Behind the Scenes: The Making of a Creative Photo

I'm kicking off a new series this week to take you behind the scenes while I created my entry for the weekly Creatively Squared challenge. I'll be discussing finding inspiration, sourcing props, backdrops and equipment and the editing process.

I'm hoping that documenting this process might help those who don't know where to get started with their own entries and inspire them to get involved. This challenge is for people of all different skill levels and the foundations of this community were built on being inclusive. It was important to me to make each weekly theme accessible to all and invite creative people from all walks of life to challenge themselves to think outside the box and try new things.

Our challenge themes are always designed so that participants are able to work with whatever items one might have on hand or find within their home. I believe that being creative shouldn't cost anything and that you don't need more than the smartphone in your pocket to join in the fun. 

Our community does welcome a variety of people from talented amateurs to professionals from all over the world. Regardless of your background, your experience and equipment does not determine your ability to participate or the outcome of the challenge. Winners are not chosen on their flawless finish, it is all about how your share your creative ideas and ultimately more about concept than execution. 

Everyone has different creative methods and tips to share and I would like to invite everyone to contribute to this series and show us how you made your creative challenge entries. If you would be willing to share your behind the scenes stories then please shoot me an email at ruth@creativelysquared.com 


Getting creative: from idea to execution

Shoot in action

Shoot in action

This is the first time I have documented my creative process and shown a shoot from start to finish. I am definitely not a professional photographer so probably shouldn't be giving any advice on such things so I will just be discussing my thought process and all the steps along the way. If you are a skim-reader and don't want to know all the details I have kindly summarised it at all the end so scroll on down (but don't forget to pause at the before and after shots on your way past!)

The challenge theme I was attempting this week was 'Hearts' and I had admired lots of entries coming in for the few days prior to attempting my own. It's always great to be inspired by other members of the community and quite often seeing something that has already been created will ignite a series of my own ideas that I can explore during the week.


The ideas (or lack of!)

Coming up with your initial idea is always the hard part, but once you get started it's even harder to single out just one idea to take through to your final concept. I usually try and think of a few different ideas during the week and will workshop ideas in my mind for a couple days before creating something.

I often do a lot of my best thinking at times when I shouldn't be, like during meditative moments at yoga. On this particular morning I was in my yoga class and we began our session with the courageous heart mudra (symbolic hand gesture) which of course set me off thinking about hearts for the entire session.

I decided that when I got home I was going to try and make a heart shape out of my trailing pot plants and pad it out with some green produce from the fridge. I also wanted to try and find a way to add a human element to my shot with the mudra - although I hadn't really established how I was going to combine the two!

Pot plant and produce circle - the second failed idea.

Pot plant and produce circle - the second failed idea.

Making a heart shape with my hands (not the actual courageous heart mudra) 

Making a heart shape with my hands (not the actual courageous heart mudra) 

I realised after about 30 seconds that creating a heart shape with wayward plant tendrils was not going to work. I'm not into forcing an idea and I would rather fail fast and move onto the next one so I quickly fashioned it into a circle and dumped some random veg in to fill it out.

Nope, I decided that it was not looking so good either, I added some hands, double nope. Ok time to move on. 

I figured the pot plant tendrils just weren't making a solid enough base so I pushed them to the side and started assembling the heart out of just vegetables.

By now I had probably wasted about 25 minutes setting up and stuffing around, I hadn't had breakfast yet and I really wanted to get the shot so I could eat that avo!

The final concept

The final concept

Luckily my third and final concept was a bit smoother to execute.

I created the basic heart outline using some seriously sad looking mini cucumbers that had been in the fridge for about 3 weeks and then filled it out by adding other pieces of produce on top and around the edges. I added the (also sad and wilted) celery leaves last to fill the gaps and add some texture. 

The pineapple and plant that I had pushed to the side happened to frame the shot quite nicely so I left them there and scattered a few of the extra pieces of produce around as well.

