Let me begin by saying I have a fancy camera (Canon 700D) but you do not need one to take good photos. It certainly comes in handy but for beautiful Instagram photos, it isn’t really necessary. Also, I attended a course in photography about 10 years ago so a lot of this comes from what I learnt there.
I also use a tripod but again this isn’t necessary as long as you have good lighting.
I’m going to go through what+ I think about when I take my Instagram photos. From coming up with ideas, composition, lighting, texture, framing, and post-processing.
I always start with trying to come up with some ideas for photos. I used to prowl bookish photographs on Google, Pinterest, and Instagram looking for something to spark an idea. Now it’s always kind of in the back of my mind and then I see something (a flower, a tree, a cup) and think “I really want to photograph that“. After I have some props I want to include in my photos I look up how this item has been used before by others. For example, I have a crystal cake stand so I typed cake stand into Pinterest and found these photos.
So using these photos as a general guide I went out and got some flowers, my cake stand, a stack of books, chose a location in my house with good lighting and got snapping.
Some people like to sketch out their ideas before shooting but I like to work from a very general idea. I usually base my photos around one or two particular items that have caught my attention. It may be something pretty like flowers or something with appealing texture like dried leaves.
This is the absolute most important thing when it comes to taking photos. A camera records light bouncing off of surfaces, no light means no photos. Daylight is best (unless you have a lighting kit but if you have a lighting kit you know more than me about taking photos). I choose a spot in my house close to a window (usually my kitchen) with lots of light coming through. I like directional light because it casts some shadows and gives depth and dimension to the photos. I set up my shoot to have the light coming from the side and don’t use anything to reflect the light. If you wanted more even light you can use something white to reflect the light onto the other side of what you’re photographing. So if your light source is on the left you would place a white sheet on the right.
The light needs to be good to achieve what you want. Middle of the day is perfect but sunset can work well too as long you’re able to achieve what it is you want and see everything clearly.
This is basically setting up all of the props attractively. Placing the main subject in a way that catches the viewers eye then leads them to look around the rest of the photo. The best way to do this is to follow the rule of thirds (that grid you can bring up on your screen when taking photos). This will help you pick a focal point and have lines leading the eye from there to the rest of the picture. Avoid having your focal point in the centre but this does work sometimes. The grid divides your screen into 2 vertical lines and 2 horizontal lines and you want to align your focal point (where you want people to look) along these lines usually at a point where they intersect.
This does not mean that your photos have to be full of straight lines but once you start looking for lines you’ll see them everywhere. They can be diagonal or curved it’s just something that leads the eye from to the focal point to the rest of the image.
In this photo of my engagement ring, your eye is instantly drawn to the ring and then brought out again by the petals of the rose.
This kind of ties in with composition but I want to make a few specific points regarding frame. The idea here is to really fill the frame. When I’m taking photos for Instagram I’m conscious that these photos will become squares so my frame is a square. You need to get close to what you’re photographing so the rest of the area isn’t visible taking attention away from the subject. There should be several interesting elements in the photo but it should never be cluttered and these elements need to enhance the presence of the main subject. I also always change my angle and take several photos of the same scene from different viewpoints.
This is a big one for me when taking photos. I like lots of texture and contrast between items in an image. Books are quite plain so the other elements I add need to give depth and feeling without drawing too much attention away from the main subject. I like to use a sheepskin rug, a piece of hessian or a wooden tray as a base for the still life. Texture is kind of hard to explain but I think of it as something that when I look at it I can imagine how it feels.
And after snapping all those photos they need to get some post-processing. I’ve often heard people say they prefer photos that are unedited but I think this is silly and that these people don’t fully grasp photography. Ye olde film photography has always undergone post-processing it just wasn’t done with a computer. Filters were used in enlargers to change the tone and contrast of the image. Development times in chemicals affected the outcome of the image as well and I’m sure they had plenty of other tricks I know nothing about. Post-processing can mean a simple adjustment to the colour or light levels or a big adjustment to change the style and feel of the image kind of like what I do. I like to give my images a vintage look with a brownish cream colour to them.
I use Adobe Photoshop to process my photos which costs about €25 a month but there are many free alternatives available. GIMP and Pixlr are both really good editors that I have used in the past. Instagram also has editing tools and filters built in.
Phew! So that’s it. That’s how I take my Instagram photos and some tips that will hopefully help you if you’re struggling or feel that you’re not taking the best photos you can.
All photos by me unless otherwise stated.