I’ve been sitting on this post for a hot minute, but it’s finally here! Although many of the pictures I post on Instagram are taken with DSLR cameras, a good chunk are taken with smartphones. I’m going to walk you through exactly how I edit iPhone pictures for Instagram, using four different examples: streetstyle photos, interior photos, photos under harsh light, and selfies!
Why you should take Instagram pics with a phone
So this is speculation that’s come up in different articles on how to beat the Instagram algorithm, but supposedly Instagram prioritizes images taken with a phone. I don’t know to what extent that’s true, but I do know some bloggers who exclusively shoot their IG content with phones because it makes them feel “more in the moment” and ultimately more relatable (ie. @michelletakeaim & @sophiemilner_fs). They both have large followings, so it’s definitely possible to succeed on Instagram with just pictures from your phone! I personally like the look of camera photos, and I don’t want my feed to be a random mix of clear camera pic and blurry phone pic, so I do some work to get my phone images at a quality that compares to my DSLR pictures.
Best smartphones for Instagram pictures
I have an iPhone 7 Plus, and in optimal conditions, the camera quality is great. I have no experience with the X so I can’t say whether it’s any better. Jonathan has the Google Pixel 2XL and it takes DREAMY pictures. Some of my pictures from our trip to Kenya & Nigeria were taken with his phone (like this and this… those clouds!) so I actually think it beats out iPhone for image quality.
Regardless of what phone you’re using, you should learn some simple phone photography tips like making sure your subject is well lit (put the light source behind the photographer), learning how to lock the focus & change the exposure, composition, etc. Also, always clean your phone lens before doing anything. GIRL. This will elevate your photos immediately. More quick photo taking tips in this throwback post.
Ok, after bunch of yapping, here’s what you’ve been waiting for!
How to edit iPhone photos for Instagram
Before I get down into the step by step, let me preface this by saying that how you edit will depend on what style of images you like. Some people like very desaturated feeds and others like to use color to unify their feed. It took me FOREVER to figure out what I wanted my feed to look like, but now that I know, I edit so that my pictures can all look cohesive together.
There are some changes that I make for every single one of my pictures, whether taken with a phone or with a camera, and I use two apps to edit, Snapseed and VSCO. I start my edits in Snapseed, which is a free app that you HAVE to have. My favorite thing about it is that you can save edits as LOOKS which you can then apply to any photo, which saves me tons of time.
There are three main TOOLS that I use in Snapseed: Tune Image, Details, and Portrait. Tune Image allows you to adjust the brightness, contrast, saturation, ambiance (which is a combination of highlights, saturation, and contrast), highlights, shadows, and warmth. Portrait recognizes faces and allows you to brighten them, smooth your skin, and make your eyes brighter. Details sharpens your photos. I use these tools to make my skin pop, my outfit to stand out from the background, and for the image to be clearer.
And finally, I use VSCO to apply a very subtle filter (usually A6) to my images so they can all look more cohesive. Let’s see how it plays out picture by picture!
How I edit outfit pictures for Instagram
To start with, here’s a picture that was taken on a pretty average day, just on the side of a building in New York. I wore this shirt inside out because I’m a complete mess, so I first had to mirror image flip the photo using the Rotate tool. I then use the Portrait tool to make my skin smooth and glow. These numbers are adjustable if you swipe left and right, so you can play around to find the ones that work best for you. The adjustments are really subtle, so you probably don’t think they matter, but I think they help draw the eyes to my face first, rather than to another part of the image.
Now that my skin is glowy, it’s time to adjust the colors of the image. I like bright whites and dark blacks, so I increase the highlights, decrease the shadows, and up the contrast.
Now for most images, I crop, add details and I’m done. But this one was looking a bit grey, so I used my two favorite tools for color correction: Selective and Brush. Selective allows you to pinpoint a specific area and change its brightness, contrast, saturation, or structure (aka sharpness), while Brush lets you paint over an area to adjust brightness, saturation, or temperature.
I used Selective to make the ground and the walls brighter (increased brightness) and more grey (decrease saturation), as well as to mute the colors of my skirt (decrease saturation). I also like to slightly increase the contrast and brightness of my face (about +10 and +5 respectively). It makes me look more contoured and helps my face stand out!
The walls still aren’t giving me enough white, so I use the brush tool to whiten them. This is also great for teeth! It’s easy to zoom in so you have more control over what area you’re adjusting. I like to switch to the eye view so I can see what areas I’ve gone over in red, and erase anything I may have changed by accident.
I’m going to adjust a few more areas where the color is still off, and then next I use the Healing tool to patch up any spots that are taking away from the picture. This is great for removing pimples, cigarettes on the ground, or even people from backgrounds! Here, I used it to clean the street, remove large spots on the ground, and remove the label from the inside of my coat.
