When you need to take a photo in a pinch, most of us just pull out our phones and grab a photo. But, as you might have noticed, a good photo isn’t always a guarantee when it’s taken on your phone. (We all understand blurry photo problems.)
When posting on social media—especially on highly visual platforms like Instagram and Pinterest—photo quality is everything. It is the photo, what’s in it, and how it looks that makes someone stop scrolling on social media. When they stop scrolling, they start engaging with your brand.
So how do you take a good photo with your phone? Here’s our guide to taking great social photos.
First, What Makes a Good Social Media Photo?
Social media photos have a clear formula for success. Your photo should:
- Have a clear focus/subject
- Have an interesting/compelling composition
- Be clear with the right balance of objects in frame (not too “busy”)
- Convey a clear emotion or tone
- Be taken at a visually interesting angle
- Have good and clear lighting
- Match the style, colors, and tones of your previous images
- Be sharp with no blurriness
Notice how often the word “clear” pops up? That’s because it’s the golden rule of social media photos: Clear subjects, clear photography, and clear goals.
Let’s look at some comparison photos to help you get an idea of what makes a good social photo.
In this first example, I wanted to take a picture of my weekend activities: reading and knitting. I first tried these two shots:
In photo one, the composition isn’t interesting. There is a clear subject and the photo is clear, but it doesn’t “grab” the viewer. In photo two, the photo is too busy. What am I supposed to be focusing on, the journal, book, or the yarn? In addition, the photo quality overall is not high enough. Eventually, I ended up settling on photo three:
In photo three, the composition is interesting and made even more interesting by the heart formed by the yarn. By the way the subjects are set up, it’s clear both the yarn and the book are the subject without distracting from one another. The photo is shot from a good angle with clear lighting and a high-contrast background that makes the photo pop. Out of the three images, the last one is best for a social media post.
Let’s look at another example.
Look at the differences between photos one and two (hint, photo two made the cut). In picture one, I knew I wanted to take a photo of the apple. The subject is clear and the photo has a lot of color, but the lighting wasn’t good enough on the subject—the apple was in the dark. Plus, I wanted to have a higher-contrast background in order to make my subject pop even more.
For the second photo, I moved until I found better lighting and purple flowers that would make the red apple visually stand-out. The second photo has an interesting composition, the photo is clear, and the apple has the best lighting it can have.
Finally, let's look at an example live on the feed.
Here we have two different restaurants, two photos of sandwiches, two pictures taken with phones. In the first, the photo is way too close to the subject, blurry, and not visually appealing or interesting. The sandwich does not look as good as it probably tastes (and we bet it tastes amazing).
In the second, all of this is fixed. We are pulled far enough away so that we can see the whole subject but still know what the subject is. The photo is clear, the lighting is amazing, and the photo is made visually compelling by how the sandwich is arranged and the various background elements that work together to make the sandwich jump out and catch your eye. While making a quick scroll, you would order one of those sandwiches over the other on the feed.
As you can see, how you frame your picture matters, and even on your phone you can find a way to take a stellar photo that will get you more likes on social.
So... How do I Take the Photo?
Now that we’ve seen examples of good vs. maybe-could-use-some-work social photos, let’s get down to taking the picture. When taking a photo, you should:
- Identify the subject and isolate it in the frame.
- Make sure the photo isn’t too busy with objects.
- Make sure it is against a background that is both visually appealing and compelling while still working to make the subject stand-out.
- Make sure you are in clear lighting (that also isn’t harsh. Natural light is better than fluorescent.)
- Keep your hand as steady as possible.
- Position your phone to capture the subject from the best angle possible.
Before taking the photo, ask yourself these questions:
- Can I tell what the subject is?
- Is this photo visually pleasing/interesting?
- Would I think this photo is interesting if I saw it on social media?
- Would I give this photo a like if I saw it?
For even more help, here are a few articles we like that talk about good photography rules and practices:
And here’s a little tip from us: Are you prone to a really shaky photo hand? Us too. To help, you can:
- Prop your phone up against a hard surface
- Lean against a wall while you take the photo
- Use your spare hand as a level under your photo-taking hand
- Take a deep breath and focus on your target right before you snap the photo (it helps relax your arms)
- Find a friend who has a steady hand
What Makes for an Interesting Photo?
So what do people actually want to see on their social media? What counts as interesting? While everyone has a different definition of what’s “cool,” there are a few core elements that make a piece of content engaging to people. A photo is interesting when it does one of the following:
- Entertains the viewer
- Delights the viewer
- Educates the viewer
- Visually pleases the viewer
- Connects personally with the viewer
That’s why dog and family photos do well on social media. Dogs are often entertaining, delightful, visually pleasing, and personally relatable with the viewer. Families do the same.
So, maybe a photo of post-it note with an announcement written on it isn’t the most exciting. BUT, a photo of your company founder with a post-it note announcement on their forehead is. You can always reframe a photo to make it better for social. Just always return to entertain, delight, educate, please, and connect (while remembering your rules for taking a high-quality picture).
For example, look at how our Senior Designer Rob spiced up a photo of his desk:
Instead of just taking a simple picture of his desk and calling it a day, Rob added to the quality of the image through his notations, making the photo more delightful and entertaining. He made this photo better and more valuable for social through just a few quick edits—and you can do the same with some creative thinking and a good laugh.
As they say, practice makes perfect, and the more you experiment with your social photos the better they'll become. Just remember the number one rule of social media photography: Have fun. If you want to have fun with us, you can follow us on Instagram @eternityweb and on Facebook here and LinkedIn here. We'll see you there!