how to instagram

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In this post, I’m spilling some of my tricks about my favourite form of social media: the well-loved Instagram.

Disclaimer: I am in no way an expert in this field (aside from a self-proclaimed one who spends a significant amount of time devoted to this app, just ask my friends). What I will explain in this post is just how I personally run my Instagram account and you can choose to use all, some, or none of the tips I present.

Taking the Photo

When taking your pictures, don’t be afraid to take multiple to ensure you get the best shot (the burst feature was created for a reason!). One of my biggest pet peeves is when I ask someone to take a photo of me and they only take one. This leaves a high chance I won’t like it, or it’ll be blurry, and really I just need some options!

Most of my photos are taken on my iPhone, although I do occasionally feature shots from my Canon Power Shot point and shoot. I usually ask people to “please, take a whole bunch.” This way, I know there’s something in there I will like and that gives me lots to choose from.

The actual composition of the photo is also important. I prefer candid photos so much more than awkwardly posed ones where you stand in stagnantly in front of the camera. Don’t be afraid to laugh, move your hands, make silly moves and walk around in front of your desired background.

Additionally, if you’re doing a further away photo, please be sure to get their entire body in the shot and avoid awkwardly large amounts of empty space above their heads. If it’s a photo more focused on their faces, try to position their head in the top 1/3 of the screen. If it’s a standing photo, it can be aesthetically pleasing to position them on the left or right third of the screen, rather than always directly center.

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Picking the Photo

Once I have taken all the photos I desire of a certain subject, object, landscape or event, I go through all of them and use the built in iPhone function to ‘favourite’ the ones I like the best. The first time I go through I have no limits and simply select all the ones I like. The second time I try to narrow this down to no more than 5.

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Basic Editing
Under the category of basic are things that can be done in the iPhone camera roll. I always make sure to straighten out the photo and make sure any landscapes or flat lines and objects are at a straight vertical angle. Otherwise, the photo can look uneven and awkward. This is also the best time to crop out other people or unnecessary space, before any proper editing is done.
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VSCO Editing
This is the ultimate app, in my opinion, when it comes to editing. My rule of thumb for Instagram is that the same filter should be applied for all photos to make the feed as a whole look well composed.
After I have filtered, I use the editing tools in the app to fix the photo. Depending on what each photo requires, I will use varying levels of exposure, contrast, saturation, highlighting, temperature and tinting. I leave the other tools alone because I find they make the photo look over-edited. There’s a way to copy all the edits you’ve done on one photo and paste them to all the others, so once I’ve edited one, I’ve actually edited all my favourites. I then save these to my camera roll.

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2nd Instagram Account

I use this app so religiously that I have created a second account as a form of ‘preview’ for my photos. (Instagram: you should make previews possible on main accounts!!) I have no followers on the account, and it is solely for the purpose of viewing the photo in the feed before posting it to my main account.

I will post the options that I have edited into the feed and compare which one looks best individually and in cohesion with the rest of the feed. As a rule of thumb, you cannot have the same style of photo directly next to or ontop of another. For example I will not post two food photos or close up face photos in a row. Individually, the photos are important, but the layout as a whole must also look like a presentable, coherent piece of art.

Once I have decided which photo I like the most, I’ll post the final choice in the second account then log out and log into my main account for posting.

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Posting the Photo

I never take photos inside the Instagram app, nor do I use any of the in-app editing tools. The only one I use is the adjust feature, should I need to zoom in or crop the photo in any manner.

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Choosing a Caption

As a rule, I don’t like to use hashtags in my caption if I think they’re tacky.

UPDATE: In the comments section I now include a set of hashtags to promote my photos to similar feeds such as #exploreBC #stayandwander #natgeo #vsco. Although this may provide my photos with additional likes, that is not the purpose. It is so I can connect with similar accounts and so that I have the chance to have my photos reposted by feature accounts (December 2015).

The caption can make or break the photo and I like to make it funny, meaningful, witty or informative. At the end of the caption, I always give photo credits to whomever took the photo should it not be my photography. The only time photos on my account are posted not taken by me are when I am physically in the photo.

Finally, the last thing I include is the exact date the photo was taken – Instagram, you should show more than just how many weeks ago a photo was. I post in the following form: / 13.06.15

UPDATE: Hey, Instagram, thanks for listening! Dates are now part of the posting procedure.

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Tagging Accounts

I always tag my friends in the photos they appear in, even if it just their hand holding an ice cream cone. I never tag myself in my photos. Additionally, I tag brands and institutions (museums, restaurants, etc.) that are relevant in my photos.

I also tag what is called ‘insta-famous’ feature accounts where users have a chance to have their photos promoted. For example, for a photo outdoors in Canada, I would tag ExploreCanada and HelloBC, among others. Instagram lets you tag up to twenty accounts, so go crazy!

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Location Tagging

I location tag almost every single post except ones from home. I like to build my photo map and see where around the world I have traveled and I think it is nice to see what sorts of other things people are posting from the same locations.

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Share the Photo

After all this – which seems like a long, tedious process at first but can become quite natural and easy – I finally share the photo to my feed. Prime time to share photos is 3pm on weekends and 5:30-9pm on weekdays as this is when I have found most users to be scrolling through their accounts.

If it’s an extra-special photo then I will share the photo to Facebook. I avoid sharing most of them though, because having two platforms for the exact same feed becomes redundant.

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Respond to Comments

I always take the time to reply to people who take the time to comment on my photos, even if it’s just a mass thank you. It’s important to appreciate the people who do more than just a quick double-tap!

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Explore Page

I spend a lot of my Instagram time scrolling through this page looking for new accounts to follow and neat photos. I get inspiration for my own photos from here as well as find people who are posting, liking and following similar things.

If I like a photo but don’t necessarily love the account as a whole, I will always toss them a like. Even if I don’t want to follow someone, it takes no time for me to show someone I appreciate a post. Often they return the favour with some likes for your hard-worked images!

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Bio and Username

My bio is simple and clean, to go along with my whole layout. Avoid unnecessarily long blurbs about yourself as people don’t really like to read through them. If you want to write something, keep it short and simple – perhaps your location or a school/work affiliation.

UPDATE: since I have doubled my followers in the last six months (!!) my bio now holds a bit more information than it did this summer, including my location and an email I can be reached at (December 2015).

Also, I highly suggest including a link to a website or other form of social media so that, should people be interested in finding out more about your work, they can. Finally, keep usernames straightforward and to the point. Put your real name – at least your first or last – into your username so that when tagging and communicating with you, you’re easily identifiable. Or, if it’s a business account, use the brand name.

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