This only took about 15 minutes to perfect and I finally got the shot - and the chance to eat my props afterwards!


Props and Backdrops

Edible props on my wooden panel backdrop

Edible props on my wooden panel backdrop

This was all the props I used in my shot, everything was sourced from inside my home as I tried to make the most of what I already had on hand. I find that gathering items of a similar colour is always an easy way to kickstart your creative mojo. 

Because I was working with produce, I needed to use a background that I could wipe down easily so I chose my VJ panel board that I bought at Bunnings for around $20. I like that the panel grooves give the backdrop a bit of a subtle texture although getting them all straight does make the edit a bit trickier at the end!


My setup and equipment

My studio set up on the lounge room floor next to a big window

My studio set up on the lounge room floor next to a big window

I like to keep my photo taking as simple as possible, it's just a photo for Instagram so I don't need to go crazy with the perfect lighting setup or expensive gear. As you can see in the shot above I just plonk everything down near a big window and use the natural light I have available

My tripod has an extendable arm which is perfect for taking flatlays and you can buy smartphone attachments for them for those times that you don't want to get out your camera. 

I like to use my tripod for shots like this so I can use a wider aperture to keep all the details of my flatlay in focus, but generally I still take plenty of shots free hand on the auto setting. My husbands iPhone (which is a newer model than mind) can take great photos and I'll often borrow his phone to capture shots as well. 


The edit

Before the edit

Before the edit

After the edit

After the edit

I do love playing around in Photoshop and Lightroom on my desktop but I also have barely any time so try and keep my edits as simple as I can - often I can get just as good results on the Snapseed or Lightroom apps on my phone!

For this edit, the first thing I did was adjust the angles and perspectives to straighten out the lines of my backdrop - although I probably could have saved myself the time by straightening up my tripod arm better to begin with!

To reduce the shadows I brightened up my white tones and lifted some of the shadows and mid tones to bring out the details. My backdrop isn't actually white so I did a manual white balance adjustment to make it look white. Some of the fruit was a little more more yellow then green so I adjusted the yellows to blend in a bit better. 

I probably could have tweaked it all day but, as I mentioned earlier, it's just a fun shot for Instagram and you don't need to take it too seriously. It's better just to go through the experience of creating something and do the best you can in the time you have available than to not try at all!


looking-down-at-hearts.jpg

The short version

Total number of concepts attempted: 3
Props: Pot plants and produce from the fridge
Backdrop: Wood panel from hardware store
Lighting: Natural window light
Camera and Lens: Panasonic Lumix GX7 with fixed 20mm lens
Other equipment used: Vanguard Alta Pro Tripod and edited in Adobe Lightroom CC
Time spent editing: 20 minutes
Total time spent including setup, edit and pack-up: 75 minutes


There you have it! The making of a flatlay from start to finish. Are you willing to share your creative process with the rest of the Creatively Squared community? Please get in touch as I would love to feature you in a blog just like this.

'My Home' Theme Challenge Winners and Judges Comments

After reading through some of the results from our 2017 Community Survey one thing came through loud and clear - you would love to know more about how and why the winning pictures get chosen! As the founder of this community I'm going to do my very best to share as much information about this process with you as I can.

At the conclusion of each challenge it is up to the sponsor to choose the winners which means we have an entirely fresh set of eyes judging the competition every single week. With each new challenge we wipe the slate clean from the week before. The sponsor doesn't take into consideration who has won before, or how many challenges they entered, all they see is the week's entries in front of them. Creativity is completely subjective and different images will appeal to different people so if you haven't won yet please keep entering because you never know what the sponsor will be looking for!

We were lucky to have a champion of independent creative talent sponsoring our "My Home' themed challenge last week. Maggie supports many up and coming brands through her homewares store Kreo Home and has an eye for compelling and unique design. After we put her through her paces judging over 200 entries we asked her to give us some feedback on why she selected her top two images.

Did you know that Maggie is an adrenaline junkie that swears like a sailor? We loved getting to know the founder of Kreo Home - Don't miss our Q&A with Maggie from our interview series.

