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Smiling model in a purple tie dye maxi dress hugging a fluffy white dog Smiling model in a purple tie dye maxi dress hugging a fluffy white dog
Liza Gershman round headshot

LIZA GERSHMAN

"The more you add to a photograph, the less attention the viewer will have on the subject."

Lifestyle Photography for Instagram Feeds

February 20, 2019

If you are anything like me, you could spend hours poring over the images in an Instagram feed, drooling over food, destinations, clothing, and more.

Even if you don’t have the budget to fly to exotic locations with a stylist, hair and makeup person, etc. you can create some really beautiful and eye-catching imagery for your social media right at home.

How do they do it? How do the Instagrammers with seamless, perfectly coordinated streams make it all work, and what happens behind the scenes? Planning, planning, and more planning!

With a few pro tips and techniques, you can achieve the perfect Instagrammable lifestyle look.

Before you start anything, get a sense of what feeds you like most and look to see what they offer in common. Do they feature only food? Do they feature only lifestyle portraits? Or do they have a combination to tell a larger story?

Look to each of the feeds that you really love and see if they have a consistent color palette, a dominant shape, or style.

When you start to analyze these feeds, you will likely notice one thing in common, and that is personal brand consistency, which is what really stands out and will make an Insta feed irresistible. My favorite feeds, and likely yours too, all have a few key elements in common:

  • Lighting
  • Composition
  • Subject matter
  • Styling
  • Color scheme
  • Mixture of images for a story

When you begin to create your feed, consider a few key factors before you add images. Think about a color palette that is really appealing to you. I love soft colors when I see them on a feed, but I tend to photograph and see vibrant colors in the world around me. So, although I’m transfixed by monochromatic feeds, or ones with soft pale pastel color schemes, my feed can tend to be full of bright imagery with shadows. If you are anything like me, it is important to work with what the eye sees, and manage your feed so the color scheme is cohesive and doesn’t overwhelm the viewer.

How to achieve this? Use a photo organization program like Adobe® Bridge or Lightroom® before you even begin to upload. In this, group your images by color. If you tend to photograph mostly blue tones, then group them together into a folder. Next group your red tones, etc. etc. etc. Once you have your color groupings you can begin to narrow down even further by shapes. Consistency in color and shape in an Instagram feed is very relaxing to the eye and allows for continued and easy scrolling, as the images all flow together as one. Think of your feed as a whole, rather than a single image each post, and you will have a much easier time creating a consistent and appealing look and feel.

LIGHTING IS ALWAYS CONSISTENT IN SUCCESSFUL INSTAGRAM FEEDS

What does that mean and how do you achieve this? Notice the feeds that really draw you in. Find natural light. Many of the most successful feeds are photographed using natural light:

  • Full shade
  • Diffused windows
  • Hard shadows

You will see that they are typically either always photographed in the magic hour (first or last hour of daylight), or in full shade, while others are photographed in the harsh noon light and are full of shadows. All are fantastic options, but I love using full shade because it gives you so many more hours of photography throughout a day, while beautiful hard light is only a few hours, and magic hour only gives you two hours out of 24.

If you are photographing people, you can use a reflector to bounce light into the subject’s eyes and minimize some of the under-eye shadowing that happens naturally. This small, inexpensive technique will give your photography a professional look, and it will stand out.

When you are photographing food, you can use the same technique. Find some nice full shade (not dappled light from leaves, but something that doesn’t have pockets of sunshine mixed in). Set up a table or two sawhorses with a piece of plywood on top – this is a great substitution for a table because you are only showing the surface and not the table legs – and begin your photo shoot.

When natural light isn’t available, you can bounce your camera flash to create the best light. Bounce flash is the process of bouncing light off nearby reflective surfaces onto your subject so you can create softer light. To use bounce flash, simply point the flash-head (on compatible Speedlites) towards a ceiling or wall to create a much larger light source, thereby softening the light falling on your subject.

WHAT SORT OF GEAR ARE INSTAGRAM INFLUENCERS USING?

It truly varies and you don’t need the most expensive camera on the market to have a successful image. Canon’s range of camera styles and bodies are all fantastic, and if you are using a camera primarily for your social media, then I really suggest one of the M-series cameras or the EOS Rebel series. Both choices are affordable, very lightweight and compact. When I’m traveling to a foreign country, or even just down the street in my own neighborhood, I like to have the ease of a lightweight camera that lets me not get distracted by the heft of the gear. If you tend to photograph street scenes or people, you can become much more approachable and discreet with these smaller cameras.

Many Instagram feeds are photographed with a 35mm lens or a 50mm lens, and this is because those are very natural “normal” lenses for what the eye sees.

