How to Take Better Instagram Photos

Let’s talk about how to take better Instagram pictures today, shall we?


Reason being, I had the opportunity to host a tweet-up last night, which — as I explained to my parents — is essentially an hour-long period in which Twitter users join forces to share knowledge and create categorized noise. It was all about Instagram, and it was actually really fun!

Someone owes me a coffee today (and I’m looking at you, Alyson), because I combed through nearly 700 tweets to pull out the very best tips & tricks to recap the conversation and ultimately help you become a better phone photog.

Just kidding, of course — but seriously, if you want, I’ll take you up on that coffee…


The most successful Instagram feeds contain a well-curated mix of consistently compelling content, and with the summer season in full bloom, there’s no shortage of photo ops available at your fingertips.

So, are you ready to up the ante on your Insta-game? Here are the highlights from last night’s discussion — plus five of my own personal tips to immediately take your snaps to chic new heights.


First, a recap of the discussion:

To kick things off, we talked about our favorite photo editing apps. My personal preference is Camera+ — I use it to brighten, contrast and saturate images (such as the one shown below). It’s one-and-done situation, here; who has time for multi-app editing?

Among other popular answers were VSCO CAM and Snapseed, but I prefer to stick with what I already know. In addition, Instagram filters may be convenient, but I find that they still lack some of the advanced customization necessary for improving your photos.


Next, we took a step back: What’s the secret to taking a good, high-quality picture on your phone? 
The answer here is focus, focus, FOCUS. Touch different parts of your screen to create varied degrees of depth. Tap a dark area on your screen to brighten the photo and a light area to darken. You can also hold your finger to lock the focus in place (which is good for action shots and to capture movement).


Now, when it comes to Instagram, there are certainly a few best practices to bear in mind. Specifically…

Does timing matter? YES! Assess when your followers are most active (for me it’s nights and weekends). Post in their peak times to maximize engagement. If you’re not sure when this is, use Iconosquare to find out.

How important are captions? Um, they’re everything (says the writer). In some cases, your image will do the talking; however, in most, captions paint a visual narrative and makes your follower feel more connected to you. Sure, a picture is worth a thousand words, but what’s the story behind it? Tell me!

Is there such a thing as too many hashtags? Definitely, you SPAMMER! Just kiddin’. I’d suggest using 2-3 relevant hashtags to capitalize on relevance or trending keywords; this will help you attract and engage the right type of audience.

You can also use them to categorize your content. For example, #jetsetcorals is how I organize my travel content (on Instagram). #NYCNC is where I “keep” the photos that I take of New York City.



Of course, we then touched on what everyone wants to know. (We were thinking it, but thanks for saying it, Kim & Chloe/@PopCosmo): Just how do you (organically) gain new Instagram followers?

While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to this one, Leslie/@onebrassfox summarized it nicely in her use of the word “community.” Use the discovery tool to find new users that you have something in common with and leave genuine comments on photos that you like. It’s called social media for a reason, right?

In addition, take advantage of geo-targeting (or “adding a location” — after you’ve left if you’re concerned with privacy). Tagging brands in your images, too. Both of these tactics are an easy way to gain exposure to extended audience (as you’ll appear in their “Photos of X” section). Don’t get too tag-happy, though; it’ll look like you’re just fishing for likes.


We capped off the discussion with everyone’s #1 tip to becoming a better Instagrammer? 

There was a lot of great advice, here — among my favorites was the simple (though often forgotten) concept of being uniquely you, as Rose/@rosamapose put it. Acknowledge people’s questions, too, as Heidi/@Jax_and_jewels said. (Reminder: We’re all human!) Authenticity is key, as Samantha/@SamanthaCossick reiterated.

Lastly, I’d advise you to take time to frame your photos. Keep your content fresh and fun; and most importantly, train your eye to find beauty everywhere. (Your mind, too!) Know what your readers like and deliver that to them in your own style and voice.

Ultimately, my goal on Instagram is to share experiences, not just pictures. I aim to treat my feed like an extension of my brand and an identity you can bond with.


So, in sum, here are my suggestions for five things you can do right now to become a better Instagrammer:

  1. Don’t zoom: Take the photo from a natural distance. Then, if you need to, crop the image (in square) to hone in on your subject, making your photo appear sharper and brighter than it would if you’d zoomed in for the same effect.
  2. Use natural light: The most beautiful, sharp photos are most easily achieved when natural light is aplenty. Avoid flash at all costs!
  3. Focus: Play with the focal point of your camera (tap different parts of the screen) until your lighting is just right. To lock the focus, hold down one area of your screen with your finger.
  4. Look for the best background: Choose a backdrop that allows the subject of your photo to become the focal point of the image. As with most things in life, keep it simple.
  5. Know thy followers: Seriously. Get to know what they like and curate your feed around that (in your own perspective, style and voice, of course). Homework: Explore your key insights using Iconosquare.


Beyond my besties, here’s a few of my favorite Instagram accounts (and here’s a link to mine, you know, just in case):

@amy_stone | @caitsplate | @canarygrey
@mailmodels@stripesandpeonies | @pornforwomen (yes, really)
@garypeppergirl@thefatjewish (for lol’s)


If you have any specific questions about Instagram, feel free to Tweet me/sound off in the comments below. A BIG thank you to everyone who participated in last night’s discussion! Looking forward to Round Two.

*TOP IMAGE: Espadrilles, aviators , Instax camera, Panama hat



  1. Awww, I’m sad that I missed this twitter chat! It sounds like it was fun and that lots of great tips were shared. Will you be doing another one soon? Thanks for putting up this recap (and so speedily too)!

  2. Great post hallie, I think I’m guilty of a few no no’s oops…kinda love my hashtags haha but love all your fab insight!

  3. I’m looking forward to round two as well! Sad I missed out, but I’ve been sifting through those tweets. Great info for someone like me who still needs a little work here and there. I’m over at @26andnotcounting 😉 Can’t wait to find a few new insta accounts to follow!

  4. Thanks for including me in your round-up! Loved participating in this, I feel like this was a topic I know well and I’m looking forward to more where I might be on the other side because the girls last night provided some great insights!

  5. If you’re ever interested in branching out, Pictapgo is an editing app created by Totally Rad, a leading company for Photoshop actions for professional photographers. Lots of options, including multiple B&W variations, and super easy to use. Loved all the info in this post!

  6. Great tips! I have a love/hate relationship with Instagram, on one hand it’s a great medium on the other well it’s getting a little ridiculous of what you need to do to get noticed on the site (at least that’s what it seems like lol). I’d love to see this article written from your hilarious perspective:

    It would be a great read for sure 😉

    xo, Kasia

  7. Great tips lady! I can’t believe I actually missed out on the chatter…even though it was on my dang calendar! Sheesh, what a dumbo. Anyhow, I did go back through and read everyone’s thoughts via the hashtag. Well done! 🙂

    Kristin of

  8. What a great post! Seriously, I read it avidly and many of your points are… well… right on point! I have just accessed Iconosquare for the first time a moment ago, and the stats it corrals are very useful. Great choice of instagrammers to follow to. Thank you my dear! v.

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  24. Girl, this post is amazing. Thank you thank you thank you! I am such a visual person, and sometimes I’m torn between sharing a not great photo of an awesome event. (I recently made awesome brownies. The photo was poop. Still shared it, but oh god I hated it!)

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