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.

screenshot_2017-02-19-13-57-30

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.

posting

@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

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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 Forbes.com:

“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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4 Ways to Gain Followers on Instagram

Okay, so a caveat: I think gaining followers on any social media platform can be a bit of a slippery slope.

Mainly because it’s a goal that is largely out of your hands.

With Instagram, yes, you can control photo quality. When you post. How you filter. Which hashtags to use. But at the end of the day, you’re relying on another person to click “Follow.” And one of the first rules of goal-setting is to pick a quantifiable goal that you have the power to control.

I would say right off the bat that there are no shortcuts. If you want a high follower number AND high engagement (which, why wouldn’t you?) then it just takes time and effort. Sure, you can buy followers, but do you really want to be the person who has 30k followers but just 500 likes and a handful of comments on a photo? Probably not.

Aside from posting great photos that you’ve filtered well, there are definitely a few easy ways to help boost your follower number.

Consistent Posting

This is the big one.

Generally, if you post a nice photo, you will gain a few followers on it.

If every time you post, you gain followers, then more posting leads to more followers.

Research seems to say that where IG is concerned, it’s not so much how many times a day you post (and I personally do not recommend more than 2 or 3 at max) but rather if you post consistently. So, figure out what is doable for you and stick to that.

When I first started out, I would post whenever I felt like it and after about two years of using the platform in this random fashion had 200 followers. I started posting once a day last year and went from 200 to just over 950 followers! So I definitely recommend it.

If you don’t think you can swing a year of posting almost every day, try one month and see what happens.

#hashtag #hashtag #hashtag

If you want to grow your feed and followers, you need to be hashtagging. I think it’s a pretty common mistake when you first start out to either use weird, made up hashtags (for example, one of my own gems #plasticcupcollections) or none at all.

And if you want no one to find you, then keep doing that.

If you want more followers, then read on!

I became more interested in hashtags after watching Gary Vaynerchuk’s Skillshare class, Context is Key: Social Media Strategy in a Noisy Online World. He basically says that Instagram (and Twitter, for that matter) are hashtag platforms. That means it’s mainly through hashtags that people search and find other accounts or photos on these apps.

It’s a bit like television channels. If you want your show to be seen, airing it on more channels means more people might tune in. Consider each and every hashtag a channel that you’re putting your photo on.

So what do you need to know to start hashtagging better?

Instagram has a hashtag limit: right now, if you post more than 30 hashtags on a single photo, the picture will upload but the hashtags and your caption will not. So stay under 30 hashtags.

Hide your hashtags: it’s a bit of an unwritten rule but no one should be able to see your hashtags when scrolling through your feed. This is less of an issue now that IG only allows a few sentences of your caption to show in the main news feed, but people should still have to go looking for your hashtags.

You basically have two options: on the left is how I, @letsmosy, hashtag. I write my caption, add an emoji and perhaps add one hashtag that sums up the photo. Then I . . . . to my hashtags. The periods just make sure that my hashtags are low enough to not be posted right after my caption. On the right you have @Supertrampeur’s style. He posts his picture with a caption and then he posts a comment right away, again beginning with . . . . so that the hashtags don’t show up in his comments.

screenshot_2017-02-09-15-24-092  screenshot_2017-02-09-15-22-452

The only difference is with Supertrampeur’s option, the caption you post under your photo will never be cut off while mine sometimes does get cut off in the main feed (it’s still there if you click on the [… more] but it doesn’t fully show up just scrolling through).

Do your hashtag homework: if you’re a fashionista, you’ll be using very different hashtags than a travel photographer or a bookworm. The easiest way to find hashtags relevant to your style is to look at which hashtags popular accounts in that category use. Pick the ones you like and start using them. Most people use a basic set of hashtags and add to it depending on the subject of the photo. I personally copy and paste a set amount of hashtags and then tweak them.

Find the hashtag sweet spot: this one is more my own personal opinion; however, when picking hashtags, I will use maybe one or two of the really general ones like “love” or “cute” or even “photooftheday.” These are some of the most used hashtags on Instagram but the problem with that is if 1000 people use #love in the next 2 minutes, your photo is going to be buried beneath 1000 photos in just 2 minutes. The likelihood of someone finding your photo is pretty low. It’s basically #nolove.

