How to Use Instagram Like One of Those Pros With Hundreds of Thousands of Followers

Ross Dettman/AP

Instagram is both a challenging and desired skill to master in the social media world. It launched back in 2010 as a simple little-known photo-sharing app with 1 million users that was limited to posting square photos with one of only several in-app filters. Now that it offers more than 400 million potential followers, extensive editing options and did away with its restrictive square photos, there's infinitely more potential to absolutely slay the Instagram game — or completely botch it. 

Plenty of professional photographers — and non-professionals who happen to be really damn good — have gained large followings on the app with careful technique and have spread their wealth for us less fortunate wannabe Instagram pros. 

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Ross Dettman/AP

Keep it simple:

"The more the 'subject' of my photo is simple, usual, and makes an echo to daily life, the more I will get feedback," Anthony Lepinay told World Photo. "I like to surprise my audience with an unexpected beauty (an empty train, a strange light in stairs, perspective we are used to see but that we never see...)."


"I intentionally underexposed this shot—as I do with a lot of my shots—because if you don't, the iPhone will blow out portions of the photo, especially the sky, resulting in a loss of definition in elements like the clouds," Brooklyn, New York-based photographer Chris Ozer told Instagram for its "How I Shoot" series. 

How to underexpose: Press and hold the brightest area on your iPhone screen before taking a photo. The exposure will automatically adjust.

Chicago-based photojournalist Joshua Lott, who's contributed to publications like Time, New York Times and Washington Post, told Mic it's difficult to control exposure with the Samsung Galaxy S4 he uses for 90% of his Instagrams. "I can't really control the exposure more a matter of me moving the camera around," he said. "Makes it a little more challenging a bit fun."

Play with alignment:

Some photographers center all their pictures, some stick to the rule of thirds and some don't follow any specific alignment rule. Bottom line — play with alignment. It can make or break an image and some photographers' alignment is part of what makes their style unique. 

"I basically go with the flow," Lott said. "If I compose I don't really look for rule of thirds. I see something, I shoot it If I like the way it's framed in the picture."

But photographer Pei Ketron swears by symmetrical photographs. "A perfectly aligned and symmetrical image just feels balanced and right to me, like there's no other way this particular scene should be looked at," she told Instagram for the "How I Shoot" series. This technique takes practice, she said. But if you're in a rush while taking the photo, she suggests apps like PS Express or PhotoForge2 for post-aligning. 

Ketron doesn't always follow her own rule, though. A browse through her Instagram — which has 861,000 followers — includes various photo alignments:

With #FoodPorn, it's all in the lighting and color:

"Always try and use natural light," Gaby Dalkin, chef and Instagram connoisseur, told Epicurious. "And eat foods that are naturally colorful. Those two things make for the most gorgeous images."

Stop striving for #NoFilter:

Most Instagram pros precisely edit their photos. They don't over-saturate them or layer on filters, but they use editing apps to tweak and "enhance" the photos, as fashion blogger and Instagram pro Margaret Zhang told Buzzfeed Life. "I actually only use the apps to enhance," she said. "I take out weird shadows with Snapseed, take out weird colors with Luminescense, and find VSCO Cam is a good color corrector."

Here's how to use VSCO like a boss.