The simpler times where you could snap and upload an Instagram photo in a matter of seconds and get instant traction are long gone, especially for those trying to make a full-time living from their accounts.
Nowadays, your content must be high enough in quality to compete with Instagram’s one billion monthly active users and get noticed. And this takes more time, energy and resources to achieve than you may initially realize.
If you’re an aspiring Instagram creator, you may not know where to start—and we don’t blame you. It’s overwhelming. Luckily, we’ve spoken to some influencers who have years of experience on the platform to grab all their top shooting and editing tips for growing your account.
1. Have a plan
Firstly, let’s face it, you may be in a pretty place or doing something fun and decide to do an impromptu shoot for the ‘Gram. (What’s life without a little spontaneity?)
That said, it helps to save resources to know exactly what you want to shoot beforehand, along with when and where, if you’re serious about monetizing your account.
“You often get a mood board of the vibe they want to go for, or they send you ideas for subjects. Therefore, you need to have a strategy in place to execute the messages and themes you’re trying to convey in your post.”
- Who are you targeting and what will they respond to? (Do you have previous posts that have been popular you can draw inspiration from to replicate their success?)
- What are you trying to achieve? (Do you want to entertain? Inspire? Educate? Try not to post for the sake of posting.)
- Does it make more sense to do a single grid post, carousel, Reel, Story, etc.? (If it’s going to be a carousel, what will go on each slide? If it’s an IGTV, can you storyboard what you want in each shot?)
- How will you shoot the content? (Will you use a self-timer using a camera or have someone take the shot for you?)
Ensuring you already have all the answers to these questions will make the shooting process go smoother (and faster!).
She explains: “You can get ideas from them, build connections, and maybe even attract some of their followers too.”
2. Consider your personal brand
Before you can even think about shooting for Instagram, consider your personal brand and what makes your content worth following.
Bella @saunteringboots says it helps to have a niche and hone in on the kinds of content you publish. “If you want to focus on fashion, just focus on fashion. If you keep posting various things, it’ll be difficult to grow and get followers because people won’t know what content to expect next.
For example, my followers know they will always see me in a scenic place with a cute outfit on.”
Likewise, make sure every post is consistent with the image you want to portray, whether it has plenty of personality and color so you’re seen as bold and inspiring or less humor and more neutral tones to convey sincerity and elegance.
For instance, a beauty influencer who promotes high street brands may have the former Instagram aesthetic and another beauty influencer who only works with luxury brands may have the latter. In other words, if they tried to post both kinds of content, it may be confusing for fellow Instagram users to like, trust and relate to the individual.
Without trust, you can’t build a long-term relationship with your followers and get them to recurrently engage with your content. This may result in a dip in metrics and the amount of brand deals you can acquire.
“At the end of the day, what you shoot and post is all about what makes sense for you,” suggests Katie @trendytouristuk. “Don’t shy away from who you are and remember that your individuality is what makes you different and distinctive to everyone else on Instagram.”
3. Use decent equipment
Full disclosure: it isn’t as hard to edit a post and make it look amazing if it already looks amazing after you’ve shot it. That’s where a digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera comes in for photo or video content.
Bella @saunteringboots claims: “I use a Fujifilm XT10 to shoot in RAW because it saves more details, which helps improve the quality of the image at the editing stage. You won’t lose clarity when you increase the exposure.”
She continues: “Investing in a good camera will take you places. Since I bought mine, I’ve been able to take better shots and even managed to sell some of them.”
Fashion YouTuber and Instagrammer April @adoseofapril agrees. “I normally shoot on my Olympus pen mirrorless camera. It’s compact and I find it helpful to use the Olympus app on my phone if I’m self-shooting.”
She clarifies: “The app works as a remote so I can quickly check if I’m in the shot and in focus and then set a timer and pose.”
Travel Instagrammer Daniella @daniesutherland also recommends a steady cam for capturing the best videos. Her and Bella @saunteringboots are both currently using the DJI OSMO.
