Consistent Instagram photo editing has the power to instantly give your feed a professional look.
And while the impact on your Instagram feed aesthetic is high, learning how to do it right isn’t actually that hard – you can even do it from your phone!
This guide will teach you:
- how to edit photos for Instagram
- basic photo editing skills like how to make light and colour adjustments
- the difference between VSCO vs Lightroom
- how to edit a photo for a White Instagram theme
- Lightroom terms and tools you need to know
- how to use the selective edits feature on Lightroom
- tips for photo editing specifically for sponsored photos
Let’s get started with a comparison of Lightroom to other photo editing apps.
Disclosure: Please note that some of the links below are affiliate links and as a member of the Adobe Affiliate program, I may earn a small commission on eligible purchases.
Why I Upgraded to Adobe Lightroom
I started my Instagram photo editing journey using Snapseed and VSCO but later discovered that Adobe Lightroom (formerly known as Lightroom CC on mobile devices) is untouchable when it comes to professionally editing my photos.
Adobe Lightroom does offer a free version but the real magic comes when you signup for the Creative Cloud Photography Subscription Plan that includes access to both mobile and desktop photography apps. It makes photo editing that much easier and and starts at $9.99 USD a month.
When it comes to Instagram and blogging, Adobe Lightroom is the best app for photo editing.
I’ve used Lightroom:
- to create Instagram posts
- to create Instagram stories
- to create Facebook banners
- to enhance photos
- to enhance profile pictures
- for editing blog photos
- and more
The free version of Adobe Lightroom includes:
- Access to all Capture, Organization, and Sharing features
- Access to some editing features including the basics like Light, Color, Effects, Detail, and Presets
The subscription version of the Creative Cloud Photography offers:
- The ability to edit RAW files – you should always take and edit photos in RAW for the best quality!
- Access to the Selective edits tool in Lightroom – a must have to fix small imperfections in otherwise perfect images
- The ability to sync photos you’ve uploaded to Lightroom to all of your Creative Cloud Photography devices
- Access to Photoshop – this program is a beast of it’s own and something you can use to create Instagram story templates and Pinterest pins, among many other things!
- Access to photos you’ve uploaded in Lightroom in other Adobe mobile apps including: Adobe Spark Page, Adobe Spark Video, Photoshop Mix, and Photoshop Fix
- A customized photo website powered by Adobe Portfolio
Get Adobe Creative Cloud if you’re serious about growing your Instagram profile!
Other good Instagram photo editing apps
- 29 Tools, including: White Balance, Brush, HDR, Perspective, Crop, Rotate, Selective, Healing, Vignette
- 11 Filters, including 4 black and white options
- The ability to open files in both RAW and JPG file formats
- Access to the Insights feature that includes tips and tricks for using the Snapseed app
To bring a next level professional appearance to your photos though, I would highly recommended complementing Snapseed with VSCO; like Lightroom, VSCO is one of the top Instagram photo editing apps for a reason. VSCO offers both a free version and a membership option that runs at a reasonable cost of $19.99 US a year.
The free version of VSCO offers:
- Use of 10 VSCO presets
- Basic editing tools including Contrast, Saturation, and Grain
- Use of the Discover feature
- The ability to share photos for a chance at being featured by VSCO
The VSCO Mobile Membership includes all of the free versions features plus:
- Use of ALL 170+ VSCO preset
- Use of Film X (for recreating vintage film looks by Fuji, Kodak, and others)
- Advanced editing tools including Video Editing, HSL, and Borders
If you’re ready to started with one of the best Instagram photo editing apps around, let’s begin by signing up for the Creative Cloud Photography plan and then installing Lightroom on your mobile device.
Note: I am not a professional photographer or editor.
I use Lightroom and the Creative Cloud Photography plan to edit photos for my blog and social media including Instagram, Pinterest, and my Facebook page.
This step by step photo editing tutorial is intended as a beginners guide for bloggers, social media enthusiasts, and influencers.
Ready to grow your Instagram profile? Check out these posts for more:
Before we learn how to edit photos for Instagram, be sure to download Adobe Lightroom on your mobile device and choose a photo that you’d like to experiment on 🙂
I always find that I learn better when the activity is hands on!
Now, let’s find the photo we want in the Lightroom app.
How to Edit Photos for Instagram
Once your download has completed, open Lightroom from either the App Store or your main navigation menu.
Choose a Photo to Edit
Click on the photograph button with the plus sign at the bottom right of your screen to open a new photo now. Choose From Camera Roll, From All Photos, or From Files.
Note: by default, Lightroom will open to the All Photos folder but for this portion of the tutorial, I have used a folder designated Instagram to better illustrate my walkthrough.
