It’s not so easy to stand out on Instagram where everyone is a blogger or an influencer these days. You have to offer something unique and valuable to the platform’s users in order to gain followers and engagement you hope for. While some bloggers appeal to their audiences with insightful texts and offer their expertise in some fields, others try their best with visuals.
It’s way easier for brands since they can use stock images for promoting their social media and as an option for other marketing purposes. If you strive to grow your following, or you feel that your blogging efforts lack something, you should look into developing your own style, starting with basic photography skills.
Instagram is all about visuals, and even the best text ever can receive little attention if the picture isn’t appealing enough. This article explains how to take better shots with your smartphone and no extra gear.
Before the shoot:
Clean your lenses!
The first piece of advice that is often overlooked is keeping your lenses clean. It’s the very first thing to do before you take a picture with your smartphone, but many people simply forget to do it. The lenses of your phone get smudges and small specks that have to be cleaned before each shoot.
Phones spend a lot of time in pockets and bags, and the micro dust and hair particles can potentially mess up with your photos. There are also inevitable fingerprints all over your lenses. Get in the habit of cleaning your lenses regularly using a piece of soft cloth.
Set manual focus and exposure
When you focus on a subject, your smartphone adjusts exposure and focus point automatically. However, the algorithms are not always precise, which leads to improper focus or skewed lighting. To avoid this, always adjust focus and exposure manually – it takes just a second but is a tough habit to break into.
Make sure your subject really stands out on your photo by tapping on the screen to set the focus point. To adjust your exposure, use an icon that looks like the sun on an iphone. For Androids, there is a scale next to the focus that you can slide up or down to set the best exposure.
During the shoot:
Pay attention to light
Light is everything for your images. You should always try to take pictures with good exposure as it will help your photos look more balanced and make the following editing process faster and easier for you. If it’s possible, use natural light sources. If you use any external sources of artificial light like a lamp, don’t mix different types of lighting.
Don’t use your built-in flash as it almost never brings good results. You should avoid using your flash to preserve natural shadows in the daytime. But you can experiment with flash at different times of the day for artistic purposes.
Polish up on basic composition rules
When you just begin your journey with photography, the first thing to focus on is understanding light and having a good grasp on the basics of composition. Regardless of your gear, you won’t get very far if you don’t practice and address these two fundamental things about photography. Aside from reading up on technique and theory, you have to practice almost daily to develop a good sense of both.
There are some helpful tools you have that come with your smartphone. Go to your camera app’s settings and set the gridlines on. It will add 2 horizontal and 2 vertical lines that will separate your image into 9 parts. According to the rule of thirds, you should place your subjects and objects along these lines or on the intersections for a better, more eye-catching composition. This is one way to better balance your compositions when you start.
Add some space
Your subject is important, but what about the empty space that surrounds it? This empty space, or negative space, significantly influences your images and does wonders when applied to the right framing. Examples of empty space in photos include the sky, water, a solid color, or a wall. In proportion to your subject, the empty space can better balance a composition and is a great setup for more minimalist shots.
Including negative space doesn’t always come naturally as it may seem that the image is too plain. It’s easy to overlook when you’re just starting with photography. Stepping outside your comfort zone and the intuition to focus solely on the subject, see what elements in your composition can enrich your photos.
Use leading lines to draw attention
Another tip that will help you draw attention to your subject (or any place of your image that you’d like) is using leading lines. Leading lines are any lines that navigate an eye through your image to the focus of the shot. A bridge, a road, a river bank, a staircase, or even surfaces can form leading lines in your photos.
You can use this technique to make sure your shots incite curiosity for viewers to guide their eye to the details. Go for a walk with your smartphone and try to search for interesting leading lines in your natural surroundings. This will also help you find new subjects and objects for your pictures.
You should avoid zooming in when you shoot with your smartphone. With zooming, in most cases it can result in quality loss and blurred photos. While digital lens cameras have an optical zoom when the lenses are moving, most phones have a digital zoom which means the image is just cropped on the screen.
Instead of zooming in, change your position and get closer to your subject or object. It’s good to keep moving even if you are okay with the distance of your subject. You should always aim to search for unconventional angles and compositions. Sometimes even an insignificant change of your position can drastically change the final outcome of your shots.
After the shoot:
Get creative with colors and editing
Experimenting during the editing process gives you more room for creativity and a chance to change colors and even composition for the better. You should definitely experiment with different color schemes when you edit your images – or try them out in black and white. You’ve probably seen this for yourself when you’ve tried to choose a color filter for your shot on Instagram or editing apps. Sometimes a slight adjustment with colors or highlighting one hue is all it takes to drastically change an image.
There are free editing apps and apps that don’t cost that much. They all have a wide range of amazing editing tools and presets that can really make a difference for your pictures. For example, you can try out popular editing apps such as VSCO or Snapseed for mobile photography. The advanced editing options available on most editing apps are worth exploring.
Tell a story
With stories blooming on Instagram, storytelling becomes an essential tool to engage your audience. Storytelling is more than just posting random stories from time to time. You should be creative and consistent in your strategy with stories. Make sure you post visually pleasing and interesting stories that are connected to each other somehow to keep people entertained and waiting for updates from you.
Your Instagram account has to make a great first impression and people who see any of your posts and want to follow you will go directly to your page. You can acquire more followers if your posts and the connection between them tell a story and thoroughly represent you as a content creator.
Unlike with Twitter, it’s okay to use more hashtags on your Instagram posts (without spamming). Don’t overlook the tags as they are your free yet very effective tool to reach new people and potential followers. Write your text first and place your hashtags at the end of it. Use only meaningful, relevant, and trending hashtags that will allow you to reach new audiences and won’t make your posts look desperate.
Try adding a geolocation to your posts and stories as well. Instagram locations allow you to promote yourself organically based on regions. Many people tap on locations they are interested in, and they might stumble upon one of your publications based on the tag.
Instagram is a social media platform with visuals at its very heart. It takes less than a second to form an opinion with an image, and you should strive to take aesthetically pleasing photos to appeal to more people on Instagram. If you are determined to create the content yourself, learning some fundamental skills in photography will go a long way in helping you grow your audience and appeal to more people that can appreciate your style.
Featured image: Olly18 | Depositphotos
Anna Pozdeeva is a graduate from Moscow State University with a Bachelor’s degree in journalism. Currently a writer at Depositphotos covering visual culture and topics on marketing.