Tips for Better Instagram Travel Photos

Legal Sea Foods paper napkin looks good thanks to Instagram filters (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

You can make even a paper napkin look good with Instagram filters. Boston’s Legal Sea Foods napkin BEFORE the crab legs butter. (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

I am by no means a pro photographer, but I do enjoy trying to capture the essence of a place with the Instagram app.

My point-and-shoot digital camera sits unused in my travel bag now that my phone can generally match it for photo quality, and beat it for ease of editing and sharing.

Similar to Twitter’s 140 character limitation forcing clarity of wording, the app’s square format makes me think about photo composition and what’s pleasing to the eye. I only use a few of the available filters (which is probably true for most people) although I’ve been playing with the new Instagram filters like “Ludwig” that they’ve added recently.

The heavy use of hashtags by the community is also an interesting way to find people with even the most obscure interests.

Here are a few basic tips that I’ve picked up along the way that might help add some “Wow!” to your own travel photography with Instagram….

Steady As She Goes

Blurry photos are sometimes unavoidable, but most of the time they are the result of not taking the time to hold one’s phone as steadily as possible. This is particularly critical in low light, when people are moving, when zooming in, or on the Macro (close-up) setting.

The answer is to prop your phone against or on something.

Try a wall. A door jamb. A telephone pole. A fence post. A Stop sign. A window frame. I’ve also taken photos from restaurant tables by setting my phone across a water or wine glass (careful you don’t drop it IN the glass….not that one of my phones ended up in a gin and tonic one night, or anything.)

Keep It Clean

The reason so many phone photos look like they have a film over them, or used some sort of weird star filter for night shots, is because the camera lens is dirty.

Your phone is in your hands, pocket, purse, backpack, etc. and it is manhandled all day. The lens gets covered in gunk.

Always wipe your lens with a soft cloth before taking a photo, so we don’t see your pretty landscape scene or food shot through a blur of greasy fingerprints.

Think in Squares

Get used to the square over the rectangle; that’s how Instagram photos are created. (Update: you can still use the square, but IG now allows other perspectives including vertical.)

As I said in a previous post about how to take better travel photos, you need to “fill the frame,” and most photos would be instantly improved by the photographer taking a step or two toward the subject.

With Instagram, however, you may need to compose things a little further away than you normally would, to ensure that all of the main focus of interest survives being cropped into a square.

Filters: Theirs and Yours

Many of the more recent smartphones come with their own suite of photo filters. Make sure you’re familiar with them, because they may create better effects with certain photos than the filters on Instagram.

It varies by phone model as well. I’ve had two HTC Android phones, and while I frequently used several different filters on my old phone, I’m not thrilled with any of my current ones except for Autoenhance, which cleans up pictures nicely.

Be careful with Autoenhance if you’re trying to create a certain mood – it can sometimes overdo it with too much contrast.

I know there are “Instagram pros” who say they NEVER use Instagram’s filters, and they prefer to do a ton of editing elsewhere, then upload to the app. Great for them; I’m not that intense about it.

Jazz it Up With a Quote

They can be sorta cheesy. Facebook in particular is awash with motivational quotes overlaid on a sunset/sunrise photo, which just isn’t my thing.

But should you feel the urge, try the Phonto app, and I hear iPhone users like InstaQuote.

How to Hashtag Without Being Annoying

You can find people taking photos of almost anything you can imagine, by searching via hashtag.

The problem with adding hashtags to your photo description, however, is that they do create visual clutter. If you’re sharing an Instagram photo to Twitter, another hashtag-friendly platform, you may want to include one or two relevant hashtags in the description. Otherwise, go ahead and post the photo, then add hashtags by commenting as yourself on the photo.

Screenshot in app of Instagram pic plus hashtags from Pigeon Museum Oklahoma City

By stashing them down in the comments, you’ll still provide the searchable hashtagged keywords that people are looking for, but without junking up your picture’s description and looking rather desperate.

Share Other People’s Work

You have to use a separate app to share someone else’s Instagram photo with your own followers. It’s a nice way to highlight quality work and help people find great profiles to follow (who knew that the U.S. Department of the Interior rocks Instagram!)

I don’t do it all that often, maybe every seven or eight of my photos is a share, using the PhotoRepost app.

Here’s a ski jump photo that I shared from Visit Norway, and I was excited when the Nashville tourism account shared my Hatch Show Print photo.

Just make sure to credit the original photographer in your shared pic description, of course.

What are your favorite tips for getting more out of Instagram? Let us know in the comments!

If you like this post, please consider subscribing to the blog via RSS feed or by email – the email signup text link is at the top of the right sidebar above our Facebook Page link. Thanks! 

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.