How to Edit iPhone Photos for Instagram: Don’t buy an expensive camera yet!

“The best camera is the one you have on you.”

It’s a cliche you’ve heard about a million times, but my first choice camera is my Canon Rebel t7i. It’s weather-proof, has that magic color quality unique to a Canon, and paired with the right lens performs well above it’s price.

When I don’t have that? I use an iPhone 7.

Above? That’s an iPhone photo.

There are a few main components that go into a compelling photo– composition, lighting, editing, and camera– all of about equal importance. I would argue that of these, composition and editing are the most important in photography for Instagram and other social media.

The camera you have? The least.

Composition refers to elements of the photo itself. Is the photo pretty to look at? Photos that follow the rule of thirds, use leading lines and interesting foregrounds tend to perform better on social media platforms like Instagram. Does the photo draw your eyes in? Does it make you want to look longer?

The longer someone spends looking at your photo, the more likely they are to like it. Instagram records all sorts of metrics, but ultimately longer time spent on a photo means it will likely perform better.

People look longer at photos that have a clear path for the eye to follow, and are in portrait orientation. For example, in the photo above there is a clear path for the kayak, and eye, to follow through the rocks.

Above? That’s another iPhone photo.

Composition is important, but so is lighting.

Lighting on a DSLR will take into account shutter speed, aperture, and iso. On your phone this is a lot more simple. Just after sunrise and before sunset, you get buttery-yellow tones like the photo above. Water itself can give off it’s own light, and at the right angle you can catch pretty ripples.

While the photo above was taken near sunset, the first photo was taken around midday. Rainy and cloudy days will often diffuse light, and shooting with your back to the sun will bring out more colors and depth in your photo.

Editing might be one of the hardest parts of photography, but one the best tools for artistic expression. Editing iPhone photos for Instagram can be done with Adobe Lightroom, my preferred app, but also any free editing app.

In general, I begin every phone edit by decreasing the contrast, lowering highlights, raising shadows, and then increasing white while decreasing black. A lot of time, I will increase texture and clarity a little (by less than ten percent), and add a vignette, or subtle dark ring around the outside.

I always crop to straighten my horizon line.

At this point, you can edit for style by playing with the colors and saturation. Developing a cohesive style of photo edits is great for personal branding, and also fun!

In Lightroom, I like to decrease the luminance of the sky, to bring out the blue. A lot of the time, I will increase the luminance of colors in the foreground of the photo.

Another useful Lightroom technique to make a iPhone photo sparkle is the ability to make selective edits. Using the paintbrush tool, you can lower the exposure of a select area, increase texture of just one spot, or bring out the colors in the focal point in your picture.

While this is all a good starting point on how to edit iPhone photos for Instagram, ultimately the best thing about Instagram is how it acts as a platform for artistic expression. Develop your own editing style, play with the colors you like, and have fun with it!

Above, I used the paintbrush tool to increase the exposure of the trees, and selectively increase the texture of the cliffs to make the detail stand out more.

I’ve been asked more than a few times what the best camera for travel photography is and my honest answer is a nice high end Canon. But realistically, shelling out several thousand for a pretty DSLR won’t give you good photos.

You take the photo, not the camera.

Questions, comments, concerns? Drop a comment below or shoot me a message on Instagram!

Happy shooting!

Hi there, my name is Maddy and I’m a writer/photographer from Michigan currently loosely based in Northern Minnesota. If you’re a regular reader, thanks for sticking around! If you’re new here, enter your email in the handy little email list or follow me on Instagram to make sure you keep getting free tips and tricks, travel guides, and adventure stories. 

I love providing as many resources as I can for free, but if you learned from this post and want to help support my work, the best way you can do that is buying a print from my print shop

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