The Tao of Instagram: My IG Philosophy

Having a successful Instagram feed is about more than just posting great photos with great filters at the right time with the right hashtags.

Whether you want to call it a Code of Ethics or General Housekeeping Rules or just plain Instagram Maintenance, I probably spend the same amount of time posting and filtering as I do liking other posts, commenting and following other people.

This is basically the same as The Rule of Thirds. It’s a little different for a personal Instagram account but I believe it boils down to this:

  • 1/3 of the time spent filtering, planning and posting your own photos.
  • 1/3 of the time spent liking other people’s photos, commenting on them and following other people.
  • 1/3 of the time responding to people’s comments on your photos and following back people who have followed you.

That’s just a general guideline, of course, but you get the idea.

There are a few other rules that I try to follow on a consistent basis that make up my own personal Tao of Instagram.

#1: “If you want to lead the people, you must learn to follow them.” – Lao Tzu

I also call this one “Give likes to get likes” and it basically means if you want people to follow you, make sure you’re a good follower yourself. It’s a pretty simple concept. I try to like or comment on any photos that I truly like and I go through my news feed handing out likes at least once a day.

Processed with VSCO with a1 preset

#2: “False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil.” – Socrates

The same holds true for false follows, or the more common term “follow to unfollow.” If you’re not familiar with this practice, it’s when an account follows a bunch of people, waits for them to follow back and then promptly unfollows everyone.


This feed is bad news bears.

It’s a ploy to have a high follower number while keeping the number of people they follow low – which is another unwritten Instagram rule. Your “following” number should never be insanely higher that your “followers” number. But some people take that a little too far.

I personally loathe and despise this practice. But as good old Socrates pointed out, I believe the practice negatively affects the person’s feed. You look bad and receive less engagement on your photos because you’re not building relationships with anyone.

Luckily for the world, there is a trusty app that helps you to avoid wasting time on follow to unfollow lame-wads: Unfollowers for Instagram. The difference between the paid versus the free version is the free comes with annoying ads while the paid does not.

I unfollow all “follow to unfollow” people. It relates to my first rule: if I’m taking the time to be a good follower, I am not going to follow someone who is just thirsty for numbers. They are actively indicating they have no interest in a relationship and I hope some #IGKarma is coming their way.

#3: “To go beyond the bounds of moderation is to outrage humanity.” – Blaise Pascal

I generally try to never post more than one photo a day. I usually post in the morning so if something amazing happens that night, I might post a second but that’s certainly not every day. If I’m overseas on a big trip somewhere then I might go as high as three but that is only under special circumstances.

Basically, Instagram is not a Facebook photo album and I feel it’s rude to overfill other people’s feeds. Over-posting might not outrage all of humanity, but it could outrage some of your followers. This somewhat contradicts the idea that consistency, not quantity, affects IG numbers. While I agree consistency is key, consistency to me is posting max one photo per day.


@letsmosy‘s posting history. Easy does it.

#4: “Not responding is a response – we are equally responsible for what we don’t do.” – Jonathan Safran Foer

If someone takes the time to comment on your photo, even if it’s just with an emoji, you should respond. Instagram just recently added the ability to “Like” comments so at the very, very, very least, you should like it.

I personally go to the person’s feed, like some of their photos, maybe follow them if I really like their feed and then respond accordingly. Generally that means: an emoji for an emoji and more thoughtful comments for people who I know, or who comment often or who actually write something.

Additionally, if it’s someone who I follow, I try to comment on one of their photos in the near future.

#5: “Giving credit where credit is due is a very rewarding habit to form. Its rewards are inestimable.” – Loretta Young

If someone else took the photo you are posting, you had better give them credit in your caption.

If it’s someone I know in real life, I’ll generally put the camera emoji followed by their Instagram handle underneath my caption but another option is tagging them in the photo. I really only do this is if I’m posting a photo that I’m in.

If you want to post a complete stranger’s photo, it’s common courtesy to ask for permission either through DM or the comments section. You can also use a reshare app which usually puts their Instagram handle along the bottom of the photo.

#6: “If you build it, he will come.” – Field of Dreams

Fandango Movie Clips, the largest collection of licensed movie clips on the web

And by “he” I mean “they.”

I truly believe that if you focus on your own content and become a better photographer, the followers will eventually come to you. Building your feed at a slower pace can help to build engagement because it lets you know your followers and creates more of a report.

If you gain 1000 followers in one day, sure that’s great. But if you only gain 10, it’s still great – and now you can share likes and comments to your heart’s content!

The same is true on the business side of things. As Jayson DeMers wrote on

“Let users come to you. Finally, instead of cramming your ads and content down your users’ throats, let them come to you. Pursue an inbound marketing strategy that boosts your brand reputation and naturally attracts people to your site. That way, you won’t be infringing on customers’ privacy rights in any conceivable way, and you’ll still get reliable traffic flow back to your site.”

Finally, a few last photography-related rules I try to keep in mind:

  • A photo with a person in it will get more likes and that includes having your own hands or feet in it. So, always try to get something human in your shots!
  • If you’re filtering anything past Perpetua, you’re doing it wrong. I will occasionally use Instagram filters by adding a little bit of Moon, Lark or Ludwig to my photos before posting but that’s it. And they’re usually dialed way, way down.
  • Portrait > Landscape. If you think of people scrolling through a feed, a portrait-shaped photo is bigger than a landscape-shaped photo. I’ve noticed that the top photographers almost always post portrait photos. I do still post landscape-shaped ones but it’s something to keep in mind when you’re out shooting.

Do you have any Instagram rules you always follow? Let me know in the comments! Until next time, happy Instagram-ing!
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