Imagine your Instagram feed is an ongoing art exhibition, where you are responsible for choosing the best content to provide your visitors with an enjoyable experience. That is, in essence, what it means to 'curate' your feed.
Curation has to do with how you select, organise, and present a collection of images.
Instagram uses a grid-like layout, so when you open up your home feed in the app, you don’t just see one image at a time, you're presented with a collection of images. To get you started, I've put together nine ideas on how to better curate your Instagram feed.
1. Use similar tones, hues and ‘feel’ in your editing technique.
We all know a beautifully curated feed when we see it; one that conveys a sense of effortless coherence. Although the composition of each image is different, when put next to one another the images somehow all look like they belong. They look like they were meant to be together. One of the main ways you can do this is by using a similar editing technique in your photography.
If you have bright, bold and crisp images that are saturated and colourful, keep that theme going. If you have under-contrasted dreamy images, with tones of blue or purple, keep that consistent. If you prefer warm tones, with loads of golden sunsets and sunrises, stick with that. It’s when you use starkly contrasted black and white tones today, followed by over-saturated colours tomorrow, cool tones the next, and sepia on the day after that (with a border!) that things start to get a little crazy.
Here are some examples of photographers on Instagram that do an incredible job of sticking with their editing style, thus allowing for a highly curated angle to their work.
Annelies (@woodssomm) uses cool tones of grey and blue, and her photos often have a foggy or hazy feel. They are also quite desaturated.
Wayne (@hipebeast) uses a granular, gritty approach with contrasting texture and high detail.
Elle-May Leckenby uses warm vintage tones when it comes to editing her photos, and also introduces a black and white edit from time to time.
Sharyn Hodges' landscape images are characteristically light, with warm golden tones.
2. Vary the type of photo that you post
Variety is a great way to bring visual interest to your feed. Instead of posting three portrait images, followed by two detailed macro photos, followed by four countryside scenes, keep alternating the themes or genres. I’ll give you some examples:
From top to bottom, and left to right, @ali_thewanderer has used the following line up of shots:
- close-up small still-life scene; off-centre portrait with an architectural background; cityscape
- portrait; close-up indoor plant scene; a textured wall with a collection of antiques
- clothing; street portrait; architectural shot.
From top to bottom, left to right, @peace.mattise has used the following line-up of shots:
- middle distance outdoor full-length portrait; outdoor scene; indoor scene
- close up abstract with shadow play; outdoor portrait; abstract geometric
- cityscape with lots of negative space; flatlay with food; framed subject against a window.
Here are some of the things you can vary:
- Distance: macro, close-up, middle-distance, long-range or landscape
- Angle: From above, from beneath, straight-on, eye-level, ground-level, drone-shot
- Colours: colour, black and white, monochrome
- Genre: abstract, portrait, landscape, street photography, still-life, food, architectural, nature etc.
3. Use a 4-grid or 5-grid pattern
An Instagram feed is set to display three photos per row, and it’s helpful to take this into account when curating your feed. If you keep repeating the same type of picture every three images you end up creating a rather boring pattern, like this.
As an aside, some people plan out their Instagram feed to do exactly this, and it can definitely work! As they say, rules are meant to be broken. Look at what Julian Piehler does with this concept:
If you want to avoid this three-in-a-row approach, though, rather use at least four distinctly different types or genres of images which you rotate or mix up. Here is an example of the type of pattern you end up using a four-in-a-row approach.
And here is the type of pattern that emerges when you use a five-in-a-row approach.
4. Introduce negative space to allow a sense of space in your gallery.
When you use a lot of negative space in your photography, or introduce minimal images regularly into your Instagram feed, it creates a more open, clean and uncluttered feel on your feed. All those open skies and neutral backgrounds make your gallery 'breathe' a little more.
Here's an example of a photograph that has a lot of negative space. I took this shot one very early morning down at the beach during sunrise. A woolly-necked stork flew overhead and I managed to get this shot. The stork (subject) is surrounded by loads of negative space (sky).
Here are a few ideas for introducing more negative space into your Instagram:
- Capture more 'sky' and less land in your photos when you are taking landscape shots by aiming your camera upward.
- When taking close-up shots, crop out almost all of the distracting subject matter and hone in on a small scene or aspect like a leaf, the handle of a teacup, the spokes of a bicycle wheel.
- Move further back when you take photos where the subject matter is set against a clean backdrop like a very high wall thus including more neutral, clean space.
- Crop ruthlessly when editing your photos!
- Place your subject against a neutral or plain background.
5. Use text instead of images every now and again
I've noticed that a lot of graphic designers, photographers, coaches and creatives use inspirational font-based quotes into their feed with great effect. Some of these images are designed by the person themselves, and some are Pinterest style inspirational quotes.
6. Use an app to plan your layout
Although, strictly speaking, it is not yet possible to schedule Instagram posts like you might do on Facebook or Twitter, there are certain apps that enable you to visually plan your Instagram feed by uploading images and reshuffling them until you have the look you want. I've found this to be incredibly helpful and it has saved me from many instances of uploading a photo only to realise it just doesn't look right.
Snug allows you to preview new posts before you send them. It's free for iPhone and Android users. Make your Instagram beautiful.
Planoly was the first visual planner for Instagram, and comes in both mobile and web app forms. It has both free and paid options.
7. Use alternative cropping
For years we equated Instagram with row upon row of neat little squares. A square crop was the only option Instagram gave us for a while, and later they introduced a variety of crops which only showed up when you viewed the individual photo, but not the whole feed. If you want to stay away from the square look, like @alina_rudya and @truthslinger below, then consider using an app like Squaready to prepare your images before you post them.
8. Use angles and lines differently
A really effective way to curate your Instagram feed and introduce movement, variety and interest is by studying the lines within your images and using them accordingly. Many images have defined lines that naturally occur, like the horizontal line of the sea in the distance, the winding curve of a river cutting through the landscape, the lines of a road or train track, or a shadow or silhouette outline. Here are some examples from my own Instagram feed (@_bearista) to give you an idea of what I'm referring to:
When you post an image, have a look at the photos around it - above and below. Are the lines within your image behaving in similar ways? Do you have three images in a row where a horizon forms a line through the middle of your image? Do you have a similarly shaped silhouette in images that are placed next to each other? Are the round objects like plates, pebbles or manhole covers all in a row?
If so, make sure that you don't post these images one after another, or above and below each other. That way, you'll keep things fresh and interesting.
9. Take notes
Lastly, take some time to study how photographers who inspire you put their Instagram feed together. Notice the patterns, colours, textures and composition not only of the photos themselves, but how each image relates to the others within the collection. How do they vary the crop of the images? What type of subject matter do they post? Do they have a distinct editing style?
By observing, taking notes, and learning from others you can begin to put those things into practice with your own photography.
Good luck and happy curating! I'd love to say hi on Instagram, so pop by and visit me at @_bearista and leave a comment and I'll come have a look at your feed.
If you found this post helpful, you might like to read a few other Instagram-related posts I've written. You can find them below.