The first thing I ever posted to Instagram, in the halcyon days of 2011, was a picture of my friend Andrew sitting in the passenger seat of a van wearing a pair of yellow sunglasses and holding up a map on his iPhone. “The navigator … Siri!” reads the caption. I think the joke here was that Siri, which still felt novel back then, was doing all the actual work of getting us where we were going instead of Andrew. It wasn’t my best work. More horrifying than the lame caption, though, were the edits I had chosen to make to the picture. Andrew is sepia-toned and there’s a blurriness to the entire image, not because my camera took a blurry photo but because I opted to add said blur for effect. The entire thing is bordered in white, a feature Instagram used to offer to make images look more like real Polaroids. If I posted the same picture on Instagram today, I imagine it would get about the same number of likes it did back then. (The current count is … one. Andrew is a kind friend.)
Looking back on that picture makes me cringe now, but back then I swear those were the cool things to do, the way your Instagrams were supposed to look. Things have, obviously, changed since, as Instagram, and its users, became more aesthetically minded. (I’m still figuring this one out.) But for old time’s sake, let us pour one out for the way things used to be.
The Blur (2010–2015)
Though still an option in the app, the blur feature might as well be dead. Known more formally as Tilt Shift, the tool lets you select a point to keep in focus while blurring everything around it. You could size the focus point up or down and then select whether you wanted a radial or linear blur giving the picture, at least in theory, the appearance of a shallow depth of field and that you’d shot the image on a camera capable of taking a photo of that quality. Which … ha! Who did we think we were kidding. The ultimate effect was that certain sections of an already poor quality — phone cameras have come a long way in eight years — image were even poorer quality.
Tilt Shift is survived by one family member: portrait mode, which does a similar thing with the added benefit of not looking, apologies for speaking ill of the dead here, bad.
The Triptych (2010–2015)
Back in the day, if you wanted to put more than one picture in your picture, you had to do it yourself using a third-party app and save the image and upload it again. Which sounds like a lot of work just to squeeze in one, or two, or maybe even three more pictures into a small square that was already kind of hard to see. (Instagram wouldn’t introduce the zoom feature until 2016 and photo albums — being able to post multiple pictures in a single post — until 2017.)
Triptych is survived by a child, Layout, an official Instagram app that does this without the added steps.
The Mandatory Square (2010–2015)
Though you wouldn’t know it now, looking at the photos of varying heights and widths that cover your screen, Instagram used to force you to crop all your photos into squares. (You can still sort of remember what this was like when looking at someone’s grid, where all the images are cropped into squares, even if they are bigger or wider when you look at them individually.) This was, unlike most of the things on this list, not terrible! It took some of the work out of crafting the perfect ‘gram since you already knew it had to be square. It was, if you will, hip to be square. (Yes, I know I could technically still crop all my pictures into squares, but now that I’m presented with the choice I am conflicted!)
The Square leaves behind the “square” setting in your phone’s camera app.
The Borders (2010–2013)
Along with the mandatory squaring, Instagram used to offer a set of border frames to put around your pictures. An absolutely 2012 must if you wanted your Instagram to look cool. Options included, but were not limited to, a dimpled white frame like the one that wraps around a Polaroid; a sleek all-black option; one that looked like a cartoonist had drawn a black frame around your image; and my personal favorite, a weathered number, the effect of which was as though your photo had been taped to a wall and bits of it were stripped away when you pulled off the tape. Truly none of these actually looked good but we thank them for their service, and we thank Instagram for getting rid of them.
The Borders are survived by a multitude of apps that do something similar.
The Kelvin Filter (2010–2014)
Though today’s Instagram filter options provide for subtlety, filters once upon a time were, well, not subtle. The limited options included the classic Kelvin filter, which amped up the color saturation on your image and left everyone and everything in it looking significantly more orange. Instagram would later introduce newer filters, as well as improving tools so users could more artfully edit their images. The original filters, though still in the app, died a quiet death as less-apparently-edited — like the face full of makeup required for a “no makeup” look — photos became trendy.
Kelvin, sadly, left behind no living relatives. It lives on only in our memory and in our badly edited old pictures.
Rest in peace, old friends.