3 Quick Hacks To Take Better Instagram Photos

There has never been a time when photography has been so accessible to so many. Thanks to the ubiquity of smartphones, millions upon millions of images are created and shared across a variety of social media platforms every minute of every day. Most are immediately lost in the endless feed, viewed only long enough to casually like or, occasionally share. We've become so good at documenting nearly every moment of our daily lives that many of us have forgotten how to compose a compelling photograph that captivates the viewer. With that in mind, here are three simple tips that will instantly up your photography game.

HACK 1: Light Matters. How-to Find (or make) Good Light

Good light is soft and flattering. Casts soft shadows. On bright days look for shade. Expose for your subject by tapping on their face, let the background blow out. It will look great. Having a beautiful model helps too. Just saying.

This one is the quickest hack but it takes a little more time up front to explain. Good light is light that flatters the subject, be that subject a person, your dog or your mesclun salad. The difference between 'good and 'bad' light is somewhat subjective but in broad terms, good light is soft and relatively even. It smooths out imperfections, minimizes shadows and generally just makes everything look... better. Bad light is (typically) sharp and harsh. It casts unflattering shadows and is unpleasant to look at, like any photo shot outdoors at high noon on a clear day in mid-July.

Good light is found in the shade, on the other side of a diffuser like clouds, drapes or fog. It can also be found near reflective surfaces like bright white walls or during magic hour.

Good light can also be found on overcast days when the clouds diffuse the sunlight. If you're having a hard time telling if you're working with 'good' light or 'bad' light, here's a trick; look at the shadows around you. If the shadows have sharp, hard edges then you're dealing with 'bad' light and you may need to make some adjustments. If there are no shadows or they have soft edges, odds are you're dealing with 'good' light.


Good light is soft and flattering. Casts soft shadows. It's the closest thing to a sure bet that the light will be amazing just after sunrise and just before sunset. 

What is Magic Hour?

Portrait and wedding photographers have known for decades that the best light can be found twice a day, most every day, for about an hour after first light and an hour before dusk. This is the time we refer to as 'magic hour,' when the sun is low enough in the sky to illuminate everything with a soft, gentle glow. During magic hour almost everything just. Looks. Perfect. That's why we call it 'magic.' 

PRO TIP: If you have to shoot something at night or in a dark room, don't rely on your phone's flash. Instead, have someone else shine their flashlight through a white paper napkin to diffuse the light. Boom. Instant softbox.



HACK 2: Stop Shooting The Same Old Sh!t

Eye level is boring. Try changing your perspective.

Eye level is boring. Try changing your perspective.

Most of us reflexively shoot the same crappy photos over and over again. This is because we've become so used to grabbing our camera and quickly snapping an image that we forget to compose the shot. The next time you find yourself reaching for your camera, stop and think about how you might intentionally compose the image. Try shooting from any angle OTHER than eye level. Try standing on a chair, lying on the floor or simply switching up your point of view. Play with the light. Move people around. Direct the shot. Whatever seems the weirdest, try that. Then work your way backwards toward the boring crap you normally shoot.



HACK 3: Think Different

Take advantage of great light wherever you can find it. 

When everyone else is posting selfies and snaps of their brunch, you should be documenting the people around the restaurant. Instead of staging selfies, practice your street photography skills. Remember, your images appear in the feed like everyone else's and most people scroll fast. If you want to capture their attention, you'd better stand out. Study your feed, then go in a different direction. Then apply Hack # 2 and repeat. Delete the bad. Post the good. Blamo. 

PRO TIP: Shoot with a DSLR if you have one. You'll have more control over your composition and will be able to shoot in situations where an iPhone or Galaxy just can't hang. More importantly your photos will have that look. The look that says big-ass camera.

Have any hacks of your own? Hit me up and let me know what I missed.

Keep shooting,

- C