instagram tips: learning from my mistakes

I think my #1 piece of advice for beginners on Instagram, after ‘edit with VSCOcam‘, is to post every day. Partly because this is the best way to find your ‘tribe’ & make some friends, but mainly because regular practice & routine is the fastest way to get any good at anything.
I hate that awkward learning-curve phase where you have to make mistakes at something new, but it’s really true that we learn the most by reflecting on these rookie errors.
Plus, posting daily helps push you to be creative; some days there’s nothing at all to photograph, & you have to figure out how to shoot nothing but still say something.

I’ve dug down deep in my timeline to find the photos I was taking when I first started posting daily, 16 months ago, right in the middle of my learning curve. Though it FILLS me with cringe, I wanted to share with you some of my hits & misses, and what I think they taught me.

rosemary wreath instagram tips

Miss: Rosemary rings. This was a nice project, but I was too impatient and took this shot at night under artificial light, hence the yellowyness, and the noise. I then added a truly bad filter, making it even more yellowy, and thus sabotaging all chance of an even vaguely nice picture. Good one, Sara.
Lesson learned: Always wait til morning. I’ve yet to find an exception to this rule!

instafails me and orla

Miss: Painting on table. Ughhhhh this is so bad I don’t even want it on my blog. The saddest thing is, it could easily have been a really pretty little shot; I can forgive myself for not taking the lids off the paints to show the colours & hide the barcodes, but it needs to be LESS YELLOW for GOD’S SAKE SARA, and why oh why didn’t I get on my chair and take it from directly above?
Lesson learned: Don’t be lazy, get up & find the best angle – for tabletop shots, this of often directly above. Also, a natural white balance is simple, clean and timeless, and always superior to a nasty nicotine-tinge.

diary calligraphy instagram tips

Hit: You are not alone in this. The filter’s not the best, but the composition here is something I’d still do now – especially that little flicky end on the tape :). Lesson learned: neatness and symmetry work well. Also, nice table!

paris tilt shift instagram tips

Miss: French sausage dog. This one should be a winner! A little old man & a Parisian dog in a red coat! But besides the fact that I didn’t straighten the skewed horizon, crop out the bin bags or take just one more step to the left, I applied a weird horizontal tilt shift for no discernible reason. What did I have against the treetops?! Just WHY?
Lesson learned: If you can tell you’re using tiltshift, you’re using it wrong. No exceptions.

manchester instagram tips

Miss: Manchester buildings. Eep. Not only is this oh so dull – this was clearly a day where I had nothing to post – I’ve tried to make up for the dullness with a jazzy light-leak filter and some crazy yellow.
Lesson learned: The filter should not say more than the photo.

instafails instagram tips

Hit: sun-visor selfie. I still really like this shot, though it never got much love on my account! I like the shadows of the window-raindrops on my face, and how it’s hard to figure out exactly what you’re looking at. If I ever wake-up a superstar singer, this is going to be my album cover.
Lesson learned: Don’t judge a photo by likes & comments alone; value your own judgement, and take the photos you’d love to stumble across. Eventually, more like-minded ‘grammers will find you, & it’ll all be good.

What changes can you see from your early photographs? Have you made any of the same mistakes as me? How often do you post? I love comments like a kitten loves a hair bobble, so please do share…

Want more Instagram tips?
How I edit my instagram photos
How I take photos on my iphone
Curating your instagram gallery

  • Helen Stephens

    Thanks for the tips, I like the car mirror one too, very moody, yes perfect album cover. Or book cover. Write a book for it.

    • Ooh excellent idea. It will need to be a square book though. That’s my title, actually – the square book…. πŸ˜€

  • apolitepreamble

    Love this post Sara. I’m fairly new at being a regular instagrammer and actually went back and deleted most of my older images as there was no cohesion, just a jumbled mess of places and things. I’m still learning, but am enjoying putting in the extra effort now.

    • Thank you! I understand exactly what you mean about cohesion. I hope you have a record of those lost images for yourself though – you never know when you might want to revisit them! πŸ™‚

  • Rida Suleri-Johnson

    Really made me smile and laugh out loud too! I’ve kept my cringe worthy pics to remind me of my beginnings of insta even though I consider my “beginning” much more recently than then.
    The tree blur cracked me up!! Too funny! Oh I totally agree with the likes thing too. I’ve admittedly felt a little disheartened when something isn’t as popular as other pics and Ive thought, hmm shall I delete?! But as you say, it’s not always a marker for good or bad!
    Thanks for sharing this xx

    • Thanks for reading, Rida! I’m glad (relieved) that people can relate! As Jules says above, I’m much more likely now to delete a photo because I’ve changed my mind, than because it doesn’t get enough love. But it’s much easier to say that now I get 1500 likes on an unpopular shot! For the record, I love all your shots πŸ™‚ x

      • Rida Suleri-Johnson

        Ahh thanks so much Sara…it means a lot coming from you. Your pictures tell a story in themselves even without your beautiful words. I wonder, are you working on a book? It would be a hit! X

        • Oh I love you. No book, except in my dreams. I need something to write a book about! Cake? Naps? *keeps thinking*

  • Definitely a great way to find your tribe. I’ll second that.

