Instagram can be a tough place to gain your footing. Unlike other social networks, it’s a platform that’s based more on visual content than text. The better the image, the more engagement it tends to get.
That means you need some photographic talent to get ahead. This can be a daunting task, as Instagram is already packed with countless users who produce impeccable content on a regular basis.
If you want to compete, you’re going to need to offer something of value. Namely, you need to refine your aesthetics if you want to stand out from the crowd. Here are 10 tips that will help you to do just that:
1. Choose a color scheme and stick with it.
Color is often the first piece of visual information our brains process when looking at something. It provokes a nearly instant response from a viewer. Each hue, tone and shade has its own emotional connotations. This becomes more complex when they get paired in color schemes.
Color communicates instantly. Vibrant, contrasting colors can inject energy and excitement into an image:
Softer pastel colors can be calming and refreshingly light:
Even the lack of color has its own mood. Black-and-white photography can provide an atmosphere of mystery and intrigue:
Most successful brands on Instagram favor a certain color scheme. They pick ones that they feel best represent the brand’s character.
Having a color scheme also gives your account a sense of consistency. With one glance at your feed, a viewer will be able to form an impression of you and what kind of content to expect. It’s a major deciding factor in whether they give you a follow.
This is why it’s recommended to commit to a color scheme. Committing to one scheme doesn’t mean you can’t change over time or try new things, though. If you do change, however, you should do it seldom. Stick with a scheme for a while before moving on to the next. If every post had a drastically different color scheme, it could make your feed look chaotic.
2. Light it well.
Lighting is an essential part of photography. The interplay between light and shadow is what gives a subject dimension. If there’s not enough light, the image becomes murky and hard to read. The same goes for too much light, as the brightness can drown out fine detail.
There are two main types of lighting that you can use: natural and artificial. Natural lighting is usually preferred, as it’s free and often results in beautiful images without much setup or manipulation needed.
However, it can be a bit unpredictable. There are only so many hours of sunlight in a day, and the quality of light can vary from hour to hour depending upon weather conditions. This is why some prefer artificial light. It’s far more controllable, although it costs money for equipment and is harder to master.
Either way, you want your Instagram photos to be well lit. Viewers will skip over your content if it’s washed out or overly dim.
3. Experiment with lenses.
Are you tired of your images coming out too samey? Try getting some new lenses. They could be what you need to inject your photography with a fresh perspective.
There are a variety of camera lenses available on the market right now, including ones that you can attach to your phone.
Each type of lens has its own effects and practical uses. A macro lens magnifies the image, so it’s primarily used for taking photographs of things like insects, plants and small objects.
A fish-eye lens distorts the image, making things appear as if they’re underwater. It’s often used for extreme sports, as it makes whatever is in the foreground more prominent and dynamic.
4. Stay consistent with your cropping.
Cropping is something that you want to be cautious and reserved with. If you go too wild and crop each post in a different way, your page might become an eyesore.
Most people go with the typical square shape that’s prevalent on Instagram. Others like to stray outside the confines of the box and go with portrait or landscape images. Some even crop their photos into fun shapes like circles and hearts.
Consistency doesn’t mean you have to stick with one approach. You could mix it up, if you establish a pattern. For example, you might alternate between square and landscape images like this:
This approach would be more aesthetically pleasing than it being constantly different with every single post, as it arranges your feed into neat columns.
5. Lay off the filters.
When Instagram was introduced, filters were a staple on the platform. Just about everybody was using them, and some were even combining multiple filters in a single image. This has died down in recent years, though.
Most posts now don’t have use any filters. Even those that still use them tend to be more subtle about it, and try to tone them down by decreasing the intensity slider. Overall, it’s more common these days to let the natural beauty of your photography speak for itself.
6. Have a focal point.
All good photography has at least one focal point. Many have several balanced throughout. Sometimes this comes in the form of a subject, which is usually a person, animal, building or object. It can also be found in the leading lines within the environment. Whatever form it comes in, it helps guide viewers’ eyes through the image.
Without a focal point, there is nothing to draw an audience in. The image will seem flabby, and will likely lose the viewer’s attention.
7. Look for strong shapes and lines.
Another thing that makes an image seem indistinct is a lack of strong shapes or lines within the frame. These are necessary elements in sparking visual interest.
For instance, take a look at this image:
Temples and balloons in Bagan, Myanmar. I am hoping a pretty image will help bring attention to the plight of the children in Myanmar. With all the country's problems the children are suffering the most, and the number of orphans is staggering. The Mudita Foundation @muditafoundation from Germany is trying to educate and house these orphans. With the holiday season upon us it is a great time to be charitable, by volunteering or contributing money. Check them out at www.muditafoundation.de @natgeo @natgeocreative @thephotosociety – – – #myanmar #burma #bagan #temples #balloons #orphans #muditafoundation
The most striking thing about this photograph is the silhouette of each shape. You are able to clearly discern the outlines of the temples as their spires take your eyes upward. The same goes for the hot-air balloons, which stand out dramatically against the orange sunset.
Shapes and lines are what distinguish objects from each other. If you look closely at the world around you, you can see all sorts of shapes made from intriguing horizontals, verticals, diagonals and curves. Let them guide your compositions.
8. Think in layers.
Depth is an important part of a photo’s aesthetic appeal. If an image is flat, then there really isn’t much to look at beyond the surface.
With depth, you can create a detail-rich space for the viewer to occupy. Here’s a good example:
A North Korean subway train conductor stands on an underground platform before a statue of the late leader Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang, North Korea this afternoon Aug. 26, 2017. The Trump Administration announced in July that U.S. passports will become invalid for travel to North Korea starting next Friday, Sept. 1. I joined the last group of Americans with @koryotours while #onassignment for @natgeo and @netgeotravel
The train conductor stands in the front, serving as our initial focal point. She’s facing away from the camera. Consequently, this leads the viewer into following her suggested viewing line toward the statue in the back. This makes the viewer aware of the surrounding space between the two points.
It helps to think of your image in terms of layers. The Z-axis, which moves forward through physical space, is usually divided into three planes, from closest to farthest: foreground, middle and background. The placement of objects on these planes, along with height on the Y-axis and width on the X-axis, establish depth and scale.
Use depth as a way to make a viewer linger on an image. Give them directions to move their eyes, and try to evoke the feeling of inhabiting the photo’s location. It’s something that will bring them back to view it again and again.
9. Express your identity.
With all of these tips and tricks in mind, it’s time to put them into practice. Having a toolbox is just the first step. Now you need to apply these tools for a purpose.
Before you settle into a particular aesthetic, you need to be certain that it meshes with your identity. If there’s any conflict between the two, the mixed signals will disrupt the effect of the image. Adopting an aesthetic style requires thought and discipline.
Is your brand humorous, fun-loving and irreverent? Is it serious, professional and honorable? Relaxed, personable and authentic?
Think about how your aesthetics will convey these things. The camera doesn’t only record what’s in front of it; it also gives the viewer a sense of the perspective and personality behind it.
10. Tell a visual story.
Visuals don’t only serve as an outlet for self-expression. They also are a means of communication with an audience.
What can you communicate through a visual medium that will bring in viewers? The answer is a story, of course.
Creating a story involves taking visual information and imbuing it with meaning. This meaning can be educational and objective, or it can be emotional and subjective. The latter often has a great impact upon the viewer.
Nike is a brand that has built its image upon inspirational storytelling. The image above shows how potent that can be. A boy staring longingly through a soccer net and the words “this boy knew” work together to deliver a satisfying visual story.