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How to use filters to improve your Instagram photos

How to use filters to improve your Instagram photos


Put a little style in your images

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

If you want to get the most out of Instagram, it pays to improve your pictures with a little bit of technical magic before you post them. Serious photographers do this by using digital tools to adjust everything from color balance to sharpness to saturation.

For everyone else, the Instagram app includes easy-to-use filters and editing tools that can make your photos and videos more visually appealing.

Using Instagram editing tools, step by step

Consider this photo I took at a municipal park in Austin. Not bad, maybe, but what if I could increase the visual appeal before sharing it on Instagram? Here’s how you do it.

First, upload the photo to the Instagram app using the + button on the home screen. Then, choose the picture you want from your phone’s photo library and hit “Next.” (You could use Instagram’s built-in camera to take the photo, but it’s usually easier to use your phone’s camera app so you can take as many shots as needed to get the best results.)

Although Instagram makes photos square by default, you can also use the <> button in the lower-right corner to resize the photo to its original dimensions.

If you stay with the square format, rest your fingertip on the photo to move it around and get exactly the crop you want; the gridlines that appear will help you balance the visual composition. (It’s no accident the grid is 3x3; it helps you follow the classic “rule of thirds.”)

Once you hit “Next,” the app takes you to the filter screen. When you tap on any of the filter thumbnails at the bottom — for example the “Clarendon” filter here — the app immediately applies that filter to your picture. (This process works the same way if you’re posting a video.)

Instagram - Clarendon filter


Tap on a filter twice to change its intensity.

If you tap the same filter thumbnail a second time, Instagram allows you to dial down the intensity of the filter to achieve a more subdued look. If you’re using an iPhone, you can also tap the small square icon to add a simple frame. 

Here are some other examples using the “Amaro,” “X-Pro II,” and “Lo-Fi” filters. Note the range of effects that you can experiment with in just a couple of minutes of playing around with different filters.

Instagram filters


Instagram’s Amaro filter

Before you hit “Next,” you can also tap “Edit” at the bottom of the screen to make other simple adjustments to your photo’s alignment, contrast, brightness, structure, warmth, saturation, color, and several other categories. Again, these use simple linear sliders or buttons to achieve different effects.

Edit Instagram photos


You can also tap “Edit” to tweak your Instagram photos

Once you have everything the way you want it, hit “Done” and then “Next” to go to the posting page where you can fill out details for your post, like a caption, hashtags, people tags, location tags, and sharing to other social media platforms.

As you get more experience using filters, you’ll probably start to develop favorites that you go back to again and again. By sliding all the way to the right on the filter page, you can choose “Manage” to go to a new menu that allows you to rearrange the order of the filters by using the three-stripe button on the left and dragging it into place. You can also hide filters by tapping the checkmark. That way, your favorite filters will show up first, and you won’t have to wade through the ones you never use.

Managing Instagram filters


The last “filter” lets you manage the others

You can also achieve this without using the menu. From the filter page, simply press and hold any of the filter thumbnails for a couple of seconds. The thumbnail will get a little larger, which means that it’s ready to be moved. You can then drag it left or right to change its place in the lineup or drag it up into the “Drag to Hide” area that temporarily appears in place of the photo being edited.

Here are the final results for the shot of Onion Creek in Austin.

The author’s photo of Onion Creek before (left) and after (right) editing on Instagram.

The posted version transforms a pretty good original photo into something that will pack more punch as users scroll through their Instagram feeds on their phones. Keep experimenting with filters, and you’ll make your Instagram photos and videos more appealing for your followers.

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