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Design for better business: 7 tips for taking killer Instagram photos to build your social media following

August 9, 2018

Let’s talk Instagram. In the past, we’ve outlined how to start and build an Instagram page that gives you big bang for your buck. Today, we’re covering content. What should go on your Instagram feed, and how can show off your business’s best side?

Taking great product photos doesn’t require a professional eye—or even a fancy camera. Retailers, restaurants, bars, and salons can own Instagram with little-to-no design background. Follow these tips to recognize Insta-ready photos in the making, capture the moment, build your followers, and share what makes your business shine.

1. Know the basics of your phone settings.

It doesn’t take a fancy camera to fill your feed with amazing photos. If you have a smartphone, there are a few key tricks that can help you make the most of your existing camera settings.

  • Don’t shoot in square setting. Though Instagram will automatically crop your photo to square, take your photo in landscape or portrait view before cropping. This saves pixels and gives you some options for composition.
  • Take advantage of HDR. If you have a Samsung Galaxy 4, an iPhone 4s, or any newer smartphone, then your phone has a built in high-dynamic range setting. Use this setting when trying to capture portraits in sunlight or low and back-lit scenes.
  • Avoid digital zoom. A phone’s lens doesn’t do much for taking pictures at a distance, so either get closer or take a wider photo and crop later.
  • Adjust your exposure. If you tap the screen while setting up a photo, iPhones will give you an option to play with the light settings. Slide your finger to adjust the exposure: higher exposure lets more light into the lens, giving you a brighter, more vibrant photo.

If you want to get even more advanced, there are all kinds of options to be found in your camera settings. Some people like to have a grid overlay to line up a product or center their photo correctly. Others prefer to save disk space and turn HDR off. Play around to see what works best for you!

2. Pay attention to the lighting.

Foodies know that a mouth-watering Instagram makes the most of natural light. Natural light shows subtle detail in a photo that a flash can’t capture. So, if you’re trying to show a new dish or highlight ingredients on your seasonal menu, get near a window or even take it outside! The pros also suggest highlighting shadowed parts using white poster board: have someone hold the board so the dish sits between the window and the poster board, thus reflecting light on to the dish.

Today's market haul in all shades of yellow. I miss avocado, fresh vegetables and salads in India but local fruit make up for it. I've eaten my weight in mini bananas, pineapple, coconut and papaya during this trip. 🤗💛🍍🍌🌴 Jackfruit is a new addition to my fruit repertoire. I just learned that jackfruit is native to southwest India. Keraka recently declared it as its official fruit so I reckon I will be eating a lot more of it in the coming days when we start driving towards the southernmost point of mainland India before we head back up to explore Kerala. Apparently jackfruit is good for health as it's packed with vitamins, minerals, dietary fibre and is high in protein. It's also pretty versatile when it comes to cooking, used in both sweet and savoury recipes. Now I want to taste jackfruit tacos! 🌮 – – – #farandfurthertrip #incredibleindia #india #eattheworld #eatlocal #iamatraveler #cntravelereats #southindia #lifeandthyme #theglobewanderer #realsimple #jackfruit #f52shades

A post shared by Šárka Babická (@sarkababicka) on

3. Try an editing app.

Instagram already comes with its own great filters, but if you really want to make your feed pop, use a quick editing tool on your phone. We like Snapseed because it’s user-friendly, free, and allows you to save your previous settings. You can also try VSCO or Afterlight for easy-to-use editing tools, filters, and more. These tools take some of the pressure of capturing the perfect shot and allow you to develop a consistent style throughout your Instagram feed.

4. Play with flatlays.

Flatlays are essential for stellar product photography. For retailers, mixing in flatlays can help you create a mood, show off your brand’s personality, and give inspiration to potential shoppers. Flatlays are photo collages of objects on a flat surface. Cafes and restaurants can use a flatlay to show off menu items on a table spread. Fashion brands can inspire outfits of the day or upsell accessories by putting together different looks. Get creative with colors and textures, but try to use a neutral background and good lighting to make your flatlay look professional.

5. Tell a story with your content.

The most interesting Instagram pages mix up their formats. Intersperse your flatlays with reviews, quotes, or thank-you notes from customers, video, and lifestyle photos.

Lifestyle content gives you a chance to show off your business’s personality. This content can be a little more complicated than a typical flatlay, but it is absolutely worthwhile to tell a story about your brand. This type of content is aspirational; it doesn’t always feature your product, or even mention your shop. But, it does give you a chance to connect with your customers by showing you understand their needs, wants and desires. Think about these questions when posting a lifestyle photo:

  • What does your customer like to do for fun?
  • Where do they shop, and who do they admire?
  • What’s important to them?
  • What routines do they regularly engage in?

Overall, try to use this content to allow your customers to envision how they will enjoy your product or service.

Welcome to the world Dawn and Storm✨H.A.G.S guys!

A post shared by Glossier (@glossier) on

6. Mix it up!

As we alluded to in the last point, mix up the format and style of your page to give it some serious energy! Beyond telling a story through lifestyle photos and product highlights, use customer quotes, reviews, and referrals to build your brand. Word-of-mouth marketing is a powerful tool, and you can capture some of that magic using a quote generator app like InstaQuote or WordSwag.

You can also use an app like Boomerang to add some zing to your feed. Boomerang combines images into a mini video that loops endlessly. It’s kind of like a GIF, but very easy to use! Ask your bartender to make a drink while you Boomerang their artistry, or show off a customer’s new blow-out with a Boomerang hair-flip. Livening up your feed could not be easier.

7. Do a before and after.

Sure, some small businesses might not seem very Instagram friendly. If you run a service—like a lawn care service or spa—before and after photos are going to be your bread and butter (shampoo and conditioner?). With a customer’s permission, show your results. From a good home renovation to a beautiful wedding up-do, there’s nothing more visually satisfying than a job done well.

Make the most of your Instagram feed without spending a lot of time or resources on professional photography. It’s all in the creativity and passion you already have for promoting your business!


Clover is sold by leading U.S. banks including Bank of America, BBVA, Citi, PNC, Sun Trust and Wells Fargo. You’ll also find Clover at our trusted partners including Ignite Payments, Restaurant Depot, and Sam’s Club. For more information, visit us at clover.com.