The key to successful Instagram posts is beautiful and engaging photography. Instagram is a visual platform, and in order to increase your engagement, you need your photos to stand out. After taking to the internet, it’s clear that there is a consensus on how to take the best photos for Instagram, and your results heavily depend on your lighting.
How do you get good lighting for Instagram?
- Use natural light
- Shoot during the early morning, golden hour, or on overcast days
- Change up your angles to reduce shadows
- Take photos with flash and without at night
- Invest in a reliable light source
Discover not only how to use these tips to improve your Instagram photo lighting, but also how to make your photos stand out in the Instagram feed.
Use natural light
Natural light is every photographer’s best friend. Natural light is not only free, but it offers your photos a richness and warmth that is hard to recreate with artificial light sources.
In order to use natural light effectively, ensure that your subject is not backlit by the sun (don’t let the light come from behind your subject). A backlit subject will appear dark on camera since the light from behind casts a shadow over the front.
Direct sunlight can be harsh and end up over-exposing your photos, so consider finding a shady area in order to diffuse some of the exposure from the sun. Your photos will still be bright, but your light source won’t seem as harsh.
If you want a little bit more control while shooting outside, or if you’re dealing with shadows while shooting inside, consider using white foam board as a reflector. Using the foam board will help diffuse the light and soften any shadows you may be getting.
Shoot during the early morning, golden hour, or on overcast days
Speaking of harsh direct sunlight, snapping your Instagram photos at different times of day will help soften the way the light looks in your photos. There are three naturally occurring environments that produce softer lighting without having to try very hard.
Early Morning Light
One option to get good natural lighting for your Instagram photos is to shoot in the early morning, usually around sunrise. In most places, the sun isn’t at its strongest early in the morning, meaning you won’t have to move around as much to avoid over-exposing your photos.
If you can imagine the last time you woke up early, it’s usually bright but a little hazy, offering you the perfect lighting for your Instagram photos. Not only does the light around sunrise start off soft and glowy, but it affords you a little extra time since you won’t to have to race to fit all your photography in before the light disappears.
The golden hour usually occurs when the sun is starting to set (about an hour beforehand) and ends a little after. It is heralded by photographers around the world as the prettiest natural light possible. Golden hour sunlight is soft, warm, and glowy. It produces a warm golden color, hence the term golden hour.
If you’re photographing people for your Instagram, golden hour is the best time to do it. The warm color of the golden hour sunlight is flattering on almost everybody. There are a few lighting practices you can employ when shooting your Instagram photos during golden hour to help them stand out:
- Front lighting – Golden hour is a good time to have your subjects face the sun, as the light isn’t as bright, meaning they won’t have to squint, and your photos won’t get overexposed.
- Backlighting – While most of the time you want to avoid backlighting, with golden hour sunlight, it can produce magical effects.
- Flare – A flare happens when the light happens at a certain angle. A flare can add a sense of whimsy to your photos, and the golden hour sunlight offers a lot of colors for you to play with. Flares occur during backlit framing.
Golden hour is not only perfect for photographing people, but also for photographing the world around you. If you’re looking to shoot expansive landscapes for your Instagram feed, golden hour is certainly the time to do it.
Sweeping cloud cover on overcast days produces a giant softbox effect for photography lighting. Where shooting during golden hour produces warmer colors, shooting your Instagram photos on an overcast day will produce a cooler effect for your images.
Since there is general cloud cover during an overcast day, your photos will be bright, but all of your shadows will be softened. This is a great opportunity to do some flat lays outside for your Instagram feed. Since you get a blanket softbox effect, it will be easy to minimize shadows.
Change up your angles to reduce shadows
While using natural light will give you beautiful photos for your Instagram feed, this can be a bit trickier when you take the photos inside.
When taking your Instagram photos inside, your light will most likely be coming through a window, and you’ll have to deal with shadows from that or from other objects around your house. In order to reduce the shadows you see through your lens, consider switching up your angles.
Try standing above the object that you’re shooting, and make sure your light source is positioned in front of you. If your light source is in front of you, then the shadows will fall behind you, so your figure won’t get in the way of what you’re taking a photo of.
If you need some additional help getting rid of shadows while shooting indoors, a white foam board could come in handy. Use it as a reflector with the natural light to soften the shadows on the object you’re photographing.
Take photos both with the flash and without at night
Getting good lighting for your Instagram photos at night can be difficult, so it’s best to take a couple with different lighting to find the best one.
