Mastering Instagram photography is an art. There’s a reason that it usually takes months or years for people to find their Instaesthetic (I made that up). But if you’re like me, you’re just looking to take some semi-solid photos that will make you proud of yourself (as I scroll up and down my own feed like the quasi-narcissist all Instagrammers pretend not to be).
Although I’d like to pretend photos aren’t everything, appealing pictures of your products will help you to sell better and grow engagement. But good photography doesn’t necessarily require buckets of money! You can probably even start to construct better photos with everything you have in your possession already.
These tips and tricks for better Instagram photography will hopefully help you to bring your Insta-life to the next level without breaking the bank. They are budget-friendly, creative, and definitely for us amateurs, especially for people who, like me, are crafters. Dive in and you’ll be living your best Instagram life in no time!
Backdrops: Setting the Scene
Having a solid background in your photo is more essential than I think most people realize. If it’s messy, dirty, or just too busy, people will get distracted from the main event: your work. There may actually be several places in your home that you could use without investing in a setup. Hardwood floors, beautiful countertops, and dining room tables can all be great places to use for photography.
If you’re like me, though, you might not have many (or any) places to stage photos. So, I’ll share my little secret with you: RUGS. I have 5-6 rugs that I bought at IKEA all for under $10 each and they are easily transportable so I can carry them to wherever the good lighting is located.
If you’re not into rugs, another great option is buying flat lay backgrounds which can be found online. They can be expensive and it’s difficult to control quality (some are blurry), but the ones my partner got me for Christmas are great for blog photos even if I don’t use them much on my actual Instagram. It completely depends on what aesthetic you’re building on your feed.
Also, don’t be afraid to get a little creative! @angieandbritt recently posted a great photography hack using a 3M hook, binder clip, and solid-colored piece of paper to create a seamless backdrop. This is a great tip, especially if you’re not always posting flat lays.
Props: Dressing it Up
I love raiding trinket-type stores after the holidays for props. Here in Berlin, I usually go to TEDi where I can get bits and bobs for 50 cents or even less after the holiday rush of decorating is over (and this applies to any holiday). I try to select versatile objects that can be used year-round, but I also have some seasonal goodies. Back home, I’d often go to dollar stores or Ocean State Job Lot for these tasks.
Props can help to spice up your photos. As my brand is mostly books and yarn, there’s a core selection that I include in each photo (hooks, spare yarn, finished projects, books, stitch markers, etc.) but there are also some other items that help to keep it less boring. I also have a set of hooks that I don’t really use in reality but they look sleek in photos. Getting some nice versions of your craft props can also help to elevate the photo. Aside from searching the sale racks, these types of things can also be found at craft stores like Michaels, Joann, Hobbycraft, or even in the craft section of Walmart.
As for positioning props, there’s a lot to learn! Ashley from @wishuponahook recommends that if your crochet hook won’t stop rolling around in photos, to place a rubber band underneath it first. If you’re a little creative, there’s really not much you can’t do.
Pro Tip:When staging your photo, look at what you have without props through your camera, and you’ll see where there’s too much empty space or where positioning is awkward.
Lighting: Natural is Best
A great rule of thumb is to try and use natural light as much as possible. This is where my advice can only go so far because I choose not to have an intense professional set up with lighting equipment. If you can afford it, it might be worth the investment for you. Personally, I prefer to use the natural light that pours into my living room from my floor to ceiling windows. If you have a more dimly lit space, staged lighting might be necessary.
Don’t be afraid to get a little creative with finding natural light. I actually use my clothes drying rack for photography and drag it to the window. It’s not stable, and I can’t put too much weight on it, but it does the trick, that’s for sure!
Regardless of if you’re using natural or artificial lighting, keep an eye on your angles for shadows. Often, if I’m not paying attention, I end up getting shadows in all the wrong places. While I think anyone who is even moderately professional will give you 1,000 better tips than I can, I do think that you shouldn’t have to break the bank or slave endlessly over lighting, especially if your Instagram is a happy hobby. These tips are meant to be helpful for people who are looking to just boost the level of their photography without investing time and energy into higher-level solutions.
Pro Tip:If you’re really in a bind try using your phone flashlight to eliminate shadows (or your friend’s if you’re using yours for the photo) so that you can control the lighting a bit more.
Camera: Quality Matters
I am the proud owner of a DSLR… which I do not use for my Instagram. My Canon was a constant companion for all of my travels, but when it came to starting my Instagram, my phone came in clutch.
Phone cameras are incredibly powerful. Do not underestimate that thing you use for selfies. There may be a time when I turn back to my DSLR (especially for videos), but my camera is capable of some pretty amazing work.
If you have a nice phone camera, you may want to think about investing in a phone tripod. They’re usually cheap and can help to keep your photos aligned so you can fiddle around with the details.
If you don’t have a nice phone camera, I would recommend looking into one. They can be expensive, but even some older models (such as the iPhone 8) have excellent photography abilities but aren’t as expensive since they’re no longer the newest model of phone. My partner has a Pixel 4 and is also very pleased with the camera.
Most of the magic is done in editing. Some people will tell you that it takes longer to try to get the perfect photo while shooting, rather than just editing what you can in post. While I think that there’s a major benefit to doing your best while taking the photo (and there are some bits like positioning that, while not impossible, are extremely challenging to correct in editing), I do also think that making yourself miserable about small things you can edit out is not a way to keep yourself interested in photography. And visuals are too important to Instagram to kill that passion.
Editing can be done in the Instagram app and I encourage you to edit the photo itself rather than just throwing a filter over it. Snapseed is a great resource for editing if you’re just not getting everything you want out of Instagram’s existing features. It’s made by Google and has a lot of power for photo editing. This is a great resource if you really have no experience with photo editing.
Keep in mind that most of the stunning photos that you see on Instagram are a product of expensive equipment (Adobe Suite isn’t cheap) and experience. Don’t feel deflated because your photo isn’t like that person who has been active on social media for 5 years and has 50K followers. You’ll learn along the way, too. But it does take time to improve and also to feel out your own vibe and brand.
Aesthetic: Securing the Look
Most people are obsessed with their feeds and how everything comes together. My best tip for this is that if you keep your photos simple, you won't have to work very hard for everything to align.
Between my set of hooks I use for photos, the rugs, and my props, I can hone the focus and vibe of my photos which directly corresponds to a strong brand. I love color, book covers, and some eclectic projects. But standardizing some of the other elements and neutralizing the less important areas of the photo can allow me to be creative without being sloppy.
I also use an app called Preview (there’s a paid version, but I use the free one). This is a powerful tool because if you’re using the free version, you can import photos and see them next to each other before you post. This helps me visualize my feed as a whole. It also helps to show me if I’m being too repetitive with my images and then I can save it for a future date when it’s not next to the other similar photos.
All in all, I’m a strong believer in having fun with Instagram. If you stress about the perfect photo every time, it’s not going to be very engaging and that will come through in your photos. It might not be your favorite part of content creation, but it can still have some joy in it!
Pro Tip: When you’re arranging a photo, make sure that things are not crammed together in too tight of a space; white space is your friend!
Rules to Live By
My main piece of advice is that you should have fun and not be afraid to try something new! Often, my hacks for Instagram photography come from a mistake or an “I wonder what that would do” moment. At the end of the day, your Instagram should represent you and your business. If you don’t like the overexposed, all white, clean and minimalist feel, don’t do it. If too many colors, shapes, and patterns overwhelm you, steer clear. The point here is to do what feels right for you! These tips should just help you to do what you love with a little more ease.