Instagram is a realm where sheer photographic delight meets visual train wreck. You’re just as likely to find a breathtaking shot of the Canadian Alps as you are an over-tanned, Miley Cyrus-esque bathroom selfie.
So how do you navigate your way through this minefield? Whether you’re a ‘gram veteran needing a refresher or a newbie seeking guidance, this fail-safe guide to winning the filtered photo game is a must-read.
In a nutshell: Instagram is an application that allows you to take or upload your own photos (and now videos), apply a nifty filter to them, caption them and share them with your friends.
The pièce de résistance of Instagram and the reason for its popularity is its extensive range of photo filters. Noticed a rash on your arm? Your friend’s got a bung eye? Your summer tan isn’t quite visible? No worries. Slap on a filter like Rise or Valencia and your average photo of a mate at the beach becomes a veritable masterpiece.
A filter professional is former reality star and fashion guru Lauren Conrad, who uploads all her photos using an app called Camera Plus, allowing her to add a perfect rose-gold hue to every image. The result is a cohesive, pretty page that makes you feel like you’re viewing her life through rose-coloured glasses.
We advise you to steer clear of the little sun icon that corrects brightness and contrast. This usually makes you look like you have a skin disease.
Hashtags allow you to categorise your photos and increase the amount of people who see them. They can also be used ironically so learn to tell the difference. Also, hashtags don’t allow for punctuation. Throw your grammar out the window, this is the internet age.
In contrast to Facebook and other social media, photos of yourself taken by yourself are okay on Instagram when done correctly. Make sure your selfie has a purpose or a focus and write your caption accordingly. Popular selfie excuses include: A new haircut, a new hat, new clothing, great makeup, a humorous facial expression or self-deprecation. #Bored, #Tired, #Lonely and #Hungry don’t count.
In the settings section, you have the option to set your posts to public or private. If you go public, make sure you’re prepared for people with strange usernames and creepy profile pictures to comment on your selfies (attractive models are serious victims of this phenomenon). If you go private, remember that hashtags are irrelevant unless you are using them ironically.
Aim for variety, unless you want to be a specialist ‘gram. The best Instagram accounts have one common theme, whether it be a filter, a colour or a subject matter (food, fashion, art etc.) but, within that framework, they demonstrate just the right amount of diversity.
If you only want to post pictures of one thing, make that clear in your bio and username. Your specialty may be cooking and photographing vegan baked goods, so choose a user name like @theveganbakery and let people know what to expect. Just don’t expect people to follow you because, let’s face it, vegan baked goods are a frustrating oxymoron.
Approach with caution. The best 15 second video offerings make the most of the app’s choppy editing function and take a deft hand to create.
Share things that are a bit more unusual. A beautiful place you have visited, a striking artwork at a gallery or a sweet moment you accidentally captured between taking staged photos are all great feed fodder.
Share photos of yourself occasionally. People follow you because they want to see you not because they want to see photos of celebrities you want to be. You’d be surprised how many likes a simple photo of you smiling and enjoying yourself can get.
Be an active commenter and liker. If you see something you like, let the person know! They will be more likely to check out your page in return and you may earn yourself an extra follower.
Take mirror shots. That’s so Myspace. Unless it’s to show off an outfit, we are hereby vetoing the reflective surface selfie.
Upload a photo of your food if it looks gross. Even if it tasted delicious, no one wants to see a pile of slop. Martha Stewart committed this sin on Twitter and was absolutely lambasted for it. If you’re not sure, don’t upload.
Buy followers. Yes, it can be done. While it may be satisfying to see your number of followers enter the thousands, this will be tainted by the fact that 75% are robots.
Overshare. Toilet selfies, “I’m sick” shots of you with tissues up your nose, or photos of you drunk and/or crying are unnecessary and awkward. Furthermore, this is not Facebook. Uploading more than a couple of photos in one day is overkill and will make you an encumbrance on the feeds of others.
Post nude photos. Think of the Instagram moderators as your kind but conservative aunt and uncle. They want you to be confident about your body, they just don’t want to see it.
Be mean. Trolling will get you nowhere and starting fights with other users in the comments section of a celebrity’s outfit photo is a waste of your time. Making fun of other people’s photos is also frowned upon.
Follow Kim Kardashian. She doesn’t need the attention.
Best in their class
These folks have it all figured out. Check out their pages to see how it’s done.
@TheRoadIsHome: The feed of Nirrimi, a 19 year-old Australian photographer who is mother to a little girl and travels the world with her young family. Interspersed amongst some questionable hippy posts are gorgeous shots of her daughter, Alba, some creative vegan food ideas and beautiful landscape and travel photography.
@MacyMakesMyDay: Follows the sweet, joyful life of five year-old Macyn Hope, a little girl with Down’s Syndrome who was adopted by some seriously committed, positive parents. The bio reads “Rocking my extra chromosome. Keeping it sassy. Loving life.” That she is.
@LemonPiy: Who knew food could be so darn pretty? Each photograph by baker and food-lover Y Lee is like a perfectly formed mini painting.
@WhatKatieAte: This hugely popular blogger, chef and photographer has finally made the leap over to Instagram. While her feed is fairly sparse at the moment, we can assure you it will be filled with delectable recipes and stunning shots.
@LauraBrown99: She’s the wisecracking Aussie executive editor of the US Harper’s Bazaar, lives in New York and has a fabulous life. But you won’t catch Brown name-dropping or boasting. Instead, she uploads self-deprecating shots that show the fashion industry for what it should be: fun.
@Margaret__Zhang: Blogger, student, fashion director and proprietor of all things stylish, Zhang is master of the flat lay and lives a beautifully curated life.
@JarrodScott: Gents, this muscly Australian male model will provide you with ample inspiration to work out. He also has a pretty great life outside of the gym.
@SweatAndOranges: Two Australian sisters, one a personal trainer and the other a nutritionist, combine forces to provide exercise and healthy eating tips you can actually follow.
@NatGeo: National Geographic’s photography account does not disappoint with a world tour of all that is beautiful, fascinating and, sometimes, sad.
@KerrieHessIllustration: An Australian illustrator who works for Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Kate Spade. Her account in three words: Pretty, Parisian, pink.
@TunaMeltsMyHeart: Tuna the dog is, in the words of his owner, “an adorable 3 year-old Chiweenie who was born with an aggressive overbite and a lower jawline-dysfunction. He also has five moles surrounding his mouth, a crumbled chin and a neck that looks like he has been soaking in a bathtub for days.” In other words, he’s adorably ugly and looks a little like Mr Burns from The Simpsons.