These Tips Will Seriously Up Your Instagram Game

You know the feeling: bending over backwards trying to take a photo of your new lipstick haul, only to get a muddled, lackluster image in return. How do Instagram stars do it? you wonder. Is it magic?

Rest assured, we have all been there. And no, these bloggers and photographers don't have some Instagram fairy dust up their sleeves — what they do have is the inside scoop on what makes the perfect beauty-product shot.

In hopes of nailing down a streamlined approach to iPhone photography, we tapped Lisbon-based visual artist and photographer José Lourenço to share his expertise. And don't worry if you don't have a fancy camera to take your photos with, because Lourenço's advice involves just a few props, great lighting, and an A+ editing app.

"Sometimes you do not need quality materials to [take good] photographs," says Lourenço. "All you need is will, passion, and [the ability] to watch the world around you."
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Photo: via @joselourenco.
Lighting can mean the difference between a gray, blurry mess and a bright wonder-thing of a 'gram. But you don't need fancy studio lights to make it happen: "The best lighting to use in pictures of beauty products is [a] natural one through a window or directly on the street," says Lourenço. "I [also] usually shoot in the morning because the early daylight is cooler and makes a better contrast between the objects and the background."

If shadows are a huge issue in your photos, shoot on a cloudy day. The type of light emitted in that environment helps diffuse shadows and create fewer of them, says Lourenço.
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Photo: via @mariadelrusso.
Props & Tools
Where props are concerned, Lourenço believes there really are no rules. He recommends choosing props sparingly, though, as an overwhelming number of props (like books, candles, or flowers) can take away from the beauty products.

To make shooting easier, Lourenço uses a Manfrotto tripod, which facilitates hands-free photo-taking. He also recommends investing in a white poster board or a panel of white medium-density fiberboard, perfect for creating a quick and cheap surface for shooting. "It's a [surface] that doesn't dirty or stain and can be reused several times," he says. Plus, since it's flat, you can easily store it behind a couch or desk.
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Photo: via @evachen212.
Organization Is Key
"Objects always have to have some sorting," says Lourenço. "I organize them by color, size, and shape depending on the type of beauty products I'm using in the photo." He also places products in a harmonious way by leaving some space between them to create more balanced shots.

To keep your products in place, Lourenço recommends grabbing some plasticine clay from your local craft store. Simply pinch off a bit of the clay and use it to adhere your products to your surface of choice. Your items won't roll around or fall out of place, and you can reuse the clay next time you take a flat lay, (a.k.a. a collection of items shot on a flat surface).
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Photo: via @catquinn.
Apps & Hacks
Like photography, editing is a task that requires a lot of trial and error. Lourenço uses several different editing apps to meet his needs. When the environment he's shooting in has very low light, he likes to use the Cortex Camera app, which improves the quality and definition of photos.

Snapseed is another app Lourenço uses when he wants to manipulate images. "If you have a certain area that you want to [brighten], you only have to touch it with your fingertip," he says. "In practice, this app does the same [work] as [many] professional editing programs, but in a more fluid and natural way [for] smartphone users." He also likes using VSCO cam and AntiCrop, and even iPhoto on Mac computers.

Does downloading various photo-editing apps sound like too much effort? Lourenço says he has no problem with using Instagram's own editing features. "I prefer using the settings, like 'Adjust,' 'Brightness,' 'Contrast,' 'Highlights,' 'Shadows,' and 'Sharpen,' which are sufficient to produce a picture with very good quality," he says.
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