Have you ever scrolled along your Instagram feed and— BOOM— a girl in a swimsuit pops up, looking like a Cheeto by the ocean? Or a guy posting about he and his girlfriend’s three-year anniversary, but it’s the same photo he’s posted for every other anniversary just cropped with a new filter? Well, I’m here to save all Instagram feeds. I know what it takes to make an award-winning photo AND what people like on Instagram.
First, you need to know how to take a great photo (make sure your boyfriends and besties hear this too). Then, once you have a stellar photo, pop that sucker into an editing program,(I love VSCO and Lightroom). To ensure maximum Instagram likes, make your page a “business” account and check the best time of day to post.
How to take a great photo
There are three easy steps to creating a unique, likable and aesthetically pleasing photo. If you can create a perfect recipe for lighting, angles and mood— even haters will have to like the photo.
This is by far the most important piece of the puzzle, it can make or break a good angle or mood. My go-to lighting for any sort of image is natural lighting. I think the sun puts out perfect, buttery rays that highlight our good features and soften our not-so-great ones.
I’m sure you’ve all heard of the photogasmic phenomenon called Golden Hour (cue Kasey Musgraves’ album) when light makes you look like you fell from heaven during sunrise or sunset. With this kind of lighting, you can have your back to the sun, which is called back-lighting, or face the sun to soak up that gorgeous light.
This direct lighting can be dangerous if the sun is too intense, though, causing squinting and frown-y lines.
Sometimes, you aren’t available during Golden Hour or you’re trying to take a super cute tailgate pic with your girls at 1 p.m. FIND SHADE. Shade is your best friend in midday light. Or stay inside and use a big window to light your photo. Colors will pop around you and your eyes will look like jewels.
So now you’re like, ‘MOLLY, what do we do when it’s 10 p.m. outside of Char, dark as heck, and we’re celebrating our successful Tinder match?’
Dark means artificial light, a.k.a. FLASH, could be your worst enemy if you don’t know how to use it. A quick fix I do is to have a friend who’s off-camera hold up their flashlight, too. That way, you have at least two-point lighting, which adds depth to the photo.
This tip can make you look bigger or smaller. If you’re a Welly Bro, shoot photos at an upward angle so you look jacked and larger than life. To look wider, angle your body slightly and bend forward towards the camera.
All of my best guy friends are constantly trying to “out-angle” each other; it doesn’t matter how strong you really are or if you do more curls with Busch Light than dumbbells, as long as you know how to angle. When trying to look skinny or smaller, have photos taken of you from a higher position or right even with you. Use your arms to your advantage— create flattering angles or artistic movements through the photo by positioning your arms in different ways.
When framing a photo, using the Rule-of-Thirds is my autopilot. I hate seeing things centered because it’s BORING. It’s hard for viewers’ eyes to move through the photo, because it’s laid in front of them dead center. The Rule-of-Thirds looks like a grid in your brain, you can also set your phone to have a grid when you open the camera app, this puts subjects on a hot spot and creates composition.
This is the most fun part about taking a photo. Create a vibe about what you want to portray in the photo. Are you looking to be flirty, funny, dramatic, tough, or emotional?
I love to play music when I have a photo shoot with my friends. I try to relax my introverted besties by making them laugh when I take their photo.
Gas them up! If someone is in front of your lens, you should absolutely tell them they look FINE and fill their cup with positive affirmations. Use stellar lighting (see tip no. 1) to make the image moody, light, happy or dark. Test your creativity every time a friend asks you to take their photo. When in group situations, have your friends squish, look at each other, and tell inside jokes.
Editing. Less is more.
I am a huge supporter of photo editing. I believe it refines the raw image you’ve taken. But that’s all it should do— refine and perfect— not completely alter the integrity of the image. Sorry guys, but there is no way I could ever support FaceTune. Just take a better photo in the first place. Use good angles and lighting to look good and edit LESS.
My two favorite iPhone photo editing softwares are VSCO and Adobe Lightroom. They are high-quality services where you can do basic photo editing, create presets and cultivate your Instagram brand. The first step I take when editing any photo is fixing any lighting issue and increasing my contrast. I love high contrast, moody photos.
After my core settings are correct, I play around and pick a preset on VSCO or Lightroom. I love to warm up photos by picking a preset with yellows and oranges, but I always try to make sure that I don’t look like an Oompa Loompa.
It’s a fine line to ride, but asking my close friends what they think of the image before I post always helps. When photos look too orange or yellow, change the white balance and add more blue. My aesthetic avoids blues and green hues slapped on my photo because I know my skin will look garish, but I try to respect those colors in my photo all the same. Presets should be a dash of extra pizazz.
Now post the masterpiece!
You have all of the tools to make pretty images that are reflect you. Remember that you can make your Instagram anything you want it to be. You don’t have to follow a certain preset, brand or any certain rules. Post for yourself and feel good about the images. My photography business Instagram is structured with a certain aesthetic, where my personal account is all over the place, full of colors and strictly for myself. Find the balance that makes you happy, and take photos that highlight how amazing you are.