Instagram guide: Get that “10,000 likes” image

In this first episode of our guide to Instagram, I’m going to explain a few tricks from the professionals so that you can take beautiful pictures, and get lots of likes. Photography is an art form, and is thus free by definition. A single subject can be shot in virtually any way. There are, however, some useful tips things that will help you avoid common mistakes and let you take photos with shared aesthetics. In short, photographs that have appeal.

Here’s our advice on how to gain followers for your Instagram profile.

What’s the subject?

The most common mistake to make is not clearly show the main subject of the photo. Some photos don’t have one at all, while others have more than one. The result is an image that isn’t very interesting,  or one that’s difficult for the viewer to focus on.

So it’s important that we make it clear who the protagonist is in photos. This doesn’t mean that it has to be be a person, but it should be a single subject – it could also be a road, the converging lines of a building, a road sign, a herd of zebras, or a crowd in a plaza – it just has to be clearly identifiable. To ensure that the subject is clearly the star of a shot, there are various methods you can use. You could just take the photograph of them against a neutral background, which doesn’t contain any distracting elements.

Or you can fill the entire frame with the subject, as in a close-up shot, which means that there is no opportunity for other distracting elements to be in shot. Equally, you can work on the depth of field, to make sure that only the main character is in focus, and not the rest of the image. We will have a look later on at how to do this. So remember – one subject only. This way, you’re (almost) guaranteed a Like!

The rule of thirds

This is usually the first technique you learn on photography courses, and is fairly simple. You should ideally divide the frame into nine equal parts by drawing two horizontal and two vertical lines, like these

.Instagram grid view

The intersection points of the lines are the places where the eye most focuses its attention. And it’s on these points that you should try to place the main subject of your photo. Here are a few examples using Pindar, my tin warthog, as a model. In this first photo, it’s located in the center of the image. It’s not wrong, but the shot is static and not very interesting.

Photo subject in center

In this second image, however, we placed Pindar a bit more to the left, on one of the intersection points we’ve just been talking about.

Photo subject off center

The composition is more interesting, and the space that has been left by virtue of the fact the viewer’s gaze has been directed to the subject, makes the picture much more dynamic. Whether your followers are aware of this or not, the rule still works.

And if you stick to the rules, your photos will improve in quality as well as getting more people to click on them. Of course, like all the rules that relate to photography, they can be broken and this will still result in excellent pictures, but for now, let’s play it safe!

Managing light

Smartphones do not allow you to adjust the exposure manually, but you can choose the point in the frame that you want to use for calibration. When you focus on a subject, the smartphone might decide to adjust the exposure according to a point that is either too dark or too bright. If it’s too dark, the shaded areas will be properly exposed, but those in the light will be overexposed.

Light exposure

If it’s too bright, the zones in the light will be seen, but the dark areas will be almost black.

Light exposure
Because you want to see all areas in the photo, you have to use the light meter and show the camera an area that is neither too dark nor too bright. To do this, simply touch the part of the screen you have chosen, and the iPhone and Android will set the exposure (as well as the focus, because you can’t auto focus with Instagram or set the meter according to two different points, although you can do this with VSCO for Android/iPhone).

If you’re not satisfied with the result, tap different points until you find the right one. Even so, always bear in mind the principle that we talked about previously: photography rules are made to be broken! A photo that has clearly overexposed or underexposed parts can be interesting, emotionally intense and creatively remarkable.

Photo of the sun

Sunset in Swakopmund, in Namibia

If you do find yourself with a few shots that are either too bright or too dark, Instagram provides you with a tool called Lux, which corrects exposure and contrast in post-production.

Luc in Instagram

Lux automatically corrects exposure errors

One last tip: The flash almost always produces a funeral effect on the photos. If you’re planning to take shots at night or indoors, using the flash, it’s unlikely to be particularly pretty. Alternatively, you can use it when you’re shooting during the day; for instance, it can be used to lightly correct the shadowed areas of a face when you do a portrait, as well as dampening the contrast between parts of a subject that are in both areas of light and shade.

To enable and disable the flash in Instagram, tap the lightning icon in the upper right corner when you’re in shooting mode. The options are: flash off, flash on, and auto flash (in the case of the latter, the camera decides whether to activate it according to how well lit the scene is).