I’ve chosen the From Camera Roll option, which shows me an overview of every photo I have available on my phone.
I’ll show you how I like to edit with Lightroom using the photo below as an example.
Here’s a comparison of what it looked like before and after editing!
For my Instagram Feed, I’m all about combining a clean white aesthetic with enhanced natural colours. I tend to crank the Saturation right down in my backgrounds in addition to decreasing any excess Highlights and Shadows in my images.
To give you a better understanding of what I’m talking about, we’ll go over some Lightroom features and basic photo editing terms now.
Instagram Photo Editing with Lightroom
Choose from an Auto adjustment or other tools to make adjustments including:
- Light: Exposure, Contrast, Highlights, Shadows, Whites, and Blacks
- Color: White Balance, Temp, Tint, Vibrance, and Saturation
- Effects: Clarity, Dehaze, Vignette, Midpoint, Feather, Roundness, Highlights, Grain, Size, and Roughness
- Detail: Sharpening, Radius, Detail, Masking, Noise Reduction Contrast, Color Noise Reduction, Smoothness
- Optics: Remove Chromatic Aberration, Enable Lens Corrections
- Geometry: Distortion, Vertical, Horizontal, Rotate, Aspect, Scale, X Offset, Y Offset
- Presets: Choose from filters created by Adobe including Color, Creative, B&W, Curve, Grain, Sharpening, Vignetting or User Presets that you can either create on your own or download through Etsy or Creative Market
The Lightroom Auto adjustment feature will do the work for you and is a fantastic option if you’re unsure as to how to start editing your shot; it’s also a great way to see how the controls work and what tools make what sort of adjustments for those who are brand new to photo editing.
Above is a comparison of the adjustments Lightroom automatically made for this photo versus the original. Not much of a difference here!
Lightroom Tools Explained
Here’s a basic breakdown of how some of the most commonly used Lightroom tools work:
Exposure: Adjusts how light or dark you’d like your image to appear
Contrast: Adjusts for differences in the mid-tones of your image
Highlights: Recovers details in overexposed highlight areas
Shadows: Recovers details in underexposed shadow areas
Whites: Adjust white points in your image
Blacks: Adjust black points in your image
Temp: Adjusts colour temperature of your image
Tint: Adjusts for green or magenta colour in your image
Vibrance: Adjusts the intensity muted colours without affecting already-saturated colours
Saturation: Adjust your image’s vividness
Clarity: Adjusts your image’s depth – how textures appear
Dehaze: Adjusts your image’s existing haze
Vignette: Reduces your image’s brightness and saturation at its edges
Sharpening: adjusts the contrast between different pixel tones
A lot of Instagram users are big fans of these but I’ve found that creating my own and continuing to make adjustments afterwards was the best solution for getting my Instagram feed to look the way I want.
It’s very tricky to find a nice preset that makes your whites whiter without making skin tones too orange, for my style of photography.
I previously used a combination of A6 and/or S2 in VSCO but this was only after having finished my edit on Snapseed.
After making the upgrade to Lightroom for Instagram photo editing, my images don’t feel as washed out as they did before!
And as you can imagine, balance and a clean image that still looks realistic is key to an image that does well on this platform.
How to Edit Photos in Lightroom
Make Light Adjustments
This is the natural first step for photo editing!
Normally, the most dramatic difference of all will be a result of your Exposure adjustment.
In overcast Vancouver, where I’m from, lighting is a constant battle! And while I use artificial lighting to brighten my atmosphere, often times, I still need to make some serious adjustments the the exposure.
Now, we’re getting somewhere! It’s incredible how adjusting exposure alone can makes a photo appear so different than it did before.
Next, we can adjust the Contrast, Shadows, and Highlights.
Side note: I’m sure you’ve already noticed by now, but I use the word colour in both alternative spellings throughout this article!
While Lightroom uses the US spelling for Color in its menu, I’m from Canada and normally spell it with the added u!
So, just for your reference – if I’m referring to the Lightroom menu, I’ll use the US spelling of color and when I refer to the concept of colour, I’ll spell it like the Canadian I am!
Make Colour Adjustments
Tap Color (did you love that side note like I did? Haha!) to start editing the Temperature, Tint, Vibrance, and Saturation of your image.
To get the background looking super white and bright, we’ll do some Selective Editing later on! We’ll also do some selective editing on the two of us girls to get our skin tones looking nice and natural.
Make Selective Edits
The Selective feature is hands down my absolute favourite tool when it comes to Instagram photo editing! It gives you complete control over every little detail of your image.
To start the tool up, click on the Selective Tool in the main menu. Then press the Plus Sign to see your options. Choose the Brush Tool and paint over the area you’d like to edit.
