Ah, Instagram. The social media platform we all have a love/hate relationship with. Whether you love the explore page or hate the algorithm, chances are you enjoy a good scroll.
We all know the feeling, sitting with our phones for half an hour (if we’re quick about it), picking the perfect image, and tweaking an appropriate caption. Don’t even get us started on filters.
It’s easy to romanticise our lives with a perfectly curated feed of a life well lived. When we scroll through our own posts, we’re instantly reminded of the highlights of our existence, with the best bits glowing through the white lights of our phone screens.
It’s easy to get caught up in it, and forget that social media is actually just about having fun. We’re not all brands, influencers or bloggers, but it can be enough to inspire us to improve our own online efforts.
If you’re someone who doesn’t quite know the tools of the trade, you’re in luck. As someone who’s worked in social media, I have a few simple tricks up my sleeve.
Tell your story
By this, I mean a couple of things. First, be authentic. Don’t try to copycat what you think is working with the big influencers. Your life is yours, capture it that way.
Secondly, use the story feature enough to be engaging, but not enough to annoy your followers. People are nosy by nature, and we love nothing more than being on the inside. We like to see where our friends are shopping, eating vegan doughnuts or spending their work day. My tip is to take the photos on your phone camera before hand – this means if you’re too busy to upload as you go, you can go back to it. Also, your phone camera quality is far superior to that of the built in Instagram camera, which compresses images.
Stories also have the only decent filters on Instagram, so use them wisely. Instagram also just revived its GIF feature, so make the most of it– before it goes again!
Always take your photo with your camera on your phone and not the one through Instagram, and while it sounds obvious, holding the phone straight and still will ensure no blur or messy appearing photo, keeping your subject in focus.
Everyone knows their best selfie angle, and the same applies to whatever else you’re photographing. It’s all about the angle. Backdrops are also important, so whether it’s a graffiti wall, a string of fairy lights or the sky just after sunset, a good backdrop will turn an ordinary photo with your friends into a Insta-worthy moment.
Another tip to optimise your posts? Tagging. Whether it’s tagging your friend in a photo, the coffee shop you’re sat in, brands that you’re wearing, or a photography account, tags can help boost your visibility.
To hashtag, or not to hashtag?
Honestly, hashtags are tricky. Instagram, understandably, now ‘shadow bans’ users for exploiting hashtags. It has its own list of banned hashtags, and some of them will surprise you. Some of these hashtags are more than innocent, but due to an influx of users abusing the most popular tags to increase engagement, its pretty much ruined the experience.
The other problem with hashtags is that they really clutter a post. Generally, influencers won’t even use them unless they’re campaign hashtags used in a paid for post. Despite this, hashtags still work. I use them occasionally, mainly for photos I’ve taken on film as the dedicated hashtags will reach those that are outside of my usual followers. When I do use them, I put them in the comments. Unless clicked, the comments are hidden, meaning you can optimise your photo with hashtags without annoying anyone.
Make sure you have the right apps on hand to enhance your photos. Some of my personal favourites are Snapseed, Afterlight, VSCO and Lightroom CC. If I’m taking photos outside, I almost always want to take advantage of the golden hours of the day, when the sun is setting, and the light is at it’s most flattering. I use a paid for app called GoldenHour.One, which keeps track of the weather, light and sky for the day.
Life isn’t a theme… don’t worry if you’re too inconsistent to have a long-term look
We’ve all seen those Instagram accounts with the perfect themes, whether it’s pretty and pastel muted images, or vibrant, saturated food photos, we’ve all seen those aesthetically pleasing grids.
Personally, I’m far too inconsistent to keep a theme for long. I am someone who is interested in photography, so I generally take photos in batches. This means I usually have enough photos to have at least 1-2 rows of matching images. Other than that, I rarely stick to a colour palette. If you were to see my Instagram, you would see rows of disposable camera images, a selection of purples and pinks, and some moody blue tones. My feed is a bit of a Pick ‘n Mix.
For me, I can look at these and see where I was at the time of my life, because I know where I was mentally when I edited the images. I like this approach, because it still feels authentic to me.
But life isn’t a theme, and the idea of streamlining every piece of visual content to look the same can just strip the reality from it. It does look impressive, but no one cares enough to check if your theme matches the same as last week. We’re all just normal people, and no one expects to see uniform images from us.
The eyes have it
Use your own eye and look for the interesting angles on your everyday life. You can train your eye to learn good composition, flattering lighting and the right colour tones.
Through experience, I’ve learned that phone cameras are terrible for training us in this. Everything with a phone is instant, with so many chances for a redo. One of the reasons I’ve loved using disposable cameras is that I only get one shot, which has taught me how to be patient and overly particular with what takes up the space of my frame. Take time learning your own photographic eye, instead of taking a photo for the sake of it.
Don’t take it too seriously
The amount of people I know who treat Instagram like it’s their full-time job is actually quite shocking. Have fun with it, use it to improve your skills (or not, each to their own), but when you leave this earth, no one’s going to write about how straight or well positioned your Instagram posts were. Don’t get so wrapped up in what’s on the screen that you miss what’s right in front of you. Life doesn’t hand out a retake.