I prefer to use hashtags in the 50k-500k realm. That shows me that while people are using these hashtags, it’s not so many people that you’ll never be found. Again, I will use a mix of big, general hashtags, my sweet spot hashtags and maybe a couple of extremely specific hashtags, too. Just use the hashtag search option to figure out how many people are using each one.

Time of Day

There are all sorts of articles out there on when is the best time to post on Instagram. Here’s just one example.

I actually find that I tend to disagree with a lot of the articles. For instance, I would never post a photo at 2am. Of course, I’m rarely awake to post a photo at 2am so maybe I’m missing out.

The best way to figure out what’s best for you is to play around with different posting times and see what happens. For the most part, I don’t see a huge difference – although weekend afternoons really are a terrible time to post.

I personally go more for consistency so my general time-related posting rules are as follows:

  • I’m a morning Instagrammer so I generally post every day between 10am and noon.
  • On weekdays, I can post anytime between about 9am and 9pm and get pretty similar results.
  • Saturday mornings are okay but once late afternoon/night rolls around, it’s best to avoid.
  • Sunday is almost the same as Saturday except nighttime is not bad – everyone’s at home getting ready for the week ahead. But definitely avoid Sunday afternoon.

If you want to get really technical, there are a bunch of free Instagram analytics tools out there and they can actually calculate when your best posting times are. I use squarelovin’s free Instagram Insights and would definitely recommend it. My own @letsmosy posting time graph looks something like this:

best-times-letsmosy

Consistent Feel

In order to follow you, a person is going to land on your main feed page to do it. So, while you may post stellar single photos, if they look like a mess when pictured side-by-side, it’ll make your feed look sloppy. You want someone to land on your feed and say “Wow!”

The first step is using similar filtering techniques on each photo.

Next, I have a photo gallery on my phone that is an exact replica of my online feed. I add photos to this gallery to see what it will look like before posting. This allows me to tweak filtering so nothing seems out of place and lets me see if the picture looks good there.

I use an Android LG G4 so I just use the stock apps that came with my phone: Gallery allows me to move the photos and Google Photos allows me to see the photos in an IG feed-esque style. This way, I always consider a photo both within my feed and as a singular, stand-alone photo.

The Instagram Blues

And on a final note, while it’s fun to gain followers, if you find yourself becoming a little too obsessed with your numbers and it’s affecting your enjoyment of the platform (which has happened to me, for sure):

  1. Turn off Instagram notifications
  2. Designate a specific time of day to check Instagram – I personally IG in the morning and go most days without checking again. Sometimes I’ll check it once in the evening.
  3. Get out and shoot. The best way to forget about followers is to remember why you started using Instagram in the first place – for me, a general love of photography!

 

Do you have any tips or tricks that have helped you to gain more followers? Let me know in the comments! Until next week, happy Instagram-ing!

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The 6 Digital Editing Apps I Can’t Live Without [Photos]

If there is one hashtag that I will never, ever use it’s #nofilter.

Why?

Because I love filtering. I live for filtering.

And with the amount of digital editing apps out there today, you can easily create any look, vibe or feel with your Instagram feed. It all depends on how you want to express yourself.

Aside from subject matter and lighting, finding a consistent filtering process for your photos can really help give your pictures a coherent feel as you start to curate your feed.

And the sky’s the limit:

You might not stick with one style all of the time. If you shoot outdoors then winter can be a whiter more minimalist look while autumn and spring have a lot more chances for pops of colour. I personally like to go with whatever the seasons give me while others really curate their feed with a specific colour palette. Either works and by playing around, you’ll figure out what’s best for you.

screenshot_2017-01-23-20-43-182  screenshot_2017-02-02-12-03-462  screenshot_2017-01-23-20-44-532 L-R: @letsmosy during spring – fall – winter

THE APPS

The first thing I noticed when I started taking a lot of online photography courses is that very few photographers use Instagram to filter their photos. Gone are the days of throwing Nashville or Walden onto a photo and just posting it.

While a lot of the big-time photographers use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom which is both a desktop and mobile app, you can do quite a bit with free (or cheap) photo editing apps on your smartphone.

Note: I use Android so the following apps are all available for Android and iOS. If you have an Apple product, there are actually even more editing apps out there to choose from.

