If you're over the age of 30, chances are you don't use Instagram, the social photo sharing app that for millions of young adults has replaced Facebook. There's nothing inherently youthful about Instagram. In fact, it offers some pretty slick ways to edit photos taken with your smartphone.
Using Instagram does not mean giving up Facebook. By connecting Instagram with Facebook, you can have the best of both worlds -- better mobile photos and the option to share selected photos to your Facebook network at the same time you post to Instagram.
It's simple to get started. Download the app from the App Store or Google Play and set up your account. You're ready to add photos. You can take a photo within the app, but you can also choose photos saved on your phone. I prefer to take photos via the regular camera feature on my phone and later choose the ones I'd like to share on Instagram. That way, I have the original rather than just the edited version, which is what I'd wind up with if I took the photo in Instagram.
If you've used a photo editing program, such as Adobe's Photoshop Elements, on a smartphone, you know how difficult it can be to manipulate the controls on a small screen. Not so with Instagram. The icons are relatively large and, in all but one feature, require only a tap to make edits.
Instagram is best known for its retro-style filters, but it has several additional editing features modeled after professional photographer's tools and techniques. Understanding the app's editing capabilities may change the way you take pictures.
You don't need to worry as much about framing your shots because you can do that in editing. However, take a step or two back before you press the shutter button -- You can always crop a scene, but you can't add to it.
The editing process starts with scaling and cropping, which is your only option once you've selected a photo to work on. (When you open the app, you'll see a big blue button with a camera icon -- that's your virtual shutter button to take a picture. You'll also see a video icon, which will launch the filming. Bypass these for the square to the left of the camera icon to access your camera roll. Tap to select a photo.)
Use your thumb and forefinger to enlarge your photo and then move the image around the screen to frame the part of the photo that will be your final image. Use the grid as your guide. The grid is the same one professionals use to apply the Rule of Thirds for better compositions. For instance, place a person's eyes at the intersection of two lines or, if you've taken a landscape, position the horizon on one of the two horizontal lines. Once you're satisfied, tap the green crop button, which will take you to the other editing features.
New for iPhone
The next step is new to Instagram as of last week and is available only to iPhone users at this time. You can now automatically straighten photos with astonishing accuracy. Note the icon on the far left under your photo that shows a skewed square. Tap it and a new screen will open with your photo straightened by using the data collected by your phone's sensors when the picture was taken. You can also manually rotate a photo by 25 degrees in either direction, moving one-tenth of a degree at a time.
Instagram also offers a simple blur tool to simulate depth of field, a technique professionals use by focusing on an element of a scene, which leaves the surrounding area a little (or a lot) blurry. While you can't adjust the level of blurriness, you can select an area to remain in focus by tapping the teardrop icon and then using your thumb and forefinger to adjust the size of the focal area.
The icon that looks like a postage stamp allows you to add a frame and the sunburst icon adds high contrast. I rarely use either of these.
Finally, you may select one of 19 filters to apply to your photo. I tend to stick with a single filter, usually Mayfair, when I'm posting a series of photos from a single location. You can try out each filter to see what looks best on your photo by tapping through the options.
Once you're finished editing, it's time to share. You may add a caption, name the location and tag people in the photo as you would with Facebook. You'll also have the option to send the photo to a friend via email and post to Facebook and other networks. It will also be added to your phone's camera roll.
Leslie Meredith has been writing about and reviewing personal technology for the past six years. As a mom of four, value, usefulness and online safety take priority. Have a question? Email Leslie at email@example.com.