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Welcome to the Instagram blog! See how Instagrammers are capturing and sharing the world's moments through photo and video features, user spotlights, tips and news from Instagram HQ.

Photo Tips: Light Bokeh

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It’s that wonderful time of year when lights are twinkling in every city and suburb in preparation for the holidays! One way to transform your photographs of these festive lights is through a unique photography aesthetic called bokeh.

What is bokeh?

The word “bokeh” is a derivative of the Japanese word boke, which means “blur”. In photography this refers to the blurred area of the photograph. Basic bokeh photographs feature an in-focus foreground with a blurred dreamy haze-like background. When coupled with out of focus lights, this blurry background can create an illusion of large orbs. This technique can be taken a step further and the out of focus lights can be manipulated to appear as it has taken on a particular shape.

iPhone bokeh

The bokeh technique is typically reserved for DSLRs since it’s easier to achieve the desired results, however, it is possible to achieve this effect using your iPhone both naturally & artificially!

Natural iPhone bokeh

It’s somewhat difficult to capture bokeh with an iPhone without the help of a lens, but we discovered that a macro iPhone lens, which you can purchase via Photojojo or Olloclip, provides the perfect amount of blur to create a beautiful bokeh!

The image on the left transforms into beautiful dreamy orbs once the macro lens is used (and the Rise filter applied, of course).

Artificial iPhone bokeh

While the natural bokeh technique is great if you don’t mind an image that is completely out of focus, if you’d like to achieve some depth of field it may not be the best option. This is where applications can help. Two of our favorites for bokeh experimentation are iDarkroom ($0.99) and 美图秀秀 or ”Xiamen Meitu" via search (Free).

The image on the left was edited using iDarkroom & the image on the right was edited with Xiamen. While artificial bokeh can be pretty, some applications can make your photos look very … well … artificial and may not actually enhance your photo.

Use the bokeh wisely, but have fun experimenting this holiday season!

Photo Tips: Tap to Focus

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A common mistake easily made in photography, especially when the medium is as instant and effortless as mobile photography, is placing focus on the wrong part of the composition. Though common, it can be easily fixed with the tap to focus feature built in to most camera-enabled applications on the iPhone, including Instagram!

Why is tapping to focus on your subject important, especially when the iPhone auto-focuses already, you ask? That’s a great question! It’s important because the iPhone’s camera is smart, but it isn’t smart enough to know exactly what you are trying to focus on. Often it will focus on places that you wouldn’t necessarily want the viewer’s eye to be drawn to, like the background instead of the foreground or the furthest subjects instead of the closest.

The screenshots below utilize Instagram’s camera and provides examples of an image without focus, mis-placed auto-focus, and finally properly placed tap focus:

If you can remember to take an extra second and tap to focus just before hitting the shutter button, then the sharpest part of your images, which should be the main subject, will always draw the attention of any viewer’s eye.

Photo Tips: Tilt-shift & Depth of Field

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Tilt-shift photography typically refers to a process that’s employed using a special lens that has the ability to physically tilt for plane of focus then shift to adjust the position of the subject on medium- and sometimes small-format cameras.

Tilt-shift within mobile photography applications is often the process of selective focus in order to simulate a miniature scene, also known as miniature faking. Selective focus can also be used to give the appearance of a shallow depth of field (DoF), or placing the focus on a subject in the background while blurring out the foreground & vice versa.  

Miniature Faking with Instagram

In order to make a full size scene appear to be a miniature model, the center of the image should be in focus and there should be a gradual blur towards the top and bottom. 

Let’s start with a photo of the Painted Ladies near Alamo Square:

Select “Choose,” then pick your filter if you wish, we’ve selected Rise, then tap the drop at the top. From here you have a choice between linear (line) or radial (circle). Select the line.

You can then drag or tap to move the focus around. As stated previously, you’ll want what’s in the center of the image to be in focus and the blur, shown as a translucent white, to be above and below the photo.

Once you’re done selecting your focus, removing your finger from the screen will remove the white blur guides and you can see what your final miniaturized photo will look like before you share it!

Shallow Depth of Field with Instagram

In order to make a more dramatic shallow depth of field (DoF), where the subject appears sharp but the areas in front of and beyond the subject appear blurry you’ll want to place the focus directly on your subject.

Let’s start with a photo of an adorable basset hound:

Again, select “Choose” and pick your filter, we really like Rise so we went with that filter again, then tap the drop at the top. From here you can experiment between linear and radial blur. We’re going to go with radial since we want to have our focus on his nose, eyes, part of his ear & a bit of his neck.

You can then drag or tap to move the focus around. Remember that with DoF the subject should appear sharp and the areas in front of & beyond the subject should appear blurry. We’ll want the translucent white around the circle just touching the edges of our subject in this case.

Again, when you’re done selecting your focus just remove your finger from the screen to make the white blur guides disappear so you can see a preview of what your final photo with shallow DoF looks like before you share it!

Don’t worry if you don’t master these techniques perfectly the first few times you try! It can take some time to master the look of both miniature faking & shallow depth of field. It’s often difficult to create an element that doesn’t naturally exist in your image, but in this case practice will eventually make perfect.

We’d love to see your favorite shallow DoF and miniature photos - reblog this post and share your photos in the comments!

Photos by @jayzombie.

Photo Tips: Combining Multiple Photos Into One

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Have you ever taken several really great photos of a similar scene, or even portraits of your friends, and thought “I wish there was a way to upload all of these at once without overwhelming my Instagram follower’s feeds”? Look no further! There are several applications available in the App Store that allow you to combine multiple photos in one single image, such as PicFrame ($0.99), Diptic ($0.99), and PhotoShake! ($1.99).

