There's a saying that has become particularly relevant in the age of smartphone cameras: "Everyone's a photographer." While some people may push back against this idea, the democratization of the art form is undeniable — which is why it's so useful to know how to use all the Instagram editing tools. Instagram and other image-based social networking services are changing photography and social media as we know it, so there's no better time than now to boost your photography and editing skills. It'll help you stand out from — well, everyone. Because a picture is worth a thousand words, right?
Many people on Instagram like to take the simplest photo editing route possible; that is to say, they upload a photo, stick a pretty filter on, and call it a day. We've al been there, and there's no denying that the idea of enhancing a photo with a single tap is an attractive one, indeed. Plus, it seems like there's a filter for every situation — Gingham for beach photos, Rise for selfies, Clarendon for pretty landscapes, and so on.
But Instagram actually is capable of so much more than just what we see from its preset filters; the app actually offers an arsenal of Photoshop-esque editing tools that can help you take your photo from drab to fab with a couple of quick left and right swipes. If you're someone who has used Photoshop before — or even someone who has experience developing images in an actual darkroom — you know that it's pretty incredible to be able to change your photo so dramatically with just a few taps.
So, let's go on a little journey through all the Instagram editing tools, illustrated with some handy dandy GIFs so you can see the before and after of each shot. With these tricks in your back pocket, you'll never post a boring photo again.
1. Lux (The Sun Symbol)
In the middle of Instagram's editing options tab, you will notice a button that looks like a half-filled-in sun which Instagram calls "Lux." Lux adjusts the contrast and saturation of your photos to make your images more vibrant; or, if your photos are over-saturated and have too much contrast, it can also work to decrease that intensity. In the photo above, I've adjusted the Lux slider to make my image more vibrant. Compared to the original image, the greens are greener, the blues are bluer, and the mountains in the distance have more detail.
Under the little wrench symbol on the far right of the editing toolbar is where users will find the bulk of Instagram's editing tools. The first of these tools is called Adjust, which can be accessed by tapping the symbol of a lopsided square with a line going through it. The Adjust option enables users to do a variety of things with their image, including rotate it, zoom in and out, straighten, and adjust the horizontal and vertical perspective. This option is great for when you've snapped an image where the lines aren't quite 180 degrees with the grid lines on Instagram. These grid lines can be accessed by tapping the tic-tac-toe box on the upper left side of the screen within the Adjust option.
Next to Adjust is Brightness, denoted by an aperture symbol. This one is pretty straightforward — moving your slider from zero to 100 will brighten your image, while moving your slider from zero to negative 100 will darken it. If you used your phone to shoot an image somewhere with too much sun, or indoors with too little light, this tool is a great way to fix that.
Playing with the Contrast button, which is directly to the right of the Brightness icon, is a little trickier. To put it simply. boosting contrast will make the dark areas of an image darker and the bright areas of a photo brighter, whereas decreasing contrast will do the opposite. It's a little different from the Brightness button, because when Instagram users use that to brighten an image, both the light and dark aspects of the photos get brighter.
The Structure button, located next to Contrast, is great to use for slightly dull or out of focus pictures; it helps bring out the detail and texture in your image. Unlike Contrast, Brightness, and Adjust, the Structure slider can only slide from zero to 100, instead of down to the negatives — so in other words, there's no way to take texture or detail out of your photos. In my experience, this tool is best for landscape photography and should generally be avoided for portraits; applying it to people can do some... uh... creative things to them In the image of the abandoned trucks above, you'll notice that the desert floor and graffiti gets picked up better as I move the slider farther right.
If you want your photo to have warmer, slightly more orange or sepia tones, shift the Warmth slider to the right from zero to 100. If you want your photo to give off cooler vibes, shift it from zero to negative 100 for blue-ish tones. Warmth can function as a way to color correct your photos, but it can also function as a filter in and of itself.
Saturation is a fun but dangerous tool, because even though it has power to make your photo better, it also has the ability to make your image look over-edited. Put simply, the Saturation tool increases or decreases the strength of the colors in your photo. If you boost the saturation from zero to 100 or anywhere in between, all your colors will become more intense; that is to say, your pinks will get pinker, blues will get bluer, and reds will get redder. It also means your skin will look more intense, so always be careful when playing with saturation on a portrait; you might experience some unexpected red, orange, yellow, green, or pink undertones emerging from the photo's subjects' skin. If you decrease the saturation from zero to negative 100 or anywhere in between, the colors will lose intensity and your image will get closer to a black and white image. At negative 100 saturation in Instagram, the image is completely black and white.
Fade is pretty self-explanatory — it just makes your images look faded! If you've ever shot photos with actual film (remember the days before digital cameras?), you'll recognize that fading naturally happens to prints over time; this tool mimics that look closely, allowing you to give your shots a vintage feel without all the waiting around.
The Highlights button helps adjust all the bright parts of your images by making them brighter or darker. For example, if the sun is too bright in the background of your beach photo, you can turn down the highlights on your image to decrease the intensity; conversely, if you want an image of your favorite white dress to be more vibrant, bump up your highlights. Highlights is different from Brightness and Contrast because it only affects the lighter portions of your images, whereas both Brightness and Contrast affect the entire image. In the photo above, I bumped down my highlights to make the details in San Francisco's skyline a little more apparent, as well as reveal the shape of the clouds.
As you might have already guessed, Shadows does the opposite work of Highlights and affects only the dark areas of your photo. Boosting it from zero to 100 will lighten the shadows, while decreasing it from zero to negative 100 will make the darks much darker. Bblack hair, for example, may become an even deeper black.) Both the Shadows and Highlights tools are a great way to reveal details in your image that may be obscured by the ways your lights and darks interact.
Now that we've talked Shadows and Highlights, let's talk Color. The Color tool will let you add a certain tint to your photos, with options including red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, pink, and teal. It's not quite a color filter, because instead of applying it as an overlay to the whole image, you have to choose whether to apply your color specifically to the shadows or highlights of it. In the photo above, for example, I tinted the shadows red.
This is a great tool to use if you want the focus of the photo to zero in on the center: Vignette darkens the edges of your frame, making the center pop. If you have a shot where the background or sides of the frame don't matter as much, this is a great tool to use to redirect viewers' eyes to the center.
13. Tilt Shift
Tilt Shift is similar to Vignette in that it gives the photographer control over how an image is viewed by drawing focus away from one part of the photo and redirecting it elsewhere. While the edges fade in Vignette, Tilt Shift add blur to a part of the background you select. To use it, tap the tear drop icon and select "Radial" if you want to use a circle as your blurring guide or "Linear" if you want to use a line. You can make the area covered by the line and circle bigger or smaller by pinching or zooming in. In this photo of my lovely friend, Lauren, you can see that I used a circular tilt shift to focus on her coffee cup and make her out of focus.
The last tool in your Instagram photo editing arsenal is called Sharpen. Similarly to structure, Sharpen focuses and clarifies your image; the difference between Sharpen and Structure, however, is that while Structure will bring out the slightest textures in your image and blow them up, Sharpen only makes the details visible in your image crisper — it doesn't enhance any additional tiny details that you don't necessarily want enhanced (aka that zit on your chin).
Images: Rowena Naylor/Stocksy; Mehak Anwar/Bustle (14)