Instagram is the go-to platform for most photographers to promote their craft. This isn’t a big surprise as the image-sharing network has more than 500 million daily active users, making it the perfect platform to promote your art.
It might be a mobile photography platform but the majority of photographers use it to share their best images; images that are normally captured with a DSLR. Ideally, the image you post looks as good on Instagram as it does on your computer but this is, unfortunately, not always the case. In fact, it’s a common struggle amongst many photographers.
There are a few crucial steps you need to be aware of to optimize images for Instagram. They aren’t complicated but they will make a huge difference.
By the end of this article, you’ll know exactly how to make your images look just as good on your phone as they do on your computer.
Choose the right size and format
There are many discussions about what’s the ideal image size for images uploaded to Instagram.
Personally, I don’t worry too much about this. I normally upload my images to multiple platforms so I choose to use a standard size of 1920px on the long side.
However, according to Instagram, the maximum image size they accept without making their own adjustments is a width of 1080px. Once an image has a width of over 1080 pixels, Instagram will downsize it, which results in a loss of details.
The next question is: “What’s the ideal format?”
There’s no doubt that the most common format for uploading images to the web is .jpg but some people are using .png files. Both formats are ideal for the web but .jpg remains the better choice when it comes to photographs.
AdobeRGB and ProPhoto RGB are the two most common color profiles used for processing images in Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Photoshop. However, these are optimized for print, not for web.
Most web browsers use the sRGB color profile to display images. That’s what you need to save the web-version of your image as. Just make sure that you always save the main file and web-version separately.
Recommended Reading: What Are Color Spaces in Photography?
This means that you need to convert the color profile to sRGB when exporting the file. We’ll come back to how you do this in the next step.
Sharpen and save for web
Once you’ve finished processing an image, it’s time to resize and sharpen it. You might already have a preferred way of doing this.
I prefer using Adobe Photoshop as it gives more flexibility and much better result than sharpening in Adobe Lightroom. However, Lightroom is still a good option if you don’t feel comfortable with Photoshop.
In Adobe Photoshop
There are many methods for sharpening an image in Adobe Photoshop and if you ask a group of 10 photographers about their workflow, I’m sure that most of the answers will be different.
Personally, I prefer to use the Raya Pro Panel for sharpening and resizing my images as I’ve found it delivers great results. If you don’t already have a panel or preset with the possibility to sharpen an image for the web, these are the steps you need to follow:
- Save the Masterfile (processed file) then flatten the image (Layer -> Flatten Image)
- Go to Image -> Duplicate
- With the duplicate image selected, go to Image -> Image Size…
- Resize to 1.6x as much as the original file should be (If the long side of your final image will be 1000px you will now resize it to 1.6*1000 =1600
- Change the resample method to Bicubic and press OK
- Now go to Filter -> Sharpen -> Sharpen
- Duplicate the layer (cmd + J) and sharpen again. Rename this layer to Extra Sharp
- Go to Image -> Image Size and resize to the final size (1000px)
- If the image is too sharp reduce the opacity of the Extra Sharp layer
In some cases, the image may have been slightly brightened and desaturated. You can add new Levels and Saturation adjustment layers and make slight adjustments to correct this.
The final step after sharpening and resizing the image is to export and save the file. Do this by using Photoshop’s Save for Web option (File -> Export -> Save for Web)
In Adobe Lightroom
Sharpening an image in Adobe Lightroom isn’t as advanced (nor as effective) as it is in Photoshop. Yet, it’s better than nothing.
Input sharpening (sharpening of the raw file) should be a part of your regular Lightroom workflow and I highly recommend playing around with the sharpening sliders. Follow the guidelines taught in the Ultimate Sharpening Workflow for Fine Art Printing and make sure you always get the best results.
There is still one more way of sharpening in Lightroom. This is known as output sharpening. You find this option when exporting images (right-click -> Export -> Export…)
The question is, should you use output sharpening even though you’ve already added sharpening using the Details tab?
If you are resizing the photo, the answer is yes. You need to add the extra output sharpening when you resize the image (which you should since it’s being optimized for Instagram). This is because reducing the image size in Lightroom leads to a slight loss in sharpness.
In situations where you’re not adjusting the image size, it’s not that important to use output sharpening.
Transferring images from computer to mobile device
Now that your image is sharpened, resized and exported in the correct format, it’s time to transfer it to your phone. There are several ways of doing this and I don’t believe any is better than the others; just choose which method works best for you.
The most common solutions for computer-to-phone transfers are via Dropbox, Email, or iCloud/cloud services. My preference is via Dropbox. I export the images into a Dropbox folder which automatically syncs with my phone.
This is a quick and easy workflow and if you only use dropbox for the images you transfer to your phone, there’s no need to purchase a monthly plan as the free one offers enough space.
Final steps to optimize images for Instagram on your phone
Most people are ready to upload the image at this stage but there’s still one final step that’s essential in optimizing images for Instagram. You still need to make a few final adjustments to correct the color differences between a computer and a phone.
I use the Snapseed app for this purpose but it’s perfectly fine to do it using Instagram’s editing tools too.
Regardless of which option you choose, you need to make some adjustments to the Brightness, Contrast, Ambience, Saturation and Details.
The adjustments don’t need to be big. I normally stay beneath +20 on all the sliders but it does depend on the specific image (and if your monitor is calibrated) Keep in mind that most people won’t view your images with their phone at maximum brightness.
Photographers need to optimize images for Instagram. Especially if you use the platform to promote your craft. After all, you want your images to look as good as possible, right?
Luckily, it’s not that difficult. All you need to do is sharpen the photo, resize it, export it in sRGB and transfer it to your phone. There you make a few final touches and the image looks just as good as it does on the computer.
I know there are several ways of transferring images from the computer to the phone so I’m curious to hear what’s your preferred method? Let me know in the comments!