Instagram is a visual platform: we have to make great images.
Still, the most beautiful, technically perfect photograph isn’t always the most successful. Why?
Making photographs is so much more than clicking a button on a fancy camera in a pretty place. There are steps you can take to improve the pictures you’re posting and most of those steps come before you even press that button.
Pressing the button – that’s the easy part. The art is in the idea, in the story you’re trying to tell. Here are seven things to think about before taking a picture, stuff that works for me.
When I first started using Instagram – and was only just starting out in photography – my feed looked a hell of a lot different. I liked all the moody stuff: lots of shadow, dark blue tones, brooding landscapes. I used that stuff as inspiration for my own pictures. I imitated, emulated, copied. That’s how we learn. Do the same. And don’t let anybody make you feel bad about it. We’d stop making work if we let ourselves become too wrapped up in trying to be completely original. Nothing is original. If you feel weird about it, this might help. Jim Jamursh – a great and very successful – film director has the right idea:
Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to
Always be looking
In order to improve your photography – and its performance on Instagram – you have to look at other people’s work. Look at stuff constantly. Use Instagram and Pinterest and save stuff you like. Look at photography journals and magazines. Watch visually interesting films. Read great stories. Do these things and you’ll be inspired without even realising it.
Try stuff out. A lot of it probably won’t work – it’ll fail. So what? Start again. It’s a cliche, but we learn more from failures than successes. Cliches are cliches for a good reason. On Instagram, we tend to stick to what we know. I’m certainly guilty of that, because it’s a little bit easier and feels more comfortable. But pushing yourself feels good. And it doesn’t go unnoticed.
I’m a self-taught photographer. I’m fortunate enough to be to doing a degree in the subject now. But the fundamentals, the basics, all the technical stuff, I taught myself. You can do the same. Do online tutorials, buy photography magazines, study your camera manual. Do the work, every day, as many hours as you can. You don’t need a fancy camera or qualifications to become a good photographer. You just have to want to become a good photographer.
My imagery on Instagram is often described as light and airy. I use Instagram as a kind of escapism, to daydream, to feel uplifted. I try to offer people the same in my own images. What do you want to say with your photographs? What story do you want to tell? What colours will convey that mood? It’s important that you’re making images you’re passionate about. But we post on Instagram so other people can see our pictures. It’s important to think about what those people see. How will the image make them feel? How might people read your image without its caption? Instagram is a great tool for visual storytelling. Use it to tell your story.
It’s all in the detail
Instagram allows us to post both landscape and portrait photos. But the only people who will see your image full-size are your followers. Non-followers will see a square, cropped version, and will have to click onto the image to see it in full. That means that the important details need to be visible in the square. It’s worth keeping that in mind. That doesn’t necessarily mean you should post only squares. Most of my images aren’t square because scale is important in my work. But ensuring all the important stuff is visible in the square will make your images more clickable.
Always want to be better
Natural talent only gets you so far. What’s more important is hard work. That work is never done. I try very hard to not look at my first published photography. If I happen to come across it, I seriously cringe. But I’m proud to see how my work has improved since then. And that’s down to working at it every day. Not everything I do works well. Most of it doesn’t. But if you challenge yourself, and make a real effort, you’ll eventually get good results. The more you put in, the more you get out … Cliches are cliches for a reason.