Social Media

7 Design Hacks for Better Instagram Pictures

In the “Creating Stunning Visuals For Social” series, we’ll be talking about how to optimize your visual content to stand out in today’s most popular platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest and more.

Every Instagram marketing strategy starts with the same thing: a great picture. That’s what makes all the difference when it comes to engaging Instagram followers and building an audience. Visual content is 40% more likely to be shared on social than other types of content and, when it comes to compelling imagery, Instagram is the number one social network.

The good news is that you don’t have to be a pro or own very expensive equipment to take Instagram photos like a pro. It just takes a little bit of planning and creativity.

With the help of some of our friends who are crushing it on Instagram, we’ve rounded up seven design hacks for better Instagram pictures:

1. Color It In

“I tend to get attracted to highlighting the natural colors in nature, from a glowing sunset to foliage throughout seasons. However, I try to avoid adding colors to my photos. Rather, I expose them through careful capturing or by using the hue palette and luminance tools in Lightroom,” says Janeivy Hilario, one of Time’s “Instagram Photographers to Follow In 50 States”.

Be aware of the colors around you and use them to your advantage. Colors can be used strategically to reflect your brand’s personality, play on emotions or add depth to a product.

Studies say that blue photos drive 24% more likes than red ones and that a single dominant color is more effective than multiple dominant colors. In Neivy’s photo above, green is the dominant color that leads your eye.

Tip: You can use Instagram’s Saturation tool to adjust the intensity of the colors in your photo.

2. Use Natural Light


A photo posted by Lauren Marek (@laurenmarek) on

“I try to study the sun and learn how its light affects shadows at different times of the day – because the same scene can completely transform itself hours later!” says food photographer Kat Huang.

Sunlight is less cumbersome than studio lighting. You never know when inspiration will hit you – so whether you’re on-the-go or at the office, natural lighting can be a quick way to sharpen your shot. Most Instagram followers are looking for authenticity, so capturing spontaneity and behind-the-scenes moments can be extremely powerful.

In the photo above, Lauren Marek uses a technique called a lens flare – that burst of orange light right behind the subject. You can try this out by pointing your camera towards the sun and angling it just enough so that your subject is in focus but you see a little bit of overexposed sun.

Tip: Use Instagram’s Highlight and Shadow features to adjust the light balance of your photo. 

3. Focus & Defocus


? feat. Jenny . . #nyc #bokeh #makeportraits

A photo posted by JP (@josephpadiernos) on

“One of my favorite tricks is to use the lock symbol on the iPhone. You can lock the focus of your camera and adjust the exposure by sliding up or down,” says Joseph Padiernos, an NYC-based photographer.

Using your phone’s focus lock can add depth to a photo. This comes in handy when you’re trying to highlight a person or object in a busy environment or trying to show how tiny your subject is compared to the setting. In Joseph’s photo, the blurred lights add context for the time of day and location. We can tell that the sun is just setting and the photo was taken in a urban environment. This helps set a story.

Tip: Instagram’s Tilt Shift will add blur to your photo. You can choose either Radial, which focuses the center and blurs a circle around it or Linear, which blurs above and below the focus.

4. Organize the Clutter


Essentials for the day #brightaesthetic

A photo posted by NIK ♛ (@aesthetnik) on

“Take things away to focus the viewer’s attention on the most important part of your composition,” says Nik, a Berlin-based photographer who has partnered with brands like Nike, Rolls Royce and Sennheiser.

Flat lay shots, styled product shots or table settings taken from a bird’s-eye-view, are especially great for ecommerce and the food industry. It sometimes helps to set your items on the floor or to grab a stool so you can take the picture from a different vantage point. A basic background, like Nic’s bright white, can also help the product pop.

Tip: Instagram offers “3D Plane” features, allowing you to fix perspective and distortion. Top-down shots are sometimes hard to take, so you can always adjust the photo to straighten the image vertically to adjust the depth and make it look more realistic.

5. Look For Portraits


“Lost City” – Thank you @trungywin; a Salt Lake City-based photographer for this shot of @martathemartian via #pursuitofportraits

A photo posted by Pursuit of Portraits (NYC) (@pursuitofportraits) on

Instagram photos with faces get 38% more likes. In fact, Instagram account “Pursuit of Portraits” has built a community of over 48,000 portrait lovers. Portrait shots can be a great way to feature faces from your own community or from your team. Consider taking candid shots, because it can be a great way to catch interesting moments.

Keep your eye out and your camera ready for funny moments, people in action or exclusive snippets.

Tip: When you select a photo from your Camera Roll, you’ll see an icon that resembles a frame at the bottom left-hand corner of your photo. You can click on that to adjust the photo to fit landscape and portrait-sized dimensions. 

6. Less Is More

“Deciding what to leave out is just as important as deciding what to keep within. Use negative space as a way to frame and highlight your subject,” says Jaclyn Siu, Fashion Blogger and Digital Marketing Coordinator at Roc Nation.

Minimal photography can be refreshing in an oversaturated feed. This technique is all about optimizing the lines and spaces in the frame to build the shot. Give your followers only the amount of information they need and nothing more. In this photo, Jaclyn uses the leading lines of the white chalk on the pavement to draw the viewer’s eye towards the top left-hand corner.

Tip: After selecting a photo from your Camera Roll, slide your shot around to play around with framing. You might find that adding more or less negative space to one corner changes the entire perspective of the photo.

7. Add Some Action

Go beyond the still! Video has been a growing medium on Instagram. The app launched Hyperlapse back in 2014, an app that captures high-quality time lapse videos while you’re moving. A large number of users have been testing out stop motion as well, an animation technique that makes it look like an inanimate object is moving on its own.

Illustrator Rachel Ryle creates and posts these fun videos to her account. If you’re looking to give stop motion a try, Rachel recommends “filming with a tripod or placing your phone on a glass table and drawing underneath”.

Tip: Instagram videos can be between 3-15 seconds long, so remember to optimize your clip for that length! Also, just like you can with photos, filters and geotags can be applied to videos.

Putting It All Together

There are plenty of ways to get creative and take attention-grabbing photos, but what’s more important is to keep the conversation going. Combine quality visual content with strong engagement by posing questions, featuring followers from your community and regularly replying to comments. Win over their hearts along with the like.

This article was published on March 7, 2016 and updated in March of 2019.


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Denise Chan @denisechan26
Senior Content & Community Marketing Manager