Many a veteran Apple user might be tempted to dismiss the photo-sharing service and social network Instagram as a millennial’s playpen. The many selfie-posting celebrities on Instagram also might cause some hardcore Apple geeks to avoid the service like the plague.
Instagram’s audience does skew young – typically 35 and under. What’s more, the service officially works only on smartphones, seemingly leaving Mac users out in the cold. Moreover, with Facebook and Twitter dominating social media for many, finding time for another social network might seem impractical.
I once felt sure Instagram was not for me. I used it only to upload an occasional picture, and I ignored its social aspects almost entirely. And, yes, the celebs got on my nerves.
But I’ve had a change of heart. As a reporter, I began to use Instagram in a journalistic capacity. Also, a year ago, I became a caretaker of @pipress, the Instagram account of my employer, the St. Paul Pioneer Press daily newspaper.
In this role, I took a closer look at Instagram activity in the St. Paul region and engaged in an exhaustive search for notable users with exceptional photo posts.
In doing so, I met users of all ages (including those like fiftysomething me). I even wrote a Pioneer Press story that profiled six local shutterbugs ranging in ages from 24 to 58.
These users and I have since banded together into a loose user group we hope will continue to grow. We’re even planning some meetups at the Pioneer Press.
This has convinced me that Instagram is for everyone, or at least for anyone who takes iPhone photography seriously while possibly also craving another social outlet.
What Is Instagram? -- For those who have only a cursory familiarity with Instagram, here is a quick primer.
Instead, uploaded shots appear within the Instagram app as a minimalist grid of squares (the shots themselves don’t have to be square).
Once you post pictures, or videos up to 60 seconds long, your friends can “like” your shots and post comments. In this regard, Instagram helps friends keep up with each other via endless “feeds” of images. Each user’s feed shows the pictures posted by those they’re following on Instagram, much like on Flickr.
Filters are Instagram’s other huge claim to fame — one that other photo services and apps such as Apple’s Photos have emulated. Instagram’s filter collection is one of the best around, enabling you to change the character of pictures and videos in dramatic ways. It also has other image-tweaking tools to make photos pop.
Instagram’s newest feature, Stories, lets users share the moments in their days with pictures and videos presented in slideshow form, and with the option to annotate imagery with text and drawings. The content vanishes after 24 hours — much like another social app called Snapchat — and does not appear in the main Instagram grid, instead appearing as an indicator on someone’s icon in a bar above your feed.
More Instagram features, some tailored specifically to iPhone users, are on the way. At Apple’s September iPhone and Apple Watch press event, Instagram announced the following future features:
Control of the iPhone 7 Plus’s new telephoto lens by dragging a finger up and down in the Instagram camera window.
A new Instagram filter that will tap into the wide color gamut on the new iPhones’ screens, thereby revealing a broader range of hues.
A new 3D Touch action in the Instagram app that will add a photo to a Story.
Support for iOS 10’s new Live Photos API to allow conversion of the videos into Instagram Boomerang GIFs that run continuously back and forth.
This video gives an overview of the new features coming to Instagram.
Instagram, though owned by Facebook, is Twitter-like. User handles begin with the @ symbol; hashtags begin with the # character. You can search for usernames, hashtags, and locations to help you find interesting accounts. Plus, you can see which of your contacts and Facebook friends are on Instagram, and follow them easily. Instagram also suggests users to follow.
Everything I’ve described happens within Instagram’s iPhone app. You can also access Instagram on the Web, but in basic form with no image posting – just browsing, searching, commenting, and liking.
Did You Say “Mac”? -- Apple users aren’t restricted to their iPhones when using Instagram. You can engage in a surprising amount of activity on your Mac too, which even includes posting pictures by way of third-party apps.
This fact makes Instagram a lot more interesting, since using it on an iPhone can be a pain. As someone who interacts with Instagram in a professional capacity, Mac access is a godsend for enhanced productivity.
There are quite a few Instagram-related offerings in the Mac App Store, but I’ve come to rely on a handful. They include:
Uplet: This basic, elegant app has a single function: posting photos to an Instagram account of your choosing.
Drag one or more pictures into Uplet’s window, or click the + button. If a photo is not square, you can decide whether to post it in a square form or upload as is. Type a caption. Click the share button. That’s it.
Uplet has performed dependably for me, and I like its interface polish. I do have two gripes. First, I would like support for multiple accounts. Second, in my experience, Uplet has a tendency to darken photographs slightly as it is posting them. The developer said it couldn’t reproduce the issue.
Uplet does not support Instagram (or any other) filters, so you need to edit your pictures before posting.
Uploader HD+: Another upload utility, Uploader HD+ offers a different approach.
