Instagram has no match among photo-sharing social networks, which is why businesses are eager to include it in their social media marketing plan. It’s taken the network five years since its official launch to begin rolling out advertising, due to the developers’ long-standing goal to make the integration of advertising content into normal browsing experience as seamless and natural as possible. For businesses, this means that in order to find success on Instagram, they must first get to know the network and its users on their own terms.
In the past, we have covered essential Instagram elements such as filters, hashtags, and captions; but few Instagram pros manage their presence on the network without some help from hardware and software tools specifically designed for photo sharing. Whether you’re just getting started with Instagram or need a boost to your follower count, we’ve picked the best Instagram tools to help you manage your photos. Most of these tools belong to the same four categories: photo and/or video editing, layout, engagement, or metrics. Finally, I’ve thrown in a couple of hardware tools, because let’s face it: even the most skilled iPhoneographers out there need a (steady) helping hand in form of a hardware upgrade.
Visual Supply Co., the lesser-known name behind the unpronounceable acronym VSCO, has revolutionized Instagram photos since the app first launched in 2013. Instead of Instagram’s classic vintage film look, images edited with VSCO Cam feature sharp contrast and crisp edges, making the blurriest conference photo look like a work of art.
VSCO Cam offers 10 free filters with an option to purchase several more collections at the in-app shop. Additionally, users have the ability to edit photos to their own liking by adjusting the brightness, contrast, sharpness, saturation, colour temperature, etc.
To get a feel of what typical VSCO Cam-edited photos look like, you can follow the #vscocam tag on Instagram—or simply take a look at your own feed. Chances are, most of your network is already using the app without openly announcing it with a hashtag.
VSCO Cam is seamlessly integrated with Instagram and has the ability to post directly to the network; however, the relationship between the two apps seems to be that of a friendly rivalry. Recently, Instagram released a batch of new filters that cater more to the VSCOcam-spoiled audiences, while VSCOcam created its own photo-sharing network to keep photographers in the app.
An Instagram trend that has recently taken off has users segmenting a single image into several parts and posting those images in proper succession on their account, thus creating a multiple-photo grid. We have highlighted several outstanding examples of photo grids on the Hootsuite Showcase Instagram:
Users can create these grids out of high-resolution images using desktop photo-editing software such as Adobe Photoshop; but if you don’t have time or resources to get sophisticated programs, mobile apps such as Giant Square or Banner Pic will do. These apps allow you to easily upload the photo you wish to post as a grid, divide it up into several segments (traditionally in 3, 6, or 9 parts), and upload them to your Instagram gallery. Businesses can use this tool to showcase fine details in a photo or create a story in captions.
Collages are probably one of the oldest elements of Instagram, although lately they have taken a backseat to other layout options (such as grids I mentioned earlier). Still, photo collages make up such a big part of the network that Instagram launched their own tool for creating collages, called Layout for Instagram. This standalone app brought unfortunate news to apps such as Picstitch and Diptic, which have occupied the collage-making space in the meantime.
For those times when you are not quite sure which photo best represents an event or a product, you can use a collage to show off all the photos at once. Users have a multitude of options when it comes to layout, border colours and visibility, and number of photos combined in a single collage.
By now, most users have learned to avoid Instagram’s square crop getting in the way of a well-composed photo. Some take original pictures in square mode on their smartphone camera, created specifically for Instagram; others make a rectangular image into a square using borders, in dedicated apps.
Squaready and Whitagram are just two of many apps that allow you to do this: users can upload portrait or landscape photos from their library into the app, and position the photo within borders in your choice of color to show the image off in all its glory.
Video has been an inseparable part of Instagram since video posts were first introduced to the feeds in 2013. There are many video editing apps created specifically for mobile use; but Instagram has an added challenge of limiting video length to mere 15 seconds. How can you be both creative and brief in a video (without switching to Snapchat or Vine)? Condense your videos in a timelapse! Hyperlapse for Instagram is a standalone app created by the photo network to help users create steady, high-quality timelapses.
