Picture this: you are scrolling through Instagram. You STOP on a photo. Something about it made you pause for a moment longer. Is it the content? The vibrant colours? A beautiful location you’re adding to the bucket list? Ask yourself what it is about the photo that made you stop. For me, it’s usually a well-composed and properly edited photo.
In this blog post, I’m going to show you how to edit your images on Instagram so they can stand out from the crowd and look more professional. Although there are many great editing apps, such as VSCO, Lightroom, and Photoshop Express, sometimes you just want to share that beautiful photo with the world ASAP. As a professional photographer, I always want to make sure that each image is edited adequately before posting, even if it’s a quick photo taken on my phone. I will share a few of my tips for bringing an image to life using only the editing tools within Instagram. I’ll also use an example photo I snapped on my phone earlier today. Let’s get started with tip #1:
Before we get into editing, let’s start with your phone’s basic settings. Our phones are an excellent little pocket camera, but they can also strain our eyes the more we use them. Most modern smartphones have technologies to reduce the blue light strain with True Tone (Apple products) or Adaptive Display (Android).
Tip # 1 is to make sure the True Tone or Adaptive Display is turned OFF. These sensors within your phone measure the ambient light and brightness based on your environment. This feature can make your screen appear darker and have an orange tint. This will completely change how we view our images on our devices, so make sure these are switched OFF before continuing to the next steps. If you are editing your photos at night, make sure the Night Shift mode is OFF, as this has a similar effect. Although not wholly related to editing, this is an essential foundation to set yourself up for success.
Pro Tip: I also like to adjust the screen to maximum brightness when editing.
After you select the image you are about to share with the world; you have to decide what crop looks best. Instagram crop ratios are limited to 3 options: 1:1 square, 4:5 vertical, and a flexible horizontal size (maximum 16:9). Depending on the way you captured the image, you can make the fun decision to crop it square or leave it horizontal or vertical.
I chose to crop it square (left) to focus on the window’s skyline in the example image below. If I decided on a vertical aspect ratio (proper portrait), I would click the little arrows icon located in the bottom left corner to expand the image.
(H3) Pro Tip: If you are editing on a computer using Lightroom or Photoshop, crop the way you’d like and use image sizing to select 1080px short edge for vertical photos and 1080px long edge horizontal/square. This is the standard image size on Instagram, so you should export accordingly as it will automatically compress.
Click here for more detailed information on Instagram sizing and dimensions.
You’ve clicked “next” and see your image with a bunch of different filter options below. Let’s skip that for now and create your custom edits- that’s what we are here for, right? Select “edit,” and let’s start with “adjust” to make sure your image is straight and the perspectives feel good. Unless you intentionally want to utilize a dramatic angle, the adjust tool can help make that tilted photo appear level.
If you aren’t sure whether your photo is level or not, you can tap the grid icon in the app’s top-left corner. Continue to tap the icon to view different grid formats until you find your preference. Drag the toolbar left and right until your image is straight. Another exciting feature is manual control over the horizontal and vertical perspectives. This is especially useful when working with distorted angles.
In the example image below, I notice the skyline is angled downwards to the right. To fix this, I adjusted -.80 degrees. This also straightens the window panes to align vertically with the grid.
Your photo is straightened and beautiful, so now we need to make it pop! The exposure of your image is dependent mainly on the ambient light at the time of capture. However, sometimes our photos can turn out way too bright or too dark if working under challenging conditions. Not to worry, simply brighten the picture so we can see the subject matter or if you are looking to darken your image for a moodier vibe, drag it the opposite way. I like to drastically drag this around until I notice it’s way too bright and then work backward from there until it looks balanced.
Since the example image is already captured on a bright sunny day, the adjustments are minimal. However, I still want this image to grab attention, so I brought it up by 5 points.
After you apply an edit, press and hold on to the photo, and you’ll see what the image looked like before. Once you release, you will see the newly applied adjustments. I like to do this along the way to see how much my photography has changed.
After you increase the brightness up by 20 or so points, you may notice some of the details in the photo’s lighter spots look a bit blown out. This means the details in the highlights of your image are lost and over-exposed. Editing within Instagram has come a long way, and this tool is by far one of the best additions. You can save some of these details by swiping over to “Highlights.” Move this around back-and-forth and see what it can do to your photo. Dragging it to the left will lower your highlights’ brightness, and dragging it to the right does the opposite.
Also, experiment with adjustments in the “Shadows” tool as this can help brighten the darker portions of your photo where details can get lost.
In the example image, I lost a bit of the detail of the clouds and the colour of the blue sky. After lowering the highlights, some colour is saved, and a bit of contrast is created in the clouds.
Speaking of contrast, let’s take the photo to the next level! When it comes to editing, contrast changes the tonal differences in a photo so your darks appear darker and lights get lighter. The more contrast you add to the image, the more your subject will pop. For a softer, dreamier look, you can reduce the overall contrast.
Boost up your contrast and stop before you notice a loss of detail. When you increase the contrast, you may also see the colours become more saturated. As I mentioned before, I like to bring it to the extreme and work my way back to a point where the image still feels natural. The more contrast I add to my image, the more definition I see in the black window frames, and the city skyline darkens to separate from the bright sky.
If your image is still looking a bit dull, it might need a boost of saturation. This will enhance the natural colours in your image to appear more vibrant. For example, you just snapped a pic of the most beautiful sunset, but the colours seem a bit muted… try increasing the overall saturation to see how that creates a more dynamic image. The more saturation you add, the more vivid your picture will be.
This is where we customize the vibe and express your creativity through colour. After you click “colour” in the editing tools, you’ll see a rainbow of hues ranging from warm to cool. Start by assessing the colour palette of your image before building on different tones to the highlights and shadows. If you create a colour theme for your Instagram, you can similarly tone all of your pictures to create continuity on your feed.
Looking at the image below, I wanted to enhance the room’s warmth, so I faded red into the shadows. This step is beneficial if you’re going to enhance isolated colour tones in your image. Have fun with it, and be creative with your choices. Sometimes an unexpected colour choice can give an image new life.
Shifting the temperature of your image is one of the simplest ways to set the mood. This adjustment creates either a cool or warm tone across the entire picture. If you edit a portrait, sometimes a little warmth can add a nice glow to the skin tone. With this said, watch you don’t go too far as you still want tones to look natural to the subject.
I still felt like it needed to be a bit warmer in the image below, so I increased the setting by a few points.
Yay, you made it to the final step! Your photo has vibrant colour tones, perfect contrast, and is ready to post. Before you share, there is one final adjustment to add. You may have noticed even the sharpest image can look a bit fuzzy once posted. This is because Instagram compresses your image size, therefore, reducing the overall quality. You can add a slight sharpness to counteract this compression. This might not be necessary for all image types but test it out to see if it helps.
If you drag this adjustment too far, it can start to look like a filter you weren’t hoping for. If I’m posting a high-quality photo from my digital camera, I usually add 10-20 points of sharpness, depending on the image.
Below we see the final before and after comparison. Changes appear minimal; however, these minor adjustments can shift an amateur photo to look clean and professional.
You don’t have to stop here. I encourage you to experiment with each setting to understand photo editing better and see how every adjustment changes the image’s feeling. You never know what you can uncover, so have fun with it!
If you are looking to enhance your feed with custom brand photography, click here to learn more about what The Influence Agency has to offer. We can’t wait to work together and create unique content specifically for you!6
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