Instagram is a visual platform -- so having photos that look good is key to a successful Instagram strategy. In other words: quality images result in quality engagement. Thankfully, you don't need to be a pro photographer to post beautiful content to Instagram. All you need is your smartphone camera, a few editing tips and tricks... and a little practice. Keep reading to learn how to edit Instagram photos to grow your audience and establish a compelling brand aesthetic.
How to edit Instagram photos the basic way
Instagram has built-in editing tools and filters, so this is a great place to start if you’re just starting to dabble in the world of image manipulation.
Step 1: Begin with a quality photo
Even the best filter can't disguise a bad picture, so make sure you're starting with a quality photo. Natural light is always the best option but use the HDR mode on your smartphone camera when shooting in dim light, close up, or outdoor portraits for best results.
Another pro tip? Snap a bunch of shots to make sure you've got options when posting time rolls around.
Pro tip: Start with a photo that’s sized for Instagram. If your photo is too small, it may appear blurry or grainy, no matter how much you edit it. Photos that are at least 1080 pixels wide will look best. Instagram will crop your photo as a square by default, but you can adjust it to its full width or height if you prefer.
Step 2: Upload your photo to Instagram
Open up the Instagram app and select the plus-sign icon in the top right. This will open up a menu of posting options. Select post and then pick your photo from your image gallery. Tap next.
Step 3: Pick a filter
Here, you’ll find a variety of filters, which will adjust the lighting, colors, contrast, and sharpness of the image in different ways. “Gingham” for instance, creates a flat and muted look, while “Inkwell” turns your photo black and white. Tap each filter to preview how it will look on your particular photo.“Claredon” is the most popular filter in the world, for a cooler look that pumps up the contrast in a natural way.
Pro tip: You can adjust the intensity of any filter by tapping it a second time and adjusting the sliding scale from 0 (no effect) to 100 (full effect). But in 2021, most pro-Instagram users tend to skip the filter step altogether in favor of customizing their own visual balance. This brings us to the “edit” function in the Instagram app…
Step 4: Customize your photo with the Instagram editing tool
At the bottom of the screen, you’ll see an “Edit” tab on the right. Tap that to access a menu of editing options:
Adjust: Use this to straighten your photo or alter the horizontal or vertical perspective.
Brightness: A slider to brighten or darken your image.
Contrast: A slider to make the distinction between the dark and bright parts of the images more or less intense.
Structure: Enhance the detailing in the photos.
Warmth: Slide to the right to warm things up with orange tones, or to the left to cool them down with blue tones.
Saturation: Adjust the intensity of the colors.
Color: Layer on a color to either the shadows or highlights of the photo.
Fade: Use this tool to make your photo look washed out — like it’s been faded by the sun.
Highlights: Brighten or darken the brightest areas of the image.
Shadows: Brighten or darken the darkest areas of the image.
Vignette: Use the slider to darken the edges of the photo, making the image at the center look brighter by contrast.
Tilt Shift: Choose either a “radial” or “linear” focal point, and blur everything else.
Sharpen: Make the details a little crisper. (What’s the difference between this and structure? Unclear.)
Pro tip: At the top of the screen, you’ll see a magic wand icon. Tap that to open the Lux tool, which allows you to tweak the exposure and brightness on a sliding scale. When you’re done making your edits, tap Next in the top right corner.
Step 5: Tweak individual photos in a multi-image post
If you’re sharing multiple photos in a single post (also called a carousel), you can edit each one separately. Tap the Venn diagram icon in the bottom-right corner of the photo to bring up individual editing options. If you don’t do this, Instagram will apply your edits to every photo the same way. If your photos were taken in different conditions, or feature different subjects, editing them individually is worthwhile.
Step 6: Post your photo (or save it for later)
Write your caption and tag any people or locations, then tap share to get your masterpiece out into the world. You did it! You edited an Instagram photo! And now everyone will see!
… or if you’re feeling shy and want to wait, just tap the back arrow twice and you’ll be prompted to save your image and edits as a draft.
Now that you know how to edit Instagram photos, the key is to find a few tips and tricks that work for you and use them regularly to refine and enhance your posts. From there, you can build an inspiring and engaging Instagram presence, one stunning photo at a time.