Instagram has become the go-to platform for photographers to market their work. It’s not surprising as the image-sharing network has more than 600 million active users, making it the perfect platform to promote your art.

Despite being a mobile photography platform, the majority of photographers use it to share their best images, which are normally captured with a DSLR. However, despite sounding straight-forward, making an image look as good on Instagram as it does on your computer isn’t that easy. This is a common struggle amongst many photographers.

Iceland’s most photographed home? ??

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So how do you optimize images for Instagram? By the end of this article, you’ll know exactly how to make your images look just as good on your phone as they do on your computer.

Choose the Right Size and Format

There are many discussions about what’s the ideal image size for images uploaded to Instagram. Personally, I don’t worry too much about getting the exact amount of pixels correct and since I normally upload my images across multiple platforms I choose to use a standard size of 1200px on the long side.

However, according to Instagram, the maximum image size they accept without making their own adjustments is a width of 1080px. Once an image has a width of over 1080 pixels, Instagram will downsize it, which results in a loss of details.

Image Format

The next question is: “What’s the ideal format?”

There’s no doubt that the most common format for uploading images to the web is .jpg but I’ve heard that many are now using .png files. Both formats are ideal for the web but .jpg remains the better choice when it comes to photographs.

Color Profile

AdobeRGB and ProPhoto RGB are the two most common color profiles used when processing your images in Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Photoshop. However, these two color profiles are optimized for print, not for web.

Most web browsers use the sRGB color profile to display images i.e. that’s the one you need to use for the web-version of your image (make sure that you always save a main processed file and a web-version separately).

Again, when you’re exporting an image it should be in the sRBG color profile. We’ll come back to how you do this in the next step.

Sharpen and Save for Web

Once you’ve finished processing an image, it’s time to resize and sharpen it. You might already have a preferred way of doing this. I prefer using Adobe Photoshop as I’m able to get a much better result when sharpening than in Adobe Lightroom. However, if you don’t feel comfortable with Photoshop and you prefer using Lightroom, it’s still a good option.

In Adobe Photoshop

There are many methods for sharpening an image in Adobe Photoshop and if you ask a group of 10 photographers about their workflow, I’m sure that most of the answers will be different.

Personally, I prefer to use the Raya Pro Panel for sharpening and resizing my images as I’ve found it delivers great results. If you don’t already have a panel or preset with the possibility to sharpen an image for the web, these are the steps you need to follow:

  1. Save the Masterfile (processed file) then flatten the image (layer -> flatten image)
  2. Go to Image -> Duplicate
  3. With the duplicate image selected, go to Image -> Image Size…
  4. Resize to 1.6x as much as the original file should be (If the long side of your final image will be 1000px you will now resize it to 1.6*1000 =1600
  5. Change the resample method to Bicubic and press OK
  6. Now go to Filter -> Sharpen -> Sharpen
  7. Duplicate the layer (cmd + J) and sharpen again. Rename this layer to Extra Sharp
  8. Go to Image -> Image Size and resize to the final size (1000px)
  9. If the image is too sharp reduce the opacity of the Extra Sharp layer

The image may have been slightly brightened and desaturated. If this is the case, add a new Levels adjustment layer and a Saturation adjustment layer and compensate the losses.

Optimize images for Instagram Photoshop

Once you’ve sharpened and resized the image, as shown above, go to File -> Export -> Save for Web

In Adobe Lightroom

Sharpening an image in Adobe Lightroom isn’t as advanced (nor as effective) as it is in Photoshop. Input sharpening should still be a part of your Lightroom workflow and I recommend playing around with the Sharpening sliders in the Develop Module.

Optimize Images for Instagram

Output sharpening, on the other hand, is only an option when you’re exporting images (right click -> Export -> Export…) The question is, should you check the sharpening option when exporting images even though you’ve added sharpening in the post-processing workflow?

The answer is yes if you’re also resizing. As soon as you resize the image while exporting (which you should since it’s going to be displayed online), you’ll need to add the extra output sharpening. This is because images that are reduced in Lightroom also lose some sharpness.

Transferring the Image from Computer to Phone

Now that your