How I Edit My Instagram Photos

From being a kid with a disposable camera, to my first digital camera that was the size of a shoe box, to now with a mix of iPhone cameras and a digital SLR, I’ve always taken photos. I’ve been asked a lot recently about my Instagram photos and how I edit them. It was one of the comments I received when I asked people for blog feedback too and what you would like to see. So you’re about to see my very basic photo editing tips for how I edit, as well as some Instagram and blog photography tips too.


Edit Instagram photos


I’m not a professional photographer at all, I’m definitely not very technical or even all that good at it, but I’ve always loved taking photos and making them look the best version that they can be. Most of what I’ve learned over the years I’ve self taught, especially photoshop with hours of YouTube tutorials, but I very rarely ever use photoshop anymore.

Pasting together the before and after photos in this post has been the most I’ve used it in years. There’s such a stigma associated with photoshop that people forget it’s a really powerful technical tool and not just used for airbrushing stretch marks and smoothing over wrinkles. I use it really only for resizing.

Nowadays it’s just so easy and way more convenient to edit and enhance photos with a few very simple tips and tricks using apps and in built phone tools, so anyone can take a good photo, you don’t need to be pro.

There’s obviously so much scope for a post on editing photos, how, why, overediting and the ethics of portraying something that actually isn’t a true representation. Remember the Amelia Liana scandal earlier this year? Some believe photo editing to extreme levels is an art, a digital art and some of the most beautiful photography is undoubtedly very enhanced. But I’m not getting into all that I’m just telling you what I do.


How I Edit My Instagram Photos


For myself, I’ve developed a style of photos and editing that I’m happy with and use all the time, and through this post I’m by no means telling you that you should do the same. It’s far from perfect or technically correct and there is huge room for improvement which I’m always trying to do. I’m completely shit compared to real photographers and I’m actually quite lazy.

But I don’t do it for any reason other than I love doing it and I love the style I’ve found for myself. I’d still do it even if nobody else liked them or wanted to see them. I feel no pressure to take the perfect photo or edit it to death, and I definitely don’t withhold from posting something in case it doesn’t fit my ‘insta theme’. I don’t have an insta theme, I’m too lazy and wouldn’t want to be that controlled by it. Here’s a great one in case you were wondering what I mean – notice all the black and whites with a bit of colour in each? Or this warm and vintage one.

The main thing for me as I said is making a photo look as real as possible, as true to the real life version of whatever it is I’m taking a photo of. If I can make some small edits that get the colour of the marble architecture to look as close to what it really does look like in person then I will make the edit, if a photo doesn’t look as bright or clear as I saw it with my own eyes then I’ll make the edit to show how I saw it.

A photo doesn’t ever capture the original, the real thing and how often do we say a photo just doesn’t do something justice? I hate it when a photo doesn’t capture something as nicely as it really looks. My attitude towards my photo editing is to try to do it justice, or as near to as possible without turning it fake. You should always look to find your own style that you are personally happy with, these are just a few things that I do for mine.


Edit Instagram photos


iPhone editing tools

This is the first thing I do for any photo and you might be surprised how good the editing tools are on your phone. No fancy photo editing suite needed. I have an iPhone 8 Plus, and the standard editing tools within camera roll are the first tools I go to, in this order:

Straighten – I don’t know why but I take wonky photos and have to straighten every single one. I’m also short so have to make a conscious effort to take photos from far enough back or high enough up so that I’m not turning the camera up at the subject as this skews it completely. Look at the straight lines in the photo – door edges, building edges, windows, anything and use them to guide you until it looks as straight as possible.

Brighten – every photo I take gets a bit of a brighten, sometimes just a tiny amount, sometimes a lot. I hate how photos are always duller than reality, but I really try not to over expose it as this means you lose the detail. Maybe you prefer dark, moody photos so this one wouldn’t be a good one for you.

Contrast – I don’t contrast a lot, but I will take it up a couple of points to sharpen the detail especially after the brighten.

Brilliance – so often completely overlooked, a tiny amount of brilliance can totally improve a photo. It makes it ‘pop’ is probably the best way to describe it.


Edit Instagram photos


Then I move on to VSCO filters.

I am obsessed with this app. You have to pay for filters, of which there are many collections but if you’re serious about finding a style or you take photos of specific things then it really is worth it. There’s a collection for nearly every type of photo you might take – architecture, portrait, urban, black and white and so on. Some of the filters are really heavy and each one has a different purpose. It takes time to try them all out until you find a few you like and will always go back to.

I went through a phase of loving the KK filters, and the C filters too. I’ve tried them all at one point but now I really only use the A filters. Yes it was worth buying them all until I found one I like best.

Depending on the photo I’ll choose one of the A collection filters and alter the strength of it until it looks the most realistic to it’s true appearance. I don’t add filters to make it look different which is the key thing for my photos. Sometimes my photos have as little as 0.2 of an effect on them, so play around with filter strengths.

Brightness and Contrast – adding a filter sometimes alters the brightness and contrast so I go over these again at this point.


Edit Instagram photos


Other vsco edits to consider

Temperature – I prefer white light to yellow light so often will reduce the warmth down a tiny bit so photos are less orangey.

Sharpen – I don’t often use this as it can make photos too grainy but sometimes it’s a good one in small doses.

Shadows – occasionally I’ll lighten the shadows but not so much that it reduces the clarity of the photo.

There’s always exceptions of course, if I’m sharing an amazing sunset, or Autumn scene then I wouldn’t be toning down the warmth as those scenes are naturally going to be bright and orange.

Top vsco tip – if you’re using photos for blog use, before you save the photo from vsco to camera roll, check the sizing as the file sizes can be huge especially from up to date camera phones. When you go to save to camera roll it will give you various options. If I’m going to upload photos to my blog I’ll save them as medium to reduce file size when they’re online for a smoother running blog with a short load time. If they’re for Instagram or anything else then I go maximum for the best quality.


Edit Instagram photos


Now I’ve looked at this one ^ I actually prefer the first version despite it being warmer, so even your own rules won’t always apply.

That’s literally it. I don’t superimpose flocks of birds, or edit out cranes or crowds of people, I don’t have the time or patience. Sometimes I zoom in on a specific area of a photo and crop the rest out, but in general those are the standard edits I do, especially for photos taken on my phone.

When I use my SLR I don’t even use VSCO, as I find the quality of the photos when I use this camera is so good, I don’t need or want to make many adjustments. A good camera can sometimes be all you need.

Since I wrote this, I’ve been to New York and it’s worth mentioning at this point how amazing my iphone 8 camera was. I didnt use my SLR once, and I took this photo which is my favourite EVER of the view from Top of the Rock. There are absolutely no filters, edits or alterations to this photo at all, I even got it straight! Sometimes nothing at all is best and don’t be scared to leave photos as they are, it’s better than over editing.



Why should you listen to me?

Well the simple answer is that for the most part you shouldn’t, you should try loads of different things and edits and tips to find your own style. For outfit photos or selfies, I am literally the last person you should take advice from. Experiment, try new apps, follow photographers and look closely at the ones you like and pick out features that you like until you have your own unique style. Save photos you love in your Instagram saves, or a private Pinterest board so you can always find inspiration when you’re having a dull photography moment. People will eventually recognise your photos as yours.

When it comes to Instagram I’m clearly not the worlds best at it, but I spend my day job every day managing both my own and a travel Instagram account with 20k followers (still a small account in the grand scheme of things).

Over the past 3 years I’ve tried and tested every new development that’s been rolled out, I’ve tried every suggestion from within the industry, written and read reports on what works and what doesn’t, downloaded and deleted so many apps, to a point where while I’m not the best photographer or instagrammer in the world, I do know a few good general pointers that are really simple and anyone can apply whatever you choose to Instagram.


Edit Instagram photos


Some general photo taking tips I try to always remember

The better the camera the fewer edits you’ll have to make.

The better the light the fewer edits you’ll have to make.

If I’m taking a photo of an object, I always crop the image so the subject is centre.

When taking photos don’t get too close up, give yourself room around the subject as you may find once you start rotating and cropping it could look odd and lose some of the photo on rotation. Zoom is not always your friend!

I don’t take many flatlays, but the biggest turn off for flatlays is too much thrown into them, or when people over style them. In my opinion flatlays look better close up, even if things are cropped and don’t fit in properly.

Portrait or landscape? For blog content I use landscape photos as often as possible, as I feel that they flow nicer when scrolling down a post. For Instagram I try to use portrait as much as possible. Everyone is battling the Instagram algorithm, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to get your photos seen even by your own audience. Portrait photos fill the screen on a mobile, and mean that users are less likely to be distracted by the next photo in the feed.

Constantly be on the look out for even the most ordinary things to take photos of. With a little bit of creativity most things can look visually appealing. Try different angles, or look for the ordinary things in life.

But at the end of the day, share whatever you want to share. It’s your account and photography is there to be enjoyed, by you just as much as your followers.


Edit Instagram photos


Here’s some of my favourite Instagram photos that I love. They’re absolutely beaut and I can only dream of taking photos as amazing as these:


This one because I could just dive in that water…


This one because it’s so simple but I love the angle…

View this post on Instagram

• Hello Instagram ❤ Yesterday night just before boarding my flight home from the Gold Coast I found out some amazing news. I made it into the top 50 finalists to win a travel internship with the DISCOVERY CHANNEL. This is my DREAM JOB. Traveling is all I think about literally and all want to do in my life and further career. If you guys could be amazing and vote for me it would help me out tremendously. You can click vote now ten times a day and each vote puts you into draw to win $1000. It only takes a couple seconds I promise! Find the link in my bio ❤ • The photo not only means a lot to me (Indian princess running down the steps like Cinderella captured during my time volunteering) but just the fact I was recognised as potential and have being given the opportunity to be showcased on their website is a tremendous deal to me. This is my DREAM and such an amazing opportunity for me to be recognised professionally as a photojournalist and by the tourism industry. I can't beg you guys enough to help me out with this it takes 10 seconds I swear! Links in bio!!!

A post shared by Jessica Whalen (@jessicagracewhalen) on


This one because it makes me feel like its me sat by the sea in Greece…



And every single photo in the National Geographic Trave Photo of the Year 2017 competition.

Happy snapping!


Other posts you might like:

My favourite travel Instagrammers

Newcastle Instagram accounts to follow

Saatchi Gallery Selfie Exhibition


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Easy Edits for Instagram Photos

Easy Edits for Instagram Photos

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