As well as sharing Maggie's comments I'd love to include my own. I am always in awe of the creativity that comes through this hub every week and while I might not get the opportunity to personally comment on each image that gets submitted I do admire appreciate every single one!


Challenge Winner - Luwyn Tan, Singapore

Image via Instagram from account @codename_black_lotus as entered in the #cs_myhome creative challenge

Image via Instagram from account @codename_black_lotus as entered in the #cs_myhome creative challenge

Maggie's comments: Wow just wow! You totally captured home and warmth, not only in your stunning creative spread but also in your words! Absolutely blown away! Nailed it!

Ruth's comments: With so many carefully arranged elements, Luwyn has created a beautiful tribute to her mother with this image. I'll be the first to admit I'm a sucker for a sentimental image and the caption accompanying this one was almost like poetry. Thank you Luwyn for thinking so deeply about the theme and sharing a little piece of what home means to you with this photo.


Runner-up - Kate Robinson, New Zealand

Image via Instagram from account @thisfamilyrobinson as entered in the #cs_myhome creative challenge

Image via Instagram from account @thisfamilyrobinson as entered in the #cs_myhome creative challenge

Maggie's comments: Mumma you sure have the right idea! Coffee and cake! Enough to fuel any mumma with sick little ones and a household to run. You have captured my childhood memories in your beautiful creative spread perfectly! My mumma would do the same for me! Adore it!

Ruth's comments:  There is an art to composing a great photo, and in my opinion, a mesmerising image is one that truly captures the feeling of the moment in time that it was created. Kate has done that with her image that speaks of creature comforts and captures the warmth of rainy days at home.


Do you have any feedback for the winners? We would love to hear your comments as well! 

Top 5 free video editing apps for smartphones

If you’ve got a modern phone and a good idea, you’ve got everything you need to create compelling video content. You don’t even need a powerful PC and expensive editing software to get started. With free apps you can stitch together impressive projects on your portable device of choice. So whether you want to earn subscribers on YouTube or gain traction on Instagram, you can make videos that stand out from the crowd.

Video is an increasingly influential medium. And stats show that while shorter clips are more dominant, it’s those lasting 15 minutes or more that generate the highest levels of engagement. This gives creatives free rein when putting together footage. Short and sweet isn’t always the answer, but using editing tools effectively can make a big difference. Here are five of the best free apps to expand your video skill set.

Image from Unsplash

Splice

Created by the team behind the GoPro action camera range, Splice is a free app which lets you import clips from many different sources, including Dropbox and Facebook. So the footage you edit doesn’t have to be stored locally on your phone.

The straightforward interface makes chopping and changing things around a breeze. There are filters to apply, text overlays to add and even neat touches like animated transitions and playback speed adjustment.

Be warned that videos made in Splice get automatically appended with a clip advertising the app. This means you’ll need to cut this out manually using a separate editor after you’ve exported the finished project, which isn’t ideal.

splice-video-app.jpg

Images from Splice

iMovie

Most pros use Apple products to edit videos, so it’s no surprise that the iPhone maker’s own app is one of the best in the business for mobile users.

It takes full advantage of the multi-touch capabilities of the iPhone’s display to streamline editing. And with plenty of pre-made templates you can learn how to properly organise footage, before coming up with your own concepts.

The biggest drawback of this app is that it pulls clips from your device or iCloud account and is not able to import anything from other platforms. Of course being able to save and share your creations on other Apple devices in 4K resolutions makes up for this. You just have to be a committed acolyte of the Apple ecosystem.

imovie-video-app.jpg

Image from Apple

VivaVideo

With some of the best customer ratings around, this app has won over thousands of users. And since it’s available on Android handsets as well as iPhone, it’s not tied down by brand loyalties.

VivaVideo works best for cobbling together clips into short-form videos, with the ability to capture footage from within the app to make things easier. Filters and effects can be added, with in-app purchases allowing you to unlock the flashier features, for a price.

