Despite the new algorithm and people’s frustration about it, Instagram is still an important platform for most users and creatives. I personally love to use Instagram to connect with like-minded people and I also use it as a marketing channel to promote my work, products and event announcements. As a photographer I want my Instagram feed to look aesthetically pleasing and visually cohesive but also authentic, unique and personal.
Unlike my blog, I try to only post photos on my Instagram feed that stand out. On my blog, I usually publish a series of photos which makes it easier to tell a story. Some photos are bolder and louder and others are quieter and more reserved. I love both types of photos equally and both are needed to bring across a story or mood in a blog post. However, on Instagram, I prefer to post bolder photos. It’s a personal choice and I follow accounts that do the exact opposite and those are some of my favorites on Instagram.
So for my Instagram feed, I usually aim to find maybe one or two photos of a series that tell the whole story in just one image. I then take this photo and put it through my editing process to make it pop on Instagram. Over the years I have learned a lot about visual storytelling on Instagram and here are my tips on how I take. choose and edit my Instagram photos from start to end.
How I edit Instagram photos
Choose your best photos – Quality over Quantity
I usually try to pick 1-2 images from a series of photos. It’s tempting to use all the images that you shared on your latest blog post but chances are high that 80% of the images might look great on your blog but won’t work on your feed. Let’s take a look at my latest blog post “Emirati Sweet Dumplings” which I shot in the desert. So far I have only shared one image from that post. I liked this the best because it’s close enough to the scene to identify the main subject, the food, but far enough away to recognize that it’s a picnic scene in the desert.
All the other images are either very similar or wouldn’t really work on my feed. Even though I love the desert photo with the little oasis, people wouldn’t appreciate it as much on my food-related feed. Simply put, the subject would be off for my Instagram feed. The top-down photo shows the food but cropped to Instagram format some details like the desert sand would be missing. Furthermore, the styling is not perfect as I build this scene for a different angle (the one I posted on Instagram) so it’s not my best picture.
Vertical/portrait over horizontal/landscape format
I always choose a portrait format over a landscape format because it takes up more space on people’s Instagram feed. Personally, I also prefer to shoot portrait images as they are aesthetically more pleasing to me but that’s a very personal choice. On Instagram however, if you’d like people to see and look at your images I recommend to stay away from landscape (vertical) photos as those can take up less than half the space of a portrait orientation.
Pick a photo with a clear point of interest
When picking a photo for your Instagram feed, make sure the subject is easy to understand and quickly recognizable by the viewer. Below you see two images of my French Pear Galette recipe. When you scroll through my blog post you understand that the first image shows the process of making the rosemary syrup with coconut sugar. But on Instagram most people don’t take the time to carefully study your images or even read the caption. At first glance, you would probably skip over this image because it’s not immediately clear what it shows. The second image, however, is very easy to understand. It’s sliced pears, sprinkled with pistachios and syrup, most likely placed on a cake. It will only take a millisecond to know what the image is about.
As with many things in life, it’s important to offer something to people that’s simple, direct and easy to understand.
Go for strong colors, shapes, and lines
When people scroll through their Instagram feed, they see dozens of photos. If you want to get their attention I recommend to choose images that are either bold in color, shapes or lines or all three of those. By that, I don’t mean that your images need to be super colorful or geometrical. Pick 1-2 colors that stand out or make sure that you use leading lines in your photo’s composition. For example, both images below use cutlery and dishes to create leading lines and help move the viewer’s eyes around the image.
Plan your feed
Some experts say having a well-curated feed is not as important as sharing a great image but as a photographer, the Instagram feed is my mini portfolio page and I like to have it neat. I like to have it color-coordinated and mix different angles with some close-ups and long shots. I also always pay attention to how each photo is eventually cropped. Even though you can upload landscape and portrait format to Instagram, your photos are ‘cropped’ to the typical square format on your actual feed. So try avoid putting your main subject in the lower or upper third of your photo (if it’s a portrait format) because that part will partly be cut off on your Instagram gallery.
Apply unique filter and/or editing
There are a few factors that make your images unique and easily recognizable. It’s the topic you post photos of, in my case it’s food. But it’s also how you take your images, so which angles you use, props, styling, environment, light and many more. When I scroll through my feed, however, I instantly know who the photographer of an image is without looking at their names by simply recognizing their editing style. It’s personally taken me years to find my own visual editing voice but I have learned it’s important to invest in that part to stand out and to bring your photography to the next level. I always use one of my own Lightroom Presets because even if I’ve shot in a different light or location, these presets or filters make sure my photos look cohesive. Right now I love my Lightroom preset bundle “Scandinavian Blue” which is available on Creative Market.
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Sharpen photo and increase clarity
When I’m done with my editing process I always sharpen all my Instagram images a little bit more and increase clarity slightly. Sometimes Instagram fails to upload and show images in high quality, thus they can look blurry. But either way, I like my Instagram images to be sharper and with higher contrasts than the photos published on my blog because mobile screens are much smaller than a laptop or PC.
Apply Lux on Instagram App
Even though I love Lightroom and I do all my editing with this software, I also always use the LUX function on the Instagram app before posting my photos. It enhances your photos and makes them pop. Basically, LUX applies an HDR-like effect but I usually don’t go over 50 because it also increases saturation and can make your images look too graphic. But I do love it for the extra contrast, lighter shadows but darker blacks and darker highlights but lighter whites.
Do what feels right
Regardless of all the tips and tricks and must do’s and don’t do’s, sometimes you just need to follow your gut feeling and heart and post images that are not perfect or great. It’s okay because this is still your feed and you can decide which photos you like best.
If you have more tips on how to shoot, choose and edit photos on Instagram, let me know in the comments.