How I Instagram

Happy hump day! I’ve been getting a lot of questions from y’all asking what equipment I use, how I edit my photos, and which filters are my favorite. Today, I thought I’d share a little bit on how I currently approach my Instagram feed.

Equipment

First things first. I don’t believe that having a certain model of camera or type of lens automatically gives you a creative style. Instead, it’s really knowing how to use the tools at your disposal to shape your own style that’s what counts. It’s a time-consuming (but hopefully enjoyable) process that I think a lot of photographers go through.

A lot of the photos I share are actually taken with iPhone, like these:

Equipment is not all that matters. Let’s be real. You can still take a really bad photo with a fancy camera.

In addition to my trusty phone, I currently shoot with a Lumix GX8 and a variety of mirrorless lenses. My collection consists of pancake, portrait, zoom, and wide angle lenses.

Lighting

To me, this is one of the distinguishing characteristics of every personal style. I am a big fan of natural lighting and bright, clean photos. I can count on one hand the number of photos I’ve shared on my Instagram that have been taken after sunset. If you’re a fan of that same style, daylight is your friend!

However, living in LA, battling the harsh sun and lack of cloud coverage is also a huge struggle. Consider what time you’re shooting, whether you’re inside or outside, and how your setting will affect the subject in your photos. For example, these shots I took with our Corgi friends on the beach were some of the toughest to navigate in terms of lighting. Not a single cloud in sight! I’m not a fan of the harsh shadows cast onto the beach and the dark side on each of the dogs’ faces.

There is a little that can be done via post-processing, but trust me, erasing the harsh 2:00 pm shadows from your photos will be a huge pain. In the above photos, I lightened the shadows and brought down the highlights to reduce contrast in the entire photo.

Setting

Get creative when you’re looking for a good backdrop to use! When Jack in the Box invited me to their innovation center to shoot a new burger they were releasing, I was already nervous about the lighting knowing the outdoor event started at 5:30 PM, just about 30 minutes before the sun set at that time of year. The setting was rustic, dimly lit, lots of green… not a particular fit for the style I wanted to shoot.

I ended up walking around the corner outside of the event tent and found a white catering van and used that as my backdrop. A little sad, haha. I know. It’s pretty common for me to use funky things as my backgrounds. The photo below of Kokoro? Yep, that’s the wall of a parking garage about 20 steps away from the ice cream shop.

To get that perfect photo, sometimes you have to have no shame.

Angles & Composition

When shooting, I definitely have two favorite angles: straight-on and top-down. The combination of those two angles feels very neat and orderly to me, so that’s the reason behind the common angles you see:

Composition is important too. Rule of thirds and centered subjects. You can’t really go wrong with the basics.

However, because I’m often shooting dogs, time is of the essence for capturing that perfect moment before they move. I often sacrifice good composition while taking photos of dogs in favor of creating it in post, for example:

If you have the editing chops to manipulate things like composition in post, totally go for it.

Editing

What filter do you use? This is probably the question I get asked the most. I can tell you the filters I like, but that’s probably not going to make your photos look exactly like mine. My editing process combines a few different softwares and apps and totally depends on each individual photo.

I generally start out with Photoshop, cleaning up the background and brightening the photo overall using curves. If there are any lighting/shadow issues, I usually address these first. This is where things get polished up. Straighten out the horizon, clean up that poop bag laying in the background. With dogs in particular, I like to dodge & burn their eyes to add just a little more sparkle :)

With particularly busy backgrounds or backgrounds that have colors that don’t fit my feed, I often mask it out, desaturate, and lighten it up so that it doesn’t compete with the subject as much.

Lightroom is something I use often for my blog posts. It’s a great tool when editing a bunch of photos at once and polishing them up to feel uniform. You can find really great presets out there too that mimic certain styles or even VSCO filters.

Finally, VSCO is the the last editor that touches my photos before they go onto Instagram. My favorite filters are from Hypebeast and Analog. I also do a bit of adjusting of exposure, highlights, and sharpening to soften and de-contrast my photos. One of the things I dislike the most is a stark white background. Sure, I use a lot of white backgrounds, but I like to bring down the highlights so they don’t feel blown out.

 

Plan your content

Not only is VSCO a great tool for final touches to photos, your personal library is the perfect pre-Instagram preview page of what your gallery will look like when you post that brand new photo.

If the white borders around the photos throw you off, simply create a test account on Instagram to preview your gallery! Having a thoughtfully organized cadence really shows, so this is one step I never skip.

Consider the other colors that are in your feed when deciding what to post when. @kesterblack has one of my all-time favorite feeds. They use the progression of color throughout their feed so seamlessly and it makes for a beautiful gallery.

Consider the composition of photos in addition to the tone and color. For example, I don’t like to consecutively post three photos all with a centered subject. Visually, it’s just not as interesting for the feed.

That extra something

People like to wonder. Think about what makes your photos unique. I love to create stuff that makes people go “How did she do that?” Is Kokoro really being tossed into the air? ;)

Last thoughts

Phew, if you got to the end of this post, congrats. You have an attention span that I respect and applaud. With the lengthy amount of words you’ve read, it seems like quite is a lot of thought and effort for just a 1080 px square. However, one of the neatest things about Instagram and its community is that these little nuances encourage everyone to discover and create their own visual way of storytelling.

What do you guys think? How do you approach creating and planning your content specific to Instagram?


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  1. JX

    14 June

    Ahahaha, that’s my weakness, I don’t plan. I like bright and airy feeds but than I often don’t constrain to white/light backgrounds only. Sometimes I post on the spur of a moment. So my last 3 pics are all unplanned and colourful, hahaha. Sometimes it looks like my feed has ADHD :P

    All my pics are taken on my Samsung phone, not ashamed. LOL. So all my editing is done on the phone too. I just realise I use the same VSCO filters as you, but Instagram is my last step. I like how it brightens up an image gently (if it makes sense or at least it looks like that to me :P) compared to VSCO or Snapseed.

    Thanks for sharing your process, it’s always fun to know the thoughts and consideration that goes behind the image. :) And it’s true, I did wonder if you throw the dog in the air :P So mission accomplished!

    Donna is my dog @weliveinaflat :)

    • Emily

      15 June

      Thanks for stopping by. Colorful is good too. I sprinkle it in when I can. :)

  2. Grace Le

    15 June

    Thanks so much for sharing your process! I absolutely love seeing the forethought and planning behind such a seemingly “effortless” feed. My own is mostly art, sometimes my face, and snippets of my own big fluffy corgi. I don’t know if I will ever be as organized as you, but I aim to at least try. :) Cheers!

    • Emily

      15 June

      Thanks for taking the time to read! :)

  3. I recently found your insta – and blog – and just love it :). Thanks for all the tips!

    • Emily

      17 July

      Hi Michelle! Aww you’re too sweet. Thanks for coming by and taking the time to check out my stuff :)

  4. cassie cubone

    9 November

    thank you so much for sharing. I’ve been looking for a post like this for days!!!

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