I know a lot of mamas who, like myself, are trying to step up their Instagram feed. Since the recent changes in the Instagram algorithm went into effect, many Instagrammers have felt that engagement on their photos has declined. For busy momtrepreneurs like us who are using Instagram to gain exposure, collaboration opportunities, and business growth, that can be very discouraging. This has left many Instagrammers trying to step up their photography to help gain back some of that engagement.
The problem is, if you're like me and don't know much about photography or photo editing, and you don't have a nice camera, that can be really challenging. As much as I would like to learn how to use high-end tools like Photoshop, I don't have the time or the money for it. So, I have dedicated myself to finding FREE and SIMPLE apps that I can use right on my phone to give my photos that professional touch. Here are my favorite apps and how I use them.
VSCO is a standard photo editing app for iOS and android devices. It comes with TONS of preset filters for one-click photo editing, as well as editing tools that allow you to manually adjust your photo's features such as exposure, temperature, saturation, and more. VSCO is always Step 1 for me when I begin editing a photo. I can achieve the mood I am going for and correct any discoloration or flaws that take away from the picture's appeal. My FAVORITE thing about VSCO is that I can pre-select my favorite filters to appear on the main screen so that I can quickly apply them without scrolling through the dozens upon dozens of filters.
Using the same filters for your pictures consistently is important because it makes your feed look cohesive. Most of the top-tier Instagram accounts have cohesive feeds in which all of their photos have a similar color palette and tone. By applying the same filters to all of your photos, you can achieve a highly cohesive and captivating feed with just the click of a button. In the two photos below, the first photo is the original and the second is touched up with VSCO. I applied filter A5, and then boosted the Clarity to 1.0 and the Temperature to -1.0 to give the photo a crisper, cooler tone that would stand out better on Instagram. Though the difference may be subtle, I do believe that even small changes in brightness and tone can impact whether your photo gets engagement.
Do you ever take a photo and think it looks great, then when you post it you see some totally unappealing, distracting thing in the shot that you didn't notice before? This happens to me ALL. THE. TIME. Professional photographers have amazing editing tricks for removing these distractions, but it can be really hard to do if you're just an amateur like me. That's why I love the Retouch app. With this app, I can quickly remove unwanted things from my photos despite the fact that I know nothing about photo editing.
After you download the app, you are walked through a brief tutorial that shows you how to remove unwanted objects. I can honestly say that the tutorial was all I needed to get started. It's so easy! In the below photo, I wanted to upload a #throwbackthursday photo of Roman in his ring sing for the first time. I love this photo, but now that I am more focused on the details of my Instagram posts, the hair tie on my wrist was really bothering me. I opened the photo in Retouch, selected the hair tie with the Remove Object tool, and viola! No hair tie and a much more appealing photo.
While editing the below photo of my son in the VSCO app, I discovered that the little purple spindle in the bottom right corner really took away from the scene. I imported the photo to Retouch, selected the purple spindle with the Remove Object tool, and POOF. Gone!
Don't you love those professionally shot photos with the super sharp foreground and the kind of blurry background? It really makes the subject of the photo pop! Getting that kind of shot is easy if you have a professional camera with a low f-stop lens, but it can be challenging -- if not impossible -- if you are shooting on a smart phone. The BokehcamFX app has a lot of cool features that may or may not strike your fancy, but one feature that I think every Instagrammer will love is the blur too. Check out this photo of me in my kitchen with my son:
I was actually using my DSLR camera with a low f-stop lens. However, I was too close to the objects behind me for my camera to be able to blur the background nicely. My kitchen was a bit of a mess, so I really didn't care for the way the background looked. I loaded the picture to BokehCamFX, selected the Blur tool, and created this:
Is it perfect? No. The blur tool is great for blurring large spaces like the kitchen counter behind me, but it can be imprecise when you are trying to blur smaller areas, like the space around my hand in this photo. But it certainly stepped up my photo a bit and drew the attention to what I REALLY wanted to highlight, which was my son in his ring sling. Also keep in mind that although you can see the imperfections in the blur effect here, those imperfections will be much less noticeable in the small Instagram interface. Of course, if you are really serious about taking high quality, cinematic shots, you'll want a high quality camera with a good lens that will accomplish this look on its own. But if you are just looking to take your Instagram to the next level without investing any money, this is a seriously great solution!
This one might not be everyone's cup of tea, but I want to share it anyway. Plotograph is a pretty cool app that allows you to create moving backgrounds in your photos. This effect gives your photos a bit of engaging imagery that might draw the eye of your followers (as well as potential new followers). The moving background will appear automatically when your photo is presented in your followers' feeds. However, it will appear as a still shot in your profile and will only move when someone clicks the photo and then clicks the play button.
Plotograph is not as easy to learn as the other apps I've mentioned. It takes a bit of trial and error to make it look just right. But once you've got the hang of it, you can create some really cool photos. I mostly use this app for Story photos, since I feel like I can have a little more fun with my Stories than I can with my feed -- which I am trying to keep cohesive and polished. Click here to see a Plotograph moving photo in action on my Instagram profile.
I remember how excited I was when Instagram finally made it possible to use several photos in one post. But the excitement quickly wore off when I realized how often people fail to notice that there are multiple pictures in one post. I think that as people become more aware of this change, they will be more likely to swipe to see all photos in a given upload. For now, how do we make sure our followers see ALL of the photos we want them to see?
I have found MOLDIV to be the best tool for creating photo collages for Instagram. This app provides more layouts than any collage app I've tried. The free version provides 120 layouts! If you pay to upgrade the app, you get an additional 192 layouts (but I honestly don't think you would ever need them). PLUS, it has its own filters and editing tools for easy touch ups. The collage frames are super customizable. You can change the size and shape of each individual frame to fit the photos in the collage perfectly. I used MOLDIV to create the side by side comparison shots above, as well as this little mashup here:
Lastly, MOLDIV has a pretty great Text tool that allows you to add text to your photos. You can choose from tons of fonts, colors, styles, and more. I often like to use MOLDIV's Text tool for Stories, since there aren't many ways to customize the text in the Story editor. If you are concerned about other IG accounts using your photos without crediting you (let's face it -- it happens) you can also use the MOLDIV Text tool to add your Instagram handle to your photo. Tip I learned from the pros I follow: Don't put your handle at the bottom of the photo where it can be easily cropped out! Always put it somewhere in the photo that would force someone to destroy the image in order to remove the handle.
So, those are my top favorite apps for editing my Instagram photos. At the time I am writing this, all of these apps are 100% free and can be downloaded from the App Store or Google Play store. Of course, they all offer paid upgrades. I have paid for some of the upgrades just to see what they are like. My honest assessment is that although the paid upgrades offer a little more customization, most amateur photogs, bloggers and Instagrammers can do just fine with the free version. I hope you give these apps a try. Feel free to let me know in the comments what you think of them. Happy snapping!