How I edit my Instagram photos

March 27, 2016

How to edit photos for Instagram

If you asked me what my favourite app was, without hesitation I would say Instagram. Photography is a big part of my life, and Instagram is, for me at least, the best way of sharing the photos that I'm proud of online. There is a massive community of like-minded people for every kind of niche, whether it be photos of food, New York, knitting, beer... you name it, there will be other people taking photos of it on Instagram. You also get to connect with people from around the world; just the other day I was helping someone who came from Los Angeles, and I regularly check out people's feeds who do not live in the same country as me. I've had a few questions recently from people on Instagram, asking about how I edit my photos and what apps I use to do so. My process is not as complicated or as long-winded as some people's, but if you're unfamiliar with the apps that I use, then you may well find this post helpful! So, without further ado, let me take you through how I edit my Instagram photos.

Before I start, I want to point something out: I do not have a "themed" Instagram account. I did give it a go, for a while (if you scroll back through my feed you may well be able to spot it), but I grew tired with it and moved on. I do have a few favourite filters that I use regularly and I will talk about later in the post, but generally speaking I edit each photo on a separate basis. This means that I use whichever filter and editing technique that I think looks best for that particular photo. That being said, there are some things I do that I apply to almost every picture I upload, and the apps I use are always the same - and this is what I will be talking about in this blog post. Talking of apps, let's start there. There are two apps other than Instagram that I use for editing my photos; VSCO and Snapseed. VSCO is an app that I have used for quite some time; probably around a year or so, and it continues to serve me very well. It offers a good range of editing options and filters, and once you get the hang of the app's design, it is very easy to use. Snapseed on the other hand is very new to me, within the last couple of weeks, really. It offers me even greater control than what VSCO can offer, including the use of a "dodge and burn" tool, which I have started to use to fine tune my images in precise areas. I'm still getting used to the app so I have not fully explored its potential yet, but I will show you how I've been using it in addition to VSCO.

It is worth mentioning here that pretty much every photo I upload onto my Instagram, I have taken it with my Canon G7X. This camera has WiFi uploading capabilities, allowing me to instantly grab my photos off my camera and put them straight onto my phone, which is so easy to do. My phone camera just isn't good enough quality for the majority of the pictures I would like to take, often blowing out highlights and distorting the image due to its wide angle lens. The G7X is an expensive camera, but it fits in my pocket and therefore goes with me everywhere; meaning that I rarely have the problem of not being able to capture a picture spontaneously. So, after I have transferred the images I would like to upload onto my phone, I open up VSCO and import the pictures into the app. VSCO has a library of images that you have imported, so at any point you can go back and re-edit an image again if you so wish, or share it onto other social media networks such as Facebook. This feature is particularly useful as it saves you precious time; instead of saving the image, opening the required app, finding it in your gallery and uploading it, VSCO allows you to do all of that within the app itself.

So, once I have loaded my photo in VSCO, I begin the editing process by pressing the icon on the bottom left hand corner of the screen. This takes you to the filter gallery, where just like Instagram you can choose a filter to overlay your image. I tend to go back and forth through all the filters, often a couple of times before making my selection - making sure that it is the one that will bring the photo to its best potential. I do have a few favourite filters; ACG/Nikelab, A6/Analog and KK1/Krochet Kids are used quite often on my feed. ACG leans quite purple but really brings out the full range of highlights and shadows, so it works well on images that have a lot of fine detail. A6 brings the saturation of the image down but is very contrasted - making the whites bright and the shadows deep. KK1 is very warm toned so it works well on images that feature a lot of oranges or reds, and in this instance is what I used here. If you tap the filter icon again you adjust the strength of the filter - sometimes having it on full (+12) can be a bit too intense, so I often knock it down a few notches to suit my tastes.

