Instagram Shots — Before and After

I love Instagram, the smart phone app! It is one of the coolest social media platforms as it allows us to express who we are through the photos we take.

Through Instagram’s built-in filters and additional applications, it’s possible for an average person to look like a professional photographer. It’s great to see your images come to life

by Terri Nakamura

Also, Instagram is a terrific social channel for discovering people and communicating with them. You can participate by posting photos; by following the photo streams of other users; by liking and commenting; or simply participate as a spectator. In any case, you will be treated to new and interesting photos every moment of the day, and can converse with people, unhampered by a 140 character limit.

Having spent a great deal of my life standing beside photographers as I direct photo shoots, it’s a lot of fun to actually be the shooter. I’ve not read any “how-tos” regarding Instagram, and came about the following suggestions through trial and error. So, I’m by no means an expert. But if you consider a few of the following tips, you could end up with even cooler pictures than you would otherwise.

Before and After Filters

What should you shoot?

You can shoot anything and everything. A couple of people I follow post ONLY photos of their pets. Some people shoot pictures of food. One friend shot an amazing series of African violets. It can be anything you like — family photos, pictures from your vacation, social gatherings, pets, cityscapes, found objects — really, the sky’s the limit!

When I’m out and about each day, whether it is heading to a parking lot after a meeting, shopping for groceries, or just going for a walk, I have my iPhone in my pocket. And if I see something that strikes me, I’ll stop and snap a photo.

Instagram has caused me to view the world in a completely new way, because all around us there are interesting things.  I’m a firm believer that almost every average-quality photo, even of the most mundane subjects, can be processed into something pretty nice on Instagram.

by Terri Nakamura

Shoot images that are in focus.

Most photos will look best if they are in focus and at least somewhat well lit. When a photo is blurry or too dark, sometimes cool effects can result, but often it just looks like a dark, blurry, grainy picture.

It’s easy to throw something OUT of focus on Instagram, but you can’t really make a blurry photo sharp.

To focus on the iPhone, tap the area of the screen you want to be sharp. The camera focus box will appear, and the lens will adjust.  If you are shooting with the benefit of a tripod or mount, or by resting your phone against a solid, plumb surface, like a table or wall, your shots will be in focus. If your shots are hand-held, the key is to be as still as you can. If you anchor your biceps against your body then hold your breath when you shoot, it improves the chances of a sharp picture.

A sub-category of shooting sharp, in-focus photos, is shooting straight. For example, when you shoot a lake, and the horizon line is leaning a bit, it can look odd. The same goes with buildings. So if you find you can’t shoot a straight picture, skew the angle on purpose. It can result in some great photos, and purposely tilting the shot releases you from trying to establish a parallel line.

shot by Terri Nakamura

Because this picture was in focus, nice details in the leaves and colors could be enhanced.

Instagram Filters

Even a puddle, if it’s in focus, can turn into something nice.

by Terri Nakamura

This image was in focus and well lit, so looked good with no filter.

Lighting Considerations.

Because Instagram has incorporated the ability to correct lighting, you can take under- or over-exposed photos and still make them work.

It’s possible to save a lot of dark photos with Instagram’s brightness adjustment, but it’s helpful if you have some highlight and shadow detail in the first place. If you shoot during the day with available light, you’ll probably be fine. At night you might find your images become grainy. I’m not crazy about the way photos look with a flash, so I usually try to shoot with available light, even at dusk. But this application is so forgiving, that even if you don’t start out with a reasonable shot, you can often adjust it to work.

by Terri Nakamura

It looked like there wasn’t enough light in this photo, but the filter enhanced the sky and building details.

Photo by Terri Nakamura

This shot was washed out with too much light, but the saturation was adjusted in Instagram.

Shot at Dusk

Shot at dusk, the building looked dark and flat, but the detail was enhanced through filtering.

This is one of the options I frequently ask of any of the professional photographers I hire. Normally I’ll ask for a range from close-up to wide, horizontal and vertical, but by shooting wide, it gives you the flexibility to find a good crop in most any shape. Instagram for the most part is a square. I almost always start with a vertical picture because it’s my preference. Having room around the “live area” of the photo means flexibility in cropping, which can often save a mediocre or crummy photo.

Before and After Image Filters

Basically a pretty dark and junky shot, but cleaned up okay once it was cropped and filtered.

by Terri Nakamura

The rogue yellow daisy diverted attention from this amazing flower. Lit well, this required no filter.

Instagram Image Filters

I cropped out the train cars in the distance to emphasize the dynamic lines of the tracks.

Enlargement and Cropping and filters

The final piece of advice is to look at images in a new way by experimenting by enlarging and cropping your images. If a photo is boring, see if there is part of the image that is salvageable, or if there are extraneous things in the shot that detract from the photo, get rid of them. Sometimes you know exactly which filter you want to use and other times, it’s fun to try the image with different filters to see what you will find.

Using Instagram Photo Filters

This original looked hopeless, but the flag was usable. Combined with this filter, it looked vintage.

Photos by Terri Nakamura

Cropped so the focus was on the logo on this vintage fire truck instead of the building around it.

Photo by Terri Nakamura

This tree was neat, but had unattractive junk around it. A tight crop saved it.

Are you ready?