TELL A STORY

This can be another successful way to create a feed. Again, I recommend using photo sorting software before you even begin to post an image. Sort your photographs to tell a story by using elements to create an arch. A successful image series will include a hero shot, which is the main image of the story, and it can be a compilation of all elements in the overall story. For example, when you go to an e-commerce website, the hero will usually be the image directly under the header. Your hero is the best image in your series, and is an image that could stand alone and effectively tell the story that you are communicating.

After the hero, the remainder of the image series are supporting photographs. These images can begin with a scene setting image. Scene setters should be an overall shot letting your viewer know where you are. Think of how movies are often made and you will typically have an establishing shot at the start of the film. This image is a wide view of the setting. You can use a wide-angle lens (24-35mm range is great for this). If you don’t have a lens that accommodates this range, then you can simply step back further to give yourself more visual space. Remember that your body can move around the scene to create zoom effects even when your lens cannot.

Next, compose a series of detail images to illustrate the parts that make up the whole. For a lifestyle feel, you can showcase elements of food, fashion, interior design, exteriors, textures and more. I love to see a lifestyle series with images of details! Try photographing close-up images of hands, details on an outfit (like great buttons), facial features like lips and eyes, close-up images of plates and napkins, utensils, and more.

Lifestyle brands and photography always have people, and luckily enough social media has turned real people into models. You can use a tripod to feature yourself in all of your images, as many leading social media influencers often do. This truly makes taking a photo easy, and minimizes all the planning elements of adding additional bodies into your shoot. If you are the focus of your brand, then using your own face is the strongest way to convey that branding!

If you are the subject of your own brand, work with yourself like you would work with models. Think of the series of images that you are planning to create before the shoot. Select the best backgrounds by finding simple, clean, uncluttered areas. Be sure that your wardrobe is coordinated for your overall look and feel, and it should be clean and wrinkle-free. When you think about posing, remember that social media is different from traditional portraiture and you don’t need to always look towards the camera either, which can really take pressure off from people who are a bit camera-shy, including yourself.

If you have access to friends and family or models of any kind, use them in your imagery! Some of the best feeds showcase people laughing, smiling, and looking away from camera as opposed to traditional portraiture again, where the subject might look straight on.

When you select your models, you can decide if the feed is going to be a reportage of your looks, if you will photograph other people, or do a combination of the two. Many successful Instagrammers take self-portraits for a feed that is exclusively about them. My feed is typically a behind-the-scenes perspective into my life, and therefore showcases images from new shoots, a few self-portraits, and locations that I visit on assignment.

ON-LOCATION NEEDS

If you intend to have a social media feed that is primarily shot on location, you will always want to check and be sure that you have obtained proper permission to photograph there and use their décor in your imagery. You can protect yourself by providing a location release form and having the waiver signed by the property owner or manager.

HAIR & MAKEUP

Every good, eye-pleasing lifestyle blogger has flawless hair and makeup. Tips? Photo makeup is a bit like stage makeup, and the camera reacts best to a touch more makeup and hair styling than you think you need to wear in person. This is because most cameras really see details now with such high resolution. I often photograph with an EOS 5D Mark IV or a 5DSR, and both have respective resolutions of 30.4MP and 50.6MP. This means the camera’s ability to capture very fine details exists even at distances further away from the camera so proper makeup and hair styling is critical.

PROPPING

If you aren’t used to propping, the key is to keep it simple! The less distraction you have in an image, the higher the chance you will have of photographic success. Try looking at your composition as a grouping of shapes rather than what the actual compositional objects are in the frame. This will help you to see how well items conjoin to create a clean image, and clean imagery is most effective for the small frame size displayed on Instagram.

STYLING

When in doubt, look to the pros for ideas and use your best ability to replicate a general style or scene. Keep things simple. The more you add to a photograph, the less attention the viewer will have on the subject. Keep the image uncluttered, simple, and focus on the person or plate of food that you are telling a story about.

People often forget that the camera sees details as well as the natural eye. I even forget on occasion and I’ve been photographing most of my life. What this means on a shoot is that the more attention you pay to the details the camera sees, the less work you have to do on the computer later. Always look through your camera lens before photographing to see what the camera actually “sees”. Look to your borders and be sure that there aren’t any distracting elements like branches sticking out, telephone poles, bits of unintentionally messy food next to a plate, hair blowing away.

POST PRODUCTION

Post-production is an essential aspect of any seamless social media account. Things to take into consideration:

  • Colors
  • Contrast
  • Sharpen
  • Desaturate or hyper-saturate to create your personal style

While I don’t do much in the way of post-production, I do always use a few simple tools to enhance my imagery and make the subject pop. I add a touch of contrast, a bit of sharpening, and will tend to play with saturation to see if the image’s overall feel matches the series that I am creating. When you are looking to your overall feed, be sure that you have a consistent feeling in your use of shadows, saturation, colors, and contrast. This will truly bring your feed from something that is ordinary to something that is extraordinary.

Happy photographing!

This article is not sponsored or endorsed by Instagram.

All Canon contributors are compensated and actual users of Canon products promoted.