Once I have settled on a filter that I like, it's time to get a little more in-depth. If you tap the upwards arrow in the white box at the bottom of the screen and select the spanner icon, it brings up the editing suite, which allows you to fine tune your image. This is where you will find things such as brightness, contrast, sharpen, fade and much more. Now, what I do specifically for each image is different, but generally there are certain things that I will do for every photo, to one degree or another. I will increase the brightness, but usually not by too much - enough to bring details out, but not enough to blow out any highlights. This usually means that I have to increase the contrast, to bring the shadows back down. Increasing the saturation is usually done here, again only by a small measure. I will also straighten up the image if I need to; when taking a photo, I find it difficult to align it perfectly so this helps to correct any misjudgements. I don't crop nor sharpen the image in VSCO, as I allow Instagram to do the cropping for me, and I prefer the more precise control of Instagram's own sharpening tool rather than VSCO's incremented one. Now, sometimes, that will be nearly the end of my editing process and I will then upload the image to Instagram. An image might not necessarily need any more done to it than that, and if I am happy with the result that VSCO gives me, then I won't take it any further. However, in this case I will be taking the image into Snapseed, and correcting some problems that I have come across with the image.

If you bring up that white box with the arrow again, there is a tick symbol that you can tap that will take you back to the image library. This has saved your edits, so you should be able to see your newly edited image ready for you to use. By tapping on the image again, you can press the circular icon in the bottom right hand corner, which brings up a number of options. A useful function to keep in mind for if you do have a themed Instagram is the "Copy Edits" button, which does exactly that - it takes whatever you have done to that picture, and allows you to paste that onto another image - saving you a lot of time and effort! I rarely use it myself these days, but was extraordinarily helpful when I did have a go at theming my Instagram. However, what I'm going to do here is press "Share", and it brings up a variety of options. You can share the image straight to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Email, but if you scroll down a "More" option appears, and this is what I click on. Doing so brings up all of the other apps that I might want to transfer the image to - which in this case is going to be Snapseed. Once I have done that it opens up Snapseed, with my image loaded onto the screen and ready to edit. You want to start off by pressing the large, circular icon with the pencil, which will bring up the editing screen.

On the editing screen of Snapseed, there are a variety of tools you can use. I'm tending to stick to just the one at the moment, which is the brush tool. Have you ever had an image that you wish was a little bit brighter in certain areas, but turning up the brightness on the whole image ruins it? That is exactly what this tool is for - amongst other things. In this example, I'm going to be using the "dodge" tool to brighten up the right side of Zak's face, which is in shadow (left to you and me). I'm also going to try and "burn", or darken, the white area of the other side of his face, where he has caught the light. You can also use the tool to control the colour saturation, exposure and the colour temperature - the latter two I have not used yet, however. By using the arrows highlighted at the bottom of the screen, you can control the intensity of the brush. Numbers 5 and 10 are to lighten, or "dodge" the image, the eraser is to undo any mistakes, and numbers -5 and -10 are to darken, or "burn" the image. You then use the tool to paint over the areas that you want to correct. If there's a very precise area that you want to fix, you can pinch zoom the image and therefore decrease the size of the brush. To see where you have corrected in the image, tap the eye in the bottom right of the screen, and it shows you where you have used the tool. Pretty neat, huh? So, once I have corrected the areas that needed fixing, I press the tick to save that edit, and press the circular pencil icon again to load up the editing screen once more.