Having said that, these cameras can be quite expensive for aspiring Instagram creators. You can grab them second-hand for less from marketplaces like eBay and Facebook.
Can’t buy or find one right now? Not to worry—April says that “your phone can be your best friend.”
In fact, she claims “there’s no need for a fancy camera. Shooting candid photos in a coffee shop or an outfit photo while out and about can be just as good as a staged photo on a DSLR camera.”
An iPhone or Android is ideal for grabbing off-the-cuff shots. Just ensure that yours has a decent camera to avoid any blurry and amateur-looking imagery. The more pixels a camera has, the sharper and more detailed the picture will be.
4. Shoot in optimal lighting
Contrary to popular belief, if you’re shooting outdoors, it’s actually better to shoot when it’s cloudy or in the shade rather than in pure sunshine.
The truth is, bright sun can cause glare—not to mention, you have to contend with shadows. However, clouds disperse the sunlight, mimicking softbox lighting and creating an ideal lighting situation.
The time just after sunrise and before sunset is also known to be wonderful among professional photographers. The diffused light casts a soft glow over everything and everyone on the ground (which is why it’s called “the golden hour”!).
When it comes to shooting indoors, always try to face a window for the best possible lighting. Avoid standing under an artificial light that will emit an unnatural-looking glow.
April @adoseofapril agrees: “I tend to shoot in neutral light as it’s easier when it comes to editing after. You don’t have to alter the image as much.”
5. Don’t underestimate the power of props
The most share-worthy Instagram posts are unique and stand out from the sea of existing content creators.
Consider using props in your photos to pique interest. I.e., by holding a fresh bunch of beautiful flowers if you’re a fashion Instagram influencer. If you’re a travel influencer, you could show your suitcase in a flat lay as you pack but add in your passport and foreign currency for context.
Essentially, the more props you can use to bring your images to life, the more relatable they’ll be with your target audience. And the more you can differentiate your account from similar Instagram creators.
6. Give yourself as many options as possible
Let us tell you a secret… The photos and videos that you see on the Instagram feed of your favorite influencers weren’t shot in one take. Actually, their phone camera rolls or computer libraries are likely to be filled with comparable shots that didn’t quite make the cut.
During the shooting process, capture plenty more material than you need so that you have several photos or videos to choose from. You could do a variety of poses, set-ups, scenarios, etc.
Lifestyle Instagrammer Jennifer @jenniferruts says: “I bring different outfits when I go shooting so I can take a lot of pictures on the same day and have tons of content.”
It’s also important to give yourself variety in case the worst happens or you change your mind about the content of your post.
For instance, you may think you’ve shot the perfect video for IGTV but then when you go back to edit it, it’s out of focus. In this case, it’s handy to have plan B content if plan A is unable to go ahead for whatever reason.
On another note, make shooting time worth it to conserve your resources.
“I dedicate a day to going to different venues with various outfits and camera types,” Daniella @daniesutherland explains. “I usually get to tourist-like venues early in the day to avoid crowds, which is fine for me because I’m an early bird!”
Batch shooting like this can maximize productivity and provide you with content for weeks to come, depending on your usual posting schedule. Win-win.
7. Use the most popular editing tools for tweaking
There’s a reason why influencers tend to use the same editing tools (spoiler alert: it’s because they can’t be beaten!).
Katie @trendytouristuk recommends “making minor tweaks first such as cropping something visible out of a photo that distracts from the subject or straightening the subject.” This can be done effortlessly on a phone or computer.
Then she suggests proceeding with “bigger edits like skin smoothing or eliminating red eyes using FaceTune or Photoshop.” Bella @saunteringboots loves Photoshop, in particular. “It’s great for removing photo-bombers or unwanted subjects.”
You can also adjust the color and brightness of a photo through programs like Adobe Lightroom and Enlight.
Either way, Bella recommends “finding an editing style that will fit your personality” and personal brand. “For example, you can make your photos have a vibrant color or retro tone.”
