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DIY Instagrams

January 10, 2011

Instagram is a hugely successful iPhone App. If you own an iPhone, you probably have it or a similar app like Hipstamatic. Either option combines the instant satisfaction of Polariods with the look and feel of a Holga camera.

Not everyone owns an iPod though. However, if you do have a camera and access to Photoshop you can “instagram” your own photos. It’s a much lengthier process, but you will have the added benefit of more control over the results. In the following tutorial, I will take a photograph of mine and “instagram” it. While Instagram allows you to choose filters for varying looks, I will only be demonstrating one process. You should be able to modify these basic concepts to achieve whatever look you like though. A quick note. Photoshop is a wonderfully complex tool and many of these steps can be achieved in any number of ways. I make no claims about doing this the “right” way. Many of these steps have also been simplified to make the process more accessible.

Step one: Choose an image. Make it a good one. A bad, unedited image will result in a bad edited image 100% of the time. As you can see, I may or may not be following my own rules.

Step two: Curves: Layer->New Adjustment Layer->Curves

Photoshop’s curve feature is really the quick and dirty way to make drastic colour changes to whatever photograph you happen to have in your possession. A lot of tutorials will tell you to drag the curve line to a pre-determined set of coordinates. Don’t bother. Pre-set curve settings rarely work because every image is different. Instead, know what you want to achieve before hand, and manipulate the Red, Green, Blue channels until you get close to what you want. To make simple, but effective adjustments, drag the curve line from the centre and move it either directly up or down. For instance, to give your image a warm colour cast, drag the red curve up, and the blue and green values down.

For better results, try manipulating other areas of the tone curve. For example, select the blue channel and push the bottom third of the curve up, while pushing the top third down. This will give the shadows in your image a blue colour while reducing the amount of blue in the highlights. Reversing the process with the red channel will give you red highlights. The result is an image that has blue shadows and red highlights, which is very appealing visually. Most of Instagram’s filters employ colour contrasting shadows and highlights in this manner.

Step three: Wash out your photo. Layer->New Adjustment Layer ->Levels

Some Instagram filters tend to wash out the photo. In other words, the image appears slightly foggy and the shadows aren’t completely black. The easiest way to achieve this is to bring up your level adjustment toolbar and move the black output arrow to the right. Adjust according to your own personal tastes.

Step four: Blow out the highlights.

If your image already has blown highlights feel free to skip this. Again, this step can be done any number of ways. In the interest of simplicity, we are going to keep using the levels tool bar. Simply move the white arrow under the levels graph to the left until your highlights become bright white. In any other photo editing circumstance, this is not usually a good idea. You want to retain highlight detail, not lose it. Photo fidelity isn’t really our aim here though.

Step five: Add some grain. Filter->Noise->Add Noise

One of my favourite aspects of Instagram has to be the grain filters produce. The iPhones camera more than likely contributes to this as well. First, duplicate your photo layer (Right click on the image in the layers bar and select duplicate layer). Open up the “Add Noise” box and move the slider to the right. Make sure you have the selection boxes set to “uniform” and “monochromatic”. Don’t go overboard.

Step six: Crop and add a border.

Select rectangle marque tool, change the style to fixed ratio and enter “1” in width and “1” in height. Drag your cursor across the photo. Select “Image” in the menu, and choose crop. If you don’t like your crop, simply press command/control+Z. If you like, you can also add a film border. You can find a number of great borders at PShero. You will likely have to resize your image to make them fit properly.

That’s it! Remember, you can manipulate the curve values to achieve virtually any colour cast. Play around and have fun. Here are a few more “instagrams” I made using the same process.

Taylor Summach is a photographer from Manitoba who also writes for Parade. Check out his website

Some comments...

  • ooh, this is very neat. can you replicate the vintage one ??

    from Diana on March 20, 2011
  • Every photo has been taken recently and has been made to look vintage. You can make the vintage look by using an editor like Photoshop or gimp. Taylor has some tips in the post to get you started.

    from Brandon on March 21, 2011

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