We’ve seen some really creative uses of these applications. Here are just a few unique examples of what you can do:

  • Combine multiple borders of different shapes and sizes around a single image.

  • Share a series of action photos in one image

  • Mirror a single image to create mind-bending and/or gravity-defying photos.

  • Place a close-up detailed photo next to a wide angle shot of the same subject.

  • Clone your subject! Stand in one spot with your iPhone and take a photo of a moving subject while keeping the scene the same then combine the photos to make it look like they’ve multiplied.

Photos by goslowgirl, defianttilldeath, brianpodolsky, vixst4r, dillonbatalo, strawberryd28, amelia_may, runawaymonkey, fabsgrassi, & christiangardo.

What are your favorite uses for combining photos? Reblog this post and let us know!

Photo Tips: iOS 5 & The Rule of Thirds

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If you want to create photos that are pleasing to the eye then listen up! There’s a wonderful photography rule of thumb, known as the rule of thirds, that can make your composition more interesting.

What is the rule of thirds?

Divide a photo into nine squares using two horizontal lines and two vertical lines. Anything of importance should be placed along the lines or at their intersections. For example, a horizon line should sit directly on one of these lines and a tree should be placed at the intersection of two lines.

Why should I use the rule of thirds?

The rule of thirds creates balance, and balance is aesthetically pleasing! The intention is to avoid dividing a photo in half by a horizon line or placing the subject directly in the center.

How do I use this rule with Instagram?

Glad you asked! If you’ve upgraded to iOS 5, Apple has made this process very easy by implementing an edit feature. Along with several other features Edit includes a crop so you can make sure your photo is a square, and a grid so you can use the rule of thirds! Check out the photos below to try this on your own iOS 5 device:

Navigate to the image you’d like to use from the Photos application & tap Edit in the upper right, then the square crop icon on the bottom right.

Tap Constrain, then tap Square. This will bring up an Instagram-ready constraint box with the nine rule of thirds boxes!

From here, follow what you’ve learned from above. Try to create balance by lining up horizons (or rooftops, in this case) on one of the lines, or place your subject at one of the intersections of the lines. You can see in the first screenshot that the photo appears to be chopped in half when the houses are placed dead center, but placing the top of that first house resting on the line in the second screenshot creates a sense of balance. It’s really that simple!

This is the final image after it’s been pulled into Instagram, given a filter, and tilt shift applied. Once you’re able to picture those lines in your head you won’t need to rely on the cropping method and you can take your photos right in Instagram using the rule of thirds (and our fancy live filters)!

Remember: Rules are sometimes made to be broken. While this can be a helpful guideline for beginners who want to improve their composition, sometimes placing the subject, like a portrait of a friend, in the center of the image can still be aesthetically pleasing, and it can even crate a sense of loneliness. You can also break this rule if your subject has symmetry, like with architectural structures.

Photo by @jayzombie.

Photo Tips: HDR

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High dynamic range imaging, also known as HDR, is a technique that takes multiple exposures of an image; overexposed, underexposed, and in the middle, then combines them together in order to bring out all of the details of that photograph.

When should you utilize HDR? The best uses would be with landscapes & outdoor portraits. For landscapes, HDR will combine an underexposed sky with an overexposed foreground to highlight the best parts of that image so that the sky wouldn’t look blown out and the foreground wouldn’t be too dark. With portraits shot outdoors in harsh light HDR will remove the shadows on the face of the subject and bring out details in the overexposed background. You should avoid HDR if you are trying to capture motion, when dramatic contrast is desired, or when you need to utilize a flash. If you are working with vivid colors you should avoid shooting in HDR, as it can desaturate your image, and instead experiment with applications that apply HDR-like filters, mentioned below.

With the iOS 4.1 update last year, Apple introduced HDR to their Camera app that, when using the back camera, takes three images quickly all in a row and combines them. Often HDR images can appear fake and a bit harsh, but the built in HDR option by Apple tends to tone down the effect, providing a great way to get evenly exposed images. An application alternative to the built-in Camera HDR is True HDR ($1.99), which combines two images and also has basic image editing built in.

Of course, if you love the extreme HDR effect and want to experiment further with it there are applications that utilize filters in order to attempt to reproduce the HDR look such as Pro HDR ($1.99), or iCamera HDR ($0.99 - sale price), & Camera Plus ($0.99 - sale price).

Photos by d3v4sc, sdbuckshot, roginc, ivanvictorlucas, newdivide, whiteskiesarts, prixtina, jazzyjizzica, javawock, ketzall, rickykusmayadi & mickmcc.

Photo Tips: Straighten Up!

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Little adjustments and edits to a photograph can make all the difference. It may seem like a nit-picky pointer but often straightening horizon lines to make them … well … horizontal, or adjusting that building photo you snapped before posting it to the #lookingup tag group, is an overlooked step that can dramatically transform the composition of your images.

The most obvious suggestion is to simply check and make sure your subject seems straight when taking the photo, but we know that the greatest thing about having a camera attached to your phone is that you can quickly take photographs right then & there, in the moment, without having to think twice.

If you find yourself with a photograph that needs some readjusting, we recommend using one of the following applications for iPhone straightening:  Filterstorm ($3.99), Straighten Image ($0.99), or Photoshop Express (free). For Android devices, try Photoshop Express (Free).

Photo Tips: iPhone Lenses

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Ever wonder how people get those incredible close-up shots of tiny bugs or that fisheye shot of the entire sky using only their phones? We don’t want to give away any secrets, but they’re most likely using either the Olloclip, an all-in-one snap on lens that includes fisheye, macro and wide angle; or the Photojojo magnetic lenses!

These lenses offer an affordable way to add a unique style to your mobile photographs. You can check out some more photos by searching the tags #olloclip, #olloclipmacro#photojojomacro or #photojojofisheye