In my case, I like to use the Selective Brush tool to paint over the Focus (whether it be an item or a person) and Background components of my photo to make them separate entities.
Now, instead of tuning the image as whole, you can adjust each piece separately to keep skin tones and other essential items looking more natural!
Notice I’ve broken down my Selective Edits into three components here: the white counter with the lights showing in the reflection, Nikki’s blush, and the Cascade dishwasher package on the counter!
Breaking Down the Selective Edits Above
Reflection against the counter: Since this photo was shot on yet another overcast day here in Vancouver, BC, I used two lights as part of my setup for this photo.
However, you can see the reflection in my glossy white kitchen cupboards. As a result, I increased the highlights, whites, and contrast while decreasing the shadows to make this less obvious.
Nikki’s blush: My blush appeared a little more orange than pink in this photo! So, I desaturated it in order to achieve a more accurate portrayal of the colour I was actually wearing.
Cascade container: Since this photo was for a sponsored post, I needed to make sure that both the brand’s logo and container were visible and accurate. My Instagram feed has a natural feel to it and I like products to look exactly as they are in real life.
For this edit, I had the Cascade container in front of me while I worked and increased the contrast, saturation, and clarity while decreasing the highlights to achieve an accurate portrayal of the package.
The Importance of Selective Edits
While tuning the entire image is always the way I start my photo editing process, sometimes people and objects can get far too washed out if you don’t separate them.
This is especially important if you’re working with brands to promote products they have sent you!
You certainly don’t want your Instagram photo editing to change the appearance of the item so much that it is no longer recognizable – when the brand sees your promo shot and/or your audience receives the product after purchasing it, that object needs to appear as it actually looks in real life.
Think clothing, makeup, home decor, and other items where true colour is crucial!
The Selective Brush tool allows you to have full control over the sections you are editing.
The diamonds shown in the images above represent each Selective Edit I made to that image (the blue diamonds represent the “active” red painted sections that accompany that particular edit while the grey diamonds show additional selective edits).
If you’d like to, you can adjust the Size, Feather, and Flow using the respective three circles at the lefthand mid-section of your screen, just above the Trash Can.
To remove any Selective Edits you are unhappy with, simply tap the Trash Can after selecting the corresponding diamond you’d like to delete. If you’d like to go back a step, tap the Back Arrow at the top right-hand side of your screen.
Let’s make the background even brighter.
If need be, I’ll add more Selective Edits to the background as I’ve done below. When learning how to edit photos for Instagram, reaching the optimum level of brightness is key.
For an unbelievably bright yet natural background, create an additional Selective Edit and use your finger to paint over your entire image. Then, erase the parts of the image you’d like to remain saturated.
Decrease the saturation all the way to zero in the Color setting for true clean whites and blacks in your photo. Then, increase the exposure and whites in your Light setting to make whites even whiter.
Note: Be sure to hit the Check Mark button button at the bottom right-hand corner of your screen to save your work every time you make a Selective Edit!
Clicking the x will discard any changes!
Here’s a side by side comparison of the photo with and without the additional clean white background edit.
For the most dramatic impact, checkout the floor at the bottom right of the image!
While in reality, its a grey floor, for some reason in the photo it shows up a bit yellow on that side.
For a true white background, you can’t compete with the additional selective edit. However, be prepared to spend additional time achieving this look!
Personally, I tend to save these edits for more simple photos (or to blend my feed a bit when I’m dissatisfied with the way images appear next to one another) these days, as my Instagram profile and blog keep me very busy.
In actuality, I posted this photo the way it appears on the left and the version on the right was created specifically to show you the capabilities of Lightroom.
Once you’re happy with the image, click the Square with the Arrow coming out of it at the top right-hand corner of your screen next to the Back Arrow we talked about earlier.
Choose from the options listed above and either Share, Save to Camera Roll, Save to Files, Open In, Edit In, or Export Original. If choosing Save to Camera, maintain the best resolution by selecting Maximum available from the Image Size options listed above.
And there you have it, we’ve just finished editing our first photo for Instagram using Lightroom on a mobile device!
Additional Instagram Photography Tips
Putting together a photo styling prop kit is a great investment that can make shooting upcoming content for Instagram or your blog a breeze!
Investing in simple pieces like:
- artificial flowers
- sheepskin rug
- white foam board
can take you from hours of shooting new content to mere minutes!
Instead of wondering what you’ll do for your next sponsored post, simply pull out your bin of photo props and create engaging content around a scene that represents your creative style as well as your brand partner’s campaign goals.
What’s your favourite feature in the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography plan? How will you use the gorgeous images you create in Lightroom? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
Happy editing, friends!