Take one photo with the flash and a few without. If you’re using your iPhone to capture the image, try clicking on different parts of the background to adjust the exposure on your phone. Clicking on a darker part of the image will cause your phone to brighten the photo while clicking on a lighter part of the image will cause your phone to darken the image.
When you get into edit your photos, you can play around with the brightness and exposure settings to adjust the lighting in the photo.
The same lighting principles apply when take photos at night — try to find a light source to put in front of you, and don’t stand in front of any bright lights.
Invest in a reliable light source
Sometimes you want more dependability than leaving your Instagram lighting up to the sun. The solution? Invest in a good light source. If you are primarily taking direct, head-on photos for your Instagram feed, invest in a ring light. You can also purchase a LuMee case for your iPhone to perfect you #selfie game.
For photographing objects, consider investing in a lighting studio kit or DIY your own lightbox. You’ll need a light source, a clean sheet of paper or cloth to use for your background, and some type of reflector like a softbox or white foam board.
Best Practices for Good Instagram Photos
Good lighting for your Instagram photos is only half the battle. To have a truly engaging Instagram feed, practice these tips from the pros at Hootsuite:
- Follow the rule of thirds: “The rule of thirds is one of the most well-known composition principles and refers to a simple method of balancing your image. It divides an image into a 3×3 grid and aligns the subjects or objects in a photo along the grid lines to create balance. You can center your subject, but you can also achieve a pleasing effect with “balanced asymmetry,” where the subject is off-center but balanced out by another object.” Turning on the gridlines on your iPhone will help you choose where to position your subject.
- Consider your viewpoint: “When you take a photo on your phone, you probably hold it up around eye level and snap, right? That’s what everyone else does, too. Resist this natural tendency if you want to take interesting, unexpected photos. Taking photos from a different vantage point will provide fresh perspectives, even when it comes to a familiar place or subject. Try shooting from above or below, crouching low to the ground, or scaling a wall (if you’re feeling ambitious).”
- Add depth: “It’s easy to focus solely on the subject of your photo, whether that’s a person or a handsome slice of pizza. But photos that include layers, with patterns or objects in the background as well as the foreground, are naturally interesting because they offer more depth.”
It’s also a good idea to plan our what you want your Instagram feed to look like, so you can maintain that aesthetic when taking your photos. Do you want your feed to have a cool, modern feel? Stick to clean images with reduced background noise. Are you feeling fun and arsty? Incorporate unique perspectives and pops of color into your feed. A little planning goes a long way!
How to Edit Your Instagram Photos to Fake Better Lighting
If you’re like most of the population, you don’t always take time to extensively set-up and shoot photos for your Instagram feed. Editing apps abound these days — even your iPhone comes with the ability to edit the properties of your photos extensively — and if you know how to use them correctly, you can easily adjust the lighting of your photos.
Here are a few tips and tricks to keep in mind to make it look like you spent a lot of time and effort adjusting the lighting for your Instagram photos.
If your photo is too dark
Increase the brightness or exposure and decrease the shadows. Decreasing the shadows will help illuminate the details in the photograph. Be careful that you don’t decrease them so much so that your photo becomes one dimensional.
If your photo is overexposed
Decrease the exposure and soften the highlights. Overexposure will make your photo look flat and increasing the amount of contrast will help bring life back into it.
If the coloring is too warm or too cool
This is an easy fix. Most iPhones allow you to easily change the warmth and coolness of your photos with a simple slider tool. Move it back and forth until you get the amount of warmth you’re looking for.
One caveat to editing your photos: If your photo starts off too dark and you increase the brightness/exposure/highlights significantly, you can end up with a grainy and somewhat blurry photography.
While editing can save you in a pinch, you’ll save yourself the frustration of grainy photographs if you plan ahead.
Is there a difference between good lighting for portraits versus good lighting for objects?
In general, lighting principles are standard, regardless if you are shooting portraits or objects. You want to reduce shadows to produce clear images that highlight details.
How do I take good Instagram photos using the lighting in my house?
If you have windows, turn off all the lights in your house and take your photos using the natural light coming in. If you can’t use the natural light, try to limit your lighting to one source, such as a lamp. This will give you more control over the shadows and directionality of your lighting for your Instagram photos.
My flash ruined my picture. How can I take a photo for Instagram when it’s dark without it?
Try to find any light source you can. If you have an additional person with you, ask them to use the flashlight on their phone as your light source. If not, set up next to a lamp or bar sign to help brighten your photos without using the flash.