Not too long ago, I decided to really dive in to Instagram (@lolli_dolls or you can click HERE), and there is no question that it is a fun, inspiring place that is absolutely jam-packed with inspiration and so, so many AH-MAZING photos (as well as many less-than-amazing photos). So how do you make sure your works-in-progress, that handmade item you just finished or the products you are selling stand out amongst so many others? The most important way is to make sure your photos are solidly in the “WOW!” category and not the dreaded “meh” category.
Even if you are not a photographer with months or years of experience taking photos, you can have a feed that is not only beautiful, but also more clearly conveys your story and attracts followers who want to see more of your work. Here are just a few things to keep in mind.
1. NEVER POST A BLURRY PHOTO
Always make sure your photos are sharp by getting good, clear focus. On the iPhone, tap the screen on the spot where you want it to be the sharpest and wait just a second for the lens to capture the focus. (This will also set your exposure for the most important part of the photo, so it’s a good idea to get in the habit of tapping that screen before you take the photo.) In addition, when you click the button to actually take the photo, hold your hand steady for a second or two so you don’t move the phone as the photo is being taken.
2. DE-CLUTTER THAT LITTLE SQUARE
Remember, Instagram is for mobile devices, so people are scrolling through quickly or are looking at lots of little thumbnails as they decide what to “like” or click on. Make sure that what you put into your “little square” truly needs to be there. I’m not saying you should only put 1-3 items in your photo, but analyze the elements as you are composing your image to decide if it’s a confusing mess or is visually interesting and eye-catching.
3. LIGHT, LIGHT, LIGHT
Perhaps you’ve already heard that light is important to good photographs. And this, of course, is true. Muddy, dark photos? Don’t do it. To avoid the muddiness, choose natural light whenever possible by placing your items near a window with indirect light (you don’t want bright sunbeams hitting your object). Or, you can open a door and place your objects on the floor, or go outside and place your objects in the shade but right next to where the sunlight is shining. But even if you don’t have natural light, you can still achieve nice photos with indoor lighting. All of the examples I’m showing you today utilize fluorescent work lights/desk lamps.
4. MYSTERY BONUS TECHNIQUE
Look at all of the following photos and read the explanations, and then a bit further down you’ll find more about this subtle but really important technique.
Here are some examples that illustrate what I talked about above (both things to do and things NOT to do). All of these were taken with my iPhone. (My feed is a mix of photos taken with my big camera and lenses and edited in Photoshop and photos taken with my iPhone. Because hey, sometimes you just want to get a quick photo and get it onto IG fast, you know?)
This obviously breaks the “blurry photo” rule. I didn’t wait long enough for the lens to snap into focus before I clicked the button.
This is an example of a “What I’m Working On” photo. And even though it is now in focus, there are obviously problems, because my lovely girl is lost here! I really just plopped her down amongst all of the stuff that was on my desk, with no lights on (even though there was a window with the blinds closed in the upper left). This photo is cluttered and dark. If I was scrolling by or searching through Instagram, there is nothing here that would make me investigate further.
Now I’ve turned on my work lights so it’s no longer dark, but it’s still cluttered. The viewer’s eyes travel over the photo looking for something that stands out, but it’s all just jumbled together. If I was really going to compose a “What I’m Working On” photo, this is how I would arrange it:
There are still multiple items in the frame, but they all relate to the story I’m trying to tell, either by their purpose or their color scheme. But even though this one is much better than the above examples, it could still be better, because while this one is nice and bright with lots of light, the DIRECTION of the light could be better, as shown here:
You might not immediately notice a difference in the two photos, but if you quickly look back forth between the two, you’ll start to see that the second photo appears more 3-dimensional. Which brings me to the above-mentioned Mystery Bonus Technique:
4. LIGHT IS IMPORTANT, BUT DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE SHADOWS
There are two basic kinds of light – FLAT light and DIMENSIONAL light. Flat light is not necessarily always undesirable, but in most cases dimensional light is what you want. Why? Because flat lighting makes things look, well, flat. Items appear one-dimensional, with no visual depth. Dimensional light is light that falls across your objects at an angle, which gives you shadows, which in turn give the objects depth. And a photo with depth is more interesting and will capture your viewer’s attention more easily than a photo that is visually flat.
In order to create dimensional light, place your objects so that the light is coming in from the side, as opposed to directly above it. To illustrate this, here are some pullbacks from the two photos above:
Here you can see that my work lights are shining straight down. In order to get that dimensional light I want, all I had to do was move everything over just a bit, like this:
See how there are now shadows on the right side of the doll? Simple, but so effective.
For all of these photos I used indoor lighting. I have some more examples to show you that were taken in natural light, but I’ll save those for a later post. But here are a few last suggestions for getting great photos:
-Even with good composition and a lot of thought given to what you include in your photo, you’ll still probably want to edit each one for a boost in color, brightness and perhaps clarity. There are lots and lots of photo editing apps available. I really like PicTapGo, because it includes both basic editing techniques (brightness, contrast, highlights, shadows, etc) as well as some fun filters and effects. But the best part is you can adjust the strength of each effect, which is a huge advantage to me.
-The lights used here tend to shoot somewhat cool (meaning the photos can look a bit too blue). Some lights give a very warm tone to photos. Look critically at your photos as you edit them to decide what looks best. You generally don’t want super-blue photos or really, really yellow photos. PicTapGo has both a “Warm It Up” effect and a “Cool It Down” effect.
As you browse Instagram, start looking critically at the photos you see and take note of what I’ve talked about. I think you’ll start to see why the photos that follow these suggestions are the ones that draw your attention.
I hope this has been helpful. Happy Instagramming!