The trick is to be consistent for two reasons. One, so that your profile will make the most impact with potential followers—and two, so that current followers are invested enough in your content to stick around.
IGTV and Reels
When it comes to IGTV, you can cut your videos together using InShot even if you don’t have any previous video editing skills, according to Bella. “It’s easy to use and you don’t have to pay for a subscription.”
She continues: “I use Final Cut Pro for longer-form content and YouTube videos because it has a one-time payment like InShot.”
April @adoseofapril is new to creating video content so she prefers to use iMovie on her MacBook: “It’s absolutely fine for the level of editing I do.” Additionally, she likes Splice for TikToks and Reels, which is “amazing as you can select different templates depending on the platform you’re creating for.”
Speaking of Reels, the nice thing about them is that you can do your shooting and editing all within the Instagram app. Use the center button with the clapperboard icon to capture your shots and then select each shot individually in the editing screen to trim it down or extend it. You can also add effects and audio with minimal fuss.
Stories are often used by Instagram influencers to instantly connect with their followers and offer a behind-the-scenes look into their everyday life. That’s why they traditionally went unedited, or just had an understated filter.
These days, Stories can be edited by Instagram creators just as much as grid posts or IGTVs. Daniella @daniesutherland says she swears by Unfold and Mojo for editing her Stories.
Instagram has an extensive effects library where you can create something cool and quirky for your followers. Even so, the fonts, graphics and layouts they provide for Stories are slightly limited compared to what one of these apps can offer.
8. Consider applying a filter
If you don’t want to adjust the colors, tones, brightness and clarity of a photo yourself, apply something that will do the hard work for you.
Filters can take a post from amateur to awesome in the click of a button. Many Instagram influencers use presets, which is a group of photo-editing settings that you can copy and paste onto photos in programs like Adobe Lightroom.
“I love to work with presets so all my pictures kind of look the same and fit together on my grid,” explains Jennifer @jenniferruts. You can even “pay attention to the colors” in the shot while shooting so that your feed will look more cohesive.
Daniella @daniesutherland agrees. “I think having an aesthetically pleasing feed and a similar color palette which is easy on the eye can really help make your profile look more professional.”
But where do you get presets from? You can buy them from other Instagram influencers and on marketplaces that have digital assets, such as Creative Market and Etsy.
Then you can use planning or scheduling tools like Preview, Planoly or Unfold “to see what your pictures and aesthetics will look like before you post them,” according to Daniella.
Although filters and presets are still widely used by Instagram influencers around the globe for their user-friendliness and convenience, they’re not as popular as they once were.
Katie @trendytouristuk explains: “In my experience, users of the platform no longer like to see heavily edited content from their favorite influencers because it makes them seem unrelatable. Instead, they appreciate transparency and authenticity, which in turn builds trust and loyalty.”
Daniella and Jennifer agree: “You have to ensure that your picture still looks natural” and “don’t over-edit” if you can help it.
9. Protect all your hard work
If you’ve gone to the trouble of spending lots of time, money and energy on your Instagram content, it’s important to make sure nothing happens to it. (Because how frustrating would that be?)
Unfortunately, hacking is a real problem on the Instagram sphere right now and no one is safe. Having said that, there is a way to ensure that your content remains protected from hackers.
Notch provides insurance for Instagram accounts, which means:
- Real-time notifications if your account gets hacked
- Daily payouts for every day your account is hacked or banned (based on your coverage)
- Account retrieval by a dedicated team
Figuring out an Instagram shooting and editing routine that works for your personal brand and lifestyle doesn’t happen overnight. Although, once you uncover what kinds of content your audience best responds to, you can be consistent to keep obtaining those all-important likes, comments, and follows.
And as a final point, April @adoseofapril says: “Don’t be afraid to try something new and learn” when it comes to both shooting and editing, whether this is a new filter, app, or method. “It’s the only way you’ll get even better.”