Let’s face it: we’re living for all the fantastic new ways you can post your best photos on Instagram. Whether it is a portrait, landscape, and square photo options, or Instagram stories, there are so many marvelous ways to engage with your followers and deliver eye-catching content. However amazing these new options are, it can be a little tricky to figure out the ideal Instagram image looking for your content, right?
In 2010, when Instagram first began, android cameras were still lacking in features and quality. Instagram photos were taken with the in-app camera and on today’s screens, those old posts look blurry and pixelated. Now, this is a mix of smartphone photos and professionally processed photos. The smartphone camera is good enough now that it’s possible to use it on the fly and some won’t even know the difference.
If you scroll through your Instagram feed, you’ll probably notice that all your favorite accounts have something in common: captivating images that catch your attention. So it’s no surprise that quality photos are the most important piece of any Instagram strategy.
Luckily, a professional photographer isn’t needed to produce stunning images for Instagram.
All you need is your smartphone camera, a few editing tools, and a little practice.
Now picture this: you’re taking a photo of that delicious brunch you’re about to eat—and post on Instagram. But then you notice that a random hand has snuck into the photo.
Or you’re at a company event, and you’ve just snapped a picture of your team to share on Instagram. But then you realize that sitting next to your colleague is a trash can with a banana peel peeking out of the top.
Photo ruined. But all is not lost. With help from the best Instagram photo editors of 2020, you can cut out those annoying hands and trash cans. And you don’t have to hire a professional, or go start—and probably never finish—let’s see this article.
Why use an Instagram photo editor?
Instagram hit the one billion user mark in June 2018. That’s out of a total world population of just over seven billion. And 65% of Insta users say they discover new products on Instagram.
So Instagram is a key channel for attracting and retaining customers. But there are already 25 million business accounts on the app. And this number’s only going up.
This means you’ve got some tough competition. So your images need to be up to scratch if you want to cut through the noise.
Instagram photo tips 2020
This is a primary guide to taking good photos for Instagram with your smartphone.
1. Understand light
Light is one of the biggest photography factors. Too much light and your subject look washed out. Too little and the dark photo doesn’t grab your audience’s attention. When you’re doing photography, you want to understand how light affects the location you usually shoot in.
2. Use continuous burst for action shots
When you’re at an event and you need to snag some photos, don’t just take one or two. In an event, you want a high amount of photos to choose from. Why? You’re always bound to catch someone in a mid-talking expression, eyes at half-mast, or some strange combo of the two.
To combat this, set up your shot with the desired composition and light, then utilize continuous burst mode to capture multiple images in a short amount of time. You can sort through them later to find the best one.
3. Add layers to create interest
While a simple, minimalistic look is always fashionable, switch up your photos by adding layers. This means mixing in different textures and having a foreground and/or background. You’ll still have a subject in focus but layers add interest and guide the viewer to your subject.
Some smartphones have portrait mode available to you so you can easily create some depth in your photos. If you have complicated backgrounds, it may be better to focus on your subject and blur the background.
4. Mix up your angles
For the perfect upper shot or interior shot, match the gridlines up so that your photo elements are parallel. What does this mean? The tables or walls should be parallel in your photo to the camera’s gridlines.
The shot above lines the edges of the cup so that they’re perfectly vertical. This gives the viewer a nice sightline straight to the subject.
And now that we suggested lining up, don’t be afraid to mix it up! Before taking the shot, step back and examine it from various angles. Sometimes the straight-on shot isn’t the most interesting. If you’re going to try a new angle, make sure you make it deliberately not parallel to the gridlines. Having it only slightly off will only be bothersome.
5. Utilize the rule of thirds & white space
In photography principles, the rule of thirds is a composition guide. Divide up your frame in three evenly spaced vertical lines and three evenly-spaced horizontal lines. You’ll end up with a nine-part grid. Where the lines intersect are where subjects in focus can be placed. This is an alternative to the perfectly centered shot.
Knowing the right Instagram crop sizes can make a big difference in how your content looks on the platform.
Depending on your goals, you might be interested in posting with different Instagram crop sizes, or you might even be looking for the reason why most people use the 4:5 crop ratio for their images.
📷4:5 ratio (Highly recommended)
This portrait impulse isn’t just used for tall images and actual portraits. Use it for landscapes and everything in between, too!
I recommend you post at 4:5 for just about everything. Sure, it means you might have to make some concessions with your compositions. Or maybe it forces you to think ahead when you shoot. However, in this mobile age where everyone scrolls fast, you have just seconds to impress, and more real estate = more time.
Sometimes, you need a little bit more horizontal space for your images, I get it. I shall recommend using a 4:5 ratio, always on Instagram.
Why Should Use 4:5 Ratio?
Square images still perform well generally, although not as well as 4:5
You need the extra space to complete your composition and a portrait crop just won’t do.
