photography

How I Style and Edit Photos for Instagram

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Hi y’all,

Today I thought I would share some behind the scenes: how I style and edit photos for Instagram! I’ve learned a lot over the past year about composition and lighting especially, and my approach has really changed since my first few posts!

Today I shot yellow props for my #proprainbow series. This series has been a really fun way to connect with you guys, as well as challenge myself creatively. I can’t remember how it started - I think I just wanted to create the kind of image I like to look at - bright overhead shots with lots of little details - and it went from there. So far I’ve done green, pink, blue, and purple!

PREP

I shoot anywhere in my apartment with good natural lighting that day. Usually this means the coffee table or the kitchen table, but lately we’ve had day after day of rain, so I ended up pushing two chairs together underneath a kitchen window to get the most light. Early morning is usually best for where I live, which works out great since I finish up tutoring at 10 a.m. and usually have lots of props out anyway. It’s been frustrating for me to accept that I’m always happier when I wait to take photos when the light is good. So often I just want to take something in dark or harsh light and post it, but then later I think oof, I want to retake the same picture in this nice light. Balance, right?

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SUPPLIES

Camera (I have had my Nikon D3300 for years and love it; they have since come out with a D3400)

SD Cards + SD Card Reader

Laptop (I love the touchscreen feature on my HP Spectre x360 for zooming in on photos)

Phone + Editing Apps

Props

Backgrounds (I love this double sided cardstock pack!)

Foam Core Boards

STYLING TIPS

BACKGROUND

I start by creating a background, usually by layering pieces of card stock or scrapbook paper randomly on a piece of foam board. It would be nice to work on big sheets of poster board so I wouldn’t have lines where the pieces of paper meet up, but I try to work with what I already have (although I’ve been eyeing these lately!) I create compositions on a piece of foam core board so I can easily move them from place to place when the light changes or if I want to take a standing overhead shot to get more into the frame.

PLACE BIG OBJECTS OR GROUPS OF OBJECTS FIRST

I place larger objects first, somewhat randomly, just to get something down and get the process started. It often works well to have three objects or groups of objects at first, or one central object with three smaller objects around it. In this case, I knew I wanted to emphasize the yellow card from my new color deck, so I started with that and built out from there.

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RULE OF THIRDS

Similarly, it can help create visual impact to divide your image into a grid of two parallel lines and two vertical lines, and placing objects at the points where the lines meet.

CREATE AN S CURVE

Another photography rule of thumb is to style objects along an imaginary S curve. You can literally picture a big S over your setup if that helps! I also included ribbon throughout this shot to create a sense of movement.

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INCLUDE VARIETY (COLOR, TEXTURE, SIZE, SHAPE)

There’s not too much variety color wise in my #proprainbow, but typically I do like to have contrasting colors in my shots. The little pops of blue in this image are doing so much work to create resting points for the eye. You’ll also notice that there’s variety in the height and size of objects, but not too much. If I had real bananas, for example, or yellow flowers in a tall vase in the center of this image, the rest of the props would go out of focus. Sometimes that’s the effect I’m going for, but here, I wanted subtle variety to force the eye to look at lots of different objects at a similar height. Similarly, it can be really striking to layer and overlap objects, and place them at random angles.

PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS

ADJUST YOUR WHITE BALANCE FIRST

Before I take any photos, I adjust the white balance on my camera. I think this is the single most important thing you can do to make images that look true to life. You can adjust the white balance in editing, but it’s just not the same. On my camera, manually adjusting the white balance means taking a photo of something white or light gray as a reference image.

TAKE SHOTS FROM VARIOUS ANGLES

Zoom in tight, zoom out wider than you think looks good (you can always crop later), take shots from straight above and from the side, focus in on the center of the composition and on random spots. For whatever reason, I often end up using shots I take towards the end of the process, and I’ve just kind of accepted that this is how my eye works, so don’t be afraid of taking tons of shots and then batch deleting later. It’s nice to have a variety to choose from during the editing process. The bird's eye or flatlay view still tends to be really popular on Instagram, but I also try to include other angles in my feed.

CLEAN YOUR LENS REGULARLY

I always forget to do this and it makes a big difference!

REFLECT LIGHT BACK ON YOUR IMAGE

As you can see in the pictures above, my white refrigerator was doing this for me today, but usually I prop a piece of foam core board up to reflect light back over my image. It’s amazing how many shadows you can eliminate doing this. Even holding up a piece of white paper next to something you’re photographing with your phone can make a huge difference.

BORROW A DIGITAL CAMERA

Before I got my DSLR, I tried out a few friends’ cameras, and then I was hooked. It’s a big investment, and it’s a big game changer. Also, my phone just isn’t that great at taking photos! I think there are definitely better camera phones out there. Here’s the same shot with my phone. A lot of that stuff, like the glare and the grainy green tint, I just can’t edit away.

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EDITING TIPS

After transferring images to my Google drive so I can access them across my devices, I use VSCO and Lightroom on my phone for pretty much all my editing, although if I’m adding text or otherwise manipulating product photos for my Etsy shop I might use Photoshop too. Although I almost never use them, VSCO has a ton of great free filters. Lightroom is an Adobe product that lets you do a lot of the same editing functions as Photoshop but for free. A lot of photographers create their own Lightroom editing presets, which can be fun to play with.

MAKE IMAGES BRIGHTER THAN YOU THINK YOU NEED TO

Pretty much the first thing I do when I’m editing is up the brightness/exposure, even more than I think I need to. Obviously I’m going for a really bright, colorful feed, though!

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CROP IN INTERESTING WAYS

Pretty much all the images I post to Instagram are cropped to squares or portrait mode - landscape tends to never work, at least on my phone. After I decide the general orientation I want, I like to zoom in in an unexpected way, like leaving corners off or tilting the entire image along a diagonal. I think this is just more fun to look at, and also makes straight overhead shots look more striking when I do include them in my feed. There’s a limit to how big of an image you can share on your Instagram feed, so often I show you guys the bigger image in stories.

That’s about it! Sometimes I will adjust the white balance in editing too if something seems off, or increase the sharpness or contrast a little bit, but exposure and cropping are the main things for me. My only other tip would be to take breaks! Stare at the same image for long enough and you start to lose the ability to make editing decisions.

Thanks for reading and see you on Instagram!

Em 💕