Flash in Instagram

Keep it straight, please

This is another rule that seems obvious, but isn’t. Most of the pictures where the subject isn’t facing the professional photographer, are crooked. The feeling that a picture isn’t straight, whether you’re particularly aware of it or not, is annoying, and it’s then hard to give someone a like for it.

Unstraightened photo

Crooked photo

Straightened photo

Straight photo

To avoid this, you can turn on the grid, the same one that helps you compose the picture according to the rule of thirds. To do this when you’re in Instagram in shooting mode, just tap the little icon in the top right of the screen.

Instagram grid

It can also help to frame certain elements, such as buildings and houses, against the horizon. And if you do decide to take a crooked photo, just make it really wrong. The boundary between error and artistic inspiration is sometimes very slim!

What to photograph and how

Point of view matters a lot in photography. The angle from which a subject is photographed often shows more of the chosen subject. Our advice is to showcase people and things from a point of view that differs from the norm.

One example is children (who always manage to look good in pictures). As adults, we are used to seeing them from above, so if you photograph them from that perspective, you’re only showing something that’s already been seen, and so it will be more difficult to get likes.

But if we photograph them from the ground, looking upwards, you get a whole different perspective, which will easily attract more attention and people will happily ‘like’ the photo. Another trivial example is the image of the keyboard and mouse, below. Seen from above, as we usually see them, the picture doesn’t say much.

Aerial photo of computer mouse

Aerial photo of computer keyboard

But when viewed from an angle that’s unusual, if not compelling, then it at least looks a little more interesting.

Angled photo of mouse

Angled photo of keyboard

Another interesting topic is the beauty of detail. Again, this is something unfamiliar to us, because we almost never pay attention to it, but that’s why it’s a great photographic subject. The details found in a mundane object can be very interesting indeed, and, with a bit of luck, will also tell a story.

Depth of field

A narrow depth of field is a valuable ally when it comes to giving more prominence to the subject that we’re photographing; in fact, if we can maintain the focus of the subject and blur the rest, then it prevents the person who is looking at the photo from getting distracted.

Background elements

Background elements are less distracting when out of focus

But what is depth of field? Put simply, “it’s the distance in front of and behind the focal subject that appears to be sharp” (Wikipedia). Professional and semi-professional cameras allow you to manually adjust nearly all of the parameters, including shutter speed and aperture, as well as framing several objects, as required.

It is these three elements that affect the depth of field. Lenses with large focal lengths (telephoto lenses, for example) tend to reduce it (but this also depends greatly on the use). Something that has a greater effect on the depth of field, is the aperture opening: the greater it is, the smaller the depth of field. But these parameters, in smartphones at least, are set automatically.

So, what leeway do we have? If you also take into consideration the fact that the lens on a smartphone is a wide angle, and therefore has a very small focal length (and consequently a large depth of field), how can we try to decrease the area in focus when photographing objects or taking portraits?

Basically, there are two ways: the distance from the subject, along with blurring in post-production, which is something that you can do in Instagram. The closer we are to the person or thing that we are photographing, the smaller the depth of field, and the more of the subject will be in focus along with what is behind or in front of it, while if you increase the distance from the subject, things become progressively more blurred. In this way, you can get physically closer to the subject in order to blur the background and give the subject greater prominence.

Large depth of field

This large depth of field fails to highlight the subject

Small depth of field

Here, however, the depth of field is smaller, because we have gone in close to the subject

Another technique is to use the tilt-shift, a tool that can be found in Instagram. After taking a picture, you can blur one part, and therefore decrease the depth of field to the rear. In edit mode, select the icon that looks like a teardrop at the bottom of the screen.


There are two methods of intervention: radial and linear. For our purposes, the second one is more useful.


Instagram offers a series of filters to give a vintage touch to your photos. Use one or another of them (or none at all) according to personal taste, and you’ll find the end result is nearly always pleasing.

Instagram filters
If there is a filter that you love more than others, it might even become one of your hallmarks. But there’s a real trick to getting it right: just do what feels right!

In a great light…

In this article, as we’ve said a couple of times, it wasn’t our intention to make photography into something governed by a series of rules and regulations. Our recommendations are only based on the experience of many photographers, who through experimenting have found that there are certain things that work better than others.

Now, it’s over to you to try things out and see if our recommendations have increased the number of likes you get for your photos!

In the next installment of this guide, we’ll explain how to manage the privacy settings on your Instagram account.

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