4 Steps to Great Instagram Photos

Photography is just one of my many hobbies, which means I don’t have a lot of time to dabble in it, and therefore I am far from an expert! But here are some tips and explanations as I understand them and use them in every day photography for social media.

Step 1: Select a camera

All of my photos are taken with one of 3 cameras:
Pretty self-explanatory. The self-timer is great, but you’re still limited to how much you can get in a shot (you’re not going to get a head-to-toe photo unless you have Inspector Gadget arms or are ok with having a giant head). Certain to make you feel like a t-rex taking a selfie.
GoPro 7
Ultra wide angle, fisheye look (think rounded horizon). GoPro is awesome for selfies, running, or cycling shots, but not great for capturing detail in the background. It’s also obviously my ONLY choice for situations in which I need a weatherproof camera.
Wide angle lens on DSLR
Similar to GoPro’s fisheye, in that it allows you to include more of the background in the shot. Much less distortion than GoPro, but you’ll still have some, most visibly on the outer edges. How much depends on the quality of the lens. Great for indoors or close up shots. (I primarily bought this for landscape photography, but that’s a whole other blog post). Wide angles will flatten the background, while GoPro will make the background seem very far away. I use my Nikon for indoor training shots on a tripod with a remote. It’s obviously my best quality camera, so gives the clearest photos. I shoot on manual which gives me the ability to fix exposure at the camera and do less editing on the back end. I have a Sigma 10-22 wide angle lens on a Nikon D5500.

Here's some examples of the different shots each camera takes. The last two photos, my phone and Nikon were set up in the exact same spot.

Selfie w/GoPro, edited with Snapseed to add bring out detail in background 
Self Timer on Iphone, edited exposure in Lightroom
Nikon w/ 10-20 wide angle lens

Step 2: Edit

I used to think editing my photos was cheating, but now I realize it’s the most important and fun part! Almost all of the editing I do is simply to correct the color distortion that the camera captures or make the colors more vivid. I use a couple of different phone apps for this. For social media, I shoot and edit on my phone with jpg files. In simple terms, this means the quality is never going to great (you’re not going to be able to blow these up), and the range of editing is going to be extremely limited. My landscape photos I shoot and edit in raw, which is just too complicated and time consuming, not to mention unnecessary, for social media. So again, that’s a post for another day.
Snapseed App
I used to ONLY use this. It’s very easy to use, and the more you use it, the more you’ll learn. There’s just sooo many options for this app, and it took me awhile to learn what they all do. My favorite option in Snapseed is the “ambiance” slider. It makes colors and backgrounds pop like crazy, but tends to be rough on skin tones. I also love the "structure" and “drama” filter options, but don’t use these a lot as I generally prefer a more natural look.
Lightroom for Iphone App
I am starting to learn and enjoy this app more and more and now use even more than Snapseed. It’s quite different and easier to use than the computer application, and totally free access for the most useful editing options. You certainly have fewer tools than you have in Snapseed, so I use Lightroom when I want a more natural effect. The app has a great “auto” option which usually corrects lighting in one button almost perfectly with very little tweaking. Also, I find I can bring out the “vibrance” of my photos more (make the colors pop) without making skin tones look as orange as Snapseed tends to do. Both of these apps can correct using white balance or temperature, but Lightroom tends to just have a better effect on skin color. It also seems to not make photos as grainy, which can be an issue when editing in jpg. It has a dehaze feature that corrects any grain really well (the only feature I’ve not found in Snapseed).
A lot of times, I will edit first in Lightroom for color, then open in Snapseed to play with the “structure” of photos to make them a bit more dramatic. I will also often edit the same photo in both apps and see which I like better. I definitely recommend starting with just one app to learn it's abilities and limitations before adding in even more variables. 

Here are some examples: 

Nikon w/ 10-20 wide angle
A more dramatic edit with Snapseed
GoPro 7 -original (notice curved horizon and does not capture more than immediate background well)

Lightroom edit to fix exposure and brighten colors

Final edit with Snapseed "structure" to make details stand out

Step 4: Select the photo and post!

Pick the photo that you feel pops best and goes with the theme/feeling you’re trying to portray.
As you can see, it’s not at all a science, but with a little patience, and a lot of creativity, you can really have fun with it! It’s taken me a year or so to find a style I really like – which is a more natural look, with *surprise* LOTS of color!

Here's some examples of fun text styles and dramatic effects you can use in Snapseed. Each of these photos was taken with GoPro.


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