If you scroll down this editing screen, you will see a list of filters appear. Each of them offer something different, with almost endless options within each category, and you could spend hours going through them all and playing around! HDR-scape is excellent for landscapes and anything that has a lot of detail - I used it lightly on this image to bring out the full range of shadows and highlights. My favourite collection by far however is "Grainy film", and that is what I ended up using on this image. I won't necessarily always use more than one filter, but I like playing around with the different effects to find something that makes my image unique; sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. Often, I will take a look at all the filters and decide that none of them are working for me! This collection of filters are named much like VSCO (you've got to wonder which one came first), but Snapseed have a far greater range of free options. I've not used Snapseed long enough yet to have any favourites, but in this instance I decided that the B03 worked well on this image. However, it was far too intense for my liking, and I needed to bring it down so it didn't look quite so harsh. To do this, press on the image and drag your finger up or down on the screen. Doing this opens up the editing options; in this case, the strength of the grain and the strength of the filter. Once you have selected your option, let go and then press on the image again, but this time swipe it to the left or right. This changes the intensity of whatever option you selected. I always take the grain down to 0, as I'm not using the filter for this purpose, and I take the filter down from +80 to +56, which is much more to my liking. Once you're done, press the tick icon to save your changes.

At this point, you should see at the top of the screen, above your image a number in a white box. Tapping this shows you all the edits that you have made, and you can go back through them should you wish to. Say you weren't happy with the brush tools you had used? Click on the "Brush" box, and either delete that layer, or edit it again. This is not something I've used very much, but it's a very useful feature to have if you're quite indecisive! When you're ready to upload your photo to Instagram, press the three vertical dots in the top right corner of the screen, press "Share" and select Instagram from the menu. This will then load the image into Instagram, where I usually have a couple of final tweaks to do. As we all know, Instagram now offers both landscape and portrait formats as well as the traditional square, and I am a big fan of this change. My preferred format is portrait, as it offers the most impact, but it depends on the subject of the image to how it is best framed. In this instance I decided that it looked better in a square, but you can pinch zoom or use the arrows icon on the left to change it to whatever you prefer. I find the "rule of thirds" grid to be quite helpful sometimes, as it helps establish a focusing point to your image. Here, I want Zak's left eye to be the focus, so I set it to be towards the top left of the image. Ideally, the eye should be at the exact point where the lines intersect for maximum impact, but it threw the image off to the left too much for my liking, so this was the compromise I settled on. Press the arrow on the top right, and it brings you to the the familiar Instagram editing screen.

One of my favourite tools to use is the sun icon, which seems to be some magic tool that instantly makes your image look better. I'm not sure exactly what it does, but if I could hazard a guess I would say it increases the brightness and contrast in one go, but it nearly always looks fantastic. On this image however, I decide not to use it and fine tune the details myself. This is where I will finally use the "sharpen" tool, as it shows the most accurately on Instagram out of all the apps I have tried, and you can be very precise. I also decide here that I would like to increase the brightness and contrast a little, and this is after I have viewed the image on a white background. To do this, you need to press the arrow in the top right corner as if you have finished the image, then press the little thumbnail of the image next to where you write your caption. I often find that my image looks a little dark once I see it on white, compared to the grey (which is how it will be seen on Instagram), so I can go back and adjust the brightness and contrast. After that, it is ready to upload and the image is complete!

How to edit photos for Instagram

If you've made it this far through the post (well done you!), and are thinking "All of that must take AGES to do!" - well, it depends on how you look at it. If you take photography (and Instagram) seriously like I do, then spending ten minutes to edit an image is really no time at all. Obviously, sometimes an image is nearly perfect straight out of the camera and only takes me a couple of minutes to do, and sometimes, like with this image, there are elements that need fixing before I am happy with it. As I whole, I absolutely love using Instagram and am very happy with my feed. Themed it is not, but that doesn't matter to me - I love having somewhere that I can document my life, and show off the images that I'm proud of. You may use Instagram like how I do or you may not, but I hope that this post was helpful to you, and it gave you some idea of how you can edit an image to its best potential. If you have any questions, about how to use the apps I've talked about or editing my images, leave them in the comments section below, send me a tweet or leave me a comment on my Instagram!

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  1. This is lovely, thank you! Looks like a great dupe too!! :)

    1. Thanks, but I think you're commenting on the wrong post here!

  2. This is so useful, I've been using VSCO for a while but hadn't tried Snapseed, I'll be giving it a go. I only with I'd got a WiFi enabled camera!