Instagram for Dummies: Making the Most of Your iPhone Photos

January 26, 2012

Let me start by saying, a cell phone photo is way better than no photo. I may be partial to the beautiful photos I can create with my Nikon d700 but it’s not always practical to lug it around…think young kids, lots of bags, snacks, bodies of water, sprinklers, wet clothes, sand, etc. There are lots of times when I just don’t want to mess with carrying my good camera and having that one extra worry. With that said, I don’t want to miss any fun/goofy moments with my kids. Thank goodness for my iPhone and other mobile phones that are improving their cameras. It’s not perfect, but it’s convenient! What makes it even better and easier to forgo my “professional quality” photos, is this really cool iPhone app/community called Instagram. I’m sure you’ve heard of it and have seen pictures from friends on Facebook. I had too and I’ve even created lots of pictures with it but I just didn’t “get it.”

It seems like there are so many social media sites now, that I can’t keep up. There is Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Pinterest, Four Square, Instagram, etc. Being in the photography industry and loving my own pictures, I decided it was time to figure out what Instagram is really all about. So, I did a little research and tried to do some of the dirty work for you. Now, I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject, but I scratched the surface and have a better idea of how it works.

What Is Instagram?

I’ll start with the basics- Instagram is a free app for iPhone users.  You can either take a photo like normal with your iPhone camera or take one directly through the app.  This part doesn’t make a difference.  Once you have your photo in Instagram, you have your choice of 11 cool filters that give your photo an edited or vintage-looking feel.  This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it really is!  It takes your boring, nothing-spectacular cell phone picture and makes it instantly cooler!!!  How do you choose a filter?  You play with them all until you find the one that gives your photo the right “look.”  No editing skills required!  These pictures will be saved to your camera roll like all of your other iPhone photos.  Done!  You now have cooler pictures.

Ok, that was the part about Instagram that I already knew and that was pretty much the extent of my Instagram knowledge.  If you want to stop now, that’s good enough.  Enjoy your cool pictures!  But I decided to find out what the whole Instagram community and social part was all about.  Basically Instagram claims, “Instagram is a fast, beautiful and fun way to share your life with friends through a series of photos.”  Sounds like something I would like…sharing beautiful photos and fast?!?!  That’s really the hardest part for me normally.  I can take a zillion pictures but getting them from my camera to my computer, editing them, and then uploading takes more work.  I don’t always get around to it.

How Are the Photos Shared?

So, with Instagram, you take the picture, choose the filter, and save it.  Unless you set your account to private, your photo will be instantly added to the Instagram pool of photos.  You also, at the point of saving your photo, have a choice to instantly share that photo on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Four Square, a particular email address, Tumblr, or Posterous (please don’t ask me what the last two mentioned are…that will take more research.)  This is awfully helpful!  Thanks Instagram!  Their take on it is, “Sharing on multiple platforms is a pain – we want to take a picture once, and have it shared (instantly) on the services of our choice.”

What an easy way to share your pictures with all of your Facebook and Twitter friends that care (or don’t care for that matter.)  Once again, this part made sense to me before, but adding people to follow and gaining followers- this is what confused me.  I didn’t solve the mystery, but I found several reasons this can be cool.  I’ll get to those points in just a minute, but speaking of followers, as of now, I have 14 followers!  Wahoo!  My photos, up to this point, have been me taking pictures of my kids or testing how it works.  My photo stream is kind of a mess, but I’ll work on doing better.  Did I mention how to find my mess of pictures?  On Webstagram  or search for @kristysclicks from your phone in Instagram…and I just realized I don’t even have a profile picture.  I will work on that next.

How Do You Follow People on Instagram?

Back to the social features of Instagram, you follow friends to see what they are up to and what cool pictures they post.  You also follow people just because you like their images and want to see what they will post next.  There is a “feed” for Instagram, much like your newsfeed on Facebook, which shows you the latest photos from all of the people you follow.  Before last night, my feed only had my pictures in it.  I thought, “That’s cool!  I can see all of the pictures I have taken.”  No, it had no pictures from others because I hadn’t added anybody to follow.  (Instagram makes it very easy to find friends from Facebook and Twitter.)  Now that I have added some Facebook friends, my feed is more exciting!  You can also look at the “popular” feed.  This will show you some of the most liked photos on Instagram.  This is a good place to browse and find more people to follow just because you like their style and find their pictures interesting.

What Is a Hashtag?

This next part still blows my mind a bit- #hashtags. If you are a loyal Tweeter, you know all about this.  I have a hard time putting my mind around these hashtags (I am not proud of this and yes, it makes me feel really old and uncool.)  This is why I’m learning and trying to help educate you and myself.    You can add any hashtag to your photo by adding a (#) symbol before the word you want to tag.  You can put this in your photo caption or add it later as a comment.  For example, if you post a picture at the beach of a beautiful sunset, you may want to call it, Beautiful #sunset in #Destin.  These hashtags add it to a collection of other photos with the same hashtag and make it easier for others to discover it.  The collections of photos will also help you if you want to look at specific things.  If you are searching for bouquet ideas for your wedding, you can search Instagram for “bouquet” and voila; you can now view 6,825 bouquet photos that have been tagged #bouquet by other people.  That’s the simplified version. To read more about hashtags click Here.

I guess my problem is not knowing what words to tag.  You can add 568 tags for one picture if you want (and have the time.)  You can also make any word you want into a hashtag.  It may not have any others in the category, but you can do it if you want. While searching Instagram I found some more meaningful uses for hashtags (or at least they seemed exciting to me).

What Are Some Interesting Hashtags?

Something that caught my eye right away was the Weekend Hashtag Project.  It is basically a photo challenge given every Friday where you can post a photo pertaining to the week’s theme.  Last week’s theme was #somethingoldsomethingnew.  You could, for example, take a picture of a record and an iPod beside each other.  This is where you get to be creative and come up with a cool idea for others to see.  Each weekend is a new topic.  I want to do it!  Anyone else?  Looks like you have to follow “@jayzombie and look for a photo from her announcing the weekend’s project every Friday.”  Last week’s theme produced over 1100 posts.  That’s awesome!  I’m going to try it this week.  I would love to know if anyone else decides to join me.  Just leave a comment with your username so I can follow you.

One other neat hashtag I noticed was #photooftheday.  I think you can upload any photo and add the hashtag #photooftheday to it.  Then one really awesome photo will be selected and featured each day as the official “photo of the day.”  This could be another way to try Project 365 (taking a photo a day but that’s another topic altogether.)  I did see a hashtag #project365 and it had over 14,000 photos listed. Hmm…tempting.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I feel like I am starting to get this Instagram thing figured out. I hope I was able to shine some light on the matter.  I know I learned several new things along the way and I hope you did too (feel free to “like” this article of leave a comment if you found it helpful.)  There are actually several other, more technical aspects I wanted to share, but that will have to be another day.  If you just can’t wait, visit The Instagram Blog for more information. For now I’m going to enjoy taking quick, beautiful, and convenient photos with Instagram and sharing them with 15 million of my closest friends.


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