How to Take Better Instagram Pictures
Updated: Apr 1
Capturing a good Instagram photo with your phone is harder than it looks! To help you create an Instagram feed that makes people go “wow” (and get you more Instagram followers), I've put together the ultimate guide to taking and editing photos for Instagram – all from your phone!
Too many people assume that they need an expensive, professional camera in order to get those bright, crisp shots you see on the feeds of your favorite Instagram Influencers; this couldn’t be further from the truth! In fact, all you really need to boost your Insta game is some knowledge and creativity! Let’s get started:
Step 1: Setting up your Phone
Before you stress yourself out about getting the perfect lighting, composition, and editing for your pictures, there are two things you need to know first.
1. Always Under-Expose your Shot
Have you ever attempted to take a shot you thought would look really cool, only to discover the lighting is AWFUL and you are completely washed out by the sun, bright lights, or weird shadows? I know this used to be one of my biggest struggles, and definitely something that would frustrate me to no end.
Cell phones tend to blow out portions of your photograph naturally, resulting in over-highlighted areas. But there’s a trick to fix this: under-exposing your shot. It’s better to have a slightly under-exposed photo that you can then brighten with editing, instead of ruining the whole shot with over-exposure!
To under-exposure your photo on an iPhone, tap and hold the brightest area of your phone, which locks in the focus and exposure. After you’ve done this, you can move your the camera around to compose the photo you want. Perfect for those product shots in the sunlight!
2. Turn OFF that Pesky HDR!
HDR (High Dynamic Range) is hard to get right and can make a picture look unnatural and overdone. Essentially, the function takes many different exposures of the same photo, and puts them together in one photo so you have tons of details. Unfortunately, if you aren’t extremely versed in how this function works, and the lighting + composition you need to make it look professional, then it probably won’t do much to help you take those better pictures! Keep it simple, less is more when it comes to taking good Instagram photos.
Step 2: Composing the Perfect Shot
If you’ve tried to research photography tips and tricks, you probably ran into a lot of confusing verbiage and terms that only made your confusion worse. At the end of the day, when you’re shooting pictures with a cell phone, you don’t need to be a professional photographer to get a great shot! There are two key things you should think about when capturing the perfect shot: composition and lighting. If you get these functions down pat, dream-worthy Instagram photos are definitely in your future (without stressing yourself out with long, confusing terms and settings).
Social media is extremely visual, as you all know, and the aesthetic of individual shots (and whole feeds) is crucial in building an audience. Obviously this is what you are trying to do if you’re reading this post right now, but you may still need a little push in the right direction! When composing a good Instagram photo, there are a few things you should keep in mind in order to take your photo from “good” to “wow.”
• Rule of Thirds
The Rule of Thirds is considered the golden rule of photography. It’s applied by aligning a subject with literal guidelines and their intersection points made into squares, to allow an image to flow from section to section and create a nice aesthetic and build interest + engagement. Lucky for you, your phone has an amazing grid tool that does this for you, and all you need to do is turn on the “grid” setting in your phone’s settings for your camera. If you’re looking for something even simpler, the Instagram app has a grid function built right into the in-app camera!
• Create a Signature Aesthetic
You probably all have your favorite Instagram accounts, blogs, and influencers that you follow and attempt to learn tips from. If you start scrolling through all their pages, I guarantee you’ll notice the same thing on every single page: they all have an overall theme or aesthetic that ties every picture together. And how do you feel when you see their pages? Intrigued – interested – amazed, right?? Well what if I told you that your feeds can look like that too?
Having a unique style for your Instagram feed is essential to standing out and finding success on Instagram. When people visit your page, you want them to have an idea of what your work is like and what kind of content they can expect from you. Instead of thinking about each Instagram photo, think ahead and plan out your Instagram feed as a whole. I know what you’re thinking… “Cara, that is absolutely ridiculous– there’s no way I have time for that!!” Well, what if I also told you that you 100% do?
There are so many FREE websites, apps, and programs with the sole purpose of helping photographers, bloggers, influencers, and ordinary people do exactly this! I personally use an app called Preview, which allows users to log into their Instagram accounts, upload as many photos as desired into an interactive feed, and rearrange them to find the perfect layout to match your aesthetic. For example, if I go on a trip and have 20 pictures that I eventually want to post, I will edit them (more on this process in Step 3) and upload them into Preview to see which photos I want to upload when. This allows me to keep my signature aesthetic fairly even throughout my entire Instagram page, and let me tell you, it is SO simple – it really couldn’t be easier
The best part about this app is that it is completely FREE and it syncs in real time to your current Instagram feed, so you can see exactly what new pictures will look like when arranged with older ones! If you're still confused about how this app works, or you just don't think you have the "eye" to do it, Preview offers plenty of resources and additional articles to walk you through it!
