Tattooed hand holding a camera

Are You Making These Instagram Mistakes (Like I Did)?

I get some great feedback from my Instagram followers. They tell me how much they like the light, composition and subjects in my photos.

I wish it had always been the case.

When I started out, I’d take a photo of anything, slap a filter on it, and add a border to it and think that I had a good thing going for me.

Five years and more than two thousand posts later, I’ve learned about what works on Instagram the hard way.

Let’s take a look at the mistakes I’ve made, so that you don’t make the same. Also, as an aside, I haven’t deleted many of my early Instagram posts. I like to see how far I’ve come. And I’m not ashamed of it.

What NOT To Do On Instagram, As Told By My Feed

1. Don’t take photos of boring subjects.

A post shared by Alessio La Ruffa (@alessiolr) on

This is my very first Instagram post. Of my computer screen. It wasn’t moving, but I still managed to get it blurry. Don’t use borders either. They’re really gimmicky. And Instagram filters? Stay away from them, unless they’re really subtle. I prefer to use these two free apps to edit my photos instead.

Lessons learned

Have an interesting subject

Make sure your images aren’t blurry

Don’t use borders

If you’re going to use an Instagram filter, make sure it’s subtle.

2. Don’t overdo vignettes

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Vignettes are a way of emphasising the subject in a photo. Like most edits, make sure it’s subtle.

Lesson learned

 Use vignettes subtly to draw attention to your subject.

3. Keep your horizon straight

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It hurts me to look at this picture. Also, try not to shoot in bright daylight. Or while driving.

Lessons learned

Keep your horizon line straight.

Don’t shoot in broad daylight.

Don’t shoot while driving.

4. Stop using the tilt-shift tool

It's the sea, see?

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I don’t know who invented the tilt-shift tool, but it’s horrible. Stop using it.

Corny captions aren’t going to earn you any points either.

Lessons learned

Don’t use tilt-shift. Ever.

Tell a story in your captions. Keep it short and to the point.

5. Don’t use collage apps

Audi pics

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Have you noticed how most of these posts have no likes or comments? Collage apps are nothing but gimmicks that make your posts look a little cheap. If you really have to create a collage, you should use Instagram’s Layout app, for iOS or Android.

Lesson learned

Don’t use collage apps, and if you absolutely have to, use Instagram’s Layout app.

6. Use HDR in-camera, not in your edits

Lister rooftop pics.

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High-definition range, or HDR, works great on your camera or smartphone to balance shadows and highlights. Adding it to your photo in your edits is almost always a bad idea.

Most editing apps allow you to lighten shadows and darken highlights as needed, which means you have no reason to use HDR.

Lesson learned

Don’t edit with HDR, it’s overkill. Lighten your shadows and darken your highlights instead.

7. Don’t post motivational quotes

"Don't Settle." ~ Steve Jobs

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That’s what Pinterest is for.

Lesson learned

People use Instagram because it’s a visual platform. Post your motivational quotes on Pinterest.

8. Keep it simple

Don’t go overboard with the special effects and typography. Don’t post heavily pixelated photos either.

Lessons learned

Keep your special effects subtle.

Try not to use typography in your pictures unless it’s for informational purposes.

Make sure your images aren’t pixelated.

9. Jump shots are getting old

Selfie #whpsilhouettes #jumpstagram. Thanks to @spillly for organizing access to the building.

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I used to take jump shots all the time. I thought I was so cool. I wasn’t.

Lesson learned

Jump shots aren’t cool anymore. Stop taking them. Think of something different.

11. Only post videos if they’re really great

Sunny winter's day in Pretoria, South Africa.

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This video makes no sense whatsoever. And it’s awful. Only add videos if they can add value to your feed.

Lesson learned

Only post videos to your feed if they’re great and add value.

12. Don’t use fake depth of field apps

Behind the scenes with legends @alexioso and @ghostwitness #RiseShineAndVote #VoteSA

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I used to love adding fake depth of field to my iPhone shots. It made my photos look like they were taken with a DSLR. Well, that’s what I thought at the time.

Lesson learned

If you’re using a smartphone to take pictures, don’t try to fake the depth of field.

I learned these lessons the hard way, and I had fun while doing it. These aren’t hard and fast rules though. Rules are meant to be broken.

  • Sibusiso E Mahlangu

    lesson learned, but eish I’m still jumping bru!

    • Haha! It’s a phase. You’ll see.

  • This is awesome! Thank you!
    I’ve started using those two apps since you posted the article and it has already made a world of difference. PS. the first Instagram pic is always the worst. Well, except for Adele.

    • Thank you, Shae! Glad I could help!

  • Jeffreylovesphotography

    Great share with the community fam.

  • Andrew Tandoh

    Great post man. Thanks a lot!