want to. A silhouette with a bright, flaring background can actually look very stylish.

9. Make Prints

There’s a disconnect that exists between digital and analog photography at the moment. Many photo enthusiasts barely make prints anymore, if at all. Putting photos to paper makes them tangible and takes away some of the assumptions people often make when looking at photos online.

10. Don’t forget the rules of photography

While the tips we’ve outlined here will help you maximise the strengths and minimise weaknesses of a smartphone camera, it’s ultimately your skill, knowledge, and eye that will make photos worth looking at.

Now what?