• Stick to a Palette
Whether it’s a color palette or a style palette, finding and sticking to a theme that works for you will make your Instagram photos really pop. A quick expert tip is to choose a warm, cold, or neutral color palette for your Instagram feed. Neutral is generally minimal and best used for fashion, lifestyle and home brands. Warm photos are generally travel bloggers, while cold photos can best be seen in nature or landscape photographers. Ultimately, you can decide on any palette because your page is the best representation of you or your brand– just have fun with it!
We all know the heart-crushing feeling when you’re trying to take a cool Instagram photo, only to realize it’s completely over-exposed by the sunlight, or that awesome selfie out with friends was just too dark to be Insta-worthy. Before you start shooting, remember that if you have a badly lit photo, nothing can save it. If you try to add or take away too much brightness to fix it, the photo will just appear grainy and of a really bad quality! Keep these tips in mind when planning a shoot:
• Use Natural Light
You probably read this and thought “Well, duh, Cara”, but you would be amazed at how much of a difference just angling yourself towards a natural light source can impact an image. If you’re shooting on an iPhone, it can take really fantastic photos (God bless portrait mode, am I right?), but there needs to be enough light! When you’re shooting indoors, sit near a window and away from any artificial light that could tint your photographs yellow. Trust me, you’ll thank me when it comes to editing!
• Shoot at the Right Time
Planning to take photos at dawn or dusk will result in soft shadows and light contrasts, and there’s really nothing more important for taking a good Instagram photo than perfect light! The same benefit can be said for golden hour (#Bless), where your subject can be backlit and gives you a mind-blowing result. It also saves you time with editing. If you absolutely have to shoot your pictures during the middle of the day or when the sun is very harsh, try to find a spot that is less affected by direct sunlight. This will ultimately reduce awkward and distracting photos from anywhere in your picture – and we all know how annoying that sunlight-induced face shadow is!
• Cloudy vs. Sunny
Have you ever been in the mood to go outside and take some pictures for your feed, but it’s cloudy?? Stop worrying about that! My advice? Embrace gray weather with open arms! Cloudy days are actually excellent for shooting, because the light spreads out everywhere and you’re able to do so much more to the photograph in post-production. These are also the perfect days to take selfies.
Step 3: Editing
So now you’ve mastered the basics and captured an awesome photo, but how do you turn it into a drool-worthy Instagram photo? With so many editing apps available, it can be difficult to figure out where to start! Here are some of our favorite instagram photo editing apps, and some helpful tips to get the process started:
1. VSCO – An elegant, easy to use app that’s a must for every serious Instagrammer. With beautiful and minimal one-tap presets. If you want to make your feed consistent, sticking with the same filter or pack of filters is an easy way to make all your Instagram photos come together.
2. A Color Story – If you love bright whites and colors that pop, this is the app for you! Each filter is created with color in mind, and their “Disco Ball” filter will instantly eliminate shadows and make your whites super white, which is perfect for product shots (hello fashion blogger!!). You can also fine-tune your photos with their unique S-curve editing tool.
3. TouchRetouch – MY ABSOLUTE FAVORITE EVER!!! You can remove any unwanted objects from your photos with ease. Use the brush or lasso to select the object you want to remove, then let the app replace that selection with the surrounding image. Have you ever taken a super cool picture, but then realized somebody is photobombing in the background? Well say goodbye to those days because, with this app, you can just erase them from the picture. Wild, right?
4. Lightroom Mobile – Adobe Lightroom is typically a paid program for the desktop, but they created a FREE app that does nearly as much. I use this app for literally every single picture I post to my feed, and it really helps me create and maintain a common color aesthetic. You can create your own presets to use on your photos, or you can download some premade presets off the internet! To download my original preset pack (that I use daily), click here!
Final Tips for Editing Instagram Photos on your Phone:
Just remember that a little goes along way when it comes to making a good Instagram photo. When Instagram first became popular, users went a little bit filter crazy (thank you automatic Bokeh and crazy Instagram borders). Finish editing your photo, and then take a step back, literally. Come back to your photograph later to check if you’ve over-edited. If you’re using any filter, keep it simple and put the scale down to a 3-6 intensity level.
With so many options, it’s easy to overdo it when it comes to photo editing. If you’re a beginner, stick to the golden three: brightness, contrast and saturation. Move between the edited and original versions to make sure you find that perfect fit for your photographs!
By following this guide, I am certain that you will become a pro Instagrammer in no time. And don’t stress yourself out too much – things always take a little practice. For me, the journey to taking better Instagram photos meant practicing all the time. I was (and still am) always ready to capture the most interesting location, scene, or moment. Practice composing your photo well, taking many different frames of the same subject for the best possible result, and paying attention to the editing process. These will help you post a sharp and clean photo with nice tones and natural colors.
Remember, you don’t have already be a pro to learn how to take better Instagram photos – don’t overthink it!