How Instagram Saves My Photos

True story: For every one great photo, you are going to have about 20 crappy ones. That is just the way the world works. The camera shakes, there’s a “something” photobombing you, the light is off, the focus is off, the angle is off, you forget to change a setting. It happens to the best of photographers, not least of all amateurs like me.

But lazy dingbat that I am, I never go back and delete those lousy shots. I’m something of a digital file packrat in that regard. And boy, is that a good thing. Because Instagram came along.

Low-Fi, Structure, Lux, and most of all, Sharpen, have turned many of my worst photos into some surprising social media hits. Here are some of the miracles of photo-salvage I learned, and how I did them.

The first photo was taken with my iPhone 6. It’s a good tool, but not in the almost total darkness I was in when I took the photo. Consequently, the picture came out blurred, and it doesn’t help that the background really doesn’t work. Worst of all, I cut the top of her head off:


This is one of those times when everything just went wrong, and I really was thinking I should delete the thing. But in one of those what-the-hell moments, I played with what Instagram gave me. So, I maxed Sharpen and Lux, set a Low-Fi filter, knocked down the Saturation to make the picture monochrome, knocked the Warmth down to give a blue tint more indicative of marble, zoomed in on the face (“I MEANT to cut the top of her head off!”), increased Contrast to 60%, and decreased the Brightness down to 28%. Finally, I off-set the image to the left to give some negative space. The result?


Voila! Still a bit granular-looking–Sharpen can only go so far–but the result is now something a little more romantic and even a touch phantasmal. The very dim drapes of the curtains behind her now give the suggestion of faint rays of light, increasing the enchantment vibe of the picture, and are vaguely reminiscent of Art Deco. And the granularity gives the idea of a vintage black-and-white.

But I don’t know what I was thinking with this next one:


I sliced the car right in half–and why I even include it in the first place?? This is from a beautiful little village in west Wales called Tregaron, and under the right conditions and angle, you can make the place look like a time-warp back to Victorian times. Which is what I was planning to do until I totally !@#$ed up the photo.

But by the time I took this, I was already aware of Instagram’s curative properties. Some dabbling later, I got this:


I clipped the car out completely on my computer, and threw on the Hefe filter. Lux, Shadows, and Contrast were maxed, and I upped Structure to 60%. I knocked Saturation all the way down, which, when I pushed Warmth all the way up, gave me this tintype result. Not a bad touch-up job to make a lousy photo at least semi-presentable.

Sometimes I take a perfectly good photo, but I want to isolate just one part. That happens a lot with my wildflower shots; I can only get in so tight with my camera before the focus goes, and I love me my floral closeups. So here is the original, which I took in a Hudson Valley, NY, town called Chatham:


And here is want I really wanted:


For this one to work, I had to make the background as dark as possible, so after I zoomed in, on went the Low-Fi filter, along with Shadows (maxed), Vignette (maxed), and in this case, the Radial Tilt Shift, which can darken a background as much as blur it. Saturation was maxed, Warmth and Highlights pushed down completely, and Contrast upped to around 60%. I wanted to keep the dreaminess of the picture intact, so all the bokeh (background blur) was left as it was in the original photo. I really liked this one; I have it in my Favorites folder.

Thanks for reading. I hope this helps you!


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