Like Splice, this app manages to do a good job with audio as well as video. You can drop music tracks over footage and tinker with everything until you’re happy with the results. The fact that the interface isn’t that intuitive for first time users is our main bug bear.

vivavideo-video-app.jpg

Image from iTunes

Adobe Premiere Clip

A big hitter in the professional video editing world, Premiere Clip is a stripped-back version of Adobe’s flagship program that is free to download and use on the move. And with easy exporting to Premier Pro, it makes sense to use this if you’re also going to harness its premium desktop counterpart.

The drag and drop approach to editing it offers is uncomplicated, and there are the usual tricks of the trade including transitions, audio adjustments and more. Solid social media integration makes sharing videos simple, although its library of audio is a little limited compared with the competition.

adobe-premiere-clip-video-app.jpg

Image from Google Play Store

Cameo

Some editing apps are overburdened by ads or super-restricted unless you’re willing to pay for more features to be unlocked. Cameo is different because it doesn’t suffer either of these downsides.

Swiping around the clean, uncluttered interface will feel natural, while the professional grade filters and music options are a welcome inclusion. Meanwhile its integration with artist-friendly video platform Vimeo means you can upload your projects to a place where they’ll be appreciated by likeminded people.

Like all good editing apps, Cameo supports 4K footage and makes it possible to share videos via Twitter, Facebook and even WhatsApp. It’s not entirely perfect, and won’t match its paid-for rivals in terms of raw capabilities.

cameo-video-app.jpg

Image from Vimeo

Final Thoughts

The world of online video is in a state of flux. Content creators are having to battle advertisers to monetize their content. And even the industry’s biggest stars are coming under increased scrutiny over the ways they engage with their young audiences. But the opportunities presented by this technology remain as exciting as ever. It’s just a case of using the available tools for positive expression.

30 days of creativity: What I've learned from the Creatively Squared community

I’ve been interning with Creatively Squared for around one month now. Going into this internship, I knew I was going to be learning a lot from my time at the company but I didn't realise how much I would be learning from the community as well!

Before I started, I would have probably regarded myself as a somewhat creative person. However, after commencing the position and participating in the Instagram challenges, I was quick to realise that styling beautiful images was not as easy as I first expected.

I also stumbled across the fact that maybe I wasn’t as somewhat creative as I had initially thought. In fact, when entering my first Creatively Squared Instagram Challenge 'Little Loves', it took many hours across several days to perfect my styling, shooting and select my flat lay image. I wouldn’t exactly call myself a natural!

My #cs_littleloves entry - my very first flatlay

My #cs_littleloves entry - my very first flatlay

Before posting my first Creatively Squared entry, I was feeling extremely nervous! I had spent more time than you could probably imagine, ensuring I had perfected the placement of every item. After uploading my image with the #cs_littleloves tag, I immediately began to receive comments from the community congratulating me on my first entry.

It felt awesome, and it was so special that these wonderfully creative people from the community, were taking the time to like and comment on my post. I immediately felt I had been accepted into a wonderful collective of people. During my first week at Creatively Squared, I also spent time interacting with the community and spreading my own positivity and appreciation to other entries. It felt so rewarding to share my support and I found almost every person would respond to the comment and head back to my profile to give some encouragement too.

Although I was initially hesitant and anxious, I am so very glad that I submitted that first entry, because I feel so happy to be apart of this community. After many weeks, I feel I have learnt so much about styling and creativity from Ruth and the Creatively Squared Community. I am so inspired everyday by the gorgeous and creative images produced in the weekly challenges.

My Think Pink themed flatlay

My Think Pink themed flatlay

I’ve found over this short time, my flatlay entries have taken less and less hours of the week and I feel a little less anxious each time I post one on Instagram. And for the latter, this is undoubtedly thanks to the amazing community who shares nothing but love and appreciation for each other’s entries. And so, as a barely broken in newbie to the flatlaying world of Instagram, I would like to share my personal findings and tips that I have learnt this past month.

