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  • McKenna Cunningham

Four P's to a Pretty Instagram


Whether you want to improve the look of your overall feed or enhance the quality of the photos you post on your personal Instagram, it’s hard to compete and be seen on a digital platform that rewards good images in its algorithm. Today I’m sharing how an aesthetic Instagram has helped me grow and what I’ve seen work for my favorite influencers.


1. Perfect Images

It’s really hard to achieve a professional or pretty Instagram if you don’t start with a good photo. Raw and unedited iPhone photos are not enough to stand out on a feed and they aren’t good for capturing detailed and focused shots, which can be crucial for catching an eye. Subconsciously, we all have the ability to recognize a quality image, even if we don’t have a background in photography and can’t exactly pinpoint why it caught our attention.


A few years ago I purchased a used Nikon D5200 from an old friend. I would not describe myself as a photographer but with a little help from YouTube I was able to teach myself the bare minimum and get photos I felt proud enough to share. If a new DSLR isn’t in your budget, used or old models can still make a huge difference in improving your photos. It’s even worth borrowing a friend's camera if that’s an option for you. If your only camera is an iPhone, presets will be a must for you. I’ll discuss those next.



2. Presets

If you’ve never heard of these I’m about to change your life. In short, presets are basically filters applied in Lightroom that have advanced settings, allowing you to optimally tweak your picture after the filter has been applied. Presets start with different settings so that some are dark and moody while others are light with warm tones. They can be purchased for Lightroom Desktop or Lightroom Mobile (which is FREE).


I actually use two different preset packs. One for my personal Instagram account, and one for Life in Letters. My personal Instagram is made up of mostly iPhone photos. I use Lightroom mobile to edit these and the preset pack “Seasons” from Athena and Camron, one of my favorite photography couples. They sell a beautiful set of 10 presets that have a very natural yet slightly moody tone. I’ll insert a link to their Seasons pack below. I’ve been very happy with these as they work in a variety of lighting situations and take very little adjusting. Here’s a before and after example on one of my own photos.

https://athenaandcamron.com/presets



For my Life in Letters account I use Anni Graham’s presets which are a little brighter and airy feeling. These are only available for Lightroom Desktop and I use these exclusively on photos taken with my Nikon, not iPhone photos. These take a little more tweaking but they create a lighter and warmer finished photo. I’ll link these below as well.

https://annigraham.com/presets



The most common mistake I see with presets is applying the preset in Lightroom and then NOT tweaking it. This is what can make photos look super edited, and gives presets a bad rap. Not making adjustments to the basic settings such as exposure, contrast, and temperature is the same as applying a basic filter and then walking away. Even if your preset naturally compliments your photo well, it still takes a few more tweaks in the tool bar to ensure your image looks authentic. There are hundreds of photographers who sell their own presets now days and several even show you how to adjust them to your own photos. I've seen them as low as $20 and as high as $120. With a little research (Instagram's the best place to look) you can find ones that are right for your style, and let me tell you, they're WORTH IT.


3. Perspective

To feel natural your Instagram feed should contain a mixture of close-up and far away shots. This technique gives your page dimension and visual interest. Throw a detailed shot such as a flat lay next to a landscape or full-body shot. Your Instagram will feel really repetitive if all photos are the same distance (such as a selfie). One of my favorite calligraphers, Kalen Rivers does a beautiful job of this in her feed. It helps that her account is unique, allowing her to share both her travels and lettering projects. However, this should be possible no matter what type of account you're running. Mix up where you shoot your project, hanging it on a wall and then setting it on a table. Or, if your'e a makeup account, post a head shot of your finished look, and another of the palette you used to create it.



4. Planoly

Once you’re able to produce quality photos on a consistent basis this is your next step. Planoly is an app that allows you to log in with your instagram account and PRE PLAN your feed. You can drag in new pictures without actually posting them and see how they’ll look next to each other. THIS is what allows you to have a feed that looks cohesive and aesthetic. Everything can be placed and posted with a purpose and it can stop you from posting similar shots back to back, going against the perspective rule.


Planoly will also post your pictures for you! You can schedule your post and caption to go up at a specific time if you’re trying to stick to a routine posting hour or aren’t around your phone during the time you want to put a post up. You can also pre-plan captions and hashtags with each post. Here's a look at what's currently sitting on my Planoly. Pictures with a "U" in the corner haven't been posted yet, pictures with the Instagram icon have.



Used together, these four P's are my trick to an artistic Instagram. I believe the quality of my images combined with the way they compliment each other in my feed is what has helped me grow so far. If you're lacking inspiration, look at accounts that you admire and try to pinpoint exactly why you're drawn to their brand or style. What made you want to follow them in the first place? What are your impressions when you stumble upon their feed? As important as the message is, our scrolling is paused first by images and then the caption. Keep that in mind the next time you create a post, and if you could use some inspiration I can recommend a few accounts that make Instagram feel more like a magazine than a collection of dog pictures and selfies of the girl you were friends with in middle school.



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