VSCO: this is the big one. VSCO (pronounced “Vis-co”) is both a camera, an editor and a photo community and is the main app that came up when I started learning about digital photography. It is still my go-to app to this day. VSCO itself is free but in its store you can buy additional preset packs (filters they’ve created for you). I use VSCO for most of my filtering and cropping needs. I won’t go into how to use it, this tutorial can help you with that, but a few tips for creating consistent photos:

  1. Pick a few presets that you always use. This is easier once you’ve used the app for some time so I would suggest familiarizing yourself with the various presets and seeing which ones you’re drawn to. Once you have an idea, you can actually move your favourite presets to the front of the preset editor (Smiley Face, on the bottom right – Settings – Preferences – Preset Order). It’s a little time consuming but makes your life much easier than scrolling through every single preset every time you edit a photo.
  1. Use similar toolkit items each time. I make the exact same toolkit changes almost every time I filter a photo: first I Crop and adjust the horizon with Straighten. Then I take Temperature into the blue tones, Tint into the greens and add about +5-6 Fade. I will also use Brightness, Contrast and Desaturation depending on the photo. I do change it up sometimes, but for the most part, those eight tools are the bulk of my toolkit process.
  1. Copy edits. When I’ve finished filtering a photo in my studio, I’ll sometimes leave it in there so I can copy and paste the edits to other photos later. You simply click the photo so it’s highlighted and then hit the ellipses (…) in the bottom right of the menu that pops up. Click “Copy Edits” and then unhighlight the photo. Click on a different photo, hit the … and choose “Paste Edits” et voila! Sometimes you’ll still have to tweak the photo but this is a good start and can really streamline your filtering process.

While I use VSCO for a range of edits, I use the following apps for just one or two incredibly handy tools.

A Color Story: I like to think of ACS as the whimsical editor. I don’t personally use their filter packs that often because I prefer less colourful photos in my feed. Where I use ACS the most is in the Effects toolbar, specifically Color Fog.

Color Fog basically overlays a block of colour over the top or the bottom of your photo. I dial it pretty far down so you only get a hint of colour but I find it can add a real sense of whimsy to a photo. I sometimes use Flare/Bokeh or Light Bursts but again, way dialed down.

A nice feature of the app is once you’ve saved your photo, there’s an option to Save Editing Steps so you can apply the exact same changes to future photos. And again, the app is free but you have to buy additional filter packs and effects. Below, the picture on the right has some Coral fog on top and a hint of Turquoise at the bottom.

Processed with VSCO with a1 preset  20161204_150055

TouchRetouch: if you’ve ever wanted to erase something from your photo, be it a shadow, a leaf or a sign, then TouchRetouch is your app! It’s pretty straightforward – you highlight the area you want to erase and click go. You’ll have to play around with the highlighted area sometimes as it can distort other parts of your picture but this is one I use frequently. There is a free version and a version that costs $2.59 – the difference is the free version lowers the quality of your photo somewhat while the paid version does not. Below, I used TouchRetouch to remove a small sign from the bottom right of the photo.

screenshot_2017-02-02-12-46-272  img_20161212_115916

Snapseed: Snapseed has a bunch of tools, but the one I use is Selective. This tool allows you to select a specific area of a photo and increase brightness, contrast and saturation. It’s a great way to make a small area of a photo “pop”!

Processed with VSCO with a1 preset  screenshot_2017-02-02-12-56-112  Processed with VSCO with a1 preset

SKRWT: if you shoot architectural shots with a lot of lines and love symmetry, then this is the app for you. SKRWT does a bunch of cool tilts and alterations that help you get your lines to the perfect symmetrical angles but what I mainly use it for is flipping images. It’s a simple change but it can really make a difference with how a picture flows in my feed.

screenshot_2017-02-02-11-34-212  screenshot_2017-02-02-11-34-162

Handy Photo: I use this one for its Magic Crop tool which actually allows you to extend the borders of your photo. It generally only works with plain backgrounds that are all one colour but it’s a handy tool (get it?!) to have in your arsenal. It costs $3.99.

Processed with VSCO with a5 preset  Processed with VSCO with a5 preset

I hope you’ll find some of these apps and tools useful. I use at least one of them every day and have really come to enjoy the filtering and editing process. The more you try things out and play around, the more you’ll refine your own process and feed. If you have any other photo apps that you love to use, drop me a comment – I’d love to hear about them! Until next time, happy filtering!

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From Instagrammer to Illgrammer: Photography Resources for Beginners [PHOTOS]

So you’ve signed up for an Instagram account.

Now what?

Maybe you have yet to post your first photo. Or maybe you’re ready to take your feed to the next level. Either way, there are a ton of resources out there to help you and today I’m going to share some of my personal faves.

When I started out back in 2013, this photo marked my not-so-triumphant arrival on the Gram:

blog-post-1-photo-1

@letmosy: humble beginnings

I’ve since deleted it off my feed in a fit of shame but on the plus side, I had nowhere to go but up. Since then, photography has become a real passion of mine and I’ve progressed from total newb to a solid amateur/hobbyist (if I do say so myself).

blog-post-1-photo-5

I still enjoy cupcakes, I just photograph them less often.

So, where did I start?

With a camera and a good eye.

GEAR

They say in the photography world that the best camera is the one that you have with you. If you’re one of the 3 in 4 Canadian adults who owns a smartphone then you basically already have everything you need to start taking the Instagram world by storm.

Personally, I started out with a Samsung Galaxy S3 and shot with that for about a year. Once I decided I really did enjoy photography and wanted to have more control over my photos (exposure and ISO and shutter speed and all that fun stuff), I upgraded to the LG G4. After another year of mobile shooting, I took the leap and bought what I like to call a “real” camera: the Fujifilm X-T10.

All this to say, just start with what you’ve got and worry about upgrading later.

blog-post-1-photo-3     Processed with VSCO with j6 preset     blog-post-1-photo-5(Left to right: photos taken with my Galaxy S3, LG G4, and X-T10)

PHOTOGRAPHY SKILLS

There’s a saying in the film industry that you can make a bad movie out of a good script but you can’t make a good movie out of a bad script. I think the same holds true for a photo: you can crappily filter and edit a good photo but no amount of filtering can save a bad photo (believe me, I’ve tried!)

Better photos will lead to better results on Instagram and there’s more than enough info out there to get you killing it in no time.

Skillshare: the site describes itself as “a learning community where anyone can discover, take, or even teach a class.” So, it’s basically creative people teaching other people how to be more creative. I personally love it. It does require a subscription ($12/month) but you can get a free trial month right off the bat. If you don’t want to pay full price once the trial’s up, you just have to remember to cancel your membership before it ends.

The photography stream has tons of great classes but three that I especially love are:

Street Photography: Capture the Life of Your City by trashhand

This is a class by Chicago-based photographer trashhand and he covers everything from planning your shoot to editing your photos. For me, the big take away was seeing how he looked at the world around him and learning how to hone my eye.

Outdoor Photography: Shooting at Sunset, Sunrise, and Night by Chris Burkard

I lean towards the landscape photography side of things and California-based photographer Chris Burkard is an absolute beast! This class was just a great introduction to the adventurous side of photography and that all important aspect of finding your light.

Food Photography: Shooting in 5 Styles by Leela Cyd

Even if you’re not much of a foodie, this class by editorial and commercial food photographer Leela Cyd is awesome. It’s a quick and simple way to understand how small changes can totally alter the mood and feel of a photo and I think the lessons easily translate into other areas of photography.

Newsletters: a simple way to bring new tips and techniques straight to your inbox is by subscribing to a few photography-related newsletters. I personally subscribe to Artifact Uprising for great photography tips from top photographers, A Color Story for inspiration and app tutorials, and Chris Burkard for amazing visuals and some great gear guides.

Follow, follow, follow: finally, follow blog-post-1-saved-postsphotographers on Instagram who inspire you. Fill your feed with the subjects and styles you love. If you read a lot or own a dog/cat/cute creature or love fashion or love food or build/create things or spend your days laying around, wrapped in a Hudson’s Bay blanket drinking fancy hot beverages, there is a place for you on Instagram.

I like to use the new Saved Posts feature as a collection of inspirations or shots/techniques/angles to try. It might also help you to hone in on what subjects interest you the most and what kind of overall vibe you’ll want to eventually create with your feed.

 

Hopefully some of these resources resonated with you but in the end there’s no better way to learn photography than to get out and shoot. Next time, I’ll delve into the wonderful world of digital editing apps but for now, I’d love to connect with you over on Instagram (@letsmosy). And if you have any amazing feeds to follow or photography resources to share, please let me know in the comments below! I’m always on the lookout for more tips and tricks.

Until next time, happy Instagram-ing!

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