1.    Go in with an informed (and inspired!) mind

For those who are entering the weekly Creatively Squared challenge, I would recommend doing a little research before jumping right in! Have a look at the sponsor and think creatively about the outlined theme. Think about, how can you relate this theme to… well, you! I’ve quickly learned that going in with no idea how I want this image to look, or not knowing the actual props I’m using, is a bad idea. Some people might be that talented, but for me, it’s not that easy!

Ruth has previously suggested to me, looking at other images online and finding inspiration. I can suggest a few of our amazing creatives whose gorgeous Instagram feeds are full of inspiration:  I love seeing the images from Jinny @TheUrbanQuarters, Lynette @lynettejoie and @thecontentcreative (our very own founder Ruth).

Image by Jinny @theurbanquarters via Instagram

Image by Jinny @theurbanquarters via Instagram

Some of my favourite entries from the Creatively Squared community are those that are accompanied by really insightful captions that demonstrate the concept behind the image and just how much thought has gone into the creative process.

I know now, that the theme is really just a touch point to jumpstart your own creative ideas that you can bring to life your in your own way. By starting off gathering ideas and inspiration it is so much easier to find a way to interpret the theme that best represents you as a creative.

2.   Make use of what you have on hand

Most of the beautiful images we share each week are captured on iPhones, using props that already exist in people’s lives. Go through your closet or cabinet, or event that untouched drawer that exists in everyone’s home that you cannot bear to open or clean out… you might find a treasure that will double as an awesome prop! Ruth has once suggested hitting up the local op-shop, which could personally turn into a very dangerous situation, as I have an obsession with vintage denim jackets.

My 'Fresh Start' themed flatlay using an old shelf as a backdrop

My 'Fresh Start' themed flatlay using an old shelf as a backdrop

Unfortunately we don’t all have the most amazing white tiles, wooden bench tops, lush rugs or painted walls, but it pays to think creatively. I shoot my white background flat lays on an old shelf I found in my sister’s cupboard (thanks Sis). Do some experimenting and find an odd item that might double as a perfect backdrop. I also found this blog about 10 of the best photography backdrops for your home studio on the Creatively Squared blog really helpful. 

Thankfully you do not need a Nimbus 2000 high-tech camera and the latest and greatest editing software. You can simply edit your images using some free apps on your iPhone, how easy is that! Creatively Squared have previously compiled a helpful blog of some free (or very cheap) editing apps you can use Photographic App-titude: The Best Smartphone Editing Apps to Take Your Photos to the Next Level. My personal favourite is Snapseed -  it is very user friendly!

3.  Just give it a go!

I feel so lucky to have been introduced to this wonderful community where anyone can belong. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve been doing this for years, months or you are even just considering entering. I highly recommend getting involved and engaged in the challenges.

If you don’t yet feel you are ready to upload your entry with the challenge hashtag, you can still generate some meaningful conversations within the community. Scroll through the themed hashtag and leave a few comments, ask for advice or even find some inspiration to help guide your image.

Well that’s about all I can share at one-month in. The Creatively Squared Community exists to support and foster creativity and I really feel like my own creativity has blossomed over the last 30 days. Thank you to all of the wonderful creatives who participate each week in the challenges, and share a part of your life with us all. I admire so many of you and if you have any advice for people like myself who are new to flatlaying please leave us a comment below!



 

Fresh Start Winners and Judges Comments

This week we are asking for YOUR feedback on our challenges and have put together a community survey. If you haven't taken the opportunity to tell us what you really think yet, we would love it if you could take a few minutes to answer some short questions. We are committed to make this the best, most supportive and fun creative community around but we can't do it without your help!

One of the things that we have seen come up a few times so far is that you would like to know more about what caught the judges eye and why certain images were chosen. We have taken that on board and this week we have asked our sponsors C Lab and Co and our host Clare for some feedback on the winning images.

