These days, it seems that there are more articles and videos to count about how to photoshop your selfie than there are about how to – idk – get out of debt, get scholarships for higher education, or buy a car without getting ripped off. Things that are actually important. So you’re probably wondering why I’m contributing to the endless articles about optimizing selfies, and my answer would be: I’m not.
Instead, I’m sharing some tips that I used to simply improve my photo quality for social media, which helped me more than double my Instagram following last year. All my tips are free and require no equipment of costly apps, so I did it all without Photoshop, without Facetune, and without buying likes and followers (shade no shade). Since there’s a lot of stuff to cover, I’m breaking this down into multiple posts – this one covers what happens before you even take a photo. I’ve also got posts on how to edit your photos and how to create sponsored content from start to finish. Part 2 will discuss what to do before posting a photo, and Part 3 will discuss what to do after you’ve posted a photo. Let’s get into it!
Plan Out Your Feed
Before you even post anything, figure out what kind of vibe and aesthetic you want your feed to have. While there are some people who can post selfies and a photo of their broken toenail with equal excitement, the majority of us real people should aim to have a unified “look” on social media, especially Instagram. Part of that is figuring out what kind of content you want on your feed: mostly selfies? A mix of quotes and photos? Tons of landscape and architecture photos? I opt for mostly lifestyle photos, so a mix of hair photos (ok fine, selfies), outfit posts, and some videos and product shots. I try to spread these out, so if I’ve posted a selfie, I won’t post another selfie right after it.
Aside from thinking about your content, get a sense for what visual theme you’d like your feed to have. Do you really like bright colors and highly saturated images? Or muted pastels? Is black and white more your thing? I’m personally attracted to Instagram accounts that have a beautiful and cohesive feed, and since I’m still working on figuring out my own, here are a few accounts that I think do this particularly well.
Frame Your Image
Professional photographers talk about the rule of thirds, where you think of your image frame as a 3×3 grid and align the focal points of your image in a cross point. In this photo, I’ve placed my body on the imaginary 1st line of the 3×3 grid, and my face is at the corner of a grid focal point. While this is surely good advice, it isn’t always required for social media since regular people don’t have artistic eyes. Just make sure that your photo has one or two focal points, whether its your face, a hair product, or a tree.
When in doubt, take your photo in portrait – you can decide to crop it to a square later for Instagram, or use the rectangular aspect ratio to take up max screen space. Plus, portrait images convert better on Pinterest, so you can take one photo for two purposes!
Get The Right Light
Honestly, I could write an entire post about the light, but lighting can make or break your photos. If you can get great light before you take your photos, then you’ll be able to do less editing after the fact. In short, LIGHTING IS BAE. For outfit photos, I find that cloudy or overcast days work best because you can limit shadows that might distract from your look. For the best selfies, natural light always works best, and if you’re melanated, then taking pictures in sunlight is like having God kiss your face and bless your selfies. For beauty, hair, and makeup shots that are a bit more glamorous, dimmed ring lights provide a soft glow.
Product photography and flat lays can be a bit tricky because shadows can be very distracting, so use a homemade reflector to cancel them out. Just wrap some foil around a piece of cardboard and position it (or have someone help you) on the opposite side of the light source to cancel out the shadows. Complete gamechanger!
Your “Camera” Matters… Kind Of
You’re probably surprised that I didn’t say anything about buying fancy cameras. The fact is that you can take photos on most smartphones and get great quality. Just keep in mind that rear facing cameras often perform better than front facing ones. If you are looking to elevate your images and have extra money to spend, then I recommend a starter refurbished Canon DSLR like the T5, and elevating it with a lens that has a low f-stop like the Canon EF 50mm which is only $110. The above photo shows the difference between a front facing, rear facing, and DSLR photo using a 18-55mm kit lens on my Canon T6i. Obviously the camera photo is lots better, but with slightly better lighting, the iPhone photo would’ve worked just as well for social media.
These were just a few tips that I have for social media images, but if you want more of this series, check out my other posts on editing images on your phone!