Monday, October 15, 2018

How To Take Great Instagram Photos on your iPhone



The thing I am complimented on the most, out of EVERYTHING in my life, is my Instagram. I get a lot of positive input from both loved ones & strangers on a virtually daily basis, which is the sweetest and most encouraging thing to hear. I don't have the biggest following and I don't post all that often, but I would definitely still consider it a hobby. I've loved photography ever since I was a kid and I LOVE creating mood boards, vision boards, themed boards etc - so Instagram is the perfect medium as a creative outlet for me. 

90% of the time after I get a compliment on my Instagram, I hear the question "What camera do you use?" and let me tell you friends - it's all iPhone. I own two very fancy and expensive cameras which sit depressingly unused in my electronics drawer because I ultimately cannot be bothered to lug them around. That is the one & only true reason why I don't use them. They're heavy! And cumbersome! And I live in frickin' Ireland where it rains all the time and they can't get wet! I don't even use them for blog photos anymore because I am a truly unbelievably lazy individual who just wants to be cozy (potential title for my autobiography lolol).  

That being said, let me make something very clear: you do NOT need a fancy camera to take great pictures. Some of my favorite Instagramers with hundreds of thousands of followers are iPhone only. And why not! Smart phones these days have crazy good cameras. Will they provide you with the same quality as a DSLR - no. But Instagram isn't really about photo quality, it's about creativity, vision, and palette, none of which you need a fancy camera to produce. However, there are still some general everyday tips & tricks I have to make your iPhone pics as close to professional quality as possible (or just, you know, better then they are now!) A note to Android users: I know nothing about your tech, but I'm sure if you have a good camera on your phone these principals will be relevant to you too! 

A good picture consists of four things: Concept, Composition, Lighting, & Editing. So I'm going to give you tips on all 4 of these matters! Starting with...

Concept

At some point in your life I'm sure you've blurted out something stupid, to which someone probably taught you the lesson of how you should 'think before you speak'. In photography, it's the same - you should always think before you shoot. 

Let's say you come across a pretty flower and want to take a photo of it. Instead of simply taking out your phone and grabbing a quick snap, take a moment to think about what is it about the scene that is attractive. Some questions to ask yourself:

What is the main focal point of this scene? 
Is it a single flower? Is it the entire bed of flowers?

Is there anything distracting in the background? 
Are there people walking around in the background who need to depart before you take the snap? Is there a patch of dead flowers that should be avoided?

What are the colors surrounding the scene? 
Is there an ugly brown bench that is ruining the bright colors of the flower bed? Or is there a cute colorful building in the background that plays off the colors of the flowers?

What is interesting about this scene? 
Why are you taking this picture? Is it for sentimental value, or to simply capture a beautiful moment? This may change the way you want to frame the shot. Always use the main point of interest to guide your creativity!

Now I'm not saying to spend 15 minutes really contemplating these - these questions are more to inspire you to simply ponder what about the scene makes for the best photo. I once saw someone on my Facebook feed post a photo of themselves at The Bean in Chicago. However, I only know they were at The Bean because of the geotag - the photo was an up-close picture of them sitting on the floor in front of The Bean, with nothing but a small sliver of The Bean in the picture. So this person was at one of the coolest, most popular attractions in Chicago and to showcase it they posted a photo of them sitting on the floor. Do you understand my point?

 Here is an example of creating a concept:



I was walking around the Upper West Side in New York when I saw this building and my jaw literally DROPPED. I thought it was absolutely stunning, so naturally I needed to snap a photo. The pic on the left if the first picture I took, very much a "oh wow pretty building let me snap it quickly" shot. But when I took a second to analyze the scene, I realized that not only was the tree above me was causing my photo to be dark, but there were some gorgeous flowers and a vintage lightpost that would look incredible in my shot. Not to mention moving forward meant that the building filled more of my frame, which makes it look much more grand.

Composition 

Now, there are entire textbooks dedicated to photographic composition so we're not going to go too deep with this, but here are some quick tips:

Familiarize yourself with the Rule of Thirds
It's one of the most basic photography principals and will truly change your photos once you master it. To sum it up hastily, the idea is to split up the scene into three sections an then use those sections to frame your photo. You never want the horizon or the floor to be in the middle third, and you never want the main point of interest to be dead center. The Wikipedia article I linked is very thorough and gives great examples! Now in my mind this is just a guide (I've definitely taken photos with artistic merit that do not follow the Rule of Thirds) but it's a great rule of thumb to follow when in doubt.

Ground v. Sky. 
Always check to see if there's too much of either in your photo. For example, let's say you're taking a picture of your friend up against a cool wall (something I find myself doing very often) - the focus is on your friend and the wall, so make sure that the ground or sky aren't making a serious cameo in your photo.


Here are two photos I snapped of my gorgeous BFF Grant while we were roaming around Brooklyn. The photo on the left is a prime example of me fucking up - the photo is supposed to focus on the beautiful colors (& his beautiful bod) and yet I captured quite a bit of the ugly, dirty cemented street. The righthand photo follows the rule of thirds (neither he nor the sky/ground is centered) and I framed him perfectly to amplify the two main interests. 

Now, if the main focus of this photo was on his outfit (which, it very well could have been) then I would have re-shot a different version of the left photo that captures his entire body, but would have framed him better and captured minimal amount of ugly ground floor. 


Try to always shoot with your iPhone in the vertical position. 
I know that some scenes look WAY nicer when the camera is horizontal but if you want to post it on Instagram it will lose its detail since horizontal photos are not optimized for smartphone apps.

If you want to post a photo to your Instagram stories, use your fingers to stretch it out and reformat it in your camera roll and then screenshot it before uploading.
Instagram stories are full screen, whereas iPhone photo are not. If you put an iPhone photo into IG stories, it will auto-zoom so that it's formatted correctly, but that auto-zoom isn't always the best composition for your photo! I like to resize it myself in my photos and then screenshot it so it's already full screen and perfectly aligned. Another IG stories tip is to always take a photo from further away than necessary so that when you reformat it to be full screen, it's not too zoomed in!


Lighting 


Overcast is EVERYTHING.
You would think a dreary, cloudy day would produce dull photos, but on the contrary, it is some of the best lighting out there. Obviously you can't beat golden hour (the perfect time for photos!) but if you have an overcast day the light can be bright and diffused, low and subdued, or dark and dramatic - all amazing settings for great pictures.

If you're shooting indoors, always do so by a window.
Ever notice that your selfies look bomb when you take them in the car? That's because windows diffuse bright light and create a gorgeous softness that is great for portraits.

Generally speaking, you don't want the light to be above you or behind you.
I'm not saying you can't work with this lighting or that this lighting hasn't produced some cool photos, but for everyday life these two lighting styles are often unflattering.

If you find yourself in a situation where the light has to be behind you, be mindful of the shot. 
Being backlit means one of two things: either you are a giant dark shadow with a beautiful background or you are bright and beautiful in the foreground with a blown out background. You can switch between the two by the touch of a finger on your phone screen. Sometimes this situation can't be avoided, and when this happens the best thing to do is determine what is more stark - is the light literally blinding? Or is the darkness way too black? If the brightness is blinding, make sure to focus on the shadows. If the shadows are too dark, take the option where your photo is a little blown out.

Here's an example of this principal:



The photo on the left is an example of a bright foreground but a blown out background. The second is an example of a dark foreground but a well lit background. The third is an example of a perfect balance. If for whatever reason my phone was not able to adjust to create the third photo, I would probably take both of the first two photos and then edit the photos to see if I can darken the highlights on the first one/lighten the shadows on the second one, and then determine which edit looks best.

Which brings me to my FINAL point:

Editing

Editing is both an amazing tool with incredible potential and an evil tool that can have disastrous consequences. Using it wisely is key. But generally speaking, editing is great! Sometimes you can't get the scene you want because you're on the go and don't have time to set up a perfect shot, or you're in a situation with unfortunate lighting, or maybe the moment is quick and fleeting so you had to act fast and accidentally captured someone walking in the background. Situations like these are where editing is your best friend.

There are hundreds (maybe thousands!?) of editing tools, but here are the ones I reccomend:

Adobe Lightroom 

At this moment in time, I exclusively use Lightroom. It's $10/month and the creme de la creme of editing tools. Besides the monthly fee, the one downside is this tool is that it's generally not good for beginners as it's not the easiest to use. It's a professional tool that involves a deeper knowledge of photo editing to begin to use. That being said, there are so many courses online you can take to help you. If you're serious about making photography and photo editing a hobby, definitely look into it!


The photo on the left is the original photo, the photo on the right is edited in Lightroom. Truth be told, the right photo is over-edited in that it's a little too saturated and blown out (I edited it super quick to throw it on my Instagram story) but I still feel like it is a perfect illustration of how powerful of an editing tool Lightroom can be!

FaceTune 
Now don't get ahead of yourselves, I do not use FaceTune to thin my face or body. Doing this is almost always noticible so I do not recommend it. If you want to look skinny you need to Photoshop that shit. That being said, FaceTune is wonderful for 3 things:

 1) Smoothing over harsh lines. Sometimes when I edit in Lightroom I find I get some harsh lines from lightening shadows and darkening highlights. A quick smoothing from FaceTune and I'm usually good to go!

 2) Whitening your whites. They have a teeth whitening tool that can be used for SO much more than just giving you pearly whites. If the whites in your photo look yellow or grey, going over them with the whitening tool is incredible.

3) Getting rid of acne. No need to let a bad skin day ruin your portraits. I see no harm in erasing a zit or two!

iPhone 'Edit' 
Honesty, the iPhone Photos in-app editing is really good! Sometimes even after I edit in Lightroom I'll tweak a couple of things before I post. I would HIGHLY recommend this for beginners - play around with it and see what you can create!

Instagram In-App Editing
Truth be told I do find that editing an iPhone photo in Instagram can degrade the quality slightly, but the tools it contains are great. Up until last year I used to use the IG in-app editing a lot!

VSCO
Though I don't personally use VSCO, I see a lot of gorgeous content created from it. Their filters are natural and soft but striking at the same time. They can also help you create a beautiful, cohesive color scheme for your feed.


Some general editing principals to follow:

Don't over saturate or over sharpen/clarify 
The human brain loves bright, sharp scenes so sometimes it's easy to get carried away. Always remember a photo should look as natural as possible without compromising your creativity.

Do not edit your body using a phone app 
I touched on this earlier but for real, phone apps are not Photoshop. Though some people might not notice, it's generally not worth risking.

Experimenting is good! 
Spend a solid amount of time playing around with editing and find what color palettes, textures and lighting speak to you. The most fun part of editing is being creative with it and trying different types of edits! It can lead you to create a beautiful Instagram theme. Do you like dark & moody, bright & playful or serene & muted?



I hope some of you find these tips helpful! And PLEASE remember:

Instagram is supposed to be fun, creative & inspiring. If you find yourself feeling down about yourself because of it, take a break. It makes a great hobby but should not in any way negatively affect your life!

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