Our feeds are filled with pretty images of swirly lattes and covetable outfits that have us oohing and ahhing and reaching for our credit cards. But we often don’t think about the person behind the lens, the one who is making these everyday moments so darn Instagrammable.
Which is where Amber-Rose Smith (@amberrosephoto) comes in. She’s the photographer behind the looks of some of our favourite content creators, from Tanya Burr and Olivia Purvis to Isabella Thordsen and Victoria McGrath.
Here, Amber reveals what it takes to be an Instagram photographer and her key lessons to creating scroll-stopping pics…
#1 Scout out Insta-worthy backdrops
I always keep an eye out for new locations on Instagram. I’ll look at the locations that my favourite Instagrammers are using as most are geotagged, then I’ll save the coolest ones to a ‘Locations’ collection that I refer back to when planning a day of Insta shoots. Some of my favourite spots are in Shoreditch (London) as there’s so many different types of backdrops, from grungy street art to houses and nice shop fronts. You need to think about what’s going to stop a scroller and make them double-tap.
“I’ll look at the geo-tagged locations that my favourite Instagrammers are using, then I’ll save the coolest ones to a ‘Locations’ collection that I refer back to when planning a day of Insta shoots.”
#2 Play on the seasons
Think about the time of year that you’re shooting and make the most of it, especially as the seasons change. In spring, I love shooting a residential street with the blossom in bloom. In winter, Christmas lights are always a winner. Autumn is great for rich colours and cosy snaps that bring warmth to your followers. In between seasons, there’s always a cute cafe that’s caught my eye for its decor or amazing cakes. And who wants to miss an opportunity for yummy cake? Not me!
#3 Find the right lighting
Golden hour is ideal — it’s the time before sunset when the sun is lower in the sky and the light is warmer and softer than it is during the day so is very flattering. In spring, I love shooting from 11am as the light is bright (if the sun is out) although direct sunlight can be too stark on the face so it’s also nice to shoot slightly in the shade. I recommend using the location to your advantage. If you’re near a building that’s covered in glass, this will act as a natural reflector and bounce light around. Always try shooting from different angles as the light will be different. Shooting in direct sunlight affords you the opportunity to play around with shadows that your subject may be casting and try some glowy backlit shots with the sun directly behind them. Experiment and have fun!
“Golden hour is ideal — it’s the time before sunset when the sun is lower in the sky and the light is warmer and softer than it is during the day. It’s very flattering.”
#4 Give your equipment an upgrade
I use my phone for shooting moments that catch my eye on the go. I recently got the iPhone XR and the camera is amazing! A phone shot is great for quickness and ease, like spotting a cool art mural on a wall or shooting a flat lay. But if I’m creating street style or portraits, I use my Canon camera so I have control over the settings and can choose whether or not I put focus on the background. My kit consists of a Canon 5D MKIV and a Canon 5D MKIII along with 50mm f1.8 lens, 24-70mm lens and a 85mm f1.8 lens.
#5 Get to know your camera
It’s vital to learn the manual settings on your camera, such as where the controls are and how changing one setting affects another. Don’t be intimidated by all the buttons! I am now able to instinctively and rapidly change my camera settings to fine tune images whilst shooting to get the perfect light balance and depth of field. I would also encourage you to experiment — you will always learn if you make mistakes and that’s part of the fun.
“It’s vital to learn the manual settings on your camera. I instinctively and rapidly change my camera settings to fine tune images whilst shooting to get the perfect light balance and depth of field.”
#6 Edit like a pro
If you don’t have a professional camera, don’t fret! You can hire professionals or download free images from websites like Unsplash. Failing that, edit, edit, edit! There’s plenty of brilliant apps that will easily enhance your pics. Most of them are free, too. My absolute favourite is Colourtone. The range of filters available is fantastic.
#7 Plan ahead
Achieving those #gridgoals isn’t as simple as going to a nice street and snapping a few shots on your phone. If you want to create a unique and refined aesthetic, it’s all in the pre-planning! Consider the location, the subject, the weather, the lighting, the outfit, the pose, the props…before you go on an Insta hunt. Yes, you might see one cute shot pop up on your feed but there has likely been hundreds of pictures taken in the process and it can take hours to sort through and edit the favourites once you’re home. Take your time and it will pay off.
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#8 Get those grid goals
Use an app like Unum, which shows how your grid will look before you share. It helps you to maintain a flow and consistency in terms of colour and style. I’m mindful of what tones work together and try to have a variety of images, from flat-lays to outfit shots. Think about making a good first impression when potential followers first land on your account. Are they going to follow or are they going to get out of there asap?
#9 Use IG as a career-booster
Consider Instagram as a portfolio for your work as well as yourself — I find a mixture of professional and personal shots works best at hooking people in. After investing time in building up my grid, it now brings in business opportunities from brands like ASOS and Burberry who like my images and ask that I shoot for them. That’s exciting! This is a powerful platform that has allowed me to expand my client base and reach out to new clients, so make the most of it.
Thanks, Amber! That’s left us feeling all fired up to get out and start snapping. We hope you digged it too.