How to make my Instagram feed look good (even on a budget!)

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We know how frustrating it can be to take a great photo, post it to Instagram, only to find that your feed still looks like a chaotic mess. Why do other feeds look cohesive and beautiful? How do they do that? If you’ve ever felt this way then this post is for you!

First, understand that this takes a little time and as you learn more and upgrade your equipment and editing tools, your feed will only get better and better! But that being said, you DON’T NEED expensive, complicated software or thousands of dollars in camera gear to get a drool-worthy feed.

Another important note, if your Instagram account is just your space to document and share the fun memories of your life, that is wonderful! And if that is the case, you don’t need to worry about the things we will discuss here because a cohesive feed doesn’t matter for personal use. But, if you are wanting to grow a following or somehow get work or sales through Instagram, then a cohesive feed is important.

Here are some of the keys to creating a cohesive Instagram feed:

  1. Decide what your Instagram account is going to be about - posting a picture every time you get dressed up, eat something yummy, go out and do something fun, etc. is a sure fire way to create an Instagram feed that looks thrown together. An intentional Instagram account focuses on a few (or even 1!) specific topics and sticks to it. So choose your topics and use restraint by ONLY posting photos relevant to those topics (for example, @travelingourroots is about family travel and veganism and anything that doesn’t fall into those categories, we post to our personal instagram accounts).

  2. Choose your VIBE - if you look at your favorite Instagram accounts, they have an “it” factor. You probably can’t quite put your finger on it but something is special about them. This mysterious thing is a vibe. Most of our lives are made up of days in sweat pants as well as special occasions in heels and everything in between. But an intentional Instagram account chooses just 1 of those to document and leaves out the rest (for the most part at least). For example, a high-fashion account will probably skip posting the early-morning pics in pajamas or a laid-back outdoorsy account will skip posting the pic of the family dressed up for church. A lot of this comes down to what you DON’T post, more than what you DO. If the photo doesn’t fit with your vibe, post it to your personal account (or maybe to your IG story to show some behind-the-scenes).

  3. Pay attention to composition - (*see an example of this below) even if you are taking all your Instagram photos on your phone, you can still have a beautiful, professional looking feed if you pay attention to the details. We could talk about this for days, but ask yourself these few questions when taking your photos to immediately improve the quality:

    1. Are the lines straight? Look at the horizontal and vertical lines (maybe a door, a horizon, a brick wall, etc.) and make sure they are straight. Usually this is just a matter of a little step to the right or left or even just adjusting your hand to capture the photo from straight-on rather than a wonky angle. Instagram is a grid-system so any crooked lines stand out like a sore-thumb on your feed.

    2. Is my subject placed right? Take a second to figure out what you are taking a photo of, is this photo about the person, the plate of food, the animal, etc. Then place them right in the center or on an intersection of the lines of thirds…

    3. Is there anything distracting in this photo? Take a second to look at the photo you are about to take, is there an ugly trash can in the background or if you wait a few seconds will those people walking by be out of your shot? Do your best to remove anything that will distract from the subject of your photo.

  4. Use natural lighting - do you very best to only post photos to your feed that use natural light (the sun) rather than artificial lighting (a food photo taken in your kitchen after the sun has gone down using your fluorescent or yellow kitchen lights is a no-no). This can mean moving your plate of food near a window or even stepping out onto your balcony, etc.

  5. Edit your photos in a similar way - this will get more elaborate as you learn more about photography and editing, but in the beginning here is what I recommend.

    1. Download the app VSCO and pick 1 filter that is your favorite (personally I like 6) and edit all your photos with that same filter. Play around with these and test the filter on the different kinds of photos you will be posting to make sure it looks good on everything. For example, a filter that looks great on a beach pic might make a food picture look dull. Look at skin tones as well and make sure it compliments your skin tone (or the subject you will be posting most). You don’t want something that makes you look washed out and sickly or fake-tan orangey either.

    2. You can stop there, but your photos will be taken at all different times of day, with different lighting, so I would adjust 1 more thing - white balance.

    3. You can do this right in the VSCO app. Go to White Balance and you will see a bar that is titled “Temperature.” To the left will be blue (or cooler) and to the right will be yellow (or warmth).

    4. Look at your photo and find something that should be pure white (a shirt, bag, building, plate, cloud, etc.).

    5. Then adjust the temperature bar until that object looks pure white (if it looks like it has a blue tint, that means your photo is too cool so you will need to move the bar to the yellow side and vice versa).

  6. Plan your feed - this is critical, especially in the beginning as you are developing your eye and getting familiar with the vibe and look of your feed. There are lots of apps that allow you to do this (UNUM, Planoly, Later) and in these apps you upload the next few photos you want to post and you can move them around to figure out which order looks best. For example, if you don’t plan, you might post a few beach pictures in a way that stacks them on top of each other in your feed, making one side all blue. If you had planned it and spread out the blues, your feed would look more balanced.

  7. Include some negative space - to keep your feed from looking cluttered and chaotic, use some photos that have negative space (a clear blue sky, an open white wall, etc.) every now and then and this will give your feed some breathing room.

In this photo, the horizontal line on the bottom of the grass is straight, as well as the horizon line. Our family is the subject and we are placed where 1 horizontal and 1 vertical line intersect. There were people walking by on the path we were standing on, so we waited to ensure that there were no distractions and we were the only people in the photo.

In this photo, the horizontal line on the bottom of the grass is straight, as well as the horizon line. Our family is the subject and we are placed where 1 horizontal and 1 vertical line intersect. There were people walking by on the path we were standing on, so we waited to ensure that there were no distractions and we were the only people in the photo.