Posting to Instagram is at once a fashion lover's obsession and his or her worst nightmare. That may be a bit dramatic, but the social media platform can be a mysterious minefield of things you should—and shouldn't—do in order to get the most likes, followers, and so on.
To help you navigate the perilous world of Instagram, we consulted our go-to social media expert, Michael Kwolek of consultancy firm Room 214. He had some choice words of wisdom to share concerning how to craft a truly stellar Instagram feed.
Keep scrolling for his expert dos and don'ts of posting to Instagram!
"I’ve seen a few people do what I would call custom filtering—not using one of the pre-set filters, but using the other editing tools to produce a consistent aesthetic on your feed," Kwolek tells us. "It looks really cool if … you can see this whole mosaic when it’s all thematically coherent."
"If you use whatever filter pops up first on Instagram right now, Lark, just be aware that that’s the one everyone’s gonna use first too," he says. "At the very least, scroll further to the right and pick another one, but using your own custom-made filters is probably best. The whole point of the platform is to be a little more artful."
"When you’re scrolling through your feed and you’re just seeing single images, you’re not going to stop unless you see something that stops you in your tracks at first glance," Kwolek reminds us. "It needs to be bold, high impact, and not too much detail in terms of visual information. Something crisp on a clean background—the foreground image will pop out more."
"When people have images that have a border on it, then a crazy filter, a washed-out filter, stickers on top of it, it’s like what is going on here?!" he advises. "It’s too cluttered. Sometimes images like that can look like a video that’s paused and about to start—people will think it’s a video, and most of them will just scroll right by."
"Giving the viewer at least the impression of natural light always makes things look more real," Kwolek says. "Plus, it fits the aesthetic of the platform."
"Flash photography can be really tough to make look good," he advises. "Be careful with flash; it can easily look like a weird ’70s-porn kind of vibe. It’s really tough to make that look good, especially for fashion when you’re literally trying to put yourself in your best light. Steering away from harsh indoor light can also really help make whatever you’re taking a picture of look better."
"Traditional photography is rectangular, but with the square on Instagram, your eye is drawn in a more circular motion," Kwolek says. "You can shoot things on center and it’ll be aesthetically pleasing, whereas you can’t do that with a rectangle. The great part about smartphones now [is] it’s so easy to take a ton of photos and crop and edit them. You can really use the cropping tools to help highlight what’s important in the image."
"A big no-no is if your horizon isn’t level—do not press send," he urges. "Fix that photo before you post it! It’s definitely one of those things you don’t really think about initially, because you’re mostly looking at what’s going on in the foreground, but you want to look at what else is going on in the image so it makes sense visually. When you see an image with an uneven horizon, you might not consciously understand why you don’t like it, but it just makes you feel queasy."
"You can do all the composition and the aesthetics you want, but really it’s about what you’re taking photos of," Kwolek advises. "People want to see the whole package. It’s not just about the dress; it’s about the lifestyle. People want to know more about you as a person, because that helps build trust and make you more than just someone who’s good at assembling an outfit. It’s a whole lifestyle. You want to see how all these outfits play into their everyday life."
"It can get a little same-y when everyone’s going to the coffee shop or brunch—maybe you could go to a museum or somewhere different," he says. "That kind of stuff is the heart of what you’re trying to create, this expression of individuality. Anyone can get some cool outfit from somewhere and stand outside of a Starbucks with a coffee cup in her hand. What’s your spin on it? That’s what the whole platform’s about: showing your personality, who you are, expressing your viewpoint."
"Just remember that on Instagram, you can edit as much as you want," Kwolek says. "If you’re a little drunk and you post an image and then you’re like, 'Ugh what did I do?', you can tweak that image or delete it, and having that flexibility is nice. But then again, if you love it and you believe in it, you can always keep it up there."
"I wouldn’t base decisions about your posts solely on how much engagement something gets," he advises. "If it’s something you’re really interested in, keep it going. I look at it as an art project; artists are always editing and refining their work, going back and throwing stuff on the fire. When you look at your feed, make decisions based on that. If you just hate an image and it’s just something random, feel free to take it down."
"Instagram really is the perfect medium for experimenting because you can always delete," Kwolek reminds us. "If you put something up as an experiment and it gets a lot of engagement, then maybe you’re on to something! You can also look at it as truly ‘Insta’—it’s truly instant; what happened yesterday is just in the past. No one is saying Instagram is the end-all, be-all for truth in what your life is. You can edit it all you want."