Your voice is one of the most important pieces of using Instagram. Your profile (as in your feed of photos you have taken and shared) is your own space on the visual web. You can share unique photos of your life, your travels, your work — anything you want, really! But sometimes it’s hard to find the line between what you can take pictures of and what you should take pictures of. The content of your photos is just as important as how they look and with whom to share them!
Today is the third installment of my Instagram 101 series. I’m talking about curating your content, using hashtags and challenging yourself to do something different!
So far, I’ve shared my Instagram story and my tips for finding your community on Instagram. Next week I’ll be talking about finding your photographic style and my list of favorite editing apps. If there’s anything else you want to know about Instagram, let me know in the comments and I’ll include my answers next week!
Click through to read my tips for finding your voice on Instagram!
Do some research.
Study your own feed and the people you admire or interact with the most on Instagram. Doing this will help you cull and curate your own feed a bit better. I’ve got some questions I ask myself whenever I want to revamp my feed a little bit. Use your answers to help you think about what content you like to share with others, and how.
1. Look at your profile/feed. What kinds of photos do you like to take?
It could be food, cars, landscapes, textures, animals, portraits, interiors or still life shots. (Or something else!) You can totally have multiple answers. In fact, it’s probably better if you do! For me, it’s a lot of textures and patterns, bright colors and food with some building exteriors, landscapes, flowers, typography and interiors dotted in. Oh, and Pixel of course! Look also at the people you follow. What kinds of photos make you hit the ‘like’ button? Can you try taking more of those kind of photos?
2. How often do you post? When and where do you usually take photos?
I tend to take more photos when I’m out of the house than when I’m at home. I have recently started trying to post 1 to 2 times a day, but I used to post a lot less, maybe 3 to 4 times per week. I tend to post more on weekends, when I’m out and about. Sometimes I post photos after-the-fact, saving them up so I have more to share a few days later. Set a weekly Instagram post goal that works for you and try to stick to it. Could you challenge yourself to post a bit more than you do now?3. What kinds of things irk you about the photos of the people you follow?
Sometimes thinking about things in terms of what you don’t like is helpful! If you hate it when people post too often or when their captions are too long, try to practice that in your own feed. Think of it as setting an example for others!
Mimic your inspiration.
Last week we talked about finding a community and people who inspire you. You may have thought it was weird that I made you do that first instead of last, but that was by design. The people you follow should inspire you not only on an “Oh, that’s pretty!” basis, but they should also inspire you to take better photos.
It’s OK to want to be like others. Back in the day, aspiring painters used to make facsimiles of famous artists’ paintings — all for the sake of learning! I wouldn’t say copy anyone exactly, but try to emulate someone else’s technique in your photos. Do they have really great wide angle landscapes? Do they perfectly capture portraits? Stage your own photos like theirs but with your own spin on them. And keep culling that community! If you tend to get out your phone at mealtime, go follow some food stylists and see how they stage their shots. Try to mimic their lighting and composition. Your photos will improve with time!
Utilize hashtags effectively.
Hashtags are tricky. How many is too many? What should they say? Will they get me more likes? I think a lot of this is up for debate. Personally, I like to have two to four hashtags per photo, but sometimes I’ll add more when necessary. I keep mine short and sweet. They might get you more likes and follows, they might not. (I told you last week to stop worrying about that! So stop already!)
If you’re still a bit new to Instagram, hashtags are a powerful tool that can help you engage your audience and amp up your creativity. Each one begins with a #, also known as a pound sign or a hash. When you click on a hashtag, Instagram shows you all other photos that have been tagged with the same one.
Quality over quantity, friends!
You don’t need to tag everything in your photo. Some ineffective hashtags for the one above might be #tape, #watch or #pencil. You’re not really adding anything special or thoughtful to your image, and who wants to go look at a ton of pictures of tape!? (I mean, maybe someone, but that’s not my point.) A hashtag like #onmydesk, #workspace or #messydesk might make more sense and lead you to others with like-minded images.
Here’s my not-so-secret trick: I like to post my caption without hashtags (or maybe just one if I think it’s important or special — more on this in a moment). Then, I quickly add my hashtags to the first comment. As other comments add up, my hashtags get buried, even though they’re still applied to my image.
In short, my advice stays the same as it has throughout Instagram 101: Do what feels right for you. You don’t have to use hashtags, but they can certainly be fun! I’ve got a couple more hashtag techniques to show you today. Try a couple, and you’ll have mastered hashtags in no time!
Participate in some hashtag challenges or contests.
Homework can be fun, right? Sometimes it helps to have an assignment to challenge you to do better. There are lots of styles of Instagram projects and contests out there, so I recommend picking one to start with. Ask a friend to do it with you, if you’re feeling shy! A few different kinds
- Instagram’s Weekend Hashtag Project: Each Friday, Instagram announces a prompt for the weekend. During the weekend, people all over take photos on that prompt (all tagged with the official hashtag of the weekend) and Instagram chooses a few winners that it features on its account on Monday. I’ve compiled a list of all the Weekend Hashtag Projects here. Use it to find inspiration for types of photos you can try, or aim to participate each weekend. (I’m trying to do more of these. Who’s with me?)
