The phrase 'don't knock it till you've tried it' is usually wheeled out when trying to convince someone to try an unusual foodstuff or, in what is usually a completely different set of circumstances, an exotic sexual practice.
It applies just as well, however, to Instagram, the photo-editor-cum-social-network recently bought by Facebook for about a billion dollars.
Often, it's dismissed and vilified, either because people wonder why anyone would use a photo-sharing service that in practical terms only exists on smartphones, or, more commonly, because they dislike the retro, cutesy filters that users can apply to images. Why make photos look like they were taken in the seventies, they ask, when they were taken with the more accurate camera systems in today's smartphones?
To which attitude we blow a big raspberry and say don't knock it till you've tried it. Yes, it attracts a certain type of user whose hipster photos of lattes and cupcakes may start to grate a little, but you don't have to follow them. And you don't even have to apply the (quite charming, to our eyes) filters to your shots if you don't want to; the only creative decision Instagram foists on you is that your photos have to be square.
The real joy of Instagram is the community. Whether you choose to follow just a couple of close friends, some big, popular accounts - some of which, like the excellent @NASAGoddard, might surprise you - or an eclectic mix of both with a few randoms thrown in for good measure, if you're anything like us you'll soon be happily browsing through your stream first thing in the morning, and often throughout the day to see what else people have been sharing, and what they've been saying about your shots.
And those filters? Sorry, curmudgeons, but they add a lovely quality to lots of photos, turning snaps into little artefacts; that's just the way our brains are wired. So explore Instagram with us, and start shooting and sharing photos yourself - we think you'll love it.
Instagram's a simple application once you get to know it, but it's not always obvious what each of the controls does, or even how to get everything set up the way you like it. So here we're going to show you around the place so you can get a basic idea of what's where; later on, we'll go into more detail about some of the buttons and options, but for now, this quick overview will get you up to speed in no time.
1. Your photo stream
This is where you'll see all the photos you've uploaded, plus the photos of anyone you're following. (People can set their photos to private, so you have to be approved before you can follow them.) Scroll through the list - which is chronological - to see more photos. Tap the refresh button at the top right to load more, newer photos; older pictures are automatically loaded when you get to the bottom of the list.
Tap this button to explore the photos in the Instagram community. Initially, you're presented with a grid of photos that are popular right now - tap the refresh button at the top right to see more - but you can also search for users and hashtags here too; it's great for seeing pictures from an event, for example.
3. Take a photo
Right in the middle of the toolbar, coloured blue so you can't miss it, is the button you tap when you want to take a photo. Once you've tapped it, you'll be prompted to take a photo using your device's camera, but you can also choose to upload a photo that's already stored in your Photos app. Then you'll see a screen like the one to the right.
4. Comments and more
Tap here to see activity about you and your photos; when people follow you, or comment on or like your photos, tapping this button will tell you who's done what. Instagram supports Push notifications too for this kind of information, and you can define in the app's settings what you get notified about. You'll also see some information about the people you follow here too, such as when they add their photos to the new maps feature.
5. Your profile
Tap this button to see all the photos you've uploaded as a grid, list or, if you allow it, pinned to a map, stats about how many people are following you and more, plus the option for editing your profile. There's also a cog at the top right of the profile page; tap this to configure more settings.
6. A photo in your stream
Photos in your stream, whether they're ones you took or from those you're following, are shown nice and big on your screen. Below each one you see comments and buttons to comment or like the shot, and above it is the name of the account that posted it, plus, if the poster added a specific geotag, the name of where it was taken. (Tip: tap this to see more photos taken there!)
Once you've taken a photo or chosen one from your library, you can apply one of Instagram's filters to it before uploading. Scroll horizontally through this list and tap one to see it applied instantly to your shot. Also experiment with tapping the Lux button at the bottom left - though in our experience this only works well on landscapes.
8. Image options
From left to right, this top bar offers you the option to add a border; rotate your photo 90° anti-clockwise (tap more than once if you need to); toggle between your device's front and back camera if appropriate; add focus blur or remove it if you don't like it; and cancel editing and uploading this photo.
Never used Instagram before
Right, let's get you started with Instagram. Since you've never used it before, we'd recommend that you just focus on this section, work your way through it then go off and do some Instagramming; don't worry about trying to take everything in from our more advanced tutorials, or having to buy extra kit and apps.
If all you do is install the app on your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch, and then sign up, that's fine for today; you'll gradually get an idea of how the community works, and even if you don't feel confident in taking and sharing photos now, you soon will!
Get the app
The first step, then, is to download the app from the App Store. It's designed for iPhone and iPod touch, but it will work on an iPad as well - you can always tap the 2× icon in the bottom-right corner to make it bigger on the iPad's screen.
Of course, while it's best to have a device with a camera so that you can snap and upload wherever you are, you can still install the app on camera-less devices, either just so you can interact with the community of Instagrammers, or so that you can upload photos that are already stored in your Photos app.
Once you've installed the app, tap the icon to launch it, and you'll be presented with a screen inviting you to login or sign up. Assuming you've never used it before, tap Sign up and fill in your details. The Instagram app will then present you with some suggested users that you might like to follow just to get you started.
Be selective, though; popular accounts are all well and good, but for our money nothing beats following real-life friends, and you don't want their posts to be drowned out.
Follow your friends
The setup process should ask you to find Instagram-using friends from Facebook, Twitter, or even just from your Contacts list, but if you skip this, or want to do it later, just tap the right-most button in the toolbar along the bottom of the screen, tap the cog that appears at the top right, and then tap Find & Invite Friends. (Alternatively, of course, tweet or post a status inviting your friends to tell you if they're using Instagram, and what their username is; you can search for specific usernames from the explore tab - tap the second button in the toolbar.)
Like and comment
Let's imagine that you've followed a couple of friends and suggested users, and you've found a photo you like. You can give it the electronic thumbs up either by tapping the Like button beneath it, or by double-tapping the photo. You can also leave a comment - tap the Comment button - or tweet the photo by tapping the button with three dots to the right, and then tapping Tweet. In iOS 5 or later, a standard tweet sheet opens up so you can write your message and choose which account to send it from.
Post a photo
Okay, let's get you posting a photo; we'll just cover the basics here. Tap the blue icon in the middle of the toolbar at the bottom of the screen. If you want to upload a photo you took earlier, tap the overlapping rectangles icon at the bottom left. Otherwise, frame the shot with your camera and tap the shutter icon. Experiment with filters, and once you're happy, tap the big green checkmark, enter a caption if you like, and share your photo with the world!
Take Instagram further
If you've already mastered the basics of following friends on Instagram, liking and commenting on their photos, and uploading a photo yourself, you're ready to move on to the next level. Here, we'll share some more advanced tips and techniques not only to make your photos look impressive, but also to help you get the most from the Instagram community.
Using Instagram's selective blur
Once you've snapped or selected a photo from your library, you're taken to the editing screen where you can apply filters and borders, and rotate photos that are at the wrong angle. But there's a terrific creative option here too; tap the little water droplet icon in the top toolbar and you'll get two options for blurring parts of your image, plus an 'x' icon to clear the effect if you decide you don't like it.
Whether you tap the circle (which creates a circular focal point) or line (which leaves a strip of the photo in focus and blurs everything either side of it), both work in the same way. By default, Instagram keeps whatever's in the centre of the photo in focus, and blurs everything else.
You can tap anywhere you like on the picture to move the focus point, but the real creative control comes when you hold two fingers on the image. Now, not only can you reposition the focal point, you can also resize it live too, by pinching and unpinching your fingers. Once you release your fingers, the blur is applied, but you can still tweak it by putting your fingers back on the screen.
Used well, this feature can really help draw the eye to a part of your photo, or help simulate bokeh, a more exaggerated depth of field effect than your iOS device's camera is capable of, but there's one other trick worth exploring with it.
Because we're used to seeing photos of model sets in which the limitations of the camera blur the foreground and background, if we force this effect onto a photo of real life using a technique called tilt-shift, it looks like it was taken of a model. The effect works best with photos taken from above, as would be the case with models. Apply Instagram's linear blur horizontally, and enhance the effect by adding the Lo-fi filter.
Sharing to other networks
One of the great thing about Instagram is that you can easily share the photos you take and edit to other social networks.
You can link your Instagram account with other networks from your profile page (tap the cog, then Share Settings) or just link them as you go; when you get to the sharing screen in Instagram, tap on a network that you want the photo to be shared with, and you'll be prompted to authorise access to your account there.
You only have to do this once for each network; afterwards, you can just tap on each account in the sharing screen for each photo you want to send to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and so on. You can choose to share to all other networks, no other networks, or anything in between, for each picture individually.
Setting and exploring hashtags
It's a great idea to add one or two hashtags to your photos - it helps other people find your shots as they explore the community. Don't overdo it, and be specific - hashtags such as #photo, #instagram or #iphone are likely to get lost, and don't really help anyone discover great photos. Instagram itself has more tips at tapm.ag/ighashtips.
Don't forget to explore hashtags too, either by tapping one you see on someone's photo, or by tapping the second tab of Instagram's main toolbar and searching for one.
It's not obvious, but it's easy to reply to comments people leave on your photos, and even to delete the ones you don't want to appear. Tap Comment on the relevant photo, then swipe left to right on the comment you want to action. You can tap the arrow to reply to that comment, or tap the bin icon to delete it.
Tips and tricks for addicts!
Just can't stop posting photos to Instagram? Sure there must be things you can do to get even more out of it? You're right! Here's what real Instagram addicts need to know to take their passion for pictures to the next level!
The joy of stats
There are a few services out there that can help you find out more about how popular your photos are, who's following you and more, but statigr.am is the daddy. Sure, it shows you basic stuff like what your most popular photo is, and what followers you've won and lost, but it also gets into really detailed information about your posting habits and more to help get your photos even more attention - if that's what you want.
For example, a graph can show you when you usually post photos, and when you get comments and likes, meaning you can, if you wish, start sharing photos more when your followers are active.
Use the map view
In the latest version of Instagram, geotagged photos can be pinned to a map for browsing. So long as he or she has given their permission, you can tap Photo Map when viewing anyone's profile (or your own, of course) to see where the shots were taken. Pinch and pan to move around the map, or tap on stacks of images.
You get the option of adding each photo you upload to your Photo Map as you go, but if you later decide you don't want a shot to appear on a map - one taken at home, say, or perhaps at a school - go to your profile and tap Photo Map. You can tap Edit here and tap on stacks of photos to take them all off the map, or tap the grid icon at the bottom then tap Edit for precise control over which shots are pinned to the map.
Get involved with Instameets
There are lots of groups of people all over the world who meet up and either just chat about Instagram or to set themselves photographic challenges. Visit here for details of how to find a group near you, or set one up yourself!
Get your photos off your phone!
Sure, your Instagram pictures look great on a screen, but they don't have to be trapped under glass. Of course you can print them yourself, or do anything with them that you would with any other photo, but there are plenty of companies around which offer services specifically tailored to Instagram shots.
Printstagram is one of the best-known, and it offers a range of options to print and present your pictures. We especially like the MemoryBox (available from printstagr.am/memorybox), which packages up all your shots as a keepsake, and its mini stickers (printstagr.am/stickers). If you want stickers that are a bit less mini, ARTFLAKES' giant stickers are probably for you. Order yours at artflakes.com/en/instagram-stickers.
For something a little more lasting, consider printing your photos onto a ceramic tile, which you can then either use as a rest, flat on the table, or affix to a wall and grout as you would any other; ImageSnap will sort you out at imagesnap.com/products.
Finally, in an act of supremest meta, you could make a case for your iPhone customised with an Instagram photo - go to casetagram.com to get started!
Export all your pictures
Optionally, you can have Instagram save your edited and/or original shots to your Camera Roll when you upload them, but if you just want to export all of your photos quickly and easily from the service, use instaport.me to download them as a single zip file.
Get the effects in Photoshop
This is absolutely cheating, but if you want to apply Instagram-like effects to your images in Photoshop, Lightroom or Aperture, there are ways!
Casey Mac Vintage Photo Presets (tapm.ag/SU65dM) work in all the above apps, or you can just monkey with tone curves in Photoshop using PetaPixel's presets at tapm.ag/RnhH4G if you prefer.
Kit and apps
Lifeproof iPhone case
If you're heading to the beach, or just want to take some fresh, original shots in new environments, get the Lifeproof case. It protects your device from dust and sand, and is waterproof down to 2m. You can still use the touchscreen when the phone's in the case too.
This particular tripod is a heavy professional one, but you don't need to go that far. You could argue that you don't need a tripod at all for Instagramming, but for group shots, or shots in low light, it can be a boon. A cheap one is fine - you can always upgrade later.
Price: $20 (around £15 shipped)
Manufacturer: Studio Neat
This pocketable rubber widget lets you easily mount an iPhone 4 or 4S on a standard tripod screw. It's surprisingly secure, though if you need your phone to be held even more tightly, consider the Glif+. There are other tripod systems too, even for iPad; look at the range at joby.com.
Headphones with a volume clicker
We're just using the white earbuds that come in the box here, but you could use any wired headphones that have in-line volume controls; plug them in, especially when using the iPhone on a tripod, and you can trigger the shutter by pressing the volume-up button. (In theory this works with Bluetooth headsets too, but only ones that adjust the volume on the device, not themselves; none of the ones we've tried work.)
It seems crazy to recommend another photo editing and sharing app, but even if you don't use its more flexible shooting modes and wider range of filters, buy it for the wonderful Clarity filter. You can open edited shots in Instagram.
Apps such as PicFrame, PhotoShake! and Diptic let you slice up the square Instagram format into a number of smaller areas into which you can insert multiple images, so you can share more than one photograph at once.
Although the real Instagram app will work on an iPad - albeit in windowed form - if all you want to do is browse the community rather than post, get an app such as Iris App or Instapad. Browse, search, like, comment and more.
Do & Don't
Take photos of whatever you damn well please
Lots of Instagram etiquette guides tell you not to take photos of your coffee/breakfast/pet. To hell with that! It's your service; do with it what you like. People will soon tell you if they don't like what you shoot, and you can choose to listen to them or not.
As you potter around Instagram, tap on hashtags attached to photos, or type in a hashtag to search for in the second tab of the toolbar. It's a great way to discover great photographs and interesting accounts to follow.
Check out the Popular page
Seen everything in your stream? Check the Popular page (the second button in the toolbar) for some beautiful shots that are catching the community's eye. See what your friends are up to Most of the time, you'll have the split controller at the top of the screen you see when you tap the fourth button in Instagram's toolbar set to News. If you switch it to Following, you see what the people you follow have been up to, including photos they've liked and accounts they themselves have followed. It's a great way to discover new stuff!
Post photos not taken with your iOS device
It's easy to load photos taken with fancy digital cameras onto your iOS device, but try to resist posting photos not taken with your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch. Instagram's all about mobile photography, after all.
Try to game the system
Spend enough time on Instagram, and you'll see people doing the 'Follow me and I'll follow you back!' thing, or using it to spam. Don't be that person. Instagram's a nice place.
Share photos that aren't yours
Not only does posting photos from the web or from other people's Instagram accounts violate copyright and Instagram's community guidelines, it's also just not cricket.
Derived from a Japanese word meaning 'blur' or 'haze', this photographic term refers to the blurred background you get when shooting with a wideaperture (or 'fast') lens, which makes the subject stand out.
One or more processes by which the look of a photo is changed. This could be as simple as inverting all the colours, or recreating characteristics associated with chemical photography, such as cross-processing or a seventies patina.
Information embedded invisibly in a photograph that records where it was taken. This is usually simply a set of coordinates, but apps such as Instagram can use databases of locations (from foursquare, in this case) to tie photos to named locations. Your iOS device determines its locations with a combination of GPS (Global Positioning System) and information about nearby Wi-Fi hotspots.
Hashtags are a simple way to flag up the fact that a particular snippet of information - a tweet on Twitter, for example, or an Instagram photo - is related to a certain subject. A hashtag can be whatever you want it to be; just type a hash symbol (#) and then add your subject; #tapmagazine, for example.
This is a special kind of filter that you can apply to photos in Instagram independently of the main filters. It brightens and boosts dark areas of a photo with a single tap, but is best used sparingly. It works particularly well on landscape shots.
Apps can send little messages to your device even when they're not open, telling you, in Instagram's case for example, that someone has just 'liked' one of your shots.
Real tilt-shift photography involves expensive cameras and lenses, but you can simulate it with Instagram's selective blur feature. One great use for tilt-shift is to make real life scenes look like models; it works best if you shoot your subject from above.