Nichole Ciotti is a San Francisco-based entrepreneur who shares her personal style, beauty tips, and adventures on the blog, Vanilla Extract . You can find her at @nicholeciotti on Instagram and Twitter.
Instagram is an opportunity to show off your skills and get noticed. But let’s be real: you’re not going to get noticed with blurry, unfocused photos of yourself, your cats, or your world. Instagram users like pretty things, and there are some basic principles for how to create what people want. Follow these tips (and follow me!) for nailing the perfect shot and who knows? Maybe one day you’ll be Insta-famous.
1. Shoot in soft light.
Lighting will literally make or break your Instagram photos. Indoor photos without much light can often result in grainy, unfocused pictures. The flash is useful in certain situations, but the general consensus is that they’re kind of scary. Like, red pupils and ghost-white faces scary. Natural light is ideal at all times. When you’re indoors, shoot people or objects close to a window. When you’re outside, shoot in the open shade to avoid harsh shadows from the sun.
2. Draw your viewer’s eye to what matters.
Your photos should not only be in focus, but also have a focus. When you’re taking a photo, ask yourself, “What’s the focus of the shot?” If you’re not sure, it’s time to adjust. Your viewer’s eye should be immediately drawn to the most important thing in the photo. Make sure to give priority to what you want to feature even when there are other objects in the frame.
3. Let the Rule of Thirds be your guide.
The Rule of Thirds makes any normal photo look more interesting. It’s also really hard to take a bad photo once you learn it, promise. As you’re taking a photo, imagine the screen as a grid broken into thirds (both horizontally and vertically) so that there are nine equal squares. Hint: If you have an iPhone, you can enable the grid in the Photos & Camera section within the Settings app. The idea is to place the key elements of your scene where the lines intersect.
4. Tap to focus (and hold your breath!).
There’s nothing worse than a blurry Instagram photo and it only takes a second to correct. Take advantage of the Tap to Focus camera feature by literally tapping the area of the screen that you want in focus. Hold your breath as you tap because a steady hand can make all the difference between a sharp photo and a blurry mess. Exhale after the snap!
5. Improve your photo with the right tools.
Even the best photos can benefit from a little TLC. There are a lot of great editing apps available, but Afterlight is one of the easiest and most intuitive. The app has 15 different tools, each of them with a slider that lets you fine-tune the intensity of the effect. It also has an assortment of unique filters and frames if you like variety. For quick improvements on-the-go, try messing with clarify and brightness, and maybe a little saturation.