Today is the last week of Instagram 101! Over the last four weeks, I’ve talked about my Instagram story, how to find your community and how to find your voice. Today I’m talking about putting it all together to find your style. I’m also sharing 33 photography apps for iPhone and Android to help you get better at Instagram. (I’ll tell you how I use them, but you will have much better results if you take the time to find your own style!) I am also answering a few of your questions that didn’t quite fit into any of these lessons, so I’ve got those as a little Q&A at the end as well.
So, what did you think of this series? Is there something I missed? I’m happy to answer your questions in the comments, or maybe you’ll inspire me to do another Instagram 101 post in the future. Do let me know!
Click below to see my tips for how to find your style on Instagram!
Think about your tone and mood.
Last week, we talked about finding your voice within your content, which will help to drive your style. Today, we’re building upon that a little bit more. Whether you’re sharing lifestyle or landscape shots, your images can evoke so many emotions. Are your photos are bright and colorful? Or maybe they’re moody with a vintage edge. Or perhaps they’re dark and grungy! None of them is right or wrong.
Exercise: Get out a piece of paper, and write down your answers to few of these ‘this or that’ questions. (Or make up your own!) Follow your gut. Go with your instinct on each pair. If your answer is ‘both’ or ‘neither,’ that also counts as a valid response.
If I had to do this for myself, I’d say my style is a mixture of modern and classic styles. I try to keep my posts colorful and bright, but slightly faded and moody. I try to strike a balance between urban and natural shots. I seek out solid colors, textures and patterns as often as I can. Also, I tend to post mostly photos (rarely videos).
Take photos! And lots of them.
Emphasis on the lots. I never take just one photo. (I wasn’t kidding when I said I was annoying! Bless my sweet friends and family for their patience.) Now that you’ve thought about what to photograph, take four, eight, maybe twenty shots. Try different angles, different compositions, different exposures. When you feel like you’ve “got the shot,” look through your images before you vacate the premises.
This is not a photography how-to course, but my best advice is this: Try to get the lighting and focus just right. Nothing is worse than an out-of-focus shot or an over- or under-exposed photo. If your photo is blurry, don’t post it — that’s my #1 rule of thumb. Practice does make perfect! I promise.
Before long, you’ll be able to look at your subject before you take the shot and knowing how you want it to look. It takes a while to get to that point, so before you leave your subject, ask yourself: Are your photos editable? How will you edit them? What app(s) will you use? Will you use a filter, and which one? Photography is a lot about intuition, but thinking ahead when you’re in the moment will help you yield better results.
If a photography class interests you, look into taking one in-person in your area or try one online. Creative Live, Photojojo University or Skillshare all have great ones to look into. There’s no shame in learning something new!
Be adventurous in editing your photos!
There came a time when the filters within the Instagram app just weren’t enough for me anymore. They seemed to discolor my photos too much and I also got tired of using the same 17 filters over and over again. I had a professor in design school who taught me that “All designers are better than to use the auto and default settings.” I think she was talking about our design software, but that advice applies here. If you feel like you’ve outgrown Instagram, why not challenge yourself to learn a bit more about photo editing?
There are tons of different kinds of apps — free and paid ones — available to help you with Instagram. Try a few of them out. Try lots of them. Try some of the effects and filters they have to offer. If there’s a style you’d like to emulate, why not reach out to an Instagram photographer who excels at it and see if they’ll share some tips with you!
- I use VSCO Cam almost exclusively for editing my photos. It comes with a few filters, but you can buy more to achieve various effects. It also has a great set of tools for adjusting exposure, saturation, fade, highlight/shadow, etc. It also offers the VSCO Grid, its own social network for sharing images (even non-square ones!) edited with the app. It’s free, but you can buy more filters as add-ons.
- Instagram, our favorite app, recently added a ton of new tools for editing your photos, and they’re pretty spiffy! Be sure your app is up-to-date, then click the wrench tool when you’re uploading a photo to try out some of the new tricks. I love the Luxe and level tools for adding some oomph to my photos.
- Faded has some really lovely filters that resemble classic film.
- I used to use Afterlight a lot more than I do now, but it has a ton of cool filters and cropping tools.
- Snapseed has a neat interface for adjusting photos. I’m in love with the Structure and Ambiance features when I edit landscape photos.
- Pic-Tap-Go lets you create formulas of its filters for edits you want to repeat often.
- When my photo isn’t quite level or symmetrical, I use SKRWT to make my lines straight and perfect. It’s a lifesaver if you’re a perfectionist for stuff like that!
- I love Mextures for its beautiful lens flares, film textures, grunge vintage filters and landscape enhancements. You can layer and adjust the transparency of the filters, save the steps as formulas that you can use again and again.
