INSTA-AWESOME: How to take, edit and post better photos on Instagram.

So as I mentioned yesterday, last night I was asked to speak as part of a panel with a bunch of other social media stars: Jennifer Dayan of I found a Secret, Sophia Chabbot of Saks POV and Marlene Mamiye of The Jewish Hostess for the Ladies Angel Network. The topic? Instagram and how to make it work for your business. So many little start up companies are finding that Instagram is a great way to connect with their customers, its like micro-blogging, but in the palm of your hands. And while blogging is an awesome way to flesh out the personality of a company and build a brand, it often seems insurmountable to women who may not be so technologically advanced. Instagram as a marketing tool is simple, quick and apparently very effective. (I’m now happily following my kosher butcher on Instagram.) The other women gave very effective talks about how to get your account up and running, how to build a loyal following, and how to reach and engage your target audiences. I was asked to speak about photography (although I jumped in on a variety of topics!)

I started off by saying that 4 years ago when I started Sketch42, it was enough to repost a pretty photo from Domino, say three words about how you love navy sofas and that could get you a following. But blogging is not the wild west anymore. It’s been 4 years, and over these past four years, as blogs pop up everywhere, bloggers who are committed are forced to become more than just reproducers of content. The best bloggers I know are basically managing editors of mini magazines- but they are also graphic designers, stylists, writers, and of course PHOTOGRAPHERS. I started caring about photography because I wanted the quality of my photos to match the quality of my brand, and what I represent. As I tried to create more and more original content, I felt I needed to keep up with everyone else and learn how to work a camera for goodness sake! And I’m not really even selling anything (my art, but thats not the only focus of the blog)… Kal Vahomer (a talmudic term that means, how much more so) a person who is actively trying to create a brand and personality for their luxury goods (or baking, or activewear) company via PHOTOS ALONE on instagram. I truly believe that these people should BE THEIR BRANDS, and show people parts of their lives as a way to engage people beyond just a stream of product shots. PERSONABLE but not TOO PERSONAL, I like to say. BUT, I think that every photo posted should be as compelling as the goods themselves. Why not do your product justice with a beautiful photo? That said- there are many ways for photos and content to be compelling… I like to say that content should  either: Amuse, be beautiful, or offer take away information. Yes, CONTENT IS KING, but if the art is there, anything can work.

Anyway, I am not a photographer, but I have learned a few little tricks that can GREATLY increase the quality of photos. I mean, HUGE differences in quality. (The first thing- which I didn’t make a slide for – is try to use natural lighting. Outside, an iphone is a more than competent camera.) OK, so here are some of the slides I presented last night…(try to imagine me standing up and presenting this thing, rock star transitions in place!)


This is one of the simplest ideas in photography, and it really helps create interesting composition. Basically, if you divide the photo into 9 equal squares, the points of interest in your photos should fall along the lines or intersections. Photos that are perfectly centered can be boring, and dont make the eye dance around. Having the action of to the sides creates balance and interest. It also really makes a huge difference when a horizon line is on the line as opposed to dividing the photo in half.

So first things first, go into options on your camera, and turn on your grid! This will help you keep your photos straight when they need to be, and let you line up the action so that it is creative and not stagnant.

Some of my photos that use the rule of thirds:


We all know black and white photos exist, but when should we be using them? I like to use a black and white in a few different cases: the lighting is not great, the photo has a yellow cast, or simply- the color is distracting from the beauty of the forms in the photo. You can see in all of these examples of photos of my kids, how much better the black and white photo is. It’s remarkable. I use the AVIARY APP to turn the photo black and white and then sometimes I increase contrast to make blacks blacker and whites whiter.

The photo of my son goes from dull to luminous!  And the oreo photo is a perfect example of color that is distracting from the composition.


iPhones take rectangular photos. Instagram posts square photos. This leaves you with the question of how to crop your photos. You should start by taking vertical photos when you know they are for instagram, but I encourage you to think outside the box, and try to create photos that are more interesting by cropping in creative ways.

Both of these photos are SO MUCH more interesting cropped up like this. The are also zoomed in which brings me to my next topic.


Sometimes, by ZOOMING in and filling the entire photo or most of it, you do your subject much more justice than by backing away from the photo. Very close up photos that fill the entire shot are especially great for photos of smaller objects and or collections.


One thing that really annoys me when people other than me take photos of my kids, is that they take them from their vantage point of 4 feet higher up than the kid. I find it really creates intimacy to literally get on the level of the subject and take the photo straight on. For example, if I am taking a photo of a bracelet, I don’t take the photo at my eye level, I hold the camera at the bracelets level. That said, it can be a stylistic choice to move your camera around. Explore the different angles of your camera in relation to your subject. It will make otherwise mundane subjects fascinating.


