We went straight to the photography pros for the easiest, prettiest ways to make every picture Insta-worthy.
Eliminate anything that doesn’t help tell the story, says Tyson Wheatley, a New York City–based photographer with 623,000 followers on Instagram (@twheat). For the most graphic effect, crop the photo so your subject is in the center. Or, if there’s a lot happening in the image, try the photography rule of thirds, suggests Pei Ketron, a San Francisco–based travel photographer with 802,000 followers on Instagram (@pketron): Mentally divide an image into thirds and put your subject at the imaginary line between two of those parts. Let’s say you photographed the sun setting above the ocean. Crop the photo so the horizon line is along the top edge of the bottom third, leaving the sky to fill the top two-thirds.
It’s the quintessential vacation shot: the fruity cocktail against a stunning vista. But if you’re worried the drink looks tippy, like it’s on the high seas, you’re probably right. “Crooked photos are incredibly common because people tend to quickly photograph one-handed,” says Wheatley. Luckily, most editing apps come with a straightener grid, which pops up to ensure that the elements in the image are in line. Just focus on the parts that should look level (the horizon, a tabletop) or vertical (a skyscraper, a tree). “It takes seconds to do and makes any photo instantly polished,” says Wheatley.
Add a Filter
Looking for big punch with minimal effort? Try adding a filter with the edit tool on your smartphone or with an app like A Color Story (free; iOS and Android), says Wendy Granger, RealSimple.com’s photo editor. “The app can do a lot of things,” she says. “It’s easy to use, and the filters enhance your photo and make it a little softer or brighter.” To pick a filter, think about the effect you want your photo to have, says Granger. Often the filter’s name is a good guide. “In A Color Story, I use the Everyday filter to lightly boost a photo and the Pop filter when I want extra oomph,” she says. “The iPhone’s Dramatic filter is also great for adding depth to a flat shot.”
There are a ton of tools and effects available, but for everyday images, you really only need a couple. Using an app like A Color Story, pump up the contrast to lighten the lights and darken the darks, then sharpen the photo a touch. “Don’t overdo it—every adjustment should be slight,” says Wheatley. To add drama, you can play with brightness, color, and highlights. Just skip saturation or HDR adjustments, which tend to make photos look unnatural. “Compare the original image with the edited version while you’re making changes,” says Ketron. “You’ll quickly realize if the photo looks unrealistic, so you can scale back.”
Perfect the Imperfections
There may be times when you have to do more heavy lifting—to remove something marring the shot, say (like the shadow we erased from the photo above). Try an app called TouchRetouch ($2; iOS and Android). “It’s a powerful tool that can magically cut out an object you don’t want while, in most cases, keeping the background intact,” says Ketron. The app also includes a blemish remover for those extreme close-ups. Hoping to salvage a shot with red-eye? Download Adobe Photoshop Express (free; iOS and Android), import the photo, and simply hit the red-eye removal button.