As we recently learned, Instagram is now a behemoth of a social photo sharing service. It serves over 200 million people, some of whom include the president of the United States and Beyoncé. With so many eyeballs (maybe Beyoncé’s!) on your photos, it’s about time you stopped hiding your bad photography with a filter and upped your Insta-game.
Here are a few tips and tricks to help you start taking better Instagram photos and raking in those likes.
1. Don’t use Instagram to take photos.
By which I mean don’t use the camera in the actual app to take your shot. Your Instagram camera lacks several features of your iPhone camera: It can’t zoom, it automatically crops your frame into a square, and (for all you iPhone 5s owners out there) it can’t film in slo-mo.
In short: It is likely nowhere near as capable as your smartphone’s Camera app. Take a photo using that camera, and then import it when you open Instagram.
2. Keep steady.
Now that you’re using your phone’s native Camera app, there are a few guidelines you should follow as you’re shooting. First: You are your own human tripod. If the situation allows it, try to anchor yourself to something — a tree, a bench, your friend, whatever — before snapping a photo. If there’s a table to steady your hands, lean on the table.
This is especially important if you’re shooting at night, when shutter speeds slow and photos devolve into blurry experimental art.
3. Remember: You’re working in a square.
Part of Instagram’s nostalgic shtick involves cropping every image on its social network into a perfect square, much like the Polaroid cameras of yore did. As a result, shots you took with your cameraphone may turn out less than spectacular if they’re not taken with this frame in mind. Whenever you’re photographing objects like books or lattes, back up to make sure there’s plenty of extra space surrounding the item.
You can always crop it later. Also maybe try not to take photos of books or lattes.
If you’re using iOS 7, you can automatically shoot photos with a square frame. Just open the native Camera app and swipe to the right.
You probably know that you can tap your phone’s screen to improve the clarity of the image. When your iPhone’s Camera app is open and you’re about to take a photo, tap once on the part of the screen you want to concentrate on in the photo. A yellow square will appear and readjust the camera’s focus and exposure to that region. The function works exactly the same with most Android-run camera phones as well.
iPhone owners can also lock the focus and exposure to get the exact lighting they want by tapping and holding their fingers on the screen. When the words AE/EF Lock appear on the bottom of your phone, the focus and lighting won’t change.
5. Use one of these editing apps.
You think Instagram has great filters? Pssh. These apps put Willow and all its sad little filter siblings to shame. No, really, your app stores are bursting with tricked-out photo-editing apps. Here are a just a few that I’ve come to know and love:
This free, minimalist iOS and Android app is popular among artsy types for good reason. You can take photos (and adjust focus and lighting) within the app, and then edit and modify them using VSCO Cam’s extensive collection of subtle filters. If you’re looking for inspiration, you can also follow fellow photographers within the app’s social network.
Though it’ll set you back $1.99, this iOS app is a standard for anyone who wants to magically make his photos better. Aside from a wide range of filters, you can rate, straighten, and adjust any photo’s exposure. You also have the options to add a soft focus, flash or “clarity” to any image. It’s actually amazing how just a few quick adjustments on this app can make your sad photo of an overcast day look epic and, dare I say, profound.
This 99-cent iOS and Android app allows you to stuff numerous photos into one premade, adjustable frame. I like to use this one to make little birthdaygrams for my friends, but it’s also great if you’d like to show the details of a gorgeous wedding or a delicious dinner.
Remember, when you’re done editing your masterpiece, you just need to save it to your main camera’s library, open Instagram, and load it in. (In case you need to brush up on that, here’s how.)