Taking & Editing Photos for Instagram

Every now and then my older sister likes to send me old pictures of me in my stellar year as a scrawny thirteen year old, for the purpose of reminding me of my humble days before dipbrow. And ignoring how crazy I look as the picture subject, I can’t help but be bemused at how far picture quality has come. On the one hand, I do kind of miss when you could snap a poorly lit selfie and throw it up on your FB page, but as the daughter of an extremely talented photographer I also have an innate appreciation for beautiful images that I can’t shake.

I get a LOT of questions regarding my instagram pictures and how I take and edit them, so I’m going to answer the most frequently asked ones below:

“What camera do you use?”
The Bells are exclusively Canon users,  so I use the Canon EOS Rebel T6 DSLR.
DSLR stands for Digital single-lens reflex. There’s a technological explanation for that, but basically it means that whatever image you see in the viewfinder is the image that shows up on the screen. My kind of camera is also referred to as a point-and-shoot because not a lot goes into actually capturing an image with it. You point....and then...you shoot. Didn’t see that coming did you?



I like my camera not only because of the image quality that it produces but because of its versatility. The multiple settings allow me to capture a good image no matter what the lighting situation is. And it has scene intelligence mode, which means that even if I don’t know instinctively which settings are best for the lighting, background, or subject, the camera does and it adjusts itself accordingly. Which I think makes it perfect for beginners who are not well versed on things like aperture and shutter speed.

Priced at around $600 across marketplaces, this camera is an investment. But stay with me, I’m going to talk later about how I was able to afford to get one + an extra lense , as a college student.

“Mercedes, who do you get to take your pictures”
The answer is anyone and everyone. The Canon T6 has a great feature that allows you to connect your phone to the camera via Bluetooth and take pictures remotely. However I’ve found this to be all but useless because a tripod just can’t capture my angles the way another human can. I also like to take my pictures predominately outdoors, and I’m bold, but I haven’t reached the level of boldness it takes to whip out my tripod in the middle of campus.

So I solicit the help of anyone that I can. I try to find situations where it can be mutually beneficial i.e “I’ll take your pic, you take mine” but everyone works on their own schedule and the arrangement doesn’t always work out. So thankfully I have some great friends who will help me out when they can.

So now let’s get into the fun part: Editing


When I used to shoot with my dad, every now and then he would take a shot, look at his camera and then get really excited and come over to where I was (posing in a bush most likely) and go “look at that. That’s straight out of the camera!”
It wasn’t until I started doing my own amateur editing that I began to really understand his excitement. Getting an image that’s stunning pre-editing means all I have to do is slap a filter on it and brainstorm captions for six hours. But life doesn’t always work out like that, which is where knowing a few key editing tricks really comes through.

I use three apps for editing. Facetune, VSCO, and Lightroom.

On Facetune I use the whiten tool and the patch tool. The whiten tool  is not just for teeth. In fact that’s the least of its uses. I whiten everything that is supposed to be white in any given picture. My shirt? Whiten it. The wall? Whiten it. White sheet? Whiten it. Why? Because the color white often comes out more dull on camera than it would in person. And I think it filters better.  

The patch tool is what I use to remove things out of the background. Sometimes people, but mostly just pesky outlets or sometimes spots off of a wall. It can also be used to remove things out of the foreground like a wet spot on a shirt or a stray hair.  It’s hard to explain how the patch tool works so I tried to demonstrate with a picture. 


Basically you tap on whatever you want removed, and then use the “copy” circle, indicated by a dash in it, to dictate what that area will be replaced with. This tool really only works well on solid backgrounds, unless you want to go through the trouble to makes sure the patterns match up.

Facetune is 4.99 in the App Store, which sounds like a lot for an app but your Starbucks costs more than that.



VSCO and the iPhone version of Lightroom (which is free) basically have the same uses. The only feature that Lightroom has that I can’t use on VSCO is the “whites” tool which allows you to make everything that is white in the picture duller or brighter at once. Since I usually whiten my pictures in Facetune, this tool only comes in handy when I’m batch editing pictures that don’t need their own editing attention.

The desktop version of Lightroom has the same feature but with every color group. It allows you to isolate, blues, reds, yellows etc and adjust them separately from the rest of the picture. The desktop version has other additional features but at the moment I don’t find them beneficial enough to pay for.

To talk about VSCO I’m going to go step by step through how I edited a picture that wasn’t at its full potential “straight out of the camera”


I edited this picture using the following tools

Preset: I follow a theme on my pictures, so I use the same 2 presets on every photo; A9 and HB2. Which one I use depends on how the picture looks raw.


Exposure: Exposure may be my favorite tool. Due to having darker skin, I can’t allow a picture to be dark by nature or I will look like a shadow, which just isn’t a good look for me. I usually raise the exposure on all of my pictures but I lowered it on this one to combat the “ashiness” - for lack a of a better term - of this photo.


Contrast: Again, to help get rid of the hazy look of this picture I raised the contrast.


Saturation: Saturation is my second favorite tool. After adding my filter, some of the life was taken out of the picture. Saturation adds that life back into it. And that’s the best way I can explain how I use this tool


White Balance: Under white balance there’s tint and temperature. I never touch tint, but as illustrated below it controls the green-ness or the pink-ness of the image. Temperature controls how “warm” (brown) or “cold” (blue) the image is. I only use this for theme purposes. I drop the temperature slightly on all of my pictures to use blue as apart of my underlying color scheme.


Those are all the tools I used on this picture, and the most I use ever. Not every picture requires this much tweaking.



VSCO has several other features that I have never found necessary personally, but that can add really cool effects. Every now and then I use the grain filter if I want a picture to have less clarity on purpose.  

VSCO is free for the basics, and allows you to purchase presets in sets and at a very low price.

Before I wrap up I have a few tips and tricks for photo taking.
1. Always! Always! Always! take pictures facing the light. Taking a picture with your back to the light, artificial or natural, will result in you, as the picture’s subject, being shadowed.


2. Figure out what poses work best for your body type. I am already tall so for the most part I do not take my pictures from a low angle. This angle lengthens the body. There’s a wealth of tricks on the internet for posing for different body types

3. Take no less than 300 pictures (note: this is hyperbole). The more you take, the more you have to choose from and more often than not the best picture is not the one that you posed for or saw in your head.

And finally I want to talk about how I got my camera. I found a package deal on www.hsn.com that included my camera, my standard lense which is 18-55 mm and an additional lense for wider shots, as well as the camera bag, a battery charger and an SD card as a bundle deal for right at $700 after sales tax. The great part is that this website allows you to break your purchases into four or five monthly payments WITHOUT the use of a social security number. So that means your credit is not involved, and there is no interest rate.

It sounds way to be good to be true but I’ve done it so I can attest to it being 100% legitimate. At the moment, they are not selling the exact package that I got but I will  link one here for one that is a little under $500.00 for the camera and one lense.


I hope this answered most, if not all, of the questions that I’ve been asked.

Happy Instagramming!