Behind the Scenes: How I take my Instagram photos

behind the scenes title photo This post was inspired by a sweet blogging friend, Liz from Downtown Demure.

Instagram has been a struggle for me. Actually, that's putting it nicely. Figuring out how to use Instagram to grow my brand has been a few steps short of a disaster for me. Originally, I started my Instagram as a personal account, before the blog was even created. When I started blogging, I created a separate Instagram account to try to market my blog. That turned out to be a major mistake. It's difficult trying to balance more than one Instagram. So I deleted the blog one and decided to merge the two… Then the new issue: Branding. I'm still in the process of working on this, but I've slowly gotten better at this. While I'm not an expert, I'm definitely better than I was when I first started using Instagram (seriously, check out posts from 125 weeks ago).

Flat lay photos: a lifestyle blogger's bread and butter. It's necessary for branding, everyday use, etc. Don't know what a flat lay photo is? Here's an example from my Instagram:

Typically used by life and style bloggers when they want to show off a product of some sort. This one looks pretty simple, right? Well, through trial and error, I've figured out that it isn't. Here's one of my very first "flat lay" photos:

Love buying office and school supplies! Especially when they're as cute as this! @katespadeny A photo posted by Courtney Kincaid (@courtney.kincaid) on

HA. I thought using my pink sheets at home would be a great surface for a background. WRONG. Instead the photo looks haphazard, cluttered and not clean. (Not literally, I swear my sheets are clean.) But having a "fabric based" background that isn't backed up with a flat surface will never give you those clean photos you're envying. I also learned that I could have stacked this photo and gotten better feedback on the photo.

Now, here's another attempt at the flat lay:

Happy Valentine's Day! Don't forget to Treat Yo Self a little bit! #valentinesday #treatyoself

A photo posted by Courtney Kincaid (@courtney.kincaid) on

Better, but still not what I wanted to see in my photos, in my brand. I got the Baublebar logo in there, along with the necklace… I even got some pattern texture with the tissue paper it was wrapped in! But, in case you didn't realize, the table top of my desk is black… Not dark brown. It's actually the same color as the bag. How did this happen? I had my desk lamp on. It even has one of those "natural light" lightbulbs. Definitely mislabeled. It was here that I determined that I needed to have natural light in all of my photos (which seems like a no brainer), and that I needed to become familiar with the natural light areas in my apartment. Here's one of my more recent (and favorite!) flat lay photos:

Why is this one of my favorites? It's simple, clean and has natural light. Plus, I just love that top. Want to know how I got photos like this one and the first photo in this post? Here's a photo of behind the scenes:

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I know! I know. It totally looks silly like this. This here is one of the light spaces in my apartment. I only have two windows in the entire unit (although they're fairly large), so it limits the amount of places I can take photos. This is my bedroom, and I have a piece of poster board laying flat on the foot of my bed. YES. A piece of foam poster board. That's my secret for the crisp white background. From there, the flat lay is all about how you like your photos to look.

To summarize, here are my tips for Instagram styling:

instagram tips for styling your brand

  1. Find the lightest areas in your home/apartment/etc. You need natural light in order to have the pretty photos.
  2. Turn off all internal lights, i.e. the overhead light that has a yellowish cast on things. That's why your photos aren't turning out well.
  3. Buy a piece of foam poster board, because having a light flat surface will help whatever you're photographing pop! You can even paint it a pastel color, but you need to have a light background to get the light to bounce.
  4. Remember, minimalist composition. This means you don't want to have 20 different items trying to fit into the infamous square shape. My rule: 5 items max (unless earrings are involved!) for each Instagram photo. This rule makes sure that each item has it's space and is not cluttered.
  5. When in doubt: stack it! Stacking items, like in the title photo, makes it possible to create a hierarchy for the photo, meaning what's on top is the focal point.
  6. Don't be afraid to edit your photos. I always edit mine because it's next to impossible to take a perfect photo... even with 50 frames. Professional photographers edit photos, so why can't you? My favorite iPhone app for editing photos is Snapseed! Added bonus... ITS FREE.

I hope these tips are helpful to anyone who needs it! As I mentioned earlier, I'm still learning on how to be better at Instagram. Don't forget to follow along on Instagram! Any other bloggers have some tips?

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