Instagram can be one of the harder platforms to shoot for.
For one thing, the images have to look their best when they’re cut to about 2” square. For another thing, there’s more competition than ever to be noticed on Instagram—in June 2018, Instagram had more than 1 billion active users and was the fastest-growing social platform… which makes for a lot of voices shouting to be heard!
That said, as a woman who makes half her living shooting photos specifically for social media, I’ve learned there are a few ways to create eye-catching images for Instagram, even knowing that there are hundreds of thousands of other users posting images each day on this platform where a visitor can only view one image at a time in his or her feed.
Today I share 10 ways to shoot eye-catching images just for Instagram, starting with beginner photo basics and moving up to advanced techniques that only a small percentage of Instagram users are implementing. The more advanced the technique, the more likely your photos are to stand out, so work your way up to the harder ones organically if you can, and watch your engagement climb!
1 - (Beginner) Shoot only your subject
This is the #1 tip for any photography you create for social media. Pick what your subject will be, and then take out any distractions so that you’re only framing your subject.
Often we try to cram too much into our frame, and consequently there’s no clear place for the viewer’s eyes to settle. The faster you can give your audience’s eyes something to latch on to, the more likely they are to stop scrolling through the feed and look at your image for a few seconds, and maybe even read your caption.
2 - (Beginner) Tell a story
This is the #2 tip I can offer that applies to pretty much any platform, but on Instagram it’s particularly important.
Most people scrolling through Instagram are trying live vicariously through other people’s adventures. So it’s often not enough, if you want to garner engagement, to post a pretty photo in which nothing is happening.
Pretend that your photos are being created for a storybook that has no words. What would the story be? If each photo has to stand on its own, what is the story of the photo? A headshot is not a story. All you need for a story is something happening in the photo—an emotion, a context, something to spark the imagination.
3 - (Intermediate) Capture motion
It’s far easier to shoot a still subject, such as a latte or bottle of essential oil, than it is to shoot a moving subject. This means that far more images on Instagram are “stills.” After a while, they can all sort-of blend together.
To capture a moving subject—or just motion in general—is to create an image that will most likely “pop out” when a user is scrolling through the home feed. A photo with motion in it also invites the viewer into a new level of experiencing the story of the image. For example, a shot of a hand pouring coffee is more engaging than a photo of a mug of coffee sitting on a table.
Check out these amazing examples of motion in Instagram photography: Alexis May McMullin here and here and here, Noelle Downing here and here, Coffee Sesh, Sezane, Social Flourish here and here, Jaci Marie Smith here and here and here and here, Sarah KJP
4 - (Intermediate) Choose a chromatic story.
Sometimes even just a single image with a chromatic (color) story can be eye-catching in the feed. A chromatic story can be either a palette—such as pastels or jewel tones—or a single color.
To see what I mean, check out these great chromatic story examples: Sarah Covey here and here, Lichipan, Jaci Marie Smith, A Beautiful Mess, Alt Summit, Oui Fresh, A Clothes Horse, @PorthJess, Natacha Graviotto, Shuutravels, A Color Story
5 - (Intermediate) Capture a process before it’s finished
Before and after aren’t the only parts of a story. “In the midst” is a part that often gets overlooked.
This image (@thefirstmess) of scones being glazed is a great example of this. It would be easier to shoot the scones after they had been glazed instead of partially glazed. But in this image, the mind has to take an extra step (cough, engage) in interpreting the image (not simply thinking “scones,” but “we’re glazing scones”) which makes the image more attention-grabbing.
6 - (Intermediate) Take the same picture from a different angle.
Sometimes taking a picture of the same subject from an unexpected angle is all it takes to double its engagement on Instagram. We’re used to seeing top-down images of flowers; but what about looking up under a bouquet of flowers with the sun shining down?
In all of my sessions, I try to shoot whatever story I’m telling from at least 3 angles. Often the best shots are not the ones it was my first instinct to take.
*Scout Coffee: We usually include the model’s face when shooting apparel, and also from slightly above to make the model look slimmer / @theklphoto: Not the whole bookcover is showing, but those who are part of the tribe recognize it immediately
7 - (Advanced) Stage or style a session.
There are some Instagram accounts dedicated entirely to staged and/or styled photos. Accounts with such a standard for their content require a lot of creative thinking, resources, and time that most businesses aren’t up for—but that doesn’t mean your business can’t throw in the occasional styled photo for a sudden burst of engagement.
Just remember to stage or style your photos to fit fluidly with the rest of the story in your brand/profile!
8 - (Advanced) Compel your audience to read the caption to find out the answer to an unspoken question.
I created a PHOTO BANK for influencers which allows them to post any time, for any reason, without having the perfect photo to tell a specific story. Although intended for personality-based brands, it can be used for virtually any company if implemented in a way that truly reflects the brand.
The premise is to capture a person taking a universally-recognized action, or making a particular face such as surprised, thoughtful, puzzled, or ecstatic, and then use it to compel people to read why the person in the photo is doing or feeling what they are in the photo.
You can read the 9 Images Every Influencer Has in Her Photo Bank here, or sign up for the full list of 27 (it’s free) HERE.
9 - (Advanced) Instead of a photo, post a time-lapse video.
Most phones will allow your to record a time-lapse video to show a process or project on high-speed. To create one which is highly engaging, be sure that whatever you film has a payoff; rather than time-lapsing, say, making a series of pie crusts by hand, instead show a single, beautiful pie being made from start to finish, so that viewers get a sense of “before and after.” If you can, try to have your video come in at less than 30 seconds, as well.
10 - (Advanced) Pair two unexpected items.
The best way to get your audience to do a double-take is to double-up items in a photo unexpectedly. A woman wearing a wedding dress at a counter stool in a hometown diner is something you notice, as are a cow playing fetch and a Christmas tree in a rowboat. In this photo, Sara Covey uses pumpkins as an armchair!
What’s something in your brand story that you could stage in an unexpected location, or being used an unexpected way? Try capturing this in an image for maximum engagement!
Was this helpful? If so, drop me a comment below and tell me which eye-catching Instagram idea interests you the most! Then consider this list as a photo challenge for the next 30 or 60 days. When you post your final images on Instagram, tap each image to tag @alexisthegreek so I can see! Use the hashtag #photochallenge to boost your engagement even more!