- It takes up the most screen real estate when scrolling
- The size allows for the biggest visual impact
- It feels natural when viewing on a mobile device
How To Edit Instagram Photos in Some Easy Steps:
1. Start with a quality shot
The eventual shortcut to crafting a great Instagram post is, to begin with a quality photo. Try shooting in natural light, and take a bunch of shots. That way you have choices.
The HDR mode on your smartphone camera is your friend when shooting in dim light, close up or outdoor portraits.
If you’re strapped for time or dictation, try customizing stock photography. There’s a whole wide world of free, quality stock photography out there to choose from. Going this route can be a smart choice for brands that don’t have physical products ready for release, or smaller companies who don’t have a budget for professional photos.
🔰 Pro Tips:
Start with a suitable sized photo for Instagram. If your photo is too small, it may appear blurry or grainy, no matter how much you edit it. Photos that are 1080 pixels wide will look best. By default, Instagram will take your photo as a square, but you can adjust it to its full width or height if you prefer.
2. Choose your filter
Filters are like flavors: tastes vary by person, but some are more popular than others. And when it comes to figuring out your own preferences, the tried-and-true method is to sample widely.
Clarendon offers to brighten and highlighting effects that flatter most pictures, contributing to its universal appeal. (The fact that it’s the first one on the list might also have something to do with it!)
Some filters add a vintage flavor with vignette or fading effects.
Others enhance brightness or warmth.
Explore the range of options to find a filter that complements your brand aesthetic. Or, keep it simple and go with the one that catches your eye.
🔰 Pro Tips:
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).
Once you’ve found your favorite filter, use it on all of your posts to establish a distinctive look for your feed. This can help build and reinforce your brand identity.
3. Adjust the Lux setting
Once you’ve applied your filter, you can adjust the Lux setting by clicking on the sun icon above your photo.
It adjusts the contrast and exposure of photos, adding dimension, and making the features of the photo pop. It’s sort of like configuration, but for your pictures instead of your face. This can be particularly helpful for enhancing underexposed photos.
Adjust the Lux by sliding the scale. Moving it to the right increases contrast and intensity, and moving to the left decreases them.
Above, you can see the effect of Lux on this beach photo: brighter colors and sharper contrast.
4. Adjust your other settings
Press the edit button on the bottom-right to adjust other settings. The edit options allow you to create a sort of custom filter. You can:
- Add a depiction effect for a Polaroid-like photo
- Adjust the structure setting to increase contrast and sharpness (two effects that evoke film photography)
- Scale-up saturation for vivid colors or tone it down to create a faded effect
Before you get carried away, remember Coco Chanel’s timeless advice to take one accessory off before leaving the house. You don’t need to pile on every effect. You just want to enhance what’s already eye-catching about your photo.
5. Tweak individual photos in a multi-image post
If you’re posting multiple photos in a single post, you can edit each one separately. Press the Venn diagram icon in the bottom-right corner of the photo to bring up individual editing options.
6. Post to Instagram now, or save for later
Not ready to post your picture yet? Click to the next screen where you would write your caption, then click back to your edited photo, and press the back arrow again. Instagram will question if you want to save your image, including all your edits, as a draft.
The next time you go to make a post, your draft will be waiting there for you. This makes it easy to pre-edit multiple photos and post them as you’re ready.
Best Instagram Photo Editing Tools:
Now that you know how to edit Instagram photos in the app itself, you’re ready for the next level of photo editing precision—using specialized apps designed for editing Instagram photos.
Luckily, there are a lot of options out there. Having a few of these Instagram photo editing apps in rotation can help you craft exceptional photos and develop a signature look for your feed.
Below are a few of our favorite tools.
VSCO (pronounced “Visco”) is best known for its filters, several of which are included for free when you download the app. If you want to explore beyond the basics and pay, you get access to a huge range of filters—many of which emulate the look of film photography, adding character and depth to your images.
There’s also an in-app camera, enabling you to capture photos with an added degree of precision. Use it to adjust qualities like white balance, aperture, shutter speed, and focus. These features help you take high-quality photos, especially if you’re comfortable with DSLR cameras. But even if you’re new to the concept of an ISO setting, they’re easy to play with.
🔰 Pro Tips:
It’s both a tool and a social site: you can save and share your photos with other VSCO users in the app, and explore other users’ feeds. On top of these features, VSCO enables users to make very subtle adjustments and changes using their editing tools, such as clarity, exposure, white balance, skin tone, and more.
A Color Story
A Color Story is an easy-to-use editing app, focused on making the whites and colors in your photos pop. It also comes with a selection of effects like light leaks, lens flares, and bokeh.
Comparing with some advanced photo editing tools, A Color Story is easy to get started with. It feels intuitional if you’re used to the Instagram editor, with a similar interface. It also adds a nice curves tool for arraying the brightness and darkness of your photo, similar to Photoshop.
