Series: Step up your Instagram game - Edit Your Photos

Ever look at someone’s Instagram feed and feel an intense stab of jealousy because it looks so much better than yours, but you can't quite put your finger on why?

Yup. Me too.

When I first tried Instagram, I was treating it the same way I was Facebook--throwing any old photos up there.

But it didn't take me very long to realize that the Instagram feeds I loved were the ones that were consistently pretty--those feeds that could post everything from a cup of coffee, to their cat, to their tennis shoes, and each and every picture they took of the mundane looked a thousand times better than my picture of the prettiest sunset I'd ever seen.

Which got me thinking ...

How do they do that?!

So I decided to find out. 

Now, I've been at this Instagram improvement program for months, and my feed is nowhere near where I'd like it to be, and my number of followers isn't going to knock anyone's socks off. But I'd like to think I'm eligible for the "most improved" award, even if I'm still trying to nail down my consistency!

Today's post is the first in my Step Up Your Instagram Game Series where I'll walk you through some of the tricks and strategies I've picked up along the way.

Today's tip is a basic one, and experienced Instagrammers will roll their eyes, but it's the single most important thing that will make a difference in taking your feed from meh to oooooooooh:

Edit Your Photos

Read on.

Edit Your Photos


This is for those of you who've looked at a picture of someone's dog, that's the same kind of dog as yours, in the exact same setting, and wondered ...

Why does theirs photo look so much better than mine, when it's the same damn thing?!

If you're like me, you probably assumed they're using a way better camera than you with some photography training under their belt.

This might be true of some of them.

But most of them are just way better at editing than you are.

(That or they had better lighting. More on that in another post.)

Sure, there are some master photographers out there who can make something look amazing first time around with their big fancy cameras, but most awesome Instagrammers are using their iPhone, just like you. 

They’re just taking another step after they snap the photo.

The number one thing you can do to improve your Instagram game is edit it before posting.

I’m not saying you have to go filter-crazy. In fact, I’d say that I opt to skip the filters more often than not. 

But even a little bit of editing will make a huge difference.

How much is up to you. I prefer a more stylized look, so I’ll sometimes do quite a lot of tweaking to get the look I want.

But if you simply want your photos to look just like the original, but better, there 3 quick and easy things you can do to make to instantly improve your picture. You don't even need to download another app, you can get started within the Instagram app itself!

Next time you’re wanting to post something on Instagram, upload your photo like you normally would, and then go to the Tools section (that little wrench icon you see once you’re on the filters page), and play around with the below steps:

Step 1: Increase the brightness

This is almost always my first step, as it makes all pictures look, well … brighter. Unless you're deliberately going for a dark moody look, your photo will probably look better with the brightness increased.

Step 2: Play with the contrast

Contrast is one you'll want to play around with, see what look you like best. If you’ve got a bunch of bold colors you want to play off each other, or drastic blacks/whites, you may want to increase the contrast. If you want something softer and a bit calmer, decrease the contrast. 

Step 3: Increase saturation slightly

Increasing saturation will make your colors look richer. Use it sparingly, because adjusting saturation can go to a "yikes" place very quickly. But if you're finding you've increased the brightness of your photo, and played with the contrast, and your photo still looks a little blah, try the saturation tool. It's not the right move for every picture, but it works for a lot of them. LL-tip: I find that increasing the saturation can make my photos a bit warmer than I'd like, so I'll counter this by decreasing the temperature the tiniest bit to cool it back down without losing any vividness.


The above three are the very bare bones of editing, but play around with them! Get comfortable.

Once you get a sense of how your photos can be manipulated, you'll also start to develop your own preferences. Maybe you find you like a more muted, soft effect, or maybe you want bold. Maybe you'll love the super bright photos, or maybe you find that a darker, shadowy effect is more your jam.

The more you edit, the more you'll realize that you're defaulting to the same set of edits over and over again. Pay attention to this! It'll be key to developing Instagram consistency, which I'll cover in another post.

Still not convinced that editing's worth the effort? Take a look at some of my own before/afters below, in order of "minor editing" to "lots of editing." 

Before & After Example 1 ::

Minimal Editing

The below photo's an excellent example of what the most minor of tweaks can make in a photo. The only thing I changed in this photo is the brightness (I increased it by quite a bit).

See how it went from being sort of dark and dingy and unremarkable, to being bright and appealing? It's the exact same photo, but a two-second adjustment made all the difference in the final product.

Fun Fact :: This photo actually ended up being shared by Random House's Instagram account ... to 48k+ followers!

Before & After Example 2 :: 

A Little Bit More Editing

Here's another one where I increased the brightness (although not as much as in the first example).

I also whitened my whites using the FaceTune app. This is one of my favorite hacks; the FaceTune app is meant for selfie editing, but I love to use the tooth-whitening tool to brighten my white-shades in all my photos. You just use your finger to brush over the white part of your photos. It allows you to whiten the whites without diluting the other colors in your photo. Genius!

I also decreased the contrast a tiny bit to give it a soft, dreamy effect. And though it's been awhile since I've edited this photo, looking at it now, I'm pretty sure I used the "Smooth" tool from the FaceTune app. Another hijack of the selfie-app! It's meant to smooth out skin wrinkles, but I used it here to smooth out the wrinkles in the blanket. See how it changes the entire mood of the picture?

Before & After Example 3 :: 

A Lot Of Editing

Here's one of my recent stay in Quebec where I obviously did quite a bit of editing. Same photo, wildly different results.

To start, I imported the photo into Tonality CK -- a Mac OS X app that changes your photo to black and white upon import, and then allows you to make the black and white photo look really good.

Once I'd played around with the black and white photo (looks like I increased the brightness a tiny bit, increased the contrast a tiny bit more, and then adjusted the sharpness a lot).

Then, still within the Tonality app, I got a crash course from Mr. Layne in layers and masking, and figured out how to "re-add" some of the original colors. In this case, I brought back the yellow and orange shades, but left everything else black and white.

I thought I'd be done after that, but the colors were much duller than I remembered them being in person, so I ran the photo through AColorStory app, and added the Chroma filter--my absolute favorite for making bright colors pop.

This is obviously a highly stylized photo, and not for everyone, but it's a great example of how much fun you can have with editing!

In Conclusion

Moral of the story here?

Most of those people with better Instagram feeds than you aren't better photographers than you.

They just take a bit more time with their editing! 

If you look at my "Before" pictures above, you can see that there was absolutely nothing particularly interesting about those photos, but with a little (or a lot) of time, you can be Insta-Impressive.

Next in the "Step Up Your Instagram Game" series:

The Grid ::

Why One Of Your Photos Doesn't Matter As Much As All Your Photos

Coming Monday, March 7th

Lauren Layne

New York, NY, USA

USA Today Bestselling Author & Lifestyle Blogger.