Instagram is one of the most popular social networks in the world. It’s a place where you can share photos you’ve taken, pictures from the lifestyle you (want people to think you) lead, and much more. While a lot of people are happy to share any old meme on Facebook and other social networks, they’re often far more careful with what posts make it to their Instagram account. With this in mind, let’s look at how to take great photos for Instagram.

Use All the Tools Available to You

Instagram started out as a filter app and then grew into a social network. When all smartphones were capable of taking was low resolution photos, putting a dramatic filter on top made everything look a lot more…interesting. The photos might not necessarily have looked good, but at least they didn’t look like a blurry mess taken with a bad digital camera.

Now, though, things are different. Instagram is, first and foremost, a social network. Instagram still has a built-in camera, 40 filters, and basic editing tools, but it’s been surpassed by other apps in terms of photography. It’s perfectly possible to take a photo within Instagram, edit it using the tools there, and post it straight away, but it won’t always give you the best results.

If you’re taking great photos with your DSLR and editing them nicely in Photoshop, post those to your Instagram account. If you want to stick with your phone, you can use more advanced editing apps like Snapseed and VSCO Cam to get the most from your photos. You can even use camera apps like Manual that give you control over shutter speed, ISO and exposure. Especially if you’re going #nofilter, these will ensure your photos look as good as possible.

RELATED: How to Convert Images to Black and White on Your Smartphone

Take Good Pictures to Begin With

RELATED: How to Take Good Self-Portraits and Selfies

If you want a great looking Instagram account, you need to take great photos. This means approaching them properly. Don’t just snap a quick selfie and expect it to be awesome, put some thought into it.

The same is true of every other kind of photography. If you want to share photos from your hikes or your holidays, learn how to take good landscape and travel photos. As soon as you start making conscious decisions about what you’re photographing, your images will look a lot better.

RELATED: How to Take Good Landscape Photos

RELATED: How to Take Good Sunset Photos

Generally, your photos will stand out more if you avoid clichés. It’s really really hard to take a good, original photo of a famous landmark like Times Square. However, if you do have a unique take on a clichéd idea, go for it. Sunset photos are incredibly popular and incredibly generic on Instagram, but if you put the effort into making yours stand out, it will set your account apart.

Understand How Your Photos Will Appear on Instagram

Instagram is very limited in how it displays your photos. It shrinks and compresses them.

At their largest, Instagram photos are 1080px by 1080px square images. That is not a lot of pixels to play with. For comparison, the photos captured by my iPhone 6S are 4032px by 3024px.

Instagram posts are also meant to be displayed on a mobile screen (though some people will see them on the desktop via Facebook, Twitter, or other networks). At most, those mobile images will be about two and a half to three inches wide. This means that a lot of small, fine detail may not be visible, or at least, won’t look great. If someone visits your profile, they’ll see your images at an even smaller size in the three photo wide grid.

Although the default crop is still a square, Instagram now supports portrait and landscape orientation images. For photos in portrait orientation, the largest aspect ratio you can have is 4:5. For photos in landscape orientation you’ve got a bit more leeway; the largest aspect ratio is a little under 2:1.

Most cameras, including smartphones, take images in a 3:2 (or 4:3) ratio. For landscape images, this works fine, but it means that any portrait images you upload will have to be cropped, at least a little. Above, you can see a 2:3 portrait image with a potential 4:5 crop drawn over the top in pink. Keep this in mind as you shoot.

Make Your Account Yours

Finally, you should make your Instagram images personal. It doesn’t matter whether you post photos or quotes or videos, but the best ones will be true to who you are. For all my talk of good photos, if you just like sharing the outfit you’re wearing today (#ootd) or silly selfies, go right ahead. It’s your account and only you can really decide what’s right for it.


Profile Photo for Harry Guinness Harry Guinness
Harry Guinness is a photography expert and writer with nearly a decade of experience. His work has been published in newspapers like The New York Times and on a variety of other websites, from Lifehacker to Popular Science and Medium's OneZero.
Read Full Bio »