Consider the Instagram: equal parts social media behemoth, pseudo-vintage digital polaroid, and possibly the best place to humble-brag your life into relevance this side of a CrossFit convention.
As Instagram reaches peak popularity, your photo skills need to be on the uptick to match. Don’t fear—we’ve compiled 16 tips and tricks to make your #tunasalad #brunchshot shine brighter than Pierce Brosnan's majestic silver coif.
1. Understand the filters
Valencia. Sierra. Inkwell. Filters are Instagram's visual bread and butter; without them, Instagram would just be Facebook with less words (which I guess wouldn't be a bad thing, actually). But you need to choose your filtration wisely, as each one brings something different to the table. Use Hefe to enhance already vibrant colors. Valencia gives your photos a clean, vintage look that doesn't look too fake or overpowering. Brannan adds a sepia tone, ideal for striking shadows, enriching deep colors, and bringing out an all-around Civil War vibe.
2. Less is more
Just like in golf, or eating at the 24/7 Chinese buffet in the basement of that massage parlor, sometimes less can definitely be more. This goes for composition of your photos, but also augmenting them with filters and tweaks. As the Instagram aesthetic seeps into our collective consciousness, it begins to lose its cache. Don't be afraid to go filter-less when the situation calls for it.
3. Don't use the app to take photos
I know. It's an extra step. And you hate that. But using your phone's camera in lieu of the provided alternative will provide an instant upgrade. It's a lot less janky, and provides you with enhanced ability to adjust focus, and exposure. It's a rookie mistake.
4. There's a time and a place for tilt-shift
I love the tilt shift. It's the perfect visual representation of what seven beers look like, but over-doing it makes you look like a design-school reject. Identify a clear edge in your photo, something that can easily be delineated. Get as close to the edges as you can with the tilt-shift, as it has a deep gradient, but remember that going too far off the edge will eliminate the illusion of depth. If the subject you are trying to isolate is not distinctly separated from the foreground or background of your photo, it's best to stay away from the tilt.
5. Don't ever zoom
Never zoom in before you take the picture. If you need to get a closer look, focus on the area you need, take it, then zoom in afterwards and crop it; though generally, any drastic zooming should be avoided.
6. Good lighting = great photos
Succinctly put, night photos are a bitch and extremely hard to manage. Avoid flash at all costs, as it gives your photos a weird, unnatural tone. The best light is always natural sunlight, and the best time to shoot—the "magic hour"—is sunrise and sunset. So make sure you get your Porsche out to the desert before sundown, lest you look like a big dummy.
7. Save your original pics
This is more of an archival tip, but to save your insta-bedazzled photos in their highest resolution (before they are shrunk and posted), switch on "Save Original Photos" in your Options menu. You never know when you'll need a hi-res photo of a Corgi eating a corndog in neutral metallic sepia tones.
8. Square up
Your phone probably has a "square option." Use it. The normal camera's wide-screen format will hinder your ability to properly frame a world-class insta-post in real time, and force you to clumsily crop it later. Composition is 3/4's of the battle. Probably.
9. There's an app for that
Ted Gushue, Supercompressor's Executive Editor, and the dude who mainly runs point on our Instagram page, swears by a couple different apps to optimize what goes on our page, including Darkroom and VSCO. Apps like Darkroom basically work as Photoshop-lite, giving your photos a seemingly endless run of customization and filter options. VSCO employs celebrity-made filters, so you can style your captures like the stars, or design your own. "These apps can capture that new-age, bloggy feel, without too much hassle," said Ted. "It's a level of customization that just isn't there, normally."
10. Use the touch-focus feature
Your camera's auto-focus is not your friend, and is a quick route to a shit photo. Touch the screen in the spot where you want to focus until you see AE/AF lock in yellow letters (Auto Exposure/Auto Focus Lock), this will ensure your focal point is...um..on point.
11. Lead the eye
Our eyes are trained to behave a certain way. We read text left to right, and we examine images from the foreground to the background. Exploit this by creating image lines that draw a viewer into the photo, immersing them in your vastly superior life.
12. Use Instagram's customization features
Our photo editor Cole advises amateur snappers to test out two tweaks built into the app: Sharpen, and Lux. "They aren't that hard to use, and adjusting them a little bit can go a long way," he told me. Sharpen will make your images appear crisper, while Lux will lighten shadows, add contrast, and also sharpen your photos. "It's a quick, simple way to make your images look more professional." Just don't over-do it, guys.
13. Learn from the legends
Surprisingly, there're lots of great Insta accounts out there, besides the official Supercompressor page (who knew?). Guys like the Fat Jew, and David R Coggins, along with accounts like Hodinkee may not have much in common, content-wise, but they all share on thing: a killer collection of consistent photos. Not only can you gain some insight about curating content from these guys, but also composing photos, choosing subjects, and sticking to what you do best. There's no shame in learning from the best.
14. The "rule of thirds" was meant to be broken
The grid-utilizing "rule of thirds" is definitely the most basic photo composition tip. But do you want to be considered basic? Don't feel the need to be constrained to the rule, and in fact, break it. While some photos (like the one above) can be solid, centering your photos (especially in the box-y Insta-shape) can often paint a more compelling scene.
15. Get diagonal
If there's anything I learned from playing Connect Four, it's that diagonal lines are a devious mistress. But in photography, you can flip them around and use them to your advantage. This comes particularly in handy for square photos, as diagonal lines give your photos depth, and can emphasize the interaction between subjects in the foreground and background.
16. In the end, content is king
You could have a perfectly composed, expertly filtered, tantalizing tweaked photo—but if it's boring as shit, or out of your wheelhouse, it's not going to matter. If your friends/fans joined your page to see photos of your dog, don't post ten pictures of a Mercedes. If your handle is Bacon4Days88, don't glut your feed with pictures of Madonna. Know your audience. Keep things consistent. And above all, keep it interesting. (SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT) Have you check out Supercompressor's Instagram page? Because we do a stellar job. And this is coming from someone who is totally unbiased.