Adventure Photography Guide

How to Edit Your Photos for Instagram

Outside's social media manager shares her tips

Editing that perfect photo for Instagram can be tricky, but it doesn't have to be. (DieterMeyrl/iStock)
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I love working in an office where my colleagues tend to come in late on powder days or head to the climbing gym at lunch. But another great joy of my job is owning the keys to the castle—that is, the password to Outside’s Instagram account. Because I’m on the social photo platform for a living, I see a lot of posts. Over the past two years, I’ve learned a thing or two about what makes a good one. Here are six best practices to follow.

#1. Forget the Fancy Equipment

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: The best adventure tool is the one in your pocket. If you’re among the 95 percent of Americans who owns a smartphone, you already have access to an extremely capable camera. In addition to the 12-plus-megapixel image resolution and 4K video, today’s phones put all the apps you need for editing right at your fingertips.

#2. Cultivate a Style

You can probably identify images taken by your favorite Instagram photographers without even seeing their name attached. That’s because they’ve developed their own unique aesthetic. A few examples of pros who do this well are Maddy Minnis (stunning natural landscapes), Cameron Maier (reviving candid film snapshots), and Brianna Madia (best use of the color orange). Having a unique style doesn't have to mean creating the same composition or using the same filter or settings for every shot. But those elements—along with color, subject matter, and mood—all play into developing your own photographic perspective.

#3. Don’t Overedit

When you’re scrolling through your photos back at home, approach the editing process with some critical distance. Go through your images quickly, and select only a few to put through the wringer. Once you’ve narrowed down the number of pictures you want to ’gram, set a timer. Seriously. Give yourself ten minutes to edit each shot, and then get up and do something else. Chances are you got overzealous and were too heavy-handed. Having a fresh pair of eyes will help you catch that. Go back into your editing app of choice (I prefer VSCO), simplify the photo, and voilĂ . It may take some practice to achieve this carefree speed, but once you’ve cultivated a style (see number two), that will help minimize the time you spend editing.

#4. But Do Get the Important Stuff Right

There is a caveat to my keep-it-simple mantra: Take the time to perfect the details that make for a polished photograph. A few things in particular are worth an extra couple minutes of attention.

  • Make sure the horizon is straight.

  • Adjust the exposure if the photo is too dark or too light.

  • Crop thoughtfully. If your photo is horizontal, can you give it a vertical or square crop so it can be displayed larger on the platform? Are you following the rule of thirds?

#5. Showcase Your Best Work

Don’t pressure yourself to post constantly. Put up photos you love, but don’t oversaturate your feed with ten of the same subject or from the same shoot. Being selective is difficult, but your followers will thank you for it. Over time, this careful curation can help bring out your style. Consider using a planning app—like Planoly, UNUM, or Later—if you post frequently on Instagram. You’ll be able to drop in your edited shots and see how they’ll look when you post.

#6. Don’t Forget the Words

The story really is as important as the photo. Sometimes it’s what makes the photo work. Whether it’s a retelling of how you got the shot, a description of your latest adventure, or a joke about something featured in the picture, the caption completes the package. And tailor it to the photo; if you’re shooting a more somber subject, be serious, but if you’re just out having fun, the caption can be playful.

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