Bokeh has been a crowd favorite feature for a while now (mainly since the iPhone went portrait mode!). Companies have introduced phones with dedicated cameras for bokeh, have integrated various bokeh features in phone camera apps, and developers have created standalone apps as well. Now that most of the tech world has dove into the pool of bokeh, the latest entrant to dip its toe in, is the photo sharing application, Instagram. Instagram has recently rolled out a new feature called “Focus” which many are calling similar to the iPhone’s Portrait Mode. Yes, we know that Instagram already has a background blurring feature as part of its edit options (read about it here), but while that is manual and involves a little, this is purely automatic – you point, shoot and snap, and the app blurs the background.
The feature is pretty easy to access and use. First things first, you have to make sure that you have the most recent version of the application. Then you open the Instagram app and go to the in-app camera from there (it is on the top left corner – you can also tap the Stories icon, which is just below it). Once there, you have to slide through the different modes present underneath the shutter button, and resting between Boomerang and Superzoom, you will find Focus.
Once you know where the tool is, using it is a cakewalk. Focus first asks you to “find a face” (literally) and then tells you to move closer if the distance between the face and the camera is a little too much. Once all that works out (it generally happens very quickly) the background around the subject will automatically blur out, even before you take the shot, and then all you have to do it press the shutter button, and then either share the picture on your story and/or save it. The feature works on both primary and secondary camera. So, your selfies get bokeh, too!
Sounds simple? It is. Is the bokeh/blurring good? It is, again, although sometimes the subject. But if you are thinking that Focus is software counterpart of the iPhone’s Portrait Mode, then we would ask you to hold your blurry horses. The Portrait Mode on the iPhone is very elaborate and offers a lot of functionality, especially after the introduction of Portrait Lighting. Even without it, the Portrait Mode on the iPhone is little strict as compare to the Instagram Focus feature when it comes to adjusting the distance between the subject and the camera – all iPhone users can testify to that irritating feeling when the camera insists that you are not in just right place; in comparison, the Instagram Focus app just raises a red flag if you are too far away. Also, most bokeh applications and camera features allow you to take pictures of non-human subjects as well in bokeh/portrait mode, Instagram Focus only works when there is a face in the frame – mind you, it can be fooled by photographs!
That said, we do not really mind that the Instagram Focus is not too feature laden. Instagram has generally kept all its Stories features fairly elementary. All the tools, like Boomerang, Superzoom, Rewind, Stop Motion amongst others, just do the job without really making matters complicated – there are third apps for all of them, but what makes people use them within Instagram is their simplicity. Yes, these features do not allow you to fiddle around with the speed or cut frames or the length of the clip, or even resize images within the app. They just allow you to take videos and pictures and post them with some stickers and words stuck on them, which is as basic as it gets (before you ask, the face masks don’t work in Focus!).
All said and done, Focus seems like another good addition to the family of features in Instagram Stories – it saves a lot of people the time and efforts that it takes to use a third party app or even the camera app and then transfer it onto their Instagram Story. Yes, it is not bundled with features that would allow you to change focus after taking pictures or features that would allow you to change the degree of bokeh or lighting in the picture and it might not even click images with the sharpest edges and may bokeh out a part of the subject at times but Instagram’s new feature Focus is all what you need it to be: simple and functional.
That’s the Instagram story, isn’t it? Pun intended.