SINGAPORE - Outside Bugis MRT station one Saturday, a group of weekenders hunch over their smartphones, the default posture of many Singaporeans.
But peer closer and you find not WhatsApp obsessives but Singapore's new breed of mobile photographers, ready to explore yet another corner of the island.
This is InstaSG, Singapore's community of 4,300 Instagrammers.
Instagram is the photo-sharing and social media platform that took the world by storm in 2010. Photographs are presented in a square format like nostalgic Polaroids.
Once a month, InstaSG gathers strangers for "photo walks" to document what they see - unexpected vistas, split-second human moments, the unexpected.
The zest and talent of this movement of "citizen photographers" led The Straits Times to partner InstaSG to mark this year's National Day with a selection of their community's best shots of the Singapore they know.
From June 28 to July 9, InstaSG members submitted digital pictures of the more unusual, hidden or non-touristy parts of Singapore.
The result is an insider's look at Singapore.
The eight winning photographs selected from more than 2,500 entries capture the serenity that still exists on the island's fringes and back alleys - in Punggol, Pulau Ubin, tiny lanes near Duxton.
Says teacher Irene Teo, 28, whose shot of a river bank on Pulau Ubin was among the winners: "I love the tranquility of the place; something that's missing from fast-paced Singapore."
Student Ian Chow, 20, and chef Nabil Taufiq Tan, 47, found their inspiration along the narrow back alleys of Tanjong Pagar.
"Back alleys always give me that sense of belonging," says Mr Tan. "They bring me back to my childhood, watching scenes like people chopping vegetables behind their restaurants."
For Mr Ryan Paul Augustine Lim, 20, who is waiting to be enlisted for national service, Instagram photos open a window into Singapore.
"Sometimes, we need to take pictures to get a better idea of where we really are, which is Singapore," he says. "It helps us see what's around us in a new way."
The love of photographing their days and nights with their trusty phones bonds the community, diverse as an SBS busload of passengers. Students show up, as do artists, professors, engineers and stay-at-home mums.
There is no rivalry, and everyone wants to share and learn, 20-year-old twins Yafiq and Yais Yusma tell me.
Many, including freelance photographer Hannah Teoh, 31, come simply to see the faces behind the myriad user names that create these photographic works of art.
"The user name becomes your alter ego," she says. "Then you meet them and it's like, 'Hi, I'm Superman, I'm Clark Kent.'"
Tips for snapping Instagram photos while journeying in Singapore
1. Simple is good. Document everyday details, whether it is a heart-shaped leaf you see on the ground on the way to work, or a bus passenger looking out of the window. There is magic in the quotidian.
2. Your smartphone's small size is its secret asset. It lets you get up close to subjects without spooking them like a clunky lens would.
3. Get with the times. Explore the world of photo-editing apps, such as Snapseed and VSCO cam. They are a breeze to use. Used well, they can wield the same power as professional tools such as Adobe Lightroom (and save you a ton of cash).
4. Commune! InstaSG photographers meet both online and offline to share tips and learn from one another. Want to know how someone perfected a shot of Upper Peirce Reservoir, creating the look of a fine art photograph? Ask.
5. Fresh eyes. Above all, awaken yourself again to your surroundings so you will see Singapore afresh. Even if you tread the same daily path to work, look again. Be more aware and observant, and you will begin to see everything in a new light.
View more Instagram photos of Singapore at www.straitstimes.com/ndp2013 To follow these eight photographers, search for their user names on Instagram. For more information about InstaSG activities, which will include a photo-walk on Aug 24, follow @InstaSG on Instagram or visit InstaSG on Facebook: www.facebook.com/InstagramSingapore
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