Other camera apps
- LVL Cam uses your phone’s gyroscope/compass to help you take a straight-on photo.
- If you’re missing the timer feature on a point-and-shoot or D-SLR, Timer Cam is for you. I recommend a phone tripod for getting the best still shots.
Special effects apps (to be used sparingly)
- Union allows you to layer and combine photos for a double-exposure look. (I recently used this app to perfectly line-up a screenshot with my photo for an #interactivegram — see below.)
- Waterlogue essentially turns photos into pretty, faux watercolor paintings.
- Prismatic and Tangent, allow you to make overlapping shapes with your images.
- Typography apps are not my style, but they’d be great every once in a while for a blog or even a marketing campaign. A few I’ve tried include: A Beautiful Mess, Over, Little Moments, Obaby, Wordswag, Typic+.
- Collages are OK once in a while, too. Pic Stitch, Picframe and Diptic work really nicely.
- Apps like Whitagram and Instasize let you fit an entire horizontal or vertical photo into Instagram without cropping it into a square.
- I don’t use Instagram’s video function often, but Flipagram, Spark Camera and Fly all help you make beautiful videos.
Develop a routine.
Once you find a style you like and that seems to work for you, start a routine that you practice on each photo. My editing routine varies depending on the picture, but it tends to look something like this:
- First, I open my photo in VSCO Cam, Instagram or Snapseed, and then I always adjust the sharpness slightly, making the photo just a little bit crisper.
- If needed, I’ll adjust the exposure or brightness very slightly, making the photo a tiny bit brighter.
- I’ll also adjust the temperature, making my photo warmer. (iPhones tend to shoot kind of cool, meaning they have a slight blueness to them.)
- Next, I might play with the contrast, shadows and highlights if the image needs a little bit of a boost, or I’ll add a fade effect if I want to mute the shadows.
- Then, I’ll apply a filter. Faded, VSCO Cam and Afterlight all have great filters. I tend not to apply them at 100%, but somewhere in the middle.
- Sometimes I’ll add an additional effect, usually in Mextures to bring out some color or to intensify a lens flare.
The whole time I’m editing, I will flip back and forth between my original photo and my edit. I like my photos to have a crisp realness to them, while still adding the dreamy softness that I prefer my photos to have. It’s not unusual for me to use 3 apps to edit my photos, but if I’m in a rush I’ll just use Instagram’s new edit tools or VSCO Cam.
Whenever I use one of these apps, I usually add a hashtag for the app so my followers know how I edited it but also to give credit to the app creator(s).
Take it beyond Instagram.
There are a ton of services out there that let you bring your Instagrams to life — off your phone, out of the cloud and into your hands. Any of these would make great gifts for friends or lovely keepsakes for yourself!
- Social Print Studio’s Printstagram prints your photos out on gorgeous, silky paper. They also allow you to turn your pics into albums, posters, magnets, cards, stickers, T-shirts and buttons.
- Artifact Uprising lets you make beautiful hard- and soft-cover books of your photos, as well as prints, boxes, postcards and calendars. As a designer, I can say these guys know what they are doing.
- Postcardly lets you send digital photos via postcard to your family members. I haven’t tried it yet, but I have a feeling my grandmothers would eat this one up.
End of class Q&A session
What should go in my profile?
Keep your profile simple. Say who you are. (It’s OK to have an alias if you don’t want to put your whole name out there, but I think it’s nice to have a name.) Some people put where they live or what they do as well. If you have a website, you can and should link to it in your profile. Also, I prefer when profile photos are of people’s faces.
How can I drive traffic to my site?
If you’ve got content to share, tell people! But don’t hassle them or be annoying. A short and sweet call-to-action like, “This mojito is as good as it looks! I shared the recipe on the blog today. Click the link in my profile to find it!” If you want to drive traffic to a specific post or page, put that permalink in your profile for a limited time. Don’t let every post be a self-promo post, (Don’t worry — I’m guilty of this too!) but if you dot them in among your own content, people are bound to see what you have to say.
How do I acquire and retain followers?
I covered a lot of this in my Find Your Community post, but here’s a recap: Keep a consistent posting schedule. Interact with others on their photos to make new friends, and talk to people who follow you back. If you keep at it, you’ll earn followers and they’ll stay with you. You can use apps like Followers+ or Iconosquare to help you keep track of your attrition rates.
And that’s it, friends! If you missed any of my Instagram 101 posts, you can check them all out here. I really enjoyed putting this series together for you, but be sure to let me know what you thought of it. And feel free ask me any lingering Instagram questions you might have, or stay in touch on Instagram (@feastandwest and @slbrinkley). // susannah
This post is part of the Instagram 101 series: