The Unwritten Laws of Instagram

Two years ago I got inducted to the igerscapetown community; the official community of Instagramers in Cape Town. Think of an elite bloggers network, but for mobile photographers on Instagram. That’s what the iger community is all about.

Photography has been part of my life by default. My grandfather was a massive wildlife photographer, so he had the best equipment which sort of got discarded with time because none of his daughters were into photography. But for as long as I can remember, I’ve always had a proper camera. I guess that’s why I never really considered my iPhone as a camera at first.

And so I wasn’t really worthy of joining the community. I posted a lot of fluff, like this..

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and this.
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..which are both not acceptable for any self-respecting iger. There are a lot of things which are not acceptable for a self-respecting iger; but it is never communicated to you actually. They are like unwritten rules in an iger’s handbook… that gets hidden in the manIger’s treasure chest and never gets handed out to the newbies.

There are no demo classes to teach newbies the ways of the street photographer. The only way you’ll ever find out what these rules are is if you’re tight with one of the big names in the community, like the names that get picked for brand ambassadors, you know who I’m talking about right?… or (and this is my preferred method) by going to as many walks as possible, making new friends with these talented people who share a common interest with you. Sure, a lot of the time you’ll feel like the new kid at school, but once you look past that you’ll find these walks is an amazing place to hone your talent and release your inner photographer. And once you master that, I promise you will never look at Instagram the same way you used to when you were posting photos of your cat.

So what exactly did I learn from these instawalks/instameets?

  • COMPOSITION

Why did you decide to join an instawalk? It’s because somewhere, hidden in the depths of your DNA if not obvious, you have a deep love and appreciation for the arts..for photography. Right? So then you’ll understand why composition is the number one rule for creating beautiful photos on Instagram. The placement and arrangement of your subject/s in your frame is what is going to make people stop mid-scroll and pay attention to what you’re posting. With the shift from analog to digital, we’ve become lazy. Instead of carefully planning a shot, we snap away like crazy and hope that somewhere in the batch of 50 shots, there’s gotta be one good one. The easiest way to get your composition right is to pretend you don’t have a digital camera, hold your phone up and look at your frame before capturing it. Activate your camera grid and apply the rule of thirds.

This is a photo I uploaded to Instagram two years ago

And this is one from a few months later. Notice the difference in composition? The first photo is kak.

The Child 😛 @roscoedude 's very friendly son James #igctlawbreakers

A post shared by 🤘🏼Leilah (@missleilah) on

  • EDITING

One of the things I remember Ross, the igerscapetown manager, telling me on my first walk was “We don’t upload them now, we can upload them later because it gives everyone some time to edit their best shots.” To me, editing involved adding frames, typography, the blur tool and the grungiest filter I could find. The most over-edited photo on Instagram? That was done by me. *cringe*. Now unless you are going with a 16×9 theme, do not ever use a frame on your photos. It is not attractive and automatically makes you come across as an amateur. The same goes for the blur tool. Step.away.from.the.blur.tool. Adding typo to photos is something not everyone gets right, and unless you are consistently editing with typo, I wouldn’t add this to a landscape photo. You also have to be very subtle with typo; less is more. I experimented with typo too. Created a separate account to feed my love for it and it actually performed really well during the time that it was active. So well that I got to try the Piclab HD app for free, ahead of its public launch – along with a couple of free in-app purchases from the app creator. But all typography aside..

No one can teach you a formula for editing. Because everyone’s editing style is different. I have still not really found my own “unique style.” As soon as I get one style sort of right, I try something new. There are a bunch of cool editing apps you can try, but make sure you definitely have Snapseed downloaded before you go to your next walk. Snapseed will allow you to gently enhance your photos before uploading it to IG. On Snapseed you’re going to want to play around with the Tune Image category and then move between the settings: Brightness, Ambience, Contrast and Saturation. Too much on the + side of the Shadows setting can make your image look grainy, so rather leave it alone. After I’ve tuned my image in Snapseed, I use a little bit of filters from either VSCO or MIX. And I know what they’re saying about one-touch photo editing software, but quite frankly I don’t care.

Here’s one of my raw images.. [taken with GoPro Hero 3+]
Processed with VSCOcam with a6 preset
and here it is after my editing process..
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For this specific photo I used MIX and added a custom filter that I designed because I sometimes feel like Goldilocks when it comes to all these filter apps.

You’ll notice that I didn’t give you a step by step guide on how to edit your photos for Instagram. I want you to discover that process by yourself by experimenting and finding something that fits your shooting style. Just remember that no amount of editing will fix a poor shot.

  • HASHTAGGING

There’s only one reason igers add hashtags to their pics: to up their engagement. Besides adding the hashtag for the instawalk on your photos, tag your photos with relevant hashtags to increase your exposure. Start following accounts like All Shots, Hot Shotz, Shotaward and The Masters and use the tags that they promote as they award igers daily and weekly for excellence in photography. So once your photo is uploaded, you need to add your hashtags to get people to like and comment.. which brings me to my next point.

  • ETIQUETTE

This is not really a street tip more than it being just etiquette on the line. If you’re in the habit of tagging your shots (point above), you’ll notice comments and likes from other Instagram users that are not necessarily following you. If you’re lucky, you’ll even start seeing new followers come from the hashtags that you’re using. It is common decency to reply to comments and thank everyone who compliments your work. This makes you a nice person. I’ve heard big name igers say they don’t have time to reply to everyone who comments on their photos and that’s cool but not something I agree with. Because underneath all the politics and cliques, Instagram is after all a social network, so be sociable.

And hey, if you’re in it for the fame and fortune then interacting on other users’ photos will contribute to getting your name out there and growing your follower count – basic social media marketing. But this is not a marketing post, so I’m stopping myself right there.

  • POSTING FREQUENCY

I’ve seen a number of users post all their photos from the walk in 1 hour flat. Unfollow. Unfollow. Unfollow. No seriously. If anyone sees 10 photos from the same user in their feed, after each other, they’re going to click unfollow. Instagram caps your newsfeed at a certain number of photos, so you don’t get to see everyone’s content whom you follow. For that reason alone, users do not want to be spammed by seeing all your tricks in 1 hour. We also don’t want to visit the instawalk hashtag and see it flooded by one user. The point is to discover new talent, so give others a chance to show up on the newsfeed. Keep your 10 post update for a gallery on Facebook or Pinterest. The rule of thumb is to wait 1 hour or more before you post your next photo. The most important rule I picked up while on this iger journey.

  • GALLERY

Okay last but not least, if you want to be taken seriously in the iger community then you need to pay attention to your gallery: your profile page on Instagram. And honestly, if you’ve been following all the rules above, then managing your gallery becomes easy. What I mean by managing your gallery is, basically just making sure it looks beautiful. How often have you landed on an iger’s gallery and thought “Wow, this is so good!” ? If you’re new to the community, then you’ve probably never had that thought. But once you start following users other than your college mates and your friends from Facebook, you’ll start to discover really epic galleries by really talented photographers. I’m talking about the guys you’ve seen on the blog posts “10 Instagram accounts you MUST follow” and all that kak. I mentioned before that I try a lot of editing styles because I get bored of just one. To combat the inconsistency, I’ll upload three photos that are similar or have been edited using the same editing formula so that my gallery still looks a little neat. Consistency makes everything look amazing actually..in my opinion of course.

So that’s the end of my list of things I wish I knew before joining the igerscapetown community. Now that you know this, find a community in your city and start walking – it’s loads of fun.