The basic app is free, though you can pay for additional special effects and filter packs. Other add-ons are free, or available upon subscribing. But even the basics are great for improving your photos.
🔰 Pro Tips:
You can save your favorite filters by pressing the heart icon, creating in-app shortcuts. Unlike many of the filters available on VSCO or Instagram, which lend vintage flair to photos, A Color Story’s filters make your images more vibrant and sharp. You can even layer filters to get a really customized effect and create custom filters by saving your edits as you go along.
Afterlight 2 is the newer version of the popular Afterlight app, another stalwart in the world of photo-editing apps.
Unlike VSCO, this app isn’t free. It costs $2.99USD to download. But unlike many other paid tools, there are no in-app purchases or subscription fees. And Afterlight 2 adds new features each month, which means avid users will get a ton of value from it.
Like VSCO, Afterlight 2 boasts a wide selection of filters, adding vibrancy or retro appeal to your photos. It has dust, light leak, and grain effects that create texture and drama. There is a full suite of editing tools so you can adjust tones and curves to create striking images.
If you want to get really creative, you can layer images for a double-exposure effect, use their color shift tool to create a cool look, or add text and graphic overlays.
There are infinite options with this tool, which is why it’s a go-to for pros. Afterlight 2 offers an expert level of customization options with a beginner-friendly interface.
Snapseed was created by a little company called Google, and it’s just as brilliant as you would expect. Many Instagram photographers call Snapseed their number-one pick for the best photo-editing app.
The reason is it offers tons of editing tools that allow users to tweak their photos to perfection. Their tone tool includes all the standard editing features you’re familiar with, and a flattering set of one-tap filters.
Beyond that, they’ve got a wide range of editing options and some unique additions too. These include a Face Pose tool, which allows you to adjust the focal distance (you know, the reason your nose looks so weird when you take a selfie close-up), and a bevy of flattering portrait filters.
The Stacks brush allows you to apply edits selectively to the image. If you just want to brighten or saturate one area of the photo, the Stacks brush is your friend. A nice feature of Snapseed is that every edit is a separate image layer, which means you can remove one without undoing all the edits you made after it.
Snapseed can take a while to master, but there are plenty of tutorials to help you get the hang of it. Once you learn how the editing brushes work (swipe up and down to cycle through them, then left and right to adjust the intensity of the effect), it becomes pretty intuitive.
Adobe Photoshop Express
Adobe Photoshop Express is a powerful editing app that’s surprisingly easy to use. It offers tons of features and one-tap filters, plus tools like blemish removal, red-eye correction, text overlay, and stickers. That makes this tool something of a Swiss army knife—whether you want to make subtle, refined edits or bold, graphic changes.
You can also use Photoshop Express to make unique photo collages, using single or multiple images. Helpfully, it also allows you to export these collages in the correct sizes for different platforms and purposes, like Facebook Events or YouTube thumbnails.
Photoshop Express is free, though you need to create an Adobe account to use it. If you already have one, it allows you to sync up with your other Adobe tools. It’s the best choice for users who are already using Adobe programs.
TouchRetouch is a single-purpose editing app that removes blemishes and unwanted objects from your photos. It’s not free, but the price tag is easy to swallow (USD 1.99) and it’s simple to use.
If you’ve got some wall graffiti or a piece of windblown trash distracting you from an otherwise perfect shot, this tool is your friend. It’s a nice one to have in your arsenal for touching up a photo before editing it with a more general-purpose app, like Snapseed or VSCO.
Lens Distortions is another app that focuses on doing one task well. In this case, that’s adding light and weather effects to your photos.
Create visual interest and appeal with light leaks, fog, rain, snow, and shimmer. These subtle, natural enhancements add a dreamy quality to your outdoor shots.
Below, I’ve used Lens Distortion to intensify my beach sunset.
Photofox is a departure from the apps above, aimed at making more artistic images than ones that appear seamlessly, naturally edited. It’s free to download with paid add-on features.
Photofox makes images, adjusting the opacity to create a double-exposure effect. You can also add backgrounds and effects to transform your images into everything from watercolor paintings to typographic posters. The erase and restore brushes also let you selectively apply effects and filters.
The app comes with step-by-step and video tutorials that walk you through applying and adjusting the effects. In no time, you’ll be creating unique and dreamy Insta-art.
You can also skip the tutorials and just play around. It’s a fun one to explore!
These are just a few of the Instagram photo editing tools out there. There are enough more Instagram apps—for editing or otherwise—to discover.
So which one photo editing app should I choose?
True, a lot of these apps have similar features. But they all work a bit differently—and they’re all free to download. So your best bet is to try a few out to see what works for you.
And if you’re looking for some more Insta-insights to apply to your business, then head on over to our ultimate guide to social media marketing strategy.