Once installed, Uploader HD+ appears in the Mac OS share menu accessible by Control- or right-clicking any picture in Apple’s Photos app or within a Mac folder. When you select its sharing option, an Uploader HD+ posting window appears.
Pick an Instagram account (Uploader HD+ supports multiple accounts), optionally add Facebook posting (only one Facebook account is supported), type a caption, and click Post. That’s it.
But Uploader HD+ is awkwardly constructed and buggy. It occasionally forgets its Instagram and Facebook settings, for instance, forcing me to set up my accounts repeatedly.
Also, although its posting window is small, it’s modal, preventing you from working in any other app until you close it, unlike the free-floating Uplet. Even weirder, tapping Uploader HD+’s menu-bar icon to access the settings pane causes the Dock to disappear.
So, while Uploader HD+ has all the features I require, I default to the simpler, more elegant, dependable Uplet most of the time.
Photodesk: Rather than helping you upload, Photodesk is more of a souped-up browser for navigating Instagram in a faster, more flexible manner than the minimalist service normally permits.
Photodesk’s interface, which vaguely resembles Apple’s Photos, provides a big window for showing pictures in a variety of grid and column arrangements, plus a sidebar for accessing Instagram account features such as comments, followers, places, liked pictures, and so on. Photodesk supports multiple accounts, with each visible as a circular avatar on the app’s left edge.
If you like a photo and want to save it, drag it to the Desktop. Such a maneuver isn’t possible with Instagram’s native Web interface.
Photodesk is highly searchable – like Instagram itself – with the added option to bookmark places, images, tags, and users. It’s big on analytics, too, with dashboards showing how a user account is performing in a variety of categories.
Photodesk has some deficiencies, but these are Instagram’s doing. Not long ago, Instagram made API tweaks that crippled third-party Instagram apps to varying degrees and even killed some off. Notably, Photodesk lost its capability to show a user’s feed – the stream displaying the images posted by those the user is following. This is now possible only with Instagram’s own apps and its Web interface, which is a shame.
Even so, Photodesk is a godsend for Mac-based Instagram power users who want to bypass the service’s simplistic interface and access its content with greater speed and efficiency.
Power Up on iPhone -- Instagram users using the iPhone also recently gained the capability to post pictures from third-party apps with ease. Instagram made this possible with its new share sheet extension, a long-overdue feature. As a result, posting from Photos and scads of other apps now involves just a few taps.
There are limitations. Photos are posted as-is, and you cannot modify them during posting with Instagram’s filters and image-editing tools. As with the Mac uploaders, Instagram assumes you’ll tweak images using other photo-editing apps before uploading them.
Many such photo-editing apps exist, but I have come to rely on just a few to make my Instagram posts distinctive.
Google Photos: This app (and its back-end picture-sharing service) has a limited but highly effective suite of filters and editing tools. They’re also found in identical form in the Google Photos Web app, making them my go-to for fast picture tweaking on iOS and Mac alike.
Google recently updated Photos for iOS to version 2.0 with new features. Users can save their Live Photos as video clips or image-stabilized animated GIFs. Videos also can be shared on YouTube. Also, photos in albums can be sorted chronologically or by add date.
Snapseed: Part of Google’s acquisition of Nik Software (see “Google Gives Away Its Nik Collection Photo-editing Apps,” 31 March 2016), this Google Photos sibling has a powerful and flexible suite of tools marred somewhat by a non-intuitive interface.
Snapseed is iPad-native, too, which is vital for productivity because Google killed off the Mac and Web variations of the Snapseed editing suite a while back.
Because Google Photos and Snapseed are related, the former has an option to open a photo in the latter for more sophisticated edits.
Hipstamatic mimics old-style photography equipment by enabling its users to mix and match a wide range of digital films, lenses, and flashes for results that are endlessly satisfying and surprising.
One of my great frustrations with Hipstamatic was resolved recently when the publisher made the app tablet-native, thereby turning my iPad Pro into a far more powerful image-editing workstation. Now, if the Instagram app would also go iPad-native, all my photo-related prayers would be answered.
Camera+: This popular photo-editing app has a lackluster collection of filters, but it’s a killer replacement for Apple’s Camera app that can also work editing wonders. Its Clarify Pro setting alone is worth the price of admission.
A separate iPad version recently received a much-needed overhaul, too, and the two versions sync content with one another.
Embracing Instagram -- Instagram has become a permanent part of my life. It’s consistently rewarding now that I am using it the right way – not just as a place to put an occasional photo, but also as a way to interact with real-world friends and relations. Like Facebook when it’s working well, Instagram supports community building.
And for those who are into iPhone photography or photography in general, Instagram also is a place to find stunning images posted by talented shooters and befriend like-minded shutterbugs.
So give Instagram a try. It’s free, easy, and you may be surprised how much you end up liking it.