On June 1, the Council for Fashion Designers of America presented its annual Media Award to an unusual recipient. Past winners include journalist Robin Givhan, photographer Bruce Weber and editor Andre Leon Talley. This year, the winner was Instagram.
Instagram has become essential to the fashion industry. Designers like Christian Siriano regularly share peeks inside their studios; others like Calvin Klein base entire collections on inspiration from Instagram.
Some bloggers make their Instagram photos "shoppable," working with a third party like LiketoKnow.It to tag and link the items in photos to retailers, then taking a cut from the sales of clothes. More commonly, a brand — say, Lancôme — will pay a blogger to feature their item in a photo, often labeled in the caption #spon, for "sponsored content." Some bloggers might get $500 from a brand for a single image, according to Harper's Bazaar. Atop the earning spectrum is Danielle Bernstein, the blogger behind WeWoreWhat who told Harper's Bazaar that a single photo can net her anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000.
These women, in short, are literally the professionals.
So we studied their accounts and reached out to a few insiders to gather the best tips, lessons and insider tricks from the Instagram users who know the medium best.
1. Know the "rule of thirds."
According to Joy Cho, founder of lifestyle site Oh, Joy! and consultant for hundreds of creative companies (and more than 233,000 Instagram followers of her own), the best Instagram users act like professional photographers, taking the key elements of photography into consideration: color, contrast, composition and good lighting. Taking time to compose right angle and get the best lighting "makes all the difference and it makes the image a little bit stronger," Cho told Mic.
That includes using lots of clear, contrasting colors, as well as employing the rule of thirds, creating the perfectly off-center photo, she said.
2. No filter — er, #nofilter — is ideal.
Annie, the blogger behind Stylish Petite who boasts more than 120,000 Instagram followers, told Mic via email that another key is to embrace natural light and use filters sparingly. That's right: No filters is ideal.
"It trains your artistic eye to capture shots organically without overdo-ing it using filters," said Annie (who prefers to only use her first name for privacy).
3. Embrace the "delete" button.
"Don't upload just to upload," Lainy Hedaya, the blogger behind Haute Inhabit, told Mic in an email. What you want to do is share an aspect of yourself that's distinct from everyone else. Maintaining that level of quality photos sometimes means deleting less-than-stellar photos.
Every so often, it's worthwhile reviewing your account in the grid format seen in the profile view, Cho said. She's sometimes deleted photos that stood out as an "anomaly" and weren't good fits with the rest of her account.
4. Understand "the grid."
When followers click on your name and go to your profile, they'll be met with that ubiquitous three-by-three grid of photos — "the grid." If you maintain a consistent aesthetic through photos, it makes your profile all the more appealing, several Instagram-focused bloggers told Mic.
How you do that can vary, Cho said. You can opt to always have bold, contrasting photos or overexposed light, photos that are closely cropped or ones that regularly show some white space, or perhaps an alternating combination of light and dark. Regardless, the effect should be a sense of continuity and storyline as followers swipe through your grid, often with a color scheme that flows from one photo to the next.
The main objective: to avoid a profile that looks like a vintage photo album that fell to the floor and was pieced back together at random.
5. Privacy is overrated — share everything.
Wondering why #latteart and food from fancy restaurants garner so many likes? In sharing these tiny moments in life, said Cho, Instagram users form a connection with their followers by taking them on a "journey."
"If I'm in LA and I'm getting some delicious pastries at a shop that's only in LA, for me to show it in a way that makes what I'm eating look as good as it actually is, is like transporting the people who are following me to this very moment, and this very place," Cho said.
As Annie put it, "I try to share a glimpse into what I am currently liking, inspired by or involved in."
6. Your most powerful weapon is the still life.
However you feel about #foodporn photos or other snaps of random items arranged on a table, there's an audience out there who will like that photo of your morning coffee. That is, so long as it's visually pleasing, which means close-up shots go a long way.
"When taking photos, try to focus on one central element and work creatively from there," said Annie.
7. Wait at least three hours before posting a new photo.
Most fashion bloggers told Mic they use their actual blogs or Facebook for posting multiple photos, while Instagram is all about restraint.
"I try to leave at least three hours in between each photo to alleviate clogging up people's feeds," Annie said.
The key is to not "flood the feed," Cho said. "It dilutes the ability for people to focus on whatever you're sharing when you have too many photos."
There are also "golden windows," aka certain times of day during which fashion bloggers strategically post, said Cho. Analytics sites, like Iconosquare, can identify these times, but so can common sense: Mornings and evenings, or normal commuting hours, are usually sweet spots. Hitting both coasts strategically is also key: Seven p.m. Pacific Time is ideal because West Coast followers are winding down work, while those on the East Coast are scrolling through their feeds before bed, Cho said. Weekends, when users aren't working, are also optimal.
8. Your color scheme is your brand.
A consistent color scheme is the quickest way to "brand" yourself. Some Instagram users rely on one unified color palette (see @thegreylayers for some inspiration). In Hedaya's case, she said she tends to simply favor photos that have a bit of a cooler undertone.
Colors aside, developing a brand comes down to deciding what image you'd like to project of yourself. People are drawn to unique perspectives, so what you share of yourself should be organic, Hedaya said.
9. Above all, consistency is key.
"People follow other people because they like their aesthetic or what they're about in some way. And so, if you stay consistent with your aesthetic and point of view, then that's what keeps people there and that's what keeps you drawing new people in," Cho said.
The same goes for a professional Instagrammer's own feed. After all, a pro not only wants a consistent personal account but also a consistent feed.
"I'm very selective with who I follow. I tend to follow those who share interesting or different perspectives and who inspire me to create better content," Annie said.
At the end of the day, though, what matters is that your feed reflect who you are. "Be your authentic, true self, even if it goes against what's 'popular,'" Annie said. "When you post photos that are true to your core, people will respond and follow you naturally."