It’s been six years (to the month!) since the photo-sharing app came into our lives, and we couldn’t be more grateful. After all, where would you be without that uber-easy way to view and share special moments with everyone who’s important to you—not to mention those addictive filters that make you look like a professional photographer? A gorgeous Instagram feed will also make for Chatbook photo books you’ll cherish forever. (You can learn more on having your feed magically show up in book form here.) Here, some insider secrets for taking, filtering, and sharing the most amazing photos ever—and gaining tons of new Instagram fans in the process.
1. PICK A THEME.
If you want to give yourself the flexibility to photograph anything, anytime, anywhere—that’s totally your prerogative. But the most popular Instagram feeds have one thing in common: Their respective photos all have, well, something in common. People like knowing what to expect when they follow you; fashion bloggers show great outfits and accessories, a car lover might feature cool rides he spots around town, a new dog owner might fill their feed with amazing puppy photos, and someone living in a beautiful area (from Traverse City to Tajikistan!) might show scenes from their hometown. If you want to grow your audience, choose a few things you love photographing, and try to stick to them most of the time.
2. TAKE SNAZZIER PHOTOS.
Taking a photography class is a fun way to learn the basics; Google can help you find inexpensive options in your area. To instantly make your pictures prettier, bear in mind the “rule of thirds”: Positioning your subject one-third or two-thirds of the way to the left or right, or lining up your horizon one-third or two-thirds of the way down, will automatically make your photo look more interesting and balanced. If you have an iPhone, you can turn on a setting that shows you those one-third grid lines as you snap the photo: Go to the Settings app, tap on Photos & Camera, and turn on the Grid.
3. CONSIDER YOUR GRID.
Speaking of grids, the best Instagrammers—those who make their living on their gazillion-follower-accounts—don’t just think about individual photos in a vacuum; instead, they consider how each photo will look in the context of all their other photos. When someone checks their profile, how does their overall grid appear? It’s important to mix things up, visually—if your last three photos included a big expanse of blue sky, maybe your next photo should be a close-up, or a landscape with a sunset or night sky in the background.
4. THINK OUTSIDE THE FILTERS.
In addition to—or instead of—using Instagram’s filters to give your photo some panache, you can manually play with the photo’s appearance by tapping “Edit” on the bottom. From there, you can mess around with things like “Vignette,” which darkens the outskirts of the picture, “Tilt Shift,” which changes what’s in focus and what’s blurred, and “Sharpen,” which is great for making food pictures pop.
(By the way, did you know there are hidden filters you can add to your Instagram options by tapping “Manage” at the end of the list of filters? It’s possible that one of those buried, rarely used filters is just perfect for the kinds of shots you take!)
5. BRANCH OUT TO OTHER APPS.
Instagram is meant for the masses, and photographers—those who are most comfortable with a DLSR with a massive lens—sometimes complain that the app’s simplistic settings don’t give them enough control. If you want to try enhancing photos before posting them to Instagram (and you’d like added features, like the ability to blur away blemishes or remove a distracting object from the background, download a photo-editing app like Snapseed, Enlight, or TouchRetouch HD.