Please use apps to straighten, crop and frame photos! I use AVIARY to straighten and crop, and SQUARE READY to create a white border instead of those horrible black bars! (AND GUESS WHAT, thats a photo of my dad!)


Many of the women at the event have actual products to sell via instagram. As such, I would totally collect fabrics, backdrops, buy oak tags in different colors, use paintings, photos and more as the backdrops to my product. Basically, I already collect props (I use that black and white stool as a prop all the time!) and I think that using these backdrops can bring excitement, and unexpected fun to the product.

I also compiled a list of DOs and DONTs that we gave out as a handout: I’m guilty of all of these dont’s in the past, but I guess the trick is to learn from your mistakes? Here are some of my favorites:

  • DO use your real camera. All photos for Instagram don’t need to be taken with an iPhone, or be spontaneous. Sometimes, I use my camera to photograph specifically for Instagram and by using Photo Stream (a feature in iPhoto) on my mac the photos stream into my phone from my computer, and vice versa. That way every photo is on every device and I can choose the best one. 
  •  DO take time to take the right photo. It might take you ten shots to get the one you like, and DO approach the photo from different angles until you find the one you like. You may have to edit the photo with more than just your Instagram app. This can make a huge difference in the beauty of a photo.
  • DO plan ahead. You can pick some great photos and keep them on your phone and Instagram them slowly.
  • DO use natural light as much as possible, and when in doubt, take the photo outside.
  • DO: I know a bunch of Instagrammers/photographers that only use one filter. As a result, their pages look clean and cohesive. It’s a very cool way to limit yourself and create a style.  (Brannan and Walden are two great ones for creating a very clean page.)
  • DO be mindful of the world at large, IE DONT post photos of your product in the middle of a national disaster. (One would think this goes without saying, but alas.)
  • DO match your Twitter and Instagram usernames. (Also make sure to leave a way for people to contact you in your bio!)
  • DO delete photos. If you post a photo that is timely and interesting at a certain time, but then for some reason feel like it doesn’t really jive with what you represent DELETE it. Remember: the photos live on your page, and that’s what people have to see before they follow you. So make sure all the photos that show up “above the fold” are great.

OK, so thats it for now. I know this is very elementary for some of you, but I can tell you that learning these tips slowly really helped me. And honestly, I still have A LOT to learn. I’m very flattered that anyone likes my photos enough to think I have something to offer, but its really a learning curve, and Im still somewhat close to the bottom.

That said, these tips are things ANYONE can make use of, no fancy camera necessary. Even if you arent selling anything, you can use these tips to take better photos of your kids, pets, or WHATEVER, like I do! I hope you find them helpful!

Thanks to the Ladies Angel Network for having me!

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  1. Great tips! Thanks so much. This year I’m doing a 365 photo challenge just to get better at instagram and styling. These were very helpful.

  2. Bri@meyouandawiener says:

    This is great advise! I really did appreciate it. Although I don’t have anything to sell it helps fill in the void I left after deleted my blog. Like you said for me it’s like micro blogging I still want my content to be worth a shit while staying true to myself.

  3. Love the tips….all very thoughtful ones….I still don’t have an iphone…so I can upload photos I take with my camera on Instagram?? I have been dying to try their filters and stuff….

  4. Such a timely post. Thank you for sharing the tips- as an amateur photographer, I found them to be very helpful and interesting.

  5. Thanks for such wonderful tips. I am in the mist of deleting a lot of pictures from my instagram now. Again, thanks

  6. that was great! thank you.

  7. Emily says:

    Excellent post! So you can “import” photostream photos into instagram? How?

    • Emily says:

      Nevermind! I had some privacy issues that weren’t letting me access the double box thingy. Again, great post–thank you!

  8. Jen V says:

    Thanks, great post and perfect timing. I also just started a photo challenge – projectlife365 and as someone who loves photographic images but is not given to indulging in creative endeavors, it has been a stretch. I’m having a blast though and learning as I go. Totally loving instagram, filters, planning out my shots vs. just taking whatever. I’m ready to branch out to new apps and apply some of these tips.

  9. great primer!

  10. oh and thanks for pointing out the twitter/instagram name problem- drives me CRAZY. pick ONE unique name and use it everywhere- i mean, wanna find me on pinterest? instagram? twitter? blogger? facebook? easy peasey- it’s maison21, EVERYWHERE!

  11. great tips!!