14 tips for taking amazing Instagram photographs

Tips and tricks for how to get the most from Facebook's popular photo-editing app - and how to make your creations stand out from the crowd.

Press Association
Last updated: 17 July 2019 - 11.57am

Have you been posting loads of Instagram photos but not getting noticed?

Do you find yourself seriously suffering from Instagram envy while browsing Lauren Conrad‘s soft-focus lifestyle photos, Ella Woodward‘s scrumptious food or Lauren Bath’s gorgeous travel photos?

Around 95 million images are posted to Instagram every day, so it's little wonder that many get lost in the crowd. Here are a few tips to make your Instagram pics pop.

1. Don’t take photos via Instagram

Night shot long exposure

While it may seem convenient to take photos using the Instagram app, your phone's own camera app is way better. Instagram’s camera app doesn’t allow you to zoom and it automatically crops all your photos into a square, for instance.

It’s also worth noting that most smartphones come with an HDR (High Dynamic Range) function, allowing you to take photos with different pre-set exposures – another thing you can’t do on Instagram.

2. Think square

Bee closeup

Before Instagram came into our lives, most of our pictures were either landscape or portrait and followed a set of rules photographers swore by. But some of these rules don’t necessarily apply to square-shaped photos.

Take for example, the rule of thirds, which encourages photographers to frame subjects at imaginary intersecting points in an image divided into nine equal parts, like a noughts-and-crosses grid. However, for images with 1:1 square aspect ratio, placing your subject in the centre can actually work quite well, as seen in the pics above.

3. Work like a tripod

Smartphone tripod

Great still photography requires a steady hand. To get crisp photos free from motion blur, you need to turn yourself into a human tripod. Look around you to see how best you can support yourself. Use a table, a tree, a park bench, your BFF… whatever, to help keep you and your camera steady.

Invest in a mini-tripod to place on tables, benches or the floor, or consider a GorillaPod, which has flexible legs which can anchor your camera or phone to trees, fences, ledges or whatever else you can find.

The good thing about tripods is you can alo take selfies using remote control timers without worrying about awkward arms getting in the way or the phone toppling over at the last moment.

4. Check your focus

Focus

Because they rely on digital zoom - effecitvely enlarging an image rather than using a physical zoon lens - most phone cameras don’t have amazing zooming capabilities, and using zoom in poor light won’t get you the clear, sharp pictures you want.

If you do want your photos to look sharp, you might need to walk around a bit to get appropriate lighting or get closer to your subject.

You can also tap your phone’s screen to allow you to instantly focus on your subject and improve image clarity. Some phones allow you to lock focus and exposure by tapping and holding on the screen. When the words 'AE/EF Lock' appear on the bottom of your phone, it means the focus and lighting are fixed and will not change.

5. Think about your composition

Bokeh

No one’s saying you have to follow the rules, but knowing how to frame your photos might help you enhance the impact of the scene.

Think possible camera angles, background, symmetry, balance and lighting.

When you look at a scene with your naked eye, your brain picks out subjects of interest. Choose your subject, isolate it from the background clutter and make it the centre of attention in the frame.

6. Edit your photos

VSCO

The Instagram app is OK if you want to make basic tweaks to your photos, but if you're looking for an alternative, there are hundreds of feature-packed, easy-to-use editing tools out there.

App stores are literally bursting with tricked-out apps – Average Camera Pro is great for nightlife photos, 8mm Vintage Camera can make your pics look convincingly vintage, while VSCO (pictured above) is great for post-production picture work… and there are many more.

7. Be clever with your filters

Photo filter

A recent scientific study by Georgia Tech found that photos with filters are 21% more likely to be viewed and 45% more likely to get a comment.

The researchers also found photos with warm filters, greater exposure and well-defined contrast were the ones that proved most popular, while pictures with saturation effects led to lower views, and those with age effects to lower comments.

However, over-processed images often lose definition and enhance noise in your photos, so don’t go overboard with your filters.

8. Get more people in

Group selfie

A separate study by Georgia Tech and Yahoo Labs also found that Instagram photos with faces are more likely to get more comments than those without.

To be more specific, if your photo includes a face it is 38% more likely to get a like and 32% more likely to get comments than a sunset or a photo of your brunch.

[Who unfollowed me on Instagram? How to find out about these Instagram timeline changes]

9. Add text to your photos

Instagram text

Another way to make your Instagram photo stand out is by adding text to it.

There are a lot of apps that can do this – Instaquote has cool fonts and is pretty good for adding quotes to your photos. You can also try Over or Font Candy.

10. Get a phone photography kit

Manfrotto smartphone lens

Phone photography is becoming a big deal – there are quite a few photography awards (like Mobile Photography Awards and Sony World Mobile Phone Photography Awards) specifically for phone-taken photos.

And there are loads of new phone accessories on the market to help take your photography skills to the next level. For example, Manfrotto has special macro, wide-angled and fish-eye lenses specially designed to fit smartphone cameras. Who needs a chunky DSLR?

11. Try the #nofilter challenge

No filter

This is a trending hashtag on Instagram. Sometimes photos are just way too good to have artificial filters on them, and setting yourself a #nofilter challenge could take your skills to the next level.

12. Think vibrant colours and contrasts

Instagram beach

Sometimes it can be quite difficult to get the appropriate lighting – colours can get washed out in excess light or look dull if under-exposed.

By boosting the brightness just a tiny bit and increasing contrast by a small fraction, you can instantly make your photos look brighter and crisper.

13. Clean your camera lens

This may sound simple, but it’s actually quite important.

It’s not something most people think about, but phones can get quite dirty and not wiping your camera lens could be the reason why your photos are looking fuzzy or out of focus.

14. Make the most of natural light

Natural light

Light is perhaps the single most important thing in photography.

Different types of natural light can produce a wide variety of subject appearances – depending on the time of day, where your camera is pointing and, not to mention, weather.

Instead of relying on post-production, try taking pictures at various times during the day to make the most of natural light.

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