Hello, one and all. To begin, I must admit I am no Instagram professional, but I did pay a lot of money for art school. But the combination of my education and near damning debt has taught me a few things which I’m hoping to share with you all today.

1. Backgrounds

I’ve been doing this since the dawn of time and still to this day. You know those Instagrammers that have beautiful marble, stone and wood tables just strewn about their home? Well, that’s lovely and all but for those of us that eat off of an Ikea coffee table that’s seen better days- don’t worry there are very cheap ways to fake this.

Begin by looking around your house for things you may already have- have any pretty wrapping paper? BAM YOU GOTTA BACKGROUND. An old foam board from a school project? BOOM! And if you’re not a hoarder- these are both easily purchased at Target. Contact paper is something I often use as well. I’ve seen other people use it actually as contact paper and attaching it, but I preferred to keep it rolled up so that you can take it with you or move it to a window for nicer light.

I’ve purchased both marble and white wood papers from Amazon because my IG feed oh so originally centers around a white theme. But there are tons of colors and textures available. If you prefer to switch up your colors (or just shoot for your blog a lot) you can buy a nice 20 pack of foam core boards that will cover all your bases.

The only problem with these is they give you limited space. Which isn’t always a problem, but sometimes you just really wish you could shoot up a bit higher and fit more stuff in the frame. For this case, I recommend wandering over to your nearest Ikea and going to what I call the “shit section”. Here you can find all the broken and mismatched leftovers of Ikea, but also tabletops. They aren’t as cheap (or as light) as foam, but I found a nice giant white tabletop that I use as a background all the time for $20. Then I used some of the previously mentioned contact paper on one side so you get double use out of it! This is great not only cause it’s cheap, but also super easy to store in a small apartment as it can just fit behind a door.

2. Texture

Texture will elevate your picture from “meh” to “MAGAWD”, and again can easily be done with crap you already own. A few of my personal favorites include fake fur rugs. I’ve seen a bunch at Ikea that people seem to rave about, but typically I find they fall flat. Marshalls and TJMaxx usually have some pretty amazing ones for either the same price or less than Ikea, and they’re a lot better quality.

Additionally, get creative with your blankets and linens. Typically you’re adding texture on a solid, harder background, so it’s nice to throw something soft and drapey coming in from a corner to lay things on. You can find some amazing cloth napkins and tablecloths from thrift stores for under $1. If you have a budget of zero dollars, try going through your closet and seeing if you have any pretty scarves or sleeves you could fake.

3. Props

Props can pretty much be anything your little heart desires- but I like to have a couple go to things on hand. If you find yourself regularly taking pictures you can make yourself a Prop Box which is just a box of props you’ve already collected. Genius. But this way you don’t end up having to wander around your house collecting things everytime you go to take a picture. I live in an apartment the size of a shoe box so really my entire home is a Prop Box.

The purpose of props is to fill in empty space without detracting from your focal point. So I usually have a mental list of generic things that I’ll pull from that can relate to whatever your heart desires. Some staples include any attractive makeup or nail polish you already have. Play around with opening these or leaving putting them on their side or straight up, etc. Office supplies are another good one. Target’s dollar section usually has adorable paper clips, pens and notebooks that can easily be flung into a photo making you look put together. When it doubt, put a plant in it. I have quite a few that I’ll periodically add into photos, or for spice, I’ll buy some flowers. Or just pick them up off the ground cause hey, it’s Oregon.

Candles are another great filler. To keep your pictures from looking like there’s a candle in every image, try different sizes. Even those tiny tea lights can add just the pizzaz you needed and are super cheap. Same goes with mugs. For flat lays, throw in some coffee or tea and you look cozy, for side shots, you don’t even have to put anything in the mug!

4. Tech

It’s quite obvious most large Instagrammerss and bloggers are using larger high quality cameras, which is obviously ideal. But if you’re on a budget or are just starting out, there’s nothing wrong with your phone! (unless it’s cracked to smithereens in which case I can’t really help) When it comes to your phone, lighting is going to be what dooms you, so try your best to shoot in good lighting. Additionally, your back camera really is better than the front, so use this for all your pictures, even selfies. I grew up without a front facing camera so trust me it’s possible.

As for apps, there are 3 main apps I use and recommend. The first being UNUM. UNUM is a free app that allows you to lay out your grid to better plan. This may seem a bit extra, but if you’re intentionally going for a theme this helps so much in the planning. Even if you don’t have a color scheme, it’s nice to know you’re not posting three straight selfies, or five different pictures of burritos all in a row.

For editing pictures, I primarily use Facetune and VSCO. Facetune does cost a couple dollars but does make a big difference if you’re not into Photoshop. I think Facetune has gotten a bit of a bad reputation because people do largely use it to recreate themselves, but let me tell you it can do so much more than just make your butt bigger. Personally, I don’t use the app to alter my physical features as frankly, it makes me feel fake. But to each their own, live your lives my dudes. Instead, I use it for three main reasons. For their whiten, details, and filter features. The “whiten” feature I think was intended to whiten teeth, but as someone who has a white themed IG, it’s so helpful in keeping my theme consistent. In reality half the time I’m shooting on more of a cream background than a white, but no one has to know. The “details” feature makes things sharper and gives a bit of a depth of field effect, without being heavily blurring anything. And finally, if you go into their filters, they have a lighting section that can significantly help if you’re shooting on a phone.

I use the free version of VSCO, but if there’s a filter app you prefer please use instead. My only main suggestion is whatever you’re using, try and use the same filters on each one of your pictures. I have 3 filters that I use from VSCO that I consistently use which helps your pictures feel more consistent.

5. Have Free Photoshoots

If you’re trying to grow your Instagram, but also are a regular human being, chances are you’re not doing something “IG worthy” every day. Since it’s recommended you post at least once a day though, I recommend having some free photoshoots. This could be by yourself, but I prefer to drag a friend along. Bring someone you’re comfortable with and just take a couple hours to take pictures of each other and interesting things. If there are cool things where you live, hit them up! Some free or cheap places you could head to are coffee shops, parks (gotta love nature), pretty stores, busy streets, or just places you know have blank walls you could use as backgrounds.

If you’re not quite comfortable shooting in public, go to more secluded areas with a friend that you don’t feel weird taking pictures with and stockpile up some images. Then add a couple in home shots with the previous tips, use UNUM to plan out your feed and you’ll be set.

Let me know if these tips helped, or if you have any you use! You know I luuuuhvvvta learn!