It’s All About Simplicity: A Few Things I’ve Learned About Instagram

I have fiddled with Instagram on my new iPhone 4 for a month and have been quite impressed with the images. But while I joke about cheating on my camera with it, the iPhone could never replace it, as it doesn’t perform as well with certain shots. I tend to avoid using my iPhone (and Instagram) on wider, establishing shots—unless, say, the view is extraordinary (like this mosque in Istanbul). And I generally don’t like the iPhone’s snapshots of people, unless it’s a silly self-portrait shot (like my reflection below).

I do love experimenting with filters on static and solitary objects, clean symmetrical or diagonal lines, uncluttered compositions, and off-center focal points (especially with the tilt shift effect). Simply put, the app magnifies the gorgeousness of simplicity.

I’m not a professional or technically trained photographer—just a new, enthusiastic iPhone and Instagram user. And so—some quick, simple observations on what works well. For me, anyway. (Filters and locations noted in captions.)


Lo-fi. Oakland.

Odd sculptures. 

mills college sculpture
Earlybird. Oakland.

Ground-level POV.

Lo-fi. San Francisco.

Bold mundanity.

X-Pro II. Istanbul.

Reflections at dusk.

X-Pro II. San Francisco.

Windows. Preferably wet, dirty, or foggy.

Amaro. Istanbul.


Brannan. Fairfield.

Murals. Especially at night, when they come alive.

Brannan. San Francisco.

Unexpectedly blurry foregrounds.

X-Pro II. San Francisco.

Signs. Particularly red ones.

X-Pro II. Santa Barbara.

Self-portraits in unlikely places.

X-Pro II. Redwood Shores.


X-Pro II. Chicago.

Elegant ruination.

Lo-fi. Oakland.

Bustle. (But with breathable space.)

Amaro. Istanbul.


Brannan. San Francisco.

Published by Cheri Lucas Rowlands

I am an editor at Longreads. For over a decade, I've worked on curation, editing, and storytelling projects across Automattic, including

17 thoughts on “It’s All About Simplicity: A Few Things I’ve Learned About Instagram

  1. I live in Santa Barbara, it was a pleasant surprise seeing the mission in your collections of pictures (you’re a really good photographer btw)

    1. Thank you, Isaiah. I especially loved the garden area out front, with that bold red sign among all the cacti. What a wonderful landmark. Santa Barbara is beautiful!

  2. >I’m not a professional or technically trained photographer…

    With Instagram, I think you’re training yourself every day on getting there. It’s not just you taking photos, but ability to follow other photographers (professional or otherwise) who use Instagram as a complement to their dSLRs.

    And I agree about Instagram’s simplicity! I have ditched my Point-and-Shoot in favor of my iPhone and Instagram.

    Lovely photos, all.


    1. Thanks, Eugene — it’s funny, I was wandering downtown SF today, and I noticed I’ve begun to look for certain things — textures, shadows, lines, and perspectives — that would look quite nice after running through an Instagram filter. And these are things that actually may *not* look good at all with my other camera. So, in that sense — in looking at what’s in front of me with this new, distinct lens — I’m definitely learning and sharpening my eye as a photographer.

  3. Excellent, thanks for the link Cheri. I’m staying with family while I’m there, so I won’t be needing internet or maps often, if ever. I’m a little terrified of a large bill, but since all I have is an old and mediocre point-and-shoot, my iphone usually results in a better picture (although I completely agree with your feelings on what does and does not make a good iphone subject).

  4. Amazing, as always, Cheri. I absolutely love your eye, through any lens and with any filter. I love the way you use the blur effects on Instagram, which I’m still kind of getting used to. When you were in Istanbul, how did you go about using your iphone as a camera without incurring crazy roaming charges? I want to play with my phone and Instagram while in Hong Kong.

    And that self-portrait is in the likeliest of places!

    1. Thanks, Elise! Istanbul was my first experience using my iPhone overseas (I use Verizon, so not sure what provider you have). If you have Verizon, check this out:

      Even if you’ve got AT&T or something else, that article is resourceful in general. I ultimately decided not to switch over temporarily to a global plan (which I did all the time with my BlackBerry) and turned off all of the cellular data and voice/data roaming capabilities in the Settings.

      I just relied on wifi to use the Internet and check email, etc. (So, I took pics with my iPhone throughout the day, and then posted them with Instagram later, at our guesthouse or when we lounged in cafes that had wifi).

      Honestly, I was rather scared keeping the phone on in general, as I wasn’t sure what charges would add up (using the maps feature was quite helpful, but at one point I turned off the location services because I didn’t know if I was being charged).

      Basically, I’m still unsure how it all works (have yet to see the phone bill!) so I’m no help in this regard! But definitely be careful with what you leave on/running in the background.

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