How to Take Better Pictures with Instagram


by Christopher Thompson|

Every time you take a photograph, you’re telling story.

And each of these stories is a moment in your life.

[DID YOU KNOW: George Eastman invented the first camera in 1885. He used paper film before switching to celluloid in 1889. His first camera was called, “Kodak.”]

You photograph your family, friends, hobbies, and sometimes yourself.

These photographs are emotional, humorous, thought provoking, and sometimes, yes, really horrible. Let’s face it. It’s not easy to take a great photograph, especially when we’re surrounded by new images every second. Using the five easy steps below, you’re going to learn how to improve your Instagram (one of the mobile phones most popular social media applications) photography skills, and your photography skills in general.

Instagram, in its simplest form, allows you to take photos, edit, and share them with the world. You communicate by liking and commenting on each other’s photos. You can follow anyone who has an account—your mom, your dog, your favorite band, your favorite celebrity, and your favorite quilter!

But did you know you can also use Instagram as a photo editing app, without posting any pictures? Whether it’s for your own sewing blog or just for fun, Instagram’s many editing functions give you the power to take some pretty awesome pictures with your phone, as long as you follow a few simple guidelines.

The five easy steps for improving your Instagram photography skills are:

  1. Planning
  2. Lighting
  3. Props
  4. Composition
  5. Editing & Finishing

Capturing really great Instagram photos takes a lot of planning. Think about your subject, the lighting, props, composition, and how you will edit the photo.

DID YOU KNOW: Instagram launched as an application for the iPhone in October of 2010.

It’s also important to take photos with your mobile phone’s camera. Turn the flash off, as a flash can create a combination of harsh shadows and flat lighting. If you’re not using another editing application, you can switch the lens to the square feature of your camera—this will prevent anything from being cropped out of the photograph. When taking a rectangular photo, think about the angle of your mobile phone’s camera, turning it vertical or horizontal if it helps. Take several photos so you can pick the best one when you go to edit your photographs.

Take Better Photos with Instagram

For your background, use a flat, solid surface such as a table or white foam board when photographing styled subjects. Photograph your finished work in interesting and inspiring places that complete your story. You can buy a white foam board at your local office supply store for about $12, which makes a really great neutral backdrop.

[DID YOU KNOW: Facebook bought Instagram in 2012 for $1 billion. At the time there were only 13 employees.]


Bright, natural lighting is a must!

When taking your photographs indoors, make sure you take them in a room with lots of windows that are flooded with natural light. You can also try daylight energy efficient light bulbs in your overhead light fixtures and lamps. Purchasing a small light reflector, which bounces the light back, will brighten your subject and will also increase your chances of capturing a really great photograph. Something as simple as a white posterboard or foam board can even work as a light reflector.

In these examples, you can see how the lighting drastically changes the feeling of the mini-quilt. The white brick wall is the best choice—it’s flooded with natural light and really lets the mini-quilt shine.

Check out! They have a great selection of smart phone camera enhancements.


Secondary to your subject, props help complete the story you’re telling. When kept simple, they’re the exclamation point! You can use props from around your house, including sewing supplies, fabric, flowers, coffee, and pastries. Color coordinating your props to match your subject helps add interest and fun!

[DID YOU KNOW: There are more than 60 million photos uploaded to Instagram per day!]

Balance / Composition

Balance is key when composing a photograph. Fill up the frame of the photograph, keeping in mind that the subject is the hero. Double tap on the subject so your camera can focus and the photograph will come out clear.

Play around with multiple layouts, placing your subject and props in various places until the balance is just right. If it still doesn’t feel just right, start over, reviewing what you like and don’t like.

Take Better Pictures with Instagram

When in doubt, follow the Rule of Thirds – imagine the photo split into horizontal and vertical thirds by lines, and place the arrangement on those lines. This can create more visual interest than centering the main subject.

Also think about camera angle. Many people tend to take photos from eye level because that’s how we look at the world. But what happens if you shoot directly from above? Kneeling down and looking slightly up? From a 3/4 angle instead of head-on?

Fashion and interior design magazines are a great place to look for composition ideas and inspiration!

[DID YOU KNOW: The majority of Instagram users are women.]

Editing & Finishing

There are so many great applications for editing your photos. Instagram has some of the best and easiest editing tools. Without using any of the fun filters, you can adjust the brightness, contrast, warmth, saturation, highlights, shadows, and sharpen on your photographs. Make sure you don’t adjust them too much or you’ll lose the integrity of your photograph. (To access these controls, click on the right-most icon above the filters.)

If you want to post an entire rectangular photograph without cropping it, use the application Instasize. This application will allow you to use the full size of your photograph and adds a white border to two sides.   Search through Instagram and you’ll find so many great people who use Instasize. It’s a great way to create a specific layout of your Instagram page, personalizing it anyway you like!

The photo below on the left is a rectangular photo cropped to a square by Instagram. The photo on the right is the same one, but placed in a white square as a rectangle by Instasize.

Congratulations, you’re now ready to post your photograph! You can add a brief description of your photograph, tag others, and add hashtags and locations. Tagging others and using hashtags is a great way for others with the same interests to connect with you!

Posting photographs on Instagram is another creative outlet! It’s fun to compose, edit, and share with the sewing community what you’re crushing on at the moment. Think about your Instagram account as a portfolio of your work—your brand identity. You’ll only get better if you practice. Remember this: there’s always the delete button.

Editing without posting

The editing capabilities of Instagram are very powerful – what if you want to edit some of your photos without posting them, to use elsewhere, like a blog post or tutorial? There is a roundabout way to ‘trick’ Instagram into saving your pictures without posting:

1. First, set your phone in Airplane Mode. This is very important. You can either do it in Settings, or, on an iPhone, you can swipe up from the bottom to open the settings shortcut panel, and click on the Airplane icon.

2. Now, open Instagram. Edit your photo as desired, and click Share. It will fail to post, since your phone isn’t connected to the Internet. But that’s ok, this is what we want!

3. When you’re done, turn off Airplane mode, and click “x” on the failed message. Then open your Camera Roll to see your newly edited photo. Voila! Photo saved without posting!


[The featured quilt is “Hello, Love”, a 20″x20″ mini quilt pattern by Kitty Wilkin (@nightquilter).]

Hailing from a very small town in Southern Virginia, Christopher has lived in several cities over the years from Atlanta to San Francisco and now NYC. He grew up in a traditional quilting family and before he could walk and talk, was playing under a quilt frame. As the years passed, Christopher continued tinkering with crafts, quilting, and other odds-and-ends creative endeavors. He purchased his first grown up sewing machine and has been working late nights and weekends to create interesting quilts inspired by the world around him–art, music, fashion, and of course, there’s a nod to his traditional roots thrown in there too!

Share this Post

One Comment on ““How to Take Better Pictures with Instagram”

  1. Kitty

    This is great! I love Instagram for all of these reasons, and sometimes even find that I can get crisper, clearer, brighter photos with my phone than with my camera (usually this applies for indoor photos where I don’t have a lot of control over the light). I never knew that trick about editing photos and not posting them on IG, though–thanks! ps. Great mini! 😉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *