We participate in the following affiliate programs
Amazon | B & H

Take Amazing Pictures for Instagram Using your Phone

What’s up everyone, Sagi here with another Tech Gear Talk. Today I’m going to give you some tips and tricks that will help you take amazing pictures for Instagram using your mobile phone. Instagram has blown up over the past few years and for me personally with how much I love photography and video, it’s definitely one of my favorite social media websites.

So if you’re working on an Instagram profile for a business, your personal brand of even just a profile you use for fun you want pictures that make people go WOW, this is the video for you.

I want to share with you some of the best kept secrets for creating incredible Instagram photos using your mobile phone so that you can immediately start having a more beautiful and impactful feed.

How to set up your phone to take great Instagram pictures

Before We Start

Our phones have gotten to a point where they can take absolutely stunning photos. But before we jump into talking about lighting, composition and editing, there are a couple of things I want to cover to help you understand the camera on your phone, which will lead to great instagram photos.

At the end of the video I’m going to give you a bonus tip. It’s one of the most important things I learned about photography and has been absolutely invaluable to me both when I use my phone or a professional camera.

I’ll be using an iPhone 7 Plus for this video but these concepts still apply to other makes and models.

Hold Your Phone Still

The thing I hear most often is “my pictures blurry”. And the easiest way to correct this is by changing how you hold your phone to eliminate as much shake as possible. Most people take pictures by holding their arms out, holding the phone with 4 fingers then pressing the shutter with a fifth, or maybe using the volume button as a shutter. There are tons of problems with this approach. First, the farther your phone is from your body, the more it is impacted by the slightest movement in your arms, even from just breathing. So get your phone closer to your body to minimize the shake.

Next, let’s look at how you hold the phone. I’ve tried all types of grips and the best one I found is this one. If you’re right handed like me, hold your left hand like you’re going to shake someone’s hand, then place the phone in your hand. Next, take your right hand, and support the phone from below with your palm and then use your thumb to change settings and press the shutter.
Having the phone rest in your palm it much more secure than relying on the small muscles in your fingers to remain stable.

So now we have the phone closer to us and a better grip.

The third part, and this isn’t always possible, but when you can, put your elbow against your body. This will add another level of stability to your stance. Finally, if this still isn’t working for you, there are some grips that you can attach to your camera that will be a great help, and I’ll link to a few of my favorites in the description.

Now that our Instagram pictures are sharper, let’s keep going.

When It Comes to Exposure, a Little Less is More

Have you ever taken a photo of someone with a beautiful blue sky behind them, and then realized that most of the sky is completely blown out? When I say blown out I mean overexposed or too bright so you really lose that beautiful color. The issue here has to do with the fact that your phone is trying to automatically get a picture where everything is reasonably well lit. I’ll give you some more advice later, but the first trick to fixing this issue is to underexposing your shot.

To underexpose your shot means to make it a little darker than you want it to be. It’s better to have a slightly underexposed photo that you can then later brighten up with editing, instead of overexposing areas where you can never bring back any detail or color.

I’ll go into how to accomplish this later on in the video but an this point I just want you to internalize that concept.

If you don’t understand exposure in photography, or just want to freshen up a bit, I’ll link to another video both at the top here and in the description of this video. It’s an older video so excuse the flat personality, but the information is super relevant and helpful.

Don’t Use HDR

Next I want to talk about HDR. Most phones nowadays have an HDR (High Dynamic Range) mode. The idea there is that the camera will take several pictures instead of one at different exposures and then take the correct parts from each photo. In concept this is a good idea, but in practice, on a phone, I have not always gotten great results.

There is nothing wrong with the concept HDR when it’s executed correctly. I use it for interior photos all the time. But you know bad HDR images when you see them. They look super fake and have tons of artifacts. So most of the time I keep it simple and avoid that feature, I can always do some editing later on.

Clean Your Lens

This next tip may sound a little silly, but it’s something most people don’t think about with their phones. You handle your phone all the time in a way that you wouldn’t hold a camera. For example, you would never put your fingers right on the lens of your dslr, but you grab your phone out of your pocket or your purse without ever thinking of what part you are touching.

All those fingerprints and smudges on your lens are going to interfere with the camera to a fairly significant degree. Grab a lint-free cloth, or I use these Zeiss lens wipes for all of my camera equipment, or for my sunglasses. So when I’m done cleaning something else, I always use it to wipe down my phone. I think I bought 550 of these on Amazon about 2 years ago and I still have hundreds so it’s a pretty good investment.

You can also use a cotton swab with a little distilled water if your phone is really dirty and you don’t have the wipes I use.

Capturing the Shot for a Good Instagram Photo

Ok, let’s jump into talking about taking a great Instagram photo using your phone. There are two main aspects you should consider when trying to take good Instagram pictures: Lighting and composition. Once you understand these two aspects and and get them down pat, you’ll immediately see your Instagram photos getting better.

Instagram Photography Lighting

For me, everything starts with lighting. If you don’t have the right lighting for your shot, you’re already behind the 8 ball. So I want to keep things simple, help you understand lighting and then get you used to looking for good light.

I know you’ve seen plenty of pictures overexposed by bright sunlight or some super dark selfie that just ends up looking grainy and aweful. So before you start shooting, remember that if you don’t have a well-lit mobile phone photo, there’s pretty much nothing you can do to save it with editing. Let’s go over some tips and tricks to help you use lighting to get better Instagram pictures.

If I could only tell you one thing about lighting it would be that the broader or larger the light source, the softer the light is going to be. The narrower the source, the harder the light. The reason for this is that light coming from a broad source is hitting the subject from more angles which help fill in the shadows. That is why you always see photographers using big softboxes, because they are trying to take a small light source and diffuse into a big light source.

Ok, so let’s jump into our tips for lighting your Instagram photos.

Use Natural Light

Tip number one, is to use natural light. Mobile phones can take outstanding pictures when there is plenty of light. When you shoot indoors and there is natural light available, make sure you or your subject are sitting close to a window and away from any artificial light. Make sure that you’re always facing the window, meaning that the light is coming from behind the camera and lighting up your subject..

These 2 pictures were taken in the exact same spot, but I was facing the window in one of them, and the window was behind me in the other. The difference is pretty clear.

The Golden Hour for Instagram Photos

Instagram Photos Tutorial Golden Hour
Next I want to talk about the golden hour. When we’re talking about photography, the golden hour is the period of time shortly after sunrise and before sunset. During this time the light is softer and warmer. You can get some really cool pictures during these times.

So if you can plan for it, try being ready to take pictures during the golden hour rather than deciding to start once you notice the great light. You can use this beautiful light as a front light on your subject’s face and as backlighting or even rim lighting.

Overcast is GREAT!

Next let’s talk about overcast days. Most people think that overcast days are for staying indoors. Nope! This is actually some of the best light you could hope for portraits. Remember that we said a broader light source is softer? You basically all those clouds act as a HUGE diffuser for the sun which results in really flattering light. So the next time you get one of these gray days, get out there and take those outdoors selfies and portraits.

Istagram Photos Composition/Techniques

Now that we covered lighting, let’s talk about a few techniques that will help you take great Instagram photos.Have you ever looked at something that you thought looked really cool, then you took a picture of it, and it turned out kinda blah?

That is probably because the image wasn’t composed very well and didn’t capture exactly what you saw. An image that is composed well, directs the viewer’s eye to the subject and captures a story or emotion.

Ok, so what are some tips that you can use to up your Instagram photos from good to great?

Rule of Thirds

The Rule of Thirds is considered a fundamental rule in photography. The basic principle behind the rule of thirds is to break your image into thirds, both vertically and horizontally, so you end up with 9 parts. To then apply this principle to your pictures, you want to place points of interest in the intersections or along these lines.

So for example, fight the urge to always center your subject or the horizon line and put them on one of these lines. To help you with this, your phone’s camera actually offers a grid feature that will act as an guide.

So play around with taking the pictures with this rule of thirds in mind. It doesn’t mean that you can’t ever center your subject, but just be aware of the advantages of having an off-center point of interest.

Take Instagram Photos from Unique Angles

One of the easiest ways to make your Instagram photos stand out, is to show people things in a way that they have never seen before. And the simplest way to accomplish this is to change the angle of your shot.

We all walk around all day, looking at the world from the height of an average adult, so showing us something from a different angle will usually catch our eye. That why drone shots are so great, because they allow to look at things from a different angle.

One of my favorite ways to do this is to get as low to the ground as possible. There are many subjects that just aren’t that great when shot from normal height, but when you get low they look much more interesting. The iPhone camera is actually really great for this because I can place it even closer to the ground than I can my DSLR lens. And that helps me get some really cool shots, and also some interesting reflections.

Don’t Be a Square

The next tip I want to discuss has to be has to do with the shape of the photo. We all know that Instagram is designed for square images. Of course you can upload traditional horizontal or vertical images but the thumbnail is always going to be a square.

I do recommend that you upload square images, but I don’t recommend that you use your phone’s square image option. I want you to take an image with the traditional size while keeping in mind that you will be cropping it into a square later on.

You might be saying, “if I’m going to crop it into a square later on, why not just take it in square?” You can. But when you’re starting out, I want you to focus on the other aspects of your picture, light, capturing emotion and being creative, rather than making sure that something or someone is perfectly positioned in the center or on the one-third lines.

You can make those small adjustments later on by cropping the image, and since you only need a 1080px x 1080px image for instagram, you can still crop your original image into a square without losing resolution. Remember that your phone takes much larger images than 1080 x 1080. For example my iPhone 7 Plus takes 4032px x 3024px images, so that leaves quite a bit of room for cropping.

I don’t mean that I just want you clicking away without thinking about the things I mention in this video, but I want you to know that there is some room for alignment and re-framiing in editing.

Get Closer

The next tip I want to give you is to get closer. Remember what we said, people see the world from the same angles 99% of the time. So get close to even everyday items and show them in a way that people are not used to seeing them.

If you want to get even closer than the iPhone will allow, there are some really great macro lens options by Moment and Olloclip. They will both give you some amazing macro shots. I’ll put links in the description to both of these lens options and I’ll also do followup videos about each of them.


Next let’s talk about focus. If you don’t set the focus yourself, then your iPhone will decide on its own where to set the focus. This might work for you in some cases, but it’s almost always better to set focus intentionally. If you were using a DSLR camera, you wouldn’t just say “focus on whatever you want”, you would want to tell it where to focus, and we should do the same thing with our phones.

To do this on the iPhone, all you have to do is click anywhere on the screen and the phone will set focus. This is especially important when you want to highlight or feature a particular portion of your image. Your phone has no idea what you’re trying to do and you need to take control.

Set Exposure

Remember that we talked about exposure in the beginning? Sometimes you want to take a picture of a scene where not everything is evenly lit. In these situations you’re going to have to make a creative choice about what portion of the image you want to expose for. There isn’t really a right or wrong choice here, it’s really about what you want the final image to look like.

To do this on the iPhone, all you have to do is click anywhere on the image. The iPhone will not only set the focus on that point, but also the exposure. You can see that as you click on different areas of on the image, it gets brighter or darker to property expose for the area you selected.

You can now under and overexpose your image by sliding your finger up to increase exposure and down to decrease it.

Remember that if you have to choose, you’re going to want to under expose your pictures just a bit, to bring out those details in the highlights. You do that by sliding your finger down a little.

Lock Focus & Exposure for Instagram photos

I just showed you how to set focus and exposure. But what you’ll notice is that after you take your picture, the iPhone will go back to the auto focus and exposure mode. That means that if you’re like me and you want to take several pictures, you’ll have to re-set focus and exposure every time.

But there is an easy trick here. If you tap AND hold on your iPhone, you’ll see that the focus indicator will pulse twice and then lock. You’ll also see AE/AF LOCK at the top. That means that now the phone won’t change it every time you take a picture. You can still use the technique I showed you about altering the exposure by sliding your finger up or down, but now it will stay locked until you change it.

Use Burst Mode for Instagram photos

The next tip I want to give you is to use burst mode when you’re taking pictures of something that is moving fast. Maybe it’s an action shot or pretty much any time you’re dealing with moving objects. If you simply hold down the shutter, the iPhone will continue to take pictures, one right after the other. Then, when you’re done, you can click SELECT and pick the ones you like best. What’s great about this is that you don’t need to time things perfectly. You just use burst mode and then make the selection later.

BONUS Photography TIP: Capture the Moment

The bonus tip I want to give you about taking images has to do with specifically with capturing the moment. This is something that I was taught early on by some of the best photographers in the world and it has to do with capturing the moment.

Remember this tip: First, take a picture. Then, take a better one!

Have you ever tried to take a picture of something like, maybe a baby doing something cute, or a puppy or a special interaction between two people? And you were trying to get just the right composition and maybe you’re moving around to get better lighting, and by the time you try to take the picture, the moment has passed.

First, take a picture. Then, take a better one!

Moments are fleeting, and of course you want to take the best picture you can, but it’s not worth risking missing the moment altogether. So when grandma has a cute interaction with her grandson, first capture the moment, then capture it better.

Some photos are about the moment itself, rather than something that may only be aesthetically pleasing. So, yes, you want to make sure you capture that moment the best way you can, but it’s better to first make sure you have any picture of it, and then work to get a better one.

Your original may not end up being one that you post to Instagram, but you’ll always have a memory of that moment.

Instagram photos Post-Production & Editing Techniques

The last part of taking a great picture for Instagram using your phone is editing. Fact, no professional picture that you see online or in a magazine came out of the camera looking like that. One of the things I hear so many people say is something like “my shots never looks like ‘that’”. Guess what? Their shots didn’t look like that either.

Your job is to get the best possible image out of your phone so that you are in the best position to do some photo editing.

Final Thoughts

I hope this video was helpful in getting you on your way to having an awesome Instagram feed. If it was give it a like, and most importantly share it or tweet it. If you have any questions at all, drop my a line in the comments section, I do my best to reply to every comment.

In my next video about this topic, I’m going to cover the best editing tips for Instagram photos. I’ll also go over my favorite apps for photo editing. If you liked this video and that’s something you’re interested in learning more about, smash that subscribe and notification buttons.

You can always find me on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook @techgeartalk. Good luck and see you soon.

Zeiss Lens Wipes:

Zeiss Pre-Moistened Lens Cleaning Wipes – 60
Zeiss Pre-Moistened Lens Cleaning Wipes – 200
Zeiss Pre-Moistened Lens Cleaning Wipes – 550

Camera Grip for your Phone:

ShutterGrip Ergonomic Grip for iPhone and Android
Mymiggo Pictar OnePlus Mark II
Shoulderpod Handle Grip for Smartphones

Macro Lenses for iPhone:

olloclip — CORE LENS SET + OLLO CASE Combo

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Tech Gear Talk on Instagram