5 steps to curate a gorgeous Instagram feed

written by:
Sharyn Hodges


5 steps to curate a gorgeous Instagram feed

I often get a lot of comments, direct messages and people telling me in person that they find myInstagram account beautiful and inspiring. Even though this happens quite often, every single time someone sings my praises, I get totally awkward,blush a little and throw out my favourite go-to line, “I am just lucky!” This signature Sharyn exclamation does ring true though, as I live along probably the most beautiful coastline in the world, and the photo opportunities are endless. But even thoughI have the perfect setting on my front step, there is A LOT OF HARD WORK that goes into every photo that is posted on my Instagram account. Having an awesome Instagram feed means you can’t just post photos at random, or just post whatever you’re in the mood for.  One doesn’t “just happen” to take a good photo with a simple point and shoot, or with your cell phone (unless you get really lucky!). It takes planning, planning and more planning! Oh, and did I mention hard work?! Each photo on my Instagram feed has carefully been hand-selected after hours of contemplating and editing, always keeping my theme, colours, audience and the general “flow” of my feed in mind. If I don’t have an image that fits the criteria, I’d rather not post something and work at it some more, until the perfect photo is born; one that would make me proud of sharing it with my followers.

Still interested in upping your game? If you are ready to take your Instagram account to the next level, read my five tips for a gorgeous Instagram feed.

1# Time to get serious

Whether you are a newbie to Instagram or already have an account (personal / business or lifestyle), you need to get serious and be prepared for hard work. This very often goes hand in hand with questioning your sanity every now and again!

If you think you can rack up followers and fans with quick snaps on your iPhone, iPad or “point and shoot camera”, just stop. Don’t.Yes, it’s true that all of these devices take beautiful photos and with technology progressing at the rapid pace it does these days, the camera functions and picture quality will only get better in the near future. Sure, mobile features such as shooting in RAW-mode and excellent Leica lenses have significantly improved the quality of mobile photography, but for the absolute highest quality photograph, a digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera is the only way to a gorgeous (and much loved!) Instagram feed. Depending on what type of photography you are interested in, I would recommend a 50mm lens for portraits and an 18-200mm lens for travelling and landscapes. Treat yourself to a good camera, take the time to learn how to use it properly and find your Instagram inspirations.

I recommend the following “must haves” for an aspiring ‘grammer:

  Nikon D3200 DSLR camera– The Nikon D3200 is the perfect entry level camera. In fact, I shot my first wedding with one! It is very intuitive to use and packed with loads of easy-to-use features. It takes great quality images, whilst you navigate your way into the tricky terrain of photography. On the flip side, Nikon lenses are usually slightly more expensive than Canon. This is something that you will need to consider, and find the camera and lens-kits that work for you.
  50mm Nikon lens– Portraiture / Lifestyle photography – This nifty little lens is definitely in my top three favourite lenses that I use. It’s small and compact, lets in a great amount of light and creates the most amazing depth of field (DOF) and bokeh photographs.
  18 – 200mm Nikon lens– Landscape / Travel photography- If you are more into landscape- and travel photography then this lens is a perfect place to start, as it is a multi-purpose zoom lens capable of wide-angle and telephoto imaging.
  Read This If You Want to Take Great Photographs” by Henry Carroll – This is any aspiring photographer’s handbook! Learn how to focus, know what lenses to use, assess how much light you need, and tackle aperture and shutter speeds!

2# Decisions, decisions

People are visual creatures by nature. If you see a photoof delicious food, you automatically want to rush out, buy it and taste it. Experience it for yourself; indulge in its beauty. This is also true for Instagram accounts. When people browse Instagram looking for new accounts to follow, they will automatically be drawn to the “delicious” photos. They will then explore your account and creativity, appreciate the hard work you’ve put into your account and heart each one of your photos from that moment on! People will be curious to see what you post next, putting your account on their mental list of favourites. This is when you’ve created a fan and follower for life. Your account lived up to their expectation of “deliciousness” and who wouldn’t keep on coming back for seconds?! This brings me to the flow of your account. Humans are also lazy creatures; if and when they do give your account a second glance, they might skim through your bio and briefly look at your “first six – this is the moment when you will catch or lose a follower.

If you look at my account (bearing in mind, it has evolved over time) Itry to bring out the yellows and blues (those are my colours). My theme is not set in stone; the majority of my images are water-themed, but recently I’ve been trying to incorporate “people in nature” shots. The key is to be consistent; incorporate new elements slowly and if you want to introduce other themes, remember the magic word is “evolve” not “change”.

Find your own inspirations. These are mine. Take some time to study the “flow” of various accounts, shop with your eyes, and incorporate elements you like from different accounts into yours. Create your unique “signature” – give it a twist and call it your own.

@louwlemmer’s account is the perfect example of using a multitude of vibrant tones, yet his account flows beautifully. @lids_harper’s account is aperfect example of a very minimalistic account. I love this approach, too – it’s visually very striking.