Winning image by @lynettejoie

Winning image by @lynettejoie

Sponsor comments: This styling is an absolute stand out! The image is clean and crisp, everything is so perfectly positioned and so eye catching.

Host comments: I love how each item fits perfectly to create an absolutely gorgeous, thoughtful image. This shot is one of my flatlay #goals!


Winning image by @theurbanquarters

Winning image by @theurbanquarters

Sponsor comments: Who knew that throwing things in a basket could look so pretty?! The greenery in the background is just so perfectly placed. This composition is just magic!

Host comments: I love the story this image portrays and how it makes me feel so calm and refreshed. The basket arrangement is simple yet gorgeous, as every item seems to be placed so perfectly.


Winning image by @thisisfarahnow

Winning image by @thisisfarahnow

Sponsor comments: Mother Nature is always so pretty. Raw food in their natural state, love it. And the juxtaposition with the scissors is so mysterious!

Host comments: The pop of colour from the lemon in this image, fits so perfectly with the fresh start theme. This image feels so balanced, because of the precise placement of each item.


Winning image by @slowspoon.pl

Winning image by @slowspoon.pl

Sponsor comments: We love how everything in this image is so white except for the tea. It's really effective visually and shows the importance of starting the day with a good cup of tea!

Host comments: This gorgeous image has such a magical feel to it. The stacked items sit so precisely to create such an inviting image. This one gives me the warm and cozy feelings inside!


Winning image by @mum_ontherun

Winning image by @mum_ontherun

Sponsor comments: A touch of pink is really pretty here. We love how the beads fade into the beach bag, great subtle details where you really need to study the image. It's very sweet!

Host comments: There’s nothing better than a holiday to make you feel refreshed, right? I love that this image transports me to a tropical island, sitting by a pool reading a book. The layers in this image work really well together, to tell this story and create a beautiful aesthetic.


Winning image by @imehly

Winning image by @imehly

Sponsor comments: We love how classic Chanel and a warm cup of tea look so great together. Both essential, both simple and both beautiful in their own way.

Host comments: The creator of this image is very talented. I love the monochrome feel of this image, with the subtle hints of pink. The image feels balanced and as though even item belongs.


Winning image by @englishgirl14

Winning image by @englishgirl14

Sponsor comments: Makeup brush GOALS! So simple and so true, we all have so many brushes and they are truly such interesting textural objects that need to be photographed more.

Host comments: This is a gorgeous image, and definitely shows a lot of time and effort was placed into the arrangement of these items. I always love to read the comments and I was very happy to read about your daughters success and hard work!


Winning image by @herinternest

Winning image by @herinternest

Sponsor comments: Nothing is more fresh than a walk in the snow. Love the creativity of the bird shape and the concept of where ideas come from!

Guest comments: I love the perspective used in the image. I’ve never been to the snow and this photo makes me feel transported to a wonderful and cold place.


Winning image by @marissajaynexx

Winning image by @marissajaynexx

Sponsor comments: The start of the year is always the time when we want a fresh start to how we eat so this post really resonated with us. Also it's so visually appealing with all the bright colours and tasty looking fruit!

Host comments: Marissa has obviously put a lot of thought into this shot. I love how the fruit has been positioned with the text to create a different shape. A very original shot!


Winning image by @that_coloured_door69

Winning image by @that_coloured_door69

Sponsor comments: We love how pretty simple cleaning products have been made to look in this image. Very well composed and the natural wood items are divine!

Host comments: I really like the layers used in this image and the subtle flowers featured. The
colours used really match well to create a wonderful aesthetic. As someone who recently went through a big clean up, I can definitely appreciate this image.


Thank you to our wonderful sponsor C Lab and Co and our host Clare Farrugia for taking the time to pass on their notes on all of our winning images. If you would like to add to the conversation and have any feed back for the winners or thoughts you'd like to share about the challenge please let us know in the comments.

Also, if you haven't already, we would really appreciate you taking a few minutes to answer our survey. We can't make this community better without knowing what areas we can improve for you!

Our 8 predictions for Instagram in 2018

The first few weeks of 2018 has already seen the engagement rates of most accounts spiralling downwards and when it comes to the mystery of the Instagram algorithm there is lots of speculation about how it works and what’s to come. Unfortunately without many public statements from the company, rumours can catch on like wildfire and it is hard to know what you can believe.

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

Bearing in mind that there is no true way of knowing what is to come we have done our homework, referred to the experts, clocked all the rumours and combined it with our own experiences to bring you our top predictions for the year ahead:

1. Loads more speculation and user experiments

With Instagram remaining tightlipped, understanding the constantly updating algorithm can be a real headache and leaves many feeling disheartened when their content doesn’t seem to connect with their audiences the way it used to.

There is lots of speculation over best practices and theories about what you can do to ‘go viral’ and ‘spike’ your engagement but for every person claiming that something works there will be another 5 that say they can disprove it.

This year will see a decrease in hacks and tactics and the Instagram population on the whole will learn to accept the algorithm for what is it and try and use the platform in a more wholesome and authentic way. There will be less organised pods and engagement groups and more focus on creating great content and genuine communications.

2. Accounts will post less but produce higher quality content

Gone are the days where you needed to post several times a day to stay at the top of your audience’s feeds. Now that the algorithm often serves up posts that are days old, it is less important to post frequently but still critical to post relevant content consistently.

With less pressure to be churning out posts, the quality of content will increase and with less distribution users will have a higher chance of engaging with an image. As each individual post becomes more important we will see less reposting and moodboard images and more emphasis on creating fresh original content.

There is a good reason why Instagram doesn’t come with a repost function and while they aren’t using image recognition yet (or so they claim!) we wouldn’t be surprised if they implemented new technologies soon to reward the use of original images and score it’s relevance higher than reposted content.

3. More time spent watching and creating stories

Browsing habits are already rapidly shifting on Instagram and current users are reportedly spending around 22% of their time on the platform watching Stories instead of browsing their feeds. This will result in less engagement and exposure for posts and more emphasis on creating great content in stories.

Instagram will no doubt keep rolling out the special features, filters and fun ways to enhance your stories and users will keep finding creative ways to apply them. We can expect to see more clever tap through techniques and content that keeps you engaged for longer.

With the introduction of the Highlights feature, which allows Stories to live on your profile forever, we will see an increase in production values and the quality of stories in our feeds. This content will allow for better storytelling for brands and individuals and will be key to building stronger relationships with your audiences in 2018.

New features will keep coming in 2018. Photo by Hans Vivek on Unsplash

New features will keep coming in 2018. Photo by Hans Vivek on Unsplash

4. Less reach for everyone

If January is anything to go by, Instagram users can expect to see a massive drop in reach in 2018. When the introduction of the algorithm was announced back in 2016 they promised to show us more of the content that matters to us and is popular in our network.

It’s not just a popularity contest though, the algorithm watches the accounts you search for and follow, the images you share and regularly engage with and the niche of content you are interested in. The result is that you see less content but images with higher relevance and if your audience isn’t responding regularly to your content they will simply stop seeing it.

It is speculated that in order to determine how much your content is likely to be appreciated, the algorithm will first show your post  to around 10% of your audience. If they respond favourably to what they see it will then show your content to more people and so on.

With Instagram reportedly cracking down on pods and automation, previous tactics to spike engagement and serve your content to more of your audience will likely not be as successful.

5. A tidal wave of marketers

With the drop in organic reach will come a virtual tidal wave of pay to play marketers. Instagram is already one of the key players in social media marketing platforms, and 2018 will bring even more of a business boom than we’ve already seen.

The latest Facebook updates which promises to show users more of the content that is personal and relevant to them will no doubt result in the reach of business accounts and pages grinding to a halt. We will see a lot of businesses rolling a larger portion of their marketing spends over to Instagram where the platform remains somewhat brand friendly (enjoy it while you can folks!)

This might be good news for marketers but individuals will need to get used to the idea of seeing a lot more sponsored posts and stories popping up in their feeds.

6. More specific and targeted hashtag use

With the business insights page showing that minimal traffic comes from hashtag use, it will be time to abandon the scattergun approach and focus on more specific and niche tags.

Less is more will be the mantra for 2018 and, instead of using all 30 tags with every post, users will spend more time researching specific tags. This will result in less tags being shared per image but they will be more targeted, relevant and refined.

The ability to follow hashtags will make it easier to build community and niche groups around a particular tag. As well as being able to discover better content, users can browse other people’s accounts to discover which hashtags they enjoy and are following. Once this feature gains more momentum it will be key to conducting hashtag research, allowing accounts to more easily identify popular tags and refine their own hashtag selection.

We will see more hashtagging appearing in stories as well. In addition to followed hashtags showing up in your feed they will also appear in stories so expect to see a lot more content from tags you follow appearing here.

7. Less hacking the system and ‘going viral’

People have used every trick in the book to try and beat the algorithm and try and hit the holy grail Explore page. A popular theory was that if you got enough likes in the first 20 minutes of posting that your content would hit the Explore tab and ‘go viral’.

This led to the organisation of Instagram Engagement pods which was a collection of accounts who would all like each others posts as soon as they went up to help ‘spike’ engagement. Recent reports claim that Instagram is cracking down on accounts they suspect are using these tactics to boost engagement.

You might also be surprised to know that there isn’t a one size fits all Explore page. This feed is customised for each user to display a mix of popular posts from the wider Instagram community and within your own network. Just because your post hits the Explore tab for some users doesn’t mean you are going to get a tonne of views and likes on your post.

Instagram will be monitoring where your traffic comes from in 2018 and if a large number likes are coming from outside your network or niche and is directed from an external source it is unlikely to register as authentic engagement.

8. More users fighting to protect their original content

We are hearing more stories about photographers and content creators pushing back against the very liberal reposting culture on Instagram and challenging brands that repurpose their content. This year it will become less acceptable to share other people’s content without first seeking their permission or buying the rights to use an image.

This year video owners and producers will have an easier way to protect their copyright and monitor where their content is being used with the introduction of Rights Manager. This feature already exists on Facebook although it isn’t fully rolled out yet on Instagram. Using the Rights Manager will allow users control over who they grant permission to share their content and also the ability to block any unauthorised use.

We will hopefully see Instagram extend this management to photo use in the future. This means brands will need to get used to the idea of paying for social media content that they aren’t producing themselves in-house.

Expect to see more quality content. Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Expect to see more quality content. Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Final thoughts

Instagram use in 2018 will be all about quality over quantity. It’s no longer a numbers game and this goes for all aspects of the platform - content, posts and engagement. Everyone is savvy enough now to spot a bot user, or someone who bought followers and likes. This year there will be less importance placed on the number of interactions a post has and more value on high-quality engagement.

Brands will continue to invest in influencer marketing but instead of using social channels purely for exposure, savvy brands will become more interested in click through and conversion metrics. For a lot of Influencers this means that likes aren’t going to pay the bills and in order to charge top dollar they may need to start demonstrating an ROI to the brands they promote.

The true workings of the algorithm will always be shrouded in mystery. We can read all the forums, conduct our own experiments and watch the trends like a hawk but at the end of the day every account and audience is unique and one person’s recommendations won’t necessarily work for the next.

Our tips for the year ahead are just to be you! Don’t compare your account to how it was in 2016 or anyone else’s account. Take the platform for what it is now and instead of spending your time finding ways to beat or hack the system instead use it to find creative ways to improve the quality of your content.

Keep adding value to your audience, experiment with new ideas, communicate openly and most importantly of all be authentic and responsive. Make sure you are having fun, the chances are if you put your heart into every post you are more likely to get a lot of love in return.

Happy gramming everyone!