If you want to become a world-famous Instagram photographer, or at least boost your follower and like counts, I'm going to let you in on a little secret. There are seven highly effective habits of popular Instagram users, and none of them has to do with Instagram. (OK, one.)
Photographers, video personalities, fashion bloggers, and famous foodies use these seven apps to take their Instagrams to the next level, and you'd never even know it. Instagram's own filters go a long way toward making your lattes look far richer than they do in person, and a recent update added a slew of editing tools. But the popular photo-sharing app doesn't want to overload you with options, which is why its latest time-lapse feature is an entirely separate product.
But six other Instagram accessory apps have been making other users' photos look like pages from a magazines--and videos look like film clips--for quite some time. Here are the seven best ways to make your Instagrams stand out from the pack. (It almost goes without saying, but all of these apps make sharing photos to Instagram super simple.)
So you think Instagram's filters and editing tools have grown up? You haven't yet met Afterlight. This photo-editing app has 59 adjustable filters, 66 textures, and 128 frames to fit every mood or season.
You can spend an hour tweaking the settings on one photo until you've transformed a photo of trees into a muddy watercolor, so you'll have to exercise some restraint. But Afterlight has options Instagram can only dream of, which make your photos infinitely more beautiful than your trusty Valencia/Lux combo can.
Let's get this out of the way: VSCO Cam is the app that professionals prefer. VSCO makes top-notch photo-editing software, and its app brings that level of gloss to your amateur iPhone and Android shots. Like Instagram, VSCO Cam offers filters and strengthening sliders for everything from saturation to warmth. But (sorry, Instagram) VSCO Cam's presets are above and beyond Kelvin and Nashville--plus, you can buy themed filter packs to round out your options. The collections are artistic instead of cheesy: See "Analog Classic" or "Faded & Moody." If you want your photos to look ripped straight out of a back issue of National Geographic (or Vogue), VSCO Cam is your best bet.
To make your photos look especially cinematic, you need Whitagram. The app adds a white letterbox to your landscape and portrait photos. It sounds almost stupidly simple, but if you've ever watched a classic movie and appreciated the detail you see in frames with proper ratios, you know how much better letterboxed images can look. The same goes for Instagram: When you choose your square crop, you lose a chunk of your image. Whitagram makes your photo square by filling in the background with white, so you don't lose a thing. It's a basic service, but a necessary one.
Fashion and lifestyle bloggers recently started posting photos that had that Instagram look, but with text on top. It was nothing extreme, just a word or two, but still a great way to caption a seasonal change or a major life event. I thought it was Photoshop and couldn't be bothered, but it turns out the credit goes to Over. The app lets you add a square crop to your images and then overlay text in a variety of interesting fonts. The text makes your photos more visually interesting, and can replace--or complement--your standard Instagram captions. Over's custom fonts aren't free; you'll have to cough up $1.99. There's a free option, a separate app called Overgram, but your font selection is limited and it slaps a watermark on your photo--no good.
Your relatives on Facebook and Instagram love this app, or they will if they haven't discovered it yet. Pic Stitch turns a handful of photos into collages that you can share on social networks or print out. This is useful for before-and-after shots or photos that capture a family event. Simply choose a couple of photos, choose from 232 layouts, and pick from 15 aspect ratios. The app will stitch those photos together on a white background, like a family photo album. Pic Stitch is free, but if you want to take your collages to the next level, you can buy frames, borders, and filters. I don't love photo collages myself, but this app is incredibly popular, so if that's your thing, Pic Stitch is the app for you.
To see Instagram video done right, look no further than New Yorker Kevin Lu's feed, @sweatengine. Lu has attributed the soundtracks for his gorgeous clips to Lumify, a free video-editing app that doesn't require registration and is ridiculously easy to use. Win-win-win. The best part about Lumify, which offers tons of editing tools, is the soundtrack feature, which is particularly great on Instagram. When you shoot or upload a video in Lumify, you can pair it with a song from your iTunes library. You can choose a few different video clips and the app will sync the song to the video, or let you do the work if you want. Then you can easily share the finished product to Instagram, adding a filter to the nearly finished product.
Instead of adding to its in-app editing toolkit, Instagram launched the stand-alone Hyperlapse app on iOS last month for creating time-lapsed videos. Instagram users were already experimenting with time-lapsed videos with other tools, and iOS 8 offers a similar feature when it drops next week, but Hyperlapse makes it easy to shoot, filter, and share those clips quickly. You probably won't use the app very often, but it churns out great clips for specific purposes. For instance, if you're filming crowds of people moving, sunrises and sunsets, or other scenes that change over time, Hyperlapse is a great way to condense that into Instagram's 15-second limitation.