Even if I’m not posting pictures back to back (which I rarely do), I like to edit all the pictures from a group at the same time to save time down the road. So I’ll click the three dots near the top and select copy to copy all the edits I’ve made. I can then open a new picture and apply them! Obviously things like healing often get messed up because the images are not exact duplicates, but I’d rather go back and make adjustments than have to start from scratch.
I then like to save the changes on the image, rather than saving a new copy, so I can preserve some phone space. I then open up the edited image in VSCO, where I’ll apply my final edits. The filters I like to use are free, but there are some paid filters as well. Find one that speaks to you! Whatever you choose though, don’t use it at full strength. I’ve found that +3 is my happy place where I feel like the filter did something to the photo but not so much that you can tell something was done to the photo. I usually use A6 but actually used S3 for this picture. You can barely tell the difference between the two, which is to me a good sign because it means this image won’t look that different from everything else on my feed.
How I edit pictures at events for Instagram
Images taken indoors at events under harsh lighting require slightly different treatment, because indoor lighting is often yellow. My editing process is usually the same, but I make sure to use the White Balance tool in Snapseed to correct for the color cast. You just put your cursor over the area you’d like to be recognized as white, and the app sets the correct temperature for you! If only adjusting white balance in Final Cut Pro was this easy…
I then use Portrait, Tune Image, and Details to get the look I like. Then, I use the Selective and Brush tools to brighten my body and make the walls more evenly white… it took me a few times but I prefer making changes in small increments!
Since this picture shows my chest, which is a slightly different color than my beat face, I made a slight adjustment to the color of my face. One feature of Snapseed that I think is overlooked is the paintbrush tool. Once you apply an edit, you can actually go back in and choose exactly where in the photo you want that edit to apply, and to what degree. So I applied a reddish tint to the entire photo using White Balance (you can see it most on the walls), but then used the paintbrush feature to apply the tint only to my face, so it could be less yellow and match my chest.
I finished off with healing to remove the shadows on the wall, then imported into VSCO where I applied the A6 filter and also cropped it!
How I edit interior photos for Instagram
Same premise, different subject. I do have very good lighting in my apartment – thanks to painting all the walls bright white and having tons of windows – but I still edit my indoor images to counteract shadows. Here I want to highlight Snapseed’s Perspective Tool, which is hard to explain but pretty much lets you rotate a photo on the z axis (too nerdy? I can’t think of another way to explain it!). Note how the top of the garment rack is now a straight line, instead of sloping downwards. As a sucker for straight lines, but as someone who can’t hold the phone straight to save their life, this tool is a lifesaver!
A lot of editing is just playing around until you find the image that works for your feed. I love looking at the before and after of each edit just to make sure that the image hasn’t completely lost it’s integrity. It may look like a lot, but I’ve gotten really fast and usually edit pictures while I’m on the train!
I still felt like the image was washed out, so I used the Sharpen tool in VSCO. It doesn’t have as much control as the Details tool in Snapseed, but I still like to use it sometimes. I also used more of the filter since I didn’t have to worry about my skin changing colors.
How I edit selfie photos for Instagram
I don’t take that many selfies anymore, but every once in a while, a selfie is necessary (here’s how to take the best ones)! Unfortunately, selfies are one of the most overedited images online, so I’ve made it a point to show how I edit mine! Again, the process is the same, but I do more detailed editing of my face and hair. You can really see how the Portrait tool opens up my eyes and smoothes out my skin just enough to still look natural. I added contrast and highlights so my skin could pop, and added saturation to my hair because it was looking a bit dull.
I know a lot of people use Facetune for selfies, but I find that Snapseed can do all of the same editing more naturally. If I have a pimple or a wonky eyelash, I might use Facetune’s patch tool to sort it out. Also, going to admit right now that I use Snapseed’s Healing tool many a time to rectify a struggling hairline, because my wig game is still on the come up lol.
I’m really mindful of not looking too light because the very last thing I want is for someone to think I’m editing to lighten my skin (which some black bloggers do… but we’re just gonna keep them in prayer). So in VSCO, I usually bring down the exposure for close up pics after applying the A6 edit. I was still feeling too light so I went back in Snapseed again to bring more color and shadow to my face.
Now you know all my secrets to glowy skin and popping pictures! Two free apps, and about 5-10 minutes per photo! I know it looks like a lot of steps, but once you get into a rhythm it goes by super quickly. And editing in batches makes it easy for me to plan out my feed ahead of time so I can be a great PhD student! More on my blogging productivity hacks in another post…
Was this post helpful? Did you learn anything? Do you know any other editing hacks I should know? I’m always open to requests and suggestions, so if there’s a blogging or social media related topic you’d like me to cover, ask away!
P.S. Feel free to tag me on Instagram (@ijeomakola) in any pics that you post using advice from this article. And share with your friends!