Guest Post: How to Edit Photos for Instagram

I’m only just getting started to up my Instagram game (until recently I was very much using it as a personal account). Lean closer, and I’ll share my top secrets for getting the perfect insta-photo!

I’ve been using VSCOX, but these tips should work for any editing app.

The first thing I’d like to stress is that this is intended for someone who wants to have a consistent feed and a strong aesthetic (which, let’s face it, is what life is all about). If you use instagram to share photos of your cat and the account isn’t called mr. miaogi, this may not be for you.

The second thing to stress is what sort of photos tend to “do well” on insta. Apparently bright photos, warmer tones, and photos of faces tend to be more successful. Just something to bear in mind.

Remember, the goal here is to make your photos look obviously edited, but as though you “weren’t really trying.” Super casual. Instagram editing is the messy bun of photography.


#1: Get a good original photo.

I cannot stress enough how important this is. A filter can only do so much. In fact, more than once I’ve wanted to post a photo on instagram, and even though I’ve liked the original, after hours spent editing I haven’t been able to get it to fit into my aesthetic or give it the “look” I’ve wanted. More than once I’ve had to simply admit that there was something off about the original. The most common culprit here is lighting. More specifically, I like bright, simple photos; artificial lighting or a photo with too much natural contrast often sticks out like a sore thumb. Ideally you want a fairly bright day, but overcast as opposed to sunny (direct sunlight can cause some weird shadows and whatnot)

insta 1
I just couldn’t make the lighting work in this one


My number one example was the photo below, taken at Elan. I love the pose, the setup – pretty much everything about this photo in isolation. But it simply doesn’t go with my aesthetic, however I try to edit it. And believe me, I’ve tried.

insta 2
Original plus edits



Whenever I’ve had a strong original photo, editing has taken minimal time and effort. It’s hard to go wrong when every filter looks banging.

My top tip for getting a good original is to have no shame. If you’re not 100% satisfied upon scrolling through your set of 50 photos, ask your friend/parent/instahusband/uber driver to take more. Be as specific as possible – I like to give helpful tips such as “try to take photos mid-movement” and “take as many as possible, there is no upper limit!” I had this experience when I went to AIDA in Shoreditch to get a photo of a rose latte (my first ever rose latte, in fact), and ended up not quite satisfied with the photos I’d taken. After drinking the latte and thoroughly embarrassing myself by taking photos of all angles in front of the bemused baristas, I considered what to do next. In the end, I simply ordered another latte, moved to a different seat, took yet another set of photos, and – low and behold – got the perfect shot. Persevere. If you’re not happy now, you won’t be happy later.

insta 3
No amount of cropping could get that table to align with those floorboards
insta 4
The moneymaker, along with my final edit for Instagram


#2: Pick a filter.

(Also known as a preset if you’re super fancy.)

This is easy enough – just pick your favourite on whatever app you are using. I’d recommend having a few “go-to” filters. After some time using VSCO, I realised I’d always use the same filters, so eventually I decided to highlight a few favourites and make my feed consistent that way (in case you were wondering, they’re AV4, AU5, FP8, and KE1). I wouldn’t recommend necessarily using the exact same filter for everything, as different photos do require different filters, but I’d pick 4-5 with a similar aesthetic that work for different types of photos (landscapey/outdoor photos, inside a cafe, on the street of your favourite city, headshots, etc).

As much as a consistent feed is important, I’d say individual photo quality is more important. I’ve several times looked at a feed which I’ve liked, only to open up individual photos and think “hmm, actually this photo isn’t very good either”. You want both in an ideal world!

My top tip for filters is to not turn them up 100%. On VSCO you can tap the “filter” button again and tone it down (and I think other apps are similar). Another top tip is, when you’re unsure which photo to use because you took a few similar ones, to upload them all to VSCO, edit one to perfection, and then copy the edits to all the others.


#3: Crop and straighten.

I’d say this is arguably the most important step. There’s something about a well-composed photo. Some photos look a bit weird initally, but are on point with the right crop.

insta 5

Remember to put your focal points either right in the centre, or 1/3 of the way across on both the x and y axes (most crop functions have a grid to help you with this – you want the focal points to be where the lines on the grid cross).

If you edit a bunch of photos at once in order to decide as in the previous step, remember to crop each one before picking your favourite. You might surprise yourself!

Most editing apps have a “straighten” function as well – if you’ve made your cousin take 80 photos of you, it’s quite feasible that they’re didn’t all end up completely straight. It’s crazy just how much of a difference this sort of things makes in terms of composition and professionalism! The “skew” function is also super useful (again if used sparingly) – if you want a straight-on look and the photo was taken from an angle for example, this is how to fix it!


#4: Details.

My top tip for details is that most editing apps will have a “colour fine-tuning” option (called “HSL” on VSCO) for which you can adjust the saturation, shade, and lightness of various colours in the photo (or similar). This, if used sparingly, is a godsend. So many times I’ve had too much yellow light in a photo, or my hair has for whatever reason come out with a lovely orange sheen, so I often use this function to desaturate those colours.

On a similar note, VSCO has a function called “White Balance”, which is similar to the colour fine-tuning but specifically geared towards your whites. You can make the colours warmer or cooler, more pink or more green. This can be great for making sure you have a similar vibe in each of your photos.

The other thing you can do is ~slightly~ adjust the exposure. You have to be careful here, as it’s very easy to get an “overexposed” look, but a small increase can give your photos that kick in terms of overall brightness.


What not to do:

Personally, I’d never mess with the following functions:

  1. Overall saturation
  2. Vignette.
  3. Contrast.

These are all sure fire ways to make your photos look over-edited (and not in a casual way, in an “I tried too hard and failed” way.)

insta 6
An example of all 3 in action


Now that we’ve covered what not to do, below is the finished photo.

Full list of edits:

  • Crop and straighten
  • AV4 filter, +9.8
  • Exposure +1.5
  • Sharpen +1.9
  • Clarity +0.7
  • White Balance, Pink +2.3
  • HSL, Red -1.5 

insta 7


That’s all for now folks. Happy instagramming!

Milette xoxo



Hi guys, I’m Milette, I’m 24, and I live in north-west London.

I’m a Maths PhD student & classical singer. I’ve also dabbled in the startup world (mostly Venture Capital), having worked in that industry in both Hong Kong and Berlin.

For a while I’ve felt like I didn’t have my life quite figured out – but with each passing year, I think I’ve grown closer to mastering the Art of Adulting (copyright pending). I’m definitely not there yet, but recently I’ve managed to get to a state where I can at least pass for someone who has their shit together. I now have a (relatively) tidy home, I cook most of my own meals, and I’m aiming to be a pro dinner party hostess by 2020. I started this blog because I wanted to write down my experiences in case they could be of use to anyone – join me as I figure my life out, hopefully without turning into a big dull dud in the process!

You can find Milette on her blog, Musings of a Milettennial, Facebook, and Instagram!










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