    I have started to pay more attention to my insta feed lately (@alfiesstudio for anyone else as I know you already follow me Sara) tho’ I feel like I’m constantly struggling with the narrative part. Which is crazy as a huge part of what I do is help people express their narrative and share their stories.

    Thanks for the tips, simple stuff that I definitely have to remind myself of at times.

    • Thanks Nicole!
      Yes, it’s a tricky balance to keep your feed honest and real but keep that sense of narrative – it feels like one skyscraper shot or cheesy selfie could throw mine entirely off course! My focus has shifted to simply only sharing my best photos (where possible, anyway!), and somehow I find this naturally fits with my overall theme. Sorry, waffly answer – distracting toddler by my side! xx

  • Julia Williams

    I love your comment about how if you can tell you’re using tilt shift you’re using it wrong! I went through a weird tilt shift phase and it makes me cringe. It also makes me cringe when I see others using it badly. My style and posting habits have changed so much! Everything I used to do was forever in the Lucas filter in hipstamatic – looking back the colours that created were sooooo unforgivably saturated! And since I’ve been pregnant my posting habits have changed a lot. I used to post 4-5 photos a day!!!! Then I had 17 weeks of sickness and even just scrolling through my feed made me feel worse and more sickly – i just didn’t want to post, and I remember one stint of 5 days without posting anything – an all time Instagram record for me πŸ™‚ since then I now usually post only once a day and my shots have become more lifestyle and less landscape. It’s also made me really picky – much more than I ever was about how my feed collectively looks. Now, even if a photo does well with likes and comments, I’ll happily delete it if in a couple of days its presence scews the look of my overall grid. Essay over!

    • Haha, oh so glad to hear someone else had an awkward tilt shift phase. So funny!
      I’ve decided to suggest to instagram a ‘no good’ filter for when you feel sick but still want to look at your stream. It’s too dangerous! Pinterest needs it too.
      Love your reflections on how your posting has changed, and lookingb forward to seeing how it continues to evolve once little Oscar comes along. Finally, so sorry to hear about your shits, & hoping it clears up soon

      • Julia Williams

        Lolllll! I hoped I’d managed to edit that before you would see it!! πŸ˜‰ teehee! Yeah they’ve been so bad, just had to share that with you! Xxx

  • Silbia Ro

    You have been my inspiration since the day you ‘liked’ one of my picture ( which was ugly and embarrassing when I see it now. I wanted to delete it but because of you I kept it

    • This is, without a doubt, the sweetest and most wonderful comment I’ve ever received. Thank you, Silbia! What a privilege, and what a compliment! It’s one of the magical things about that little app, that you can be influencing people’s day to day and have no idea at all. I don’t feel stalked at all – just incredibly flattered and grateful. Thank you for seeing what I see and supporting me, and for sharing your own images too! x

  • BritW

    Your IG account is lovely. I too have shameful pictures that I’d like to hide (on my blog, mainly), but I just let it go. It’s part of the process.

    • Thank you! Yes, part of the process, exactly. It’s important not to get sucked into the perfection myth and think we have to pretend.

  • megan

    Thanks for sharing these tips, i’m finding them very helpful. Some mistakes I have made (and probably still do) is using artificial light or adding an ugly filter that really isn’t necessary. I also have to add, that i’m obsessed with your IG account, lol, I check it every single day..a little stalkerish now that I think about it. πŸ™‚

    • Hahaha! Nope, it doesn’t count as stalkerish if someone posts their stuff online, I reckon. That’s my excuse anyway πŸ˜‰ I am sure I still make hundreds of awful errors all the time too – I will probably revisit this post in a year with some ‘awful’ photos from right now!

  • When I first got instagram, I used to put a filter on everything, the more dramatic the better. Now, I try to be simple and not so OTT. I go through spurts of posting all the time to not posting at all. Your photos are always so beautiful on Instagram, they make me want to post everyday but I always get stuck for ideas and end up posting something that will only be deleted a few days later haha x

    • Yes! I think there was a trend back then, in our defence, for super-saturated yellow-tinged photographs. They look the wrong kind of dated now.
      Thanks for your kind words about my instagram! I think it’s totally ok to be posting stuff you want to delete later – the only reason I didn’t delete most of my early shots was because I had started a 365 project to record Orla’s first year. I’m glad I didn’t now though! xx

  • Sara, this was so helpful! “Post every day” – I really needed to hear this. I’ve completely lost my IG confidence at the moment, don’t post as often and spend way too much time questioning and editing a photo before just giving up and deleting it. Oh, and I love that last photo and yes it would make a great album cover!

    • Argh, I’ve been there – it’s exhausting! I think creativity comes and goes though, like anything else – when I feel a bit blocked I like to set myself a challenge, like #aweekofwhite or something. It gives me something different to focus on! Looking forward to seeing more frequent pictures from you πŸ˜‰ x

  • Aimee

    Such a helpful post, thanks! It really made me think about the composition of my instagram snaps.
    I just discovered your blog and IG and I am totally obsessed, hehe! I love your photos and your writing style, I find both totally inspiring. I’m trying to get my instagram to a good place just now, hopefully I’m headed in the right direction! @bonus_pumpkin if you want to have a look, notes and constructive criticism are very welcome! X

  • Thanks so much for sharing, and for being so honest! Really helpful, inspiring stuff, as ever! x

    • Thank you Abi! Honesty is definitely my aim here. It’s one thing to have a picture-perfect instagram life, but I hope I can balance that out by showing the truth a bit more over here! πŸ™‚

  • Lisa Ridge-Valentine

    This is so helpful for a newcomer like me! I’ve just set up an online shop lisavalentinehome.co.uk and I just love looking at your pictures and hoping one day to be able to take pictures even vaguely as lovely as yours. Thank for sharing your tips and experiences, and for letting us share your gorgeous blog and IG pics

    • Loving your shop, Lisa – thanks for the lovely feedback! As you can see, my pictures weren’t always lovely – if I can do it anyone can! πŸ˜€

      • Lisa Ridge-Valentine

        Aw thank you so much for your lovely message, I needed a pick up..my daughter fell out of a tree yesterday and broke her elbow πŸ™ and I’m feeling like a terrible mum today as I was there, so a nice, encouraging message like yours is very welcome ,!

        • Oh no!! Poor little thing, and poor you! Not a terrible Mum – that’s going to be a great story when she’s a teenager, proper childhood memories. A terrible Mum would keep their kids locked up and away from all dangers and fun xxx

  • I’m a new follower *Helloooo!* I’ve yet to get instagram or even an i-phone for that matter. I seem to be working myself into a bit of a tizz with all of it as it sounds so complicated. Filters, cropping, lights!

    ps. Good luck with the freelancing gig.

    • Hi Jessica! *waves a lot* Oh don’t worry, they’re not obligatory – if you’ve made it this far without them both then perhaps you should just continue to enjoy having two fewer addictions than the rest of us! πŸ˜‰ Thanks so much for stopping by, and your kind words & wishes! xx

  • Love your tips! Thank you!

    http://en.emoi-emoi.com/

  • Helen Stephens

    YOU REALLY SHOULD! And writer a picture book text while you’re at it.

  • Love this, thanks for all the top tips x

  • This is such a great post. I started blogging last November and I have already gone through my Instagram snaps to delete those embarrassing ‘post anywhere, anything, in any kind of light’ photos. You learn so much in such a short space of time on your little blogging journey don’t you?

    Dominique x
    http://www.herfashionblog.com

  • Really, really enjoyed this post. It’s so great to look back on things and see how far you’ve come! I can see where you thought you went wrong and the ones you hit on, you hit on well!
    Victoria xx
    thedaisyjaynes.com

  • Ahah this is absolutely hilarious, when I look back at my old insta photos sometimes they bug me so much I just have to delete them. Glad I’m not the only one that looks back and thinks that way! Loved this post by the way, and your utter honesty!

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  • Melanie

    Really good tips πŸ™‚ Thanks for sharing. LOVE the last shot… and would definitely make a great album cover. Also I will delete pics from my feed, but only if I look back at my grid and something jumps out at me and not for a good reason. Only just discovered your IG feed and your blog… lovely stuff. Keep up the good work πŸ™‚ Xx

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  • LiveOxfordshire

    Brand shiny new to IG (though not photography) so it’s fascinating to hear what works/doesn’t work in this medium. I’m already finding the square crop of IG images something that I have to adjust to. Really appreciate the tips – ta!

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  • oftheeveryday

    i am so enjoying catching up on all your posts since discovering your feed a couple of months ago and learning more of your story. i love your writing style and outlook on things. and of course the dreamy imagery! and now somehow i feel like i really know you! apologies for the stalkerish sentiments. i started my year in pictures project as a mindfulness challenge to myself to balance out the mamahood days. am only on day 75, but i had no idea how addictive this process will become! i wake up thinking up capture potential in the day and reading up on tips and personal stories of everyone that started out the same way. i was never a “creative” one, having worked in corporate environment before becoming a mama, but even the last 70 days of taking photos and having people comment and like them have made me feel more “creative” and i think i like it. a lot. thank you for sharing your stories, they have been inspirational.

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