There have been many examples of various types of professionals using Hyperlapse to drive business objectives, namely by showing off event attendance, demonstrating workout routines, tattoo flash sheets, and others. But if there’s one rule to timelapse photo- and videography, it’s to find new ways to tell a visual story over time—and the possibilities are endless.
Instagram is called a photo-sharing, not a photo-liking network for a reason. Sometimes, you can be too absorbed in the moment to capture it, and someone else does it for you. Instead of going through the tedious process of screen-capturing and re-cropping someone else’s photo, you can repost the image along with appropriate credit using apps such as Repost for Instagram. This Instagram tool allows for easy re-gramming by gaining access to your Instagram account and creating its own grid-like feed inside the Repost app. When you see a photo you’d like to repost on the Repost Instagram feed, you have to click the ‘Repost’ button and choose where on the photo you’d like the original poster’s credit to appear (there is an option to bypass this step in the Pro version, although it’s advised to be used wisely).
Instagram tools that allow you to repost the pictures of other users are immensely helpful when you’re looking to share user-generated content. Whether you’re running an Instagram campaign or just browsing images under your branded hashtag, apps such as Repost for Instagram make it easy to share other users’ photos and credit them accordingly.
Growing your follower base can be challenging, so it’s not a surprise that a reduced number of followers can ruin an Instagram manager’s day. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s important to keep tabs on those who chooses to unfollow you or not follow you back, in order to determine any need for a change in your Instagram strategy.
Follower management apps such as Crowdfire and Unfollowgram help you do just that: these Instagram tools allow users to view the entire follower base, as well as those who don’t follow them back, those who have both followed and unfollowed the account recently, inactive followers, and more. Crowdfire also lets you create whitelists or blacklists of users. While you should spend more time engaging with your audience instead of tracking follows and unfollows, these apps act as a good temperature check for the success of your Instagram management.
Many smartphone models already have a separate folder designated for Instagram images. However, if you wanted to have all your Instagram photos in a different place—say, a .zip archive folder—you can download them using Instaport. This Instagram tool allows you to export all photos from your account in a single folder and save them to your hard drive. This is especially helpful if you decide to reposition your Instagram strategy and start fresh; with Instaport, you don’t have to save each photo individually.
However, even if you’re not planning to leave or wipe your account clean anytime soon, Instaport is useful for creating an archive of photos you can then share on other social networks (if you didn’t do so simultaneously with posting to Instagram).
Many professional photographers use Instagram to share their work, even if it the photos were taken with a digital camera instead of a smartphone. However, not everyone can invest into a DSLR, and most don’t have to do so to have an engaging Instagram account. There is one tool that’s much cheaper than a camera, which can increase the quality of a smartphone photo to rival ones taken with a pricey Nikon. I’m talking about a tripod, a simple device to help steady your phone for sharper images and videos.
There are many products offered for smartphone photographers, with prices ranging from $7 to about $30. If you already have a tripod for your camera, many manufacturers also offer special mounts to fit your smartphone on an existing tripod.
If you are a committed smartphone photographer and want to explore more hardware options exclusively for phones, then you might consider investing in a special lens to fit your phone. These lenses attach themselves to the main camera on your smartphone and enhance the image in the viewer.
One of the more popular lenses is the fisheye, a funky wide angle lens that distorts an image the way few image-editing apps can. These can be found for as low as $6 and can be a good investment to expand your photography horizons. The unusual look of images taken with a fisheye lens can provide a welcome boost in engagement.
One of the key ways to a successful Instagram strategy is keeping a consistent presence. This means having photos queued up and ready to share with your followers on a regular basis, whether it’s once a week or once a day. Scheduling tools for Instagram such as Hootsuite allow you to have photos ready to go at your chosen interval. Plus, if you’re taking some time off and have another team member managing your brand’s Instagram account, you can share account access without losing your photo queue.