- Other weekly challenges: Similar to the WHP, there are other weekly challenges. I recently learned of #FloralFriday (by Emily of Makelight) which calls for flower photos on Fridays. Nice, huh?
- Daily challenges: This kind of project encourages you to post once a day. Sometimes you’ll see friends participate in these, or you can find them through other blogs. #100HappyDays is one that challenges you to take photos of things that make you happy for 100 days in a row. Chantelle of Fat Mum Slim has a monthly photo-a-day challenge — she shares a list of daily prompts, and each day you take a photo on that prompt.
- Themes: Sometimes blogs or companies will design a hashtag, either as a contest or just as a challenge to take photos. My pals Katie of Twin Stripe and Anne of Wit, Wisdom & Food have a great one going on right now called #RefreshJuly. Victoria of SF Girl by Bay has the #SFgirlguide city guides. I also love #theeverydayproject from Mary Beth of Annapolis & Company.
There are lots out there. Did I miss any great ones? Let me know in the comments!
Try the star hashtags.
Not quite the same as challenges, but other people have started some pretty awesome hashtags that are fun to contribute to. See what other hashtags to which other people are contributing. (I keep a running list in the Notes app of my phone.) Here are a few I’ve been digging lately, in no particular order:
- #thingsorganizedneatly — Photos of perfectly arranged stuff
- #fromwhereistand and #ihavethisthingwithfloors — A study of the ground
- #fiftyfifty — Symmetrical shots
- #bluronpurpose — Blurry, bokeh-ful photos
- #onthetable — Food styling shots
- #chasinglight and #chasingfog — Lovely weather-based landscapes
- #morninautos and #soloparking — Car photos
- #makeportraits and #storyportraits — Portraits of people
Curate your own hashtag.
Part of the fun of Instagram is coming up with your own hashtag for your own series! It’s hard work to find a hashtag no one has used before. Something simple like #cats will have literal millions of posts tied to it, so you’ve got to be creative. Some examples:
My friend Jen (@jenelmore) has one called #muralsofcolumbia that she uses for any wall paintings in her city. She also began #muralsofcharlotte when she came to visit recently. Another Instagram friend, Alex (@alex_ford), has a collection of hashtags he started that have become “community hashtags” for others to use as well. Two of my favorites are #fordfoundahoop and #fordsfloors, and it’s fun to contribute to those from time to time!
I’ve been doing my own, too. I started a collection of typography in North Carolina #nctype, and I’d love to see people contribute to it! I also have my #farmersmarketincolor series, in which I pick a color for the day when I visit the farmers market, and post three photos on that color. I love the way it creates stripes in the feed! So far no one else has contributed to this yet, but it would be awesome if they did!
Try unique hashtags for brands, times and locations.
You can also create or add to a hashtag for an event — like a wedding, party or vacation — that you can use to collect photos. Later, you can look back on those times and reminisce with friends and family. Think of this as making a digital photo album! It would be a nice touch for a business event, too.
Hashtags for locations and different times of day can also be interesting. I have been using #RediscoveringCharlotte for all of my Charlotte shenanigans, but I could also just hashtag #Charlotte for a larger community base. I like to add #goldenhour to photos of that twilight hour with pretty light, but you could also try weather, times of year and seasons. It’s always fun to see other people’s interpretations of the same thing.
If you’re a blogger, you can also ask your readers to add a unique hashtag! For instance, my readers can add #feastandwestrecipes to any photos of recipes or DIY projects they try from my blog. If you’re not a blogger, doing this is a nice way to tell people where you got an idea, but also to give credit to the initial creator.
Captions, captions, captions.
Your writing voice is just as important as your photo voice. You have an opportunity to write a caption, though you don’t have to. It’s your call, but I find captions to be nice. Sometimes, I try to be clever. Sometimes, I’m short and sweet. It depends on the day.
Sometimes, I write longer sentences. In general, though, I try to keep my captions on the shorter side. Then, when I have more to say, it’s a break from the norm and people will read the important stuff. I almost always have a caption on my photos but, like most of this stuff, there aren’t any rules. Just do what’s comfortable!
That’s it for today! Do you feel like you have some tools to help you find your voice on Instagram? Your homework is to mimic some of your favorite photos, try some new hashtags and write some different lengths & types of captions. Play around with some of the hashtag challenges, either your own or one of the others I listed. Add the hashtag #feastandwestgrams on the stuff you try from this series!
Remember, this series about utilizing the things this app (and you!) can do, and not much about photography. But we’ll talk a little about that next week. As always, if you’ve got questions or comments about any of this, sound off in the comments! I’d love to hear it. // susannah
This post is part of the Instagram 101 series: