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How to Take Great Instagram Photos (10 Key Tips)

Instagram is one of the largest social media sites in the world, and it just gets bigger every day. Much of its popularity stems from it being a great place for aspiring social media influencers to grow their audiences and the fact that it is just an overall great platform to share pictures on. If you are looking to become a popular influencer on Instagram, knowing how to take the best photos possible is key.

Even if you aren’t an aspiring influencer, learning how to get high-quality Instagram photos can be a great thing to learn. The best part is that you don’t need all the expensive equipment and the know-how of a professional photographer to take your pics to the next level. With just these tips, your Instagram feed will be looking better and catching eyes in no time.

1. Understanding the Limitations of Your Equipment

As we said, you don’t need to invest in special and usually expensive equipment to take great Instagram photos. You don’t need to go all-in with a DSLR camera, staging, and hardcore photo editing software. Modern smartphones such as iPhones and Android phones have upped the quality of their cameras in recent years, so you can take Instagram-worthy pictures with nothing but your phone camera.

That being said, the more expensive stuff is more expensive for a reason; you can do a lot more with it. You can’t expect to take clear images of something super dynamic unless you have a camera with a fast shutter speed, for example. But, most of the extra capabilities of things like expensive cameras give you aren’t going to matter unless you are trying to take specific kinds of photos. So, yes, there will be some things you can’t do unless you have certain equipment, but all the basic stuff can be done with as little as a smartphone camera.

In short, don’t bite off more than you can chew. Don’t try to take pictures you don’t have the right equipment for because you’ll just get frustrated. You’ll never be able to take a good-looking picture if you don’t accept your limits. That all being said, if you end up making some decent money or know people that will let you use the fancy equipment, don’t be afraid to look into those options.

2. Have a Plan for Your Pictures

You might not be consciously aware of it, but there is a big difference between an intentionally shot photo and one that an Instagrammer decided to take in the spur of the moment. That isn’t to say there is anything wrong with taking a few quick pictures, and there will be some circumstances where you have no other choice. However, if you are planning an Instagram post, you should be thinking about what you want the post to be like well before you ever set up for taking the pictures.

What’s the tone? Will it be one picture or a collage? What’s going to be the focal point of the picture(s)? When am I going to post it? What hashtags will I use with it? How will I caption it?

There isn’t any official checklist you have to run through, but it never hurts to think about these kinds of questions and others. At the end of the day, your identity as an influencer will have a huge effect on how you’ll want to shape the pictures you post.

Even if you aren’t an influencer and just trying to up your photo game, you can benefit from trying to think like an influencer would to take better photos for your feed. Thinking intentionally about what you want your pictures to “say” goes a long way towards helping you stand out from all the other Instagram accounts.

3. Utilizing the Smartphone Features

There are so many features to your smartphone that you have never heard of. Even if you are an avid picture taker, this probably extends to all the things your camera app can do. Or, you might have seen some of these options inside the camera app but weren’t sure what they did and never bothered to play around with them or look it up. The difference between an okay picture and the perfect shot might just be one of these settings we’re going to go into.

First up is HDR, short for High Dynamic Range. It is a feature on modern smartphones that, to simplify it, takes a bunch of pictures with different exposures and balances them out into a new picture with a ton of extra detail. Sounds great on paper, but since it is an automatic process, there is no human eye to make sure everything is going right. The pictures can come out too detailed which makes them feel unnatural, and the exposure balancing can get messed up in some situations. Some people can master using HDR, but more often than not, it’s better to turn it off and trust your eye when taking the picture.

Another thing to be aware of that is less clear-cut is the photo modes your phone is capable of. These all have are settings presets that would require you to tweak a ton of different things if you wanted to create the same effects manually. The main advice is to play around with them and learn what works best for the specific kinds of photos you want. There is a couple you’ll want to pay special attention to, though.

4. Utilizing Portrait and Burst Modes

These are common settings and photo modes for cameras of all levels. With portrait mode selected, your camera will detect the best-lit object or objects closest to the center of where it is aimed. When you take a picture, portrait mode will automatically adjust the depth of view to hone in on the object or objects, blurring out the background and putting the subject of the picture in extreme detail.

As the name would imply, it is great for taking portraits because it highlights faces well. However, it is also a fantastic way to show off products. Bloggers and brand ambassadors make great use of portrait mode as a way to highlight the object of sponsored Instagram posts. If you are a marketer or a selfie enthusiast, you are going to want to familiarize yourself and get comfortable with using this photo setting specifically.

Burst mode is best utilized for things in motion. When this is enabled, your camera will take several pictures in quick succession with each press of the button. Or, on some high-end cameras, you can hold down the button in burst mode and take pictures indefinitely until you run out of storage. This way, you can sort through all the pictures and choose the best, and not have to worry about nailing the picture timing for something fast or dynamic.

5. Angles are Everything

There is a reason that you never see anyone take a selfie with the camera dead-on facing them. Taking a picture of something at different angles can greatly affect how attractive it looks. Most people don’t recognize this except with something like pictures of their faces that they scrutinize heavily before sending out. It applies just as much to food, makeup displays, or whatever it is you want your Instagram pictures to be of. Be sure to experiment with angles whenever you take pictures for your Instagram posts.

In the vein of angles, there is one thing to always keep in mind: the Rule of Thirds. This is a principle from general photography practice that extends into taking good Instagram photos. It dictates that the main subject of your photo -- especially when it is a person against a larger background -- should be in the left or right third of the picture.

Some cameras have a setting that puts a grid overlay on the screen so you can more accurately measure where something will be when you take the picture. Though if you use the Rule of Thirds enough, you’ll start doing it subconsciously.

Of course, rules are made to be broken, just make sure you are breaking them for a reason. Things like achieving symmetry, filling the frame, and taking pictures of a faraway subject are good reasons why people break the Rule of Thirds. There are no doubt countless reasons you might encounter during your future photoshoots.

6. Lighting is Also Everything

There is a reason professional photography sets have so many ways to tweak the lighting. It’s a finicky element of every photo shoot, and mastering your understanding of how lighting affects pictures will set you apart in the world of Instagram.

The type of lighting is a particularly big deal. Odds are, you’ve heard someone emphasize how much better natural light is for taking pictures, and they probably weren’t overselling it. The human brain is excellent at differentiating the natural light of the sun from man-made sources like lamps, and it is heavily biased to the former. Whenever possible, try to be outside for the pictures you take or find a place inside that lets in as much natural lighting as possible.

The peak of natural light for picture taking is referred to as the golden hour. It’s a slightly misleading name because it happens twice per day, is usually less than an hour each time, and exactly when it happens varies throughout the year. Golden hour takes place shortly after sunrise and shortly before sunset, so you’ll usually need to look up a guide for golden hour times since it changes depending on your location, season, and weather.

Don’t believe us? Go take a picture of something at sunrise, a picture of the same thing during midday, and a final picture at sunset. We’re confident the differences will speak for themselves.

7. Familiarize Yourself With Editing Tools

No, editing your pictures is not cheating, and if it was, most people would be violating the rules. There is a certain taboo surrounding the idea of using editing software on social media pictures because people often think that means you are significantly changing the content. Editing pictures doesn’t have to mean photoshopping things to look bigger or smaller or whatever. Most of the time, it simply means bringing out the best parts of a picture.

Editing software allows you to change things about the picture to change their mood and composition. Affecting color saturation is a common use of editing software. Similarly, you can grayscale certain parts of your pictures or leave everything but a specific part of it grayscale as a way to highlight specific items of your choosing.

Editing software can feel like an intimidating barrier of entry because it can be expensive, and also some of the software on the market can be hard to master. For a good entry-level introduction to get used to the process, or if you are only working with a smartphone in the first place, we recommend a photo editing app like VSCO or Snapseed.

One piece of advice that we want to stress as you get into editing your pictures before posting them is to keep it simple. Not only does overediting a picture just make it look bad, but after a certain point there are diminishing returns on the amount of time you spend on the edits. Plus, messing around too much can irrevocably mess up a great photo.

8. Develop a Signature Look

You’ve probably noticed a lot of popular Instagram accounts have one or two things that they focus their content around. It doesn’t have to be a literal object so much as an idea, a color palette, a theme, or just anything that can become associated with their content. This isn’t something that happens by accident, and you should take note of this move. Making your content and brand recognizable is one of the best ways to improve your visibility.

If you don’t care about things like follower count as much as improving your content, it’s still something to consider. There is a real chance you already have some parts of your Instagram content you favor others, and it can be important to move that from unconscious biases to conscious choices.

Looking at an Instagram feed with clear themes just feels more right than a grid of random pictures. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should resort to being a one-trick-pony, and always wear the same hat in all of your selfies -- just as an example.

9. Think Outside The Box

One problem that might be plaguing you is that you are getting worn out on the same kind of pictures. You might still be taking good pictures, but they just don’t feel interesting anymore. For influencers especially, letting content get stale is something to be avoided at all costs.

One of the best ways you can combat things blurring together is to rethink your assumptions. For example, if you planned on going out for a photoshoot on a sunny day, but the weather turned bad, don’t just give up and try again later. Embrace the moody weather and look for opportunities to take some interesting pictures you would’ve never considered otherwise.

If you fancy a creative challenge, another fun approach to this problem is to recreate your old photos in new ways. Look back through your favorite or most popular Instagram pictures and think about ways to do them again with a cool twist. You don’t want to just completely rehash the old content because that is the opposite of want you want to achieve. The pictures, if held side by side, should be related but different.

10. Take the Pictures You Want to Take

It may sound like hokey advice, but it can take you farther than you might expect. On such a highly popular social media site, you can feel a lot of pressure to get likes or positive comments. Those things do feel good, but focusing on getting a positive reaction can just make it harder to take good-quality pictures.

It is worth remembering that you are trying to take great Instagram pictures because you want to, not to please everyone that stumbles upon your timeline. And at the end of the day, you can’t please everyone, so there is no point in trying. Take pictures that you are proud of, and sooner or later, you’ll find an audience that appreciates the content you make.

If that was too sentimental for you, think of it this way: taking the pictures you think people want to see rarely works out. The internet is great at sniffing out forced gimmicks and formulaic work. It would only make sense that the pictures you genuinely want to take will have something captivating about them since you are at least enamored with the idea. Trust your gut to lead you to the amazing pictures that you know you can produce.

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