10 Tips for Better Instagram Photos

Oh, Instagram. Where else would we so easily broadcast photos of animals looking particularly pensive?

We are officially a few weeks into January, and if your New Year's resolutions are going anything like ours, it's time to get some help. Unfortunately, we can't offer much in the way of helping you lose a few extra pounds (though some of these free fitness events may) or make deposits into your good-karma account, but we've got something better. We're going to help you up your Instagram game.

So, grab your shiny new smartphones and Walden filters, log in, and get ready to impress your followers with your brand-new Insta-skills.

See also: 10 Metro Phoenix Artists to Follow on Instagram

10. Know your apps. As much as we love Instagram, we recognize that it has its flaws -- like the fact that it only provides the option of square photos now and that it only has 19 filters. Yep, only. Instagram certainly has boxed you in, but don't let them control you. There are a ton of other apps that complement Instagram and can make your photos look like someone paid you to take them. Some of our favorites are VSCO Cam, which allows you to purchase (or sometimes download for free) more subtly faded filters than we know what to do with and makes it appear like you tried just enough; InstaSize, which is free and allows you to frame your horizontal or vertical photo with black, white, or colored bars so it will fit within Instagram's squareness without you having to crop anything; and Pic Stitch, which offers a free variety of collaging options, if you so strongly feel the urge to collage. Of course, there are thousands of other photo-related apps out there, so sniff around and see what you like.

9. Be careful with your filters. Yeah, we just told you to go get an app with 50-something filters in it, but now we're telling you to not go crazy. Nothing can ruin a photo faster than contrasting to the extreme, saturating the hell out of it, adding a butt-ton of grain, and vignetting it to the point where it looks like tunnel vision. We believe filters are meant to enhance the good that's already in a photo, not make us question if someone just got their hands on Photoshop for the first time. Let's just put it this way: We go on Instagram to see photos, not filters.

8. Let's talk about the faux tilt-shift option on Instagram for a second. That's where you can choose to make just one portion of your photo in focus while the rest of it gets blurred out. If we're going to be completely honest with you, we hate it. Sorry, that was a little harsh. We hate the overuse of it. Tilt-shift lenses are super-neat and, when used correctly and with intention, can create amazing photos. However, if you solely use it to focus on only one eye in a selfie or cover up the fact that your photo is completely out of focus, it is abuse. Tilt-shift is a delicate thing. Please treat it with respect.

Remembering the rule of thirds and embracing negative space can make for a nice, clean photo. Try adding a sunset for a little something extra.

7. Good spacing is key. Negative space, or space with no subject in it, can be a beautiful thing, especially in Instagram photos. Don't fear it, embrace it. Try experimenting with symmetry in a photo or asymmetry, if you're daring. Either of these can be used to draw the viewer's eye to or away from something in the photo. And if all else fails, default to the rule of thirds, meaning imagine the photo is split into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, and keep the subject on one of the intersections created by those lines. Or, if you're too lazy for imagination, Instagram offers a grid for you to follow when you take a photo with the app. Nope, that's not a hashtag down in the corner. It's the rule of thirds.

6. Speaking of hashtags, think of them as accessories to your photo. As Coco Chanel said, "Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off." Same goes for hashtags. We believe they should be used for either humor or categorizing. But use them sparingly. No photo is funny enough or universally applicable enough to justify seven witty and categorical hashtags. We're setting the limit at five, and you better have a pretty damn good reason for every single one.

5. Just as spacing can make or break a photo, so can the lighting of a photo. Personally, we prefer natural light and harshly judge anyone who uses flash in photos taken anywhere besides a pitch black room. However, we grudgingly recognize that this is a personal choice, not a rule. Regardless, we advise you to seek out sources of natural light when taking photos. Try backlighting to create a soft light around your subject or using the light from windows as a sort of spotlight in a dark room. The possibilities really are endless. Oh, and one pro tip, food almost never looks good when over exposed with the flash from your phone.

4. Unless the point of an Instagram post is to showcase text, please don't add text directly to your photos. That's what captions are for.

If your subject is short, like a cinnamon bun, getting down on its level can help make a more interesting photo. Bacon can also help.

3. Imitation is not the greatest form of flattery, it is the greatest form of boring. We can't tell you how many photos we've seen of the ground's view of a forest or feet being lapped by a wave at the beach. Blegh. Be original! If you think to yourself, "Hey, this seems really familiar!" as you're taking a photo, maybe just don't.

2. Check your backgrounds before taking a photo. Make sure there isn't anything distracting in them, unless of course that is the point. Also, food generally usually looks pretty damn tasty on a clean white plate (in natural light, duh), and a dark wood, perhaps a nice rich mahogany, instantly makes things look more rustic.

1. Finally, our quick and easy tip for making any photo more interesting is to simply switch up your perspective. Instead of taking a photo from your normal eye level, squat down and take it from the ground or get up above the subject. We can see things at eye level all the time, show us what it looks like from a different vantage point. So find the perfect light, get up on a chair, check your background, compose your shot, slap a slightly cool-toned, faded filter over it, and you've got a lovely Instagram photo. Probably.

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Evie Carpenter is a visual journalist. Using photography, videography, design, and sometimes words, she tells stories she hopes make a bit of difference in the world, even if those stories are in list form and include GIFs.
Contact: Evie Carpenter