Taking Better Photos for Social Media

Long gone are the days of posting any photos you like on your Instagram account – sorry to be the bearer of bad news. To stand out among the other 800 million active users, you need to try a little harder. Photos need to be crisper and more professional looking, your feed needs to be cohesive, and to top it off, you need consistent engagement to make sure your posts are seen by your followers.

Keep reading for a crash course in photography from someone who spends way too much time taking and editing photos for social media.



The difference lighting makes in a photo is huge.  A photo taken in a dimly lit restaurant where you can barely see the food doesn’t have the same effect as a vibrant, bright photo showing how fresh the produce is. Some lighting issues can be fixed with editing, but it’s much easier to get it right the first time. The best lighting for photos is natural light, but not direct sunlight, which will overexpose your photo. Dimly lit photos will also lose some of their quality, especially if the photo was shot on a phone. Brightening a dark iPhone photo can result in grainy, low-quality shots that look (and probably are) over-edited. Haphazardly throwing Reyes on your photo right before posting won’t help your cause, either.

The lighting in your photo will also affect the colour and the mood. Photos with less light will feel moodier and be more monochromatic, while brighter photos will be more vibrant. Colour and lighting is super important, not only when it comes to the quality of your photography, but also when it comes to branding and consistency in your Instagram feed. Ideally, you want your feed to be uniform – think of it as one large picture rather than separate pieces. By keeping the lighting and colour similar or complementary in your photos, you can make sure your feed is consistent with your branding.



Creating a balanced photograph begins by arranging both positive and negative aspects within your frame, and by making sure one element doesn’t outpower the others. There are four main types of balance to consider when composing a photo: symmetrical, asymmetrical, radial, and crystallographic. Symmetrical balance creates a sense of harmony and emphasizes sameness, though it can also feel boring and static. In a symmetrical photo, both sides are evenly weighted on an axis in the centre.

Asymmetrical balance is created by having unequal weight on each side of your composition. Typically, asymmetrical balance is more dynamic and interesting, but it can be more difficult to achieve because the visual elements are more complex. A good rule of thumb is to balance a dominant visual element on one side of your frame with a handful of lighter elements on the other side.

Radial balance occurs when all the elements of your photo radiate (get it?) from a common centre. The easiest way to think about radial balance is to picture looking down a spiral staircase. Maintaining a focal point is easy because the element you are trying to emphasize will be in the middle of your photo.

Crystallographic balance is balanced chaos. Think about the perfect Instagram flatlay: everything in the photo is in the exact right spot, but it is not super clean. There is no clear element being emphasized – each element shares a uniform emphasis.

Remember, balance doesn’t always have to be split down the middle. Vary the angles and composition of your photos to avoid a boring Instagram feed.



Creating contrast within a photo makes sure that your elements aren’t blending together. You can create contrast with colour, with shapes, and with sizes. Contrasting colours is the easiest to imagine – put light colours beside dark colours to make both colours stand out, for example. Colour contrast becomes especially important when shooting on a set background because you don’t want to lose elements of your foreground to your background. Have you ever seen those hilariously tragic school photos where the subject is wearing the same colour shirt as the background so they look like a floating head? Yeah, contrast is important.

Contrasting shapes creates interest within a photo. Especially within a crystallographically balanced photo (this is a test to make sure you were paying attention – did you pass?), varying the shapes you use creates a more dynamic photo. A great example of this is taking a photo of a table with lots of food on it – using some circular plates with some rectangular platters gives the eye more to look at.

Contrasting sizes helps draw attention to your focal point – the bigger the element, the more important it seems within the frame. In general, contrast makes your photos more interesting and gives the viewer more to explore while helping get your message across more effectively.


Space and Framing

The way you frame your subject also says a lot – sometimes, the elements you leave out of a photo say just as much as the elements you leave in a photo. Negative space is a beautiful thing – the absence draws attention to the important elements of your photo and keeps your frame from becoming too busy.

This brings us nicely to framing. The framing of your photo can make your composition more dynamic or create a sense of unity and harmony. If you want your photo to look orderly, frame your subject so that the lines in the photo are parallel with the edge of the photo. If you want to add interest to your flatlay, create interesting angles between the edge of the photo and the subjects in your frame – seeing space is important. You can also create interest by framing your photo in an unusual way – like by having the background take up the bulk of the frame while keeping your subject small.


Lastly, one of the best photography tips is to take lots of photos. Don’t snap your shutter once and call it quits – play with your framing, your angles, the lighting, and the composition to make sure you capture something that works. How many selfies do you take before finally posting one? Probably a lot more than one (your camera roll doesn’t lie).