@jacques_crafford is probably one the most underrated Instagrammers; he has inspired me to be better and to put the human element in my photos. Do you see the pattern he uses? One “people in nature” image followed by a landscape, followed by another “people in nature” image. It lends an interesting element to his gorgeous account. This is my account, @sharynhodges. Personally, I love the use of the golden light and deep rich blues of our oceans and skies.

#3 “Three no’s and a straighten”

No filters. No borders. No HDR. Straighten your horizons.

Sadly, the available default Instagram filters are just too processed and over-saturated for my liking and I find that they degrade the image more than lift it out. Be simple. My editing process is done in Lightroom. I have created my own pre-sets and this simplifies the process. Sometimes I will take my image through the very popular VSCO Cam App (it’s for free, although some pre-sets need to be bought). My favourite filter is the “04” and “05” as they desaturate your image a bit.

Don’t do borders. Leave them for ID and passport photos. They add no value to the image; in fact, I think they constrain the images and prohibit the spacious feel of landscape images.

Yes, some High Dynamic Range (HDR) images are nice, but leave it alone. It’s an old photography practice recently introduced to camera phones like the iPhone and some Android devices (or with the use of special apps). Although it’s supposed to make your pictures look better, it could do quite the opposite and make it feel quite harsh and aggressive, depending on whether you’re using it correctly. This is a technique you can play with once you’ve mastered the basics.

One of the first things I do duringthe editing process is to straighten the horizon – it has become such a habit that I do it even without noticing, but when I look at any image, the first thing I’d notice is a skew horizon! A very quick and easy fix, but having skew horizons can visually break your image.

Before: Straight off the camera. Edited in Lightroom (right). Getting so low to the water, my horizon is never straight. That is the first the step in the editing process. My next step is deciding what is “important” in this image? For me, it is that the ocean looks “frozen” in the foreground. And then the clouds. So I work on getting the “icedlook” first. Next – what would be a good counter colour for the turquoise, knowing that we already have yellow from the sun? I decided on shades of pink. For Instagram I resize my photo the ratio of (4 x 5).

4# Selecting your content

Instagram is my business and even if I must say so myself, I am extremely picky about what I post. If I don’t have any decent content, I don’t post. It’s really that simple. Every photo I post is a reflection of @sharynhodges.  I have a personal account where I share my personal life. Even if I am on holiday, I will note on my business account that I am on holiday, but I post a landscape (probably a sunrise or sunset) of my surrounding area. The frozen margaritas and funny face selfies are fun to look at, but their place is on a personal account. You need to make a conscious decision before you start about what you want to send out on your “serious” account – what do my followers want to see? What message am I conveying about my business? Which images best suit my audience, and which are a fair reflection of my talent, skills and portfolio?

5# When topost

You’re still reading? You must be serious about this Instagramming business! So now that you have followed the four steps above, you might feel that you are ready to tackle (and conquer!) the Instagram world. Hang on. Whoa, wait a minute. You finally need to carefully consider your audience (in my case, they are mostly based in South Africa and probably some European countries) and when they most likely take the time to sit back andscroll through Instagram. Luckily, there isn’t a great time difference between South Africa and most European countries, but what about the outskirts of the world? You literally have to think about everyone before you post.

What is the point of posting at 02h00 in the morning? You won’t get nearly as many likes or comments as you would if you posted between 07h00 – 09h00. This is normally the “rush hour” when people are waking up, checking social media, or trying to dull the pain of morning traffic by mindlessly scrolling through Instagram. Timing is very important. Instagram has recently brought out Analytics which is an incredibly useful tool. It tells you exactly when it’sthe best time for you (and your account) to post. Although this is a great app, remember to factor in holidays, weekends and festive periods – not a lot of people are going to check Instagram the day before Christmas whilst in panic modebusy shopping, cooking, or cleaning the house for the family! On weekends, they might not be up yet at 07h00 to share in your glorious landscape image – give them some time to sleep in and adjust your posting schedule accordingly.

There you have it. Trade secrets from Sharyn Hodges on how to achieve a beautiful, successful Instagram feed. So…are you ready to become InstaFamous? Or rather, InstaFabulous?

Sharyn Hodges

South African

Sharyn Hodges likes to describe herself as “just lucky”. Home is Plettenberg Bay, South Africa, a sleepy little sea-side village where the sun rises and sets in colours one can only imagine.

She is inspired daily by nature’s ever changing canvas of textures, colours and patterns.

Her work varies from weddings and events to nature and landscapes, but her heart lies buried in the vast expanses of Plett’s beaches and the sheer splendour of the surrounding Garden Route and South Africa.

Photography is in her veins; her mission is to capture those fleeting seconds of beauty which characterises this fragile adventure we call life.

Her travel companion, Nikon D750.

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