Having offered the preceding suggestions, I really don’t think there is a right or wrong way to shoot photos for Instagram. Some of the weirdest pictures can become wonderful. Just enjoy the surprises you discover once you’re processing your photos, then share them for others to enjoy!

Do you have a favorite filter, or favorite auxiliary application to use with Instagram? I would love to hear what they are!

Happy Instagramming!

You can find me on instagram


  1. I love Instagram! I have found it is the best place to view artists. Some post pictures of their work in progress, some just finished pieces, all follow other artists and I have discovered many by looking through the likes on the 'Following' News page.
    My best tip is for my phone, the HTC Vivid. This particular one has a little bit of a touchier auto-focus when using Instagram than my first Vivid, so I take the picture with the phone's camera, problem solved!

    1. Dear Kevin,

      Many thanks for your comment. And I love hearing about IGers who are using Android phones. Your suggestion is a great tip!

      I also use the phone's camera because it seems to yield a better outcome, and then I process the images later.

      But there is something fun about being in the moment! Do you usually shot and post immediately, or shoot and process later?

      Thanks again!

      ((HUGS)) Terri

  2. Anonymous12:44 PM

    Beautiful photographs! :) !!!

    1. Hi, Anonymous!

      Thank you for looking!

      There are lots of pics on my Instagram feed and I'm always grateful to have them viewed!

      Cheers/Happy Thursday


  3. I would love to see your Instagram photos. I created an account when the app first came out using Facebook. I cannot get back into my account. I've tried everything...all my emails, filling out forms on Instragram, and tweeting to them. No response and a circle of non helpful information on their website.


    1. Dear Jeanette,

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting here. When time is so dear for everyone, I'm doubly honored when someone is willing to expend the energy!

      I'm sorry you are having trouble accessing your account. I think if you go to:
      You will see your username (third line down)

      Also, I found this on a forum: [SIC]

      As for Its easy!!!!! all u have to do is make another account and type in one of ur friends names on search that u had on ur other account and go to followers or following and find ur pic and u will see ur name!!

      As for resetting the password, try this link:
      It would help if you remember your original password, but it gives you an optional choice to reset via Facebook. That being said, with recent changes regarding passwords on Google and Facebook, I don't know if this is up to date.

      Jeanette, with your beautiful gardens and surroundings, it would seem you have a treasure trove of amazing visual sources of inspiration to sharet on Instagram! I hope to see you there!

      Oh, and to see my feed, here is a link:

      Warm regards, Terri

      PS. I searched for you using your name, and was unable to locate you. Is it possible you didn't complete the login/registration? Last resort: Start a new account!

  4. This is a really great post. The advice is invaluable to people who have never taken a photography course but are discovering their eye with their iPhones and Instagram.

    1. Hi, RG!

      Gosh, I so enjoyed chatting with you about typography, design and other stuff this evening!

      Thank you very much for checking out this post. There are a couple of friends on Instagram I've watched struggle with issues such as low-light and lack of focus, and I thought by writing this post, they *might* see it and benefit from it.

      But judging by their images, I'm pretty sure they didn't read the blog post, or if they did, chose to ignore my suggestions since their images are still not as good as they COULD be.

      The iPhone has been a game changer in so many ways. In some cases you can almost get away with using the images for serious purposes.

      The iPhone and IG have brought an artful appreciation to the masses, and anything that encourages positive creativity is great!

      Thanks again for stopping by! Looking forward to hearing how it goes with your students!


  5. Mike Carr12:58 AM

    Always enjoy reading your informative & interesting articles, Terri, at the same time learning about something new, or 'in style'.

    Most appreciatively...

    Mike, 'the mariner'

    1. Dear Mike,

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting. It's the lifeblood of blogs, and without them, blogs languish.

      I've never asked if, while out on the water, you use a smart phone or a computer to access the web? If you're using a smart phone (iPhone or Android or similar) you might really enjoy Instagram.

      I imagine you see so many amazing things in your travels that few of us have the opportunity to experience!

      If you join Instagram, please let me know!

      ((HUGS)) and thank you again,


    2. Anonymous9:13 AM

      Terri, my good friend...

      While crossing the oceans\seas of the world, I do not have with me an iphone...however, my T-Mobile Galaxy Pad is 'Android' and does take great pics and video. I just choose to have the T-Mobile internet service to the unit suspended for the time that I am away from the States. That is because I can't get a signal to access the internet with the Pad anyway, once the ship gets a short distance away from the coast. At least I can still take pics and video with the send via email later, once I restore my service with T-Mobile. With the USB attachment, it's possible to upload the pics I take, to the ship's computer, where I can then send them via the Internet.
      As for joining Instagram...I don't really think I will, but again, I do appreciate the information you expertly provided.
      Due back to the States near the end of Aug...and hope to display a lot of pics from the past 6-months' travels aboard the ship via Twitter. See you there.
      - big ((HUGS)) :-)

      Mike, 'the mariner'

  6. GREAT post! I am a LOVER of Instagram!!

    1. Hi, Kerri!

      Isn't Instagram the BEST? Sometimes such great surprises emerge when you take a photo into Instagram!

      Thanks so much for posting a response here! See you on Twitter!



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i'm a graphic designer who loves words. - terri nakamura