If you know me at all, you'll know that I have a very love/hate relationship with Instagram. Love, as it is by far my favourite social media channel. Hate, because I am a perfectionist at heart and it often leaves me wanting to tear my hair out in frustration when I can't get it quite right. Nevertheless, Instagram is a beautiful hub of creative inspiration. Like many, I thrive on visuals, so I could literally spend hours scrolling aimlessly through the Instagram explore page.
Once upon a time, I used Instagram a lot differently to how I use it today. I would upload as and when I pleased, without taking the aesthetic of my feed into any consideration whatsoever. Alas, with my feed brimming full of shoddy camera shots and badly edited photos of anything and everything - it was really no surprise that my following wasn't growing at all, ever. That's when I started to realise that each of my favourite Instagram accounts had something that mine didn't - curation. I was lacking that carefully crafted, beautiful aesthetic that had me hitting the follow button without hesitation every single time.
And so, I decided to start out with a brand new feed and strived to create content on my Instagram that would actually make people want to follow me. I won't lie, maintaining an Instagram theme is a challenge, and when I catch myself feeling frustrated with it, I often wonder why I bother. Nevertheless, it has certainly helped in boosting my Instagram following, and it is something that I take pride in. I do still find myself in a slump with it every now and again, but all in all I feel as though I have managed to build up a consistent theme. With that in mind, here's what I usually do when editing a photo for Instagram - and how it plays a huge part in maintaining my theme.
I take 90% of my Instagram photos with my Olympus Pen E-PL7 with a 45mm lens. I do this because I generally take my Instagram photos at the same time as my blog photos, so using the same piece of equipment is simply convenience. That, and because I'm generally better at taking photos with my Olympus camera. Having the 45mm lens makes it easy to produce beautiful shots effortlessly - seriously, I would recommend it to anyone. The Olympus Pen E-PL7 has a wifi function, so it makes it super easy to just import my Instagram photos over to my phone in a matter of seconds.
That being said, there are times that I do make use of the camera on my iPhone 6. When I do, I'll take it in the square format, as it makes it easier to fit with my feed. Any time I take a photo for Instagram, I'll typically snap several of the same shot, playing around with angles and composition, before going through them and picking out the one that I prefer.
I'm often asked how I achieve such bright, white images. Of course, editing plays a huge part - but shooting my photos in good lighting sets them up for a much easier editing process. I shoot all of my photos in natural light on a plain, white poster board. When you make use of good natural lighting you'll find that the entire editing process will be a lot less excruciating, as having to brighten an image too much can lessen the quality all too quickly.
If you're noticing strange colour-casts in your photos (yellow or blue tones), try surrounding your image in white (white walls, hang a white sheet, prop up a white board, etc). There is a reason why photography studios are pure white.
Once I've decided on the photo that I'm going to use, I'll move on to editing. Back when I first started curating an Instagram theme, I would use an abundance of editing tools - now, I've narrowed it down to just three: the iPhone's built-in editing tools, Facetune and Instagram's built-in editing tools.
I'll always make sure to edit the colouring of my photo in my iPhone's built-in editing tools before I do anything else. When viewing a photo in your album, tap the "edit" button in the top right hand corner, followed by the three circles. This will allow you to choose from a selection of basic filters - but without fail, I'll always set my photos to "Fade". This filter enhances whites, deepens shadows and de-saturates the photo ever so slightly. If you're striving for a monochromatic Instagram theme, this filter is your best friend. If you're using your iPhone camera to take your photos, you can actually snap them with the filter already turned on. Simply tap the three circles on the bottom right of your screen when in the camera app.
Left: unedited photo taken with iPhone 6. // Right: "Fade" filter applied.
Facetune is my lesser used of all three tools. If I'm uploading a selfie, I'll often use it to smooth out my complexion (don't lie, we all do it). Additionally, if the photo is appearing particularly dark or has a strange colour-cast, I'll make use of the whitening tool to enhance the whiteness of the photo to fit in with my monochromatic theme.
Instagram's built-in editing tools are by far my favourite, and are often quite underrated. Even though I've already applied the "Fade" filter from the iPhone's built-in editing tools, I'll typically apply "Ludwig" from Instagram's own selection of filters. This filter is brilliant for brightening up an image even more, while keeping the darker shadows. The only downside is that it can make an image quite warm-toned, which isn't ideal if you're after a cool-toned theme. That being said, you can easily cancel it out by adjusting the warmth into minus figures. Aside from that, I'll only ever touch the brightness (if the photo requires any more) shadows, and sharpen (again, only if necessary).
Left: "Fade" filter applied from iPhone's built-in tools. // Right: edited in Instagram, "Ludwig" filter applied, upped brightness, darkened shadows, decreased warmth.
As I mentioned before, I mostly strive for a very monochromatic theme on my Instagram (with the occasional pop of colour). Editing each of my photos as described above ensures that my theme remains consistent - that's really the key factor in maintaining an Instagram theme. Editing each photo in a similar manner will give an overall aesthetic to your feed - and you can do this however you like. Whether you like monochromatic tones or splashes of colour everywhere, don't be afraid to experiment and find out what works best for you and your personal imagery style.
I can't write this post without giving a nod to VSCOcam. Although I don't tend to make use of their wide selection of filters quite as much as I used to, I still use the app to plan out my Instagram feed. Doing so helps to maintain my theme, as I can see how my feed will look before I upload it to Instagram, ensuring that it flows well. As far as I'm aware, it's no longer possible to do this on VSCOcam with their latest update. If you made the mistake of upgrading your VSCOcam app, there's still plenty of ways you can plan out your feed before uploading it to Instagram. You could make a brand new photo album on your iPhone, and move your photos back and forth to it to piece together your feed. You could even go as far as creating an entirely separate Instagram account used solely to plan out your feed. There's no shame it in - I have one!
I wish I could say that I have a strategy to my Instagram feed - i.e a person shot followed by a subject shot, and so on. However for me, this isn't quite the case. I wish I could stick to a strategic Instagram plan, but in all honesty, I snap and edit several photos and move them around in VSCOcam until I think they look good together. Nevertheless, they all tend to have the same style and feel. It takes some trial and effort - but if you experiment with it, you'll eventually find your imagery style, which ultimately makes for your Instagram theme.
What are your thoughts on Instagram themes? Find me on Instagram at @katybellemairs!