Beyond Instagram: How to improve your smartphone photography

This post has been one of the hardest yet to write. This is the fifth version, I hope that we actually publish it at some point. So let me try one more time. 

In just three and a half years, Instagram has grown to 200 million monthly active users and a one billion dollar valuation. And it did that, by taking  crappy smartphone pictures and making them look good. And they made pictures look good, by making image editing  and image sharing extremely simple. I’ve seen it’s effect in graphic design too, with clients asking to make their images ‘more instrgrammy’.

But with time, I’ve started chafing at the edges of Instagram.
Don’t get me wrong, with growth rate of 66% and 75 million daily users, Instagram is still the best place to share your content, connect with friends and push brands. Other image editing apps also realize this; most of them now let you directly share your images on Instagram.  But, it’s creation feature set becomes rather limiting with time. Yet it’s not instgram alone that hampers what you can do with your phone. It’s also your phone’s camera and the very flat pictures you usually get from it.

It’s a toss up.
On the one hand, I want to leverage the Instagram community and on the other, I want to be freed of my phone’s physical limits and the limited options on the apps that it carries.

First, let’s fix that camera.
What makes most camera work, isnt just the sensors in it, but the lenses that come with it. Since you can’t mess with phone camera, mess with lenses instead. Photojojo makes cheap plastic lenses, that attach to your phone camera and give you all the different options available for DSLRs. I used a fisheye, telephoto and a zoom lens. While they won’t make your cell phone pictures look they were shot from a DSLR, they will definitely improve what you can do with your phone.


Second, images with text work better than just images.
If anything ‘works’ on social media, its images. People tend not to make the effort to read the text you put up on networks and nor do they want to invest the time to watch a whole video. They want to see something and know what it is. That’s where images with text comes in. You get the advantage of catching peoples’ attention and at the same time transmit a message to them. For this, I started with Notegraphy, an iOS and Android app that lets you play with fonts, styling and colors. It’s currently pitched as the ‘Instagram of words‘, and some of the fonts it has are quite nice. The only problem is that while you can export your Notegraphy notes to Instagram, you can’t use it to over lay text on images. The layouts are also set; you can’t change what shows up where.

Note to brandwallahs: don’t underestimate what a good picture, with an overlaid hashtag can do for your campaign. Overlays are much better than having a picture and then expecting the viewer to scroll to the text, read it, understand it and then comprehend the hashtag. Here are two examples that I created, how I made them, is explained below.

photo1 photo2

Third, find an app that gives you more creation options.
Frustrated by Notegraphy, I eventually found PicLab HD. PicLab HD is paid iOS app (there is a free version with limited options called just ‘PicLab’ which is available for iOS and Android) that has many more filters than instagram, it lets you play with brightness, contrast and exposure, but most importantly, it lets you add text to pictures. That’s not all, the app also has an impressive number of fonts to chose from, and it lets you change their sizes, color and placement on a picture. (It also have a number of pre-made doodles that you can add to your pictures). Like most newer apps though, it focuses just on the creation. It doesn’t have a dedicated community of it own. So you get the added advantage of editing images, adding text and then sharing them directly to Instagram.

Finally, look before you share.
While PicLab gives you more editing options, it also doesn’t necessarily constrain itself to square pictures. As a result, when you share a picture from PicLab to Instagram, chances are that some parts of the picture may not make it to Instagram. So be careful, make sure you crop your images and make them square before you share them.

And that’s it. A quick and easy way to make your images look better, get your message across and become popular. Well, the first two, at least.

Here are a few images that we’ve taken using the steps above:

IMG_4879IMG_4876 IMG_4880 IMG_4889 IMG_4890 IMG_4891 IMG_4920

Got a photo editing app that you like? Tell us about it!
Got a smartphone trick that helps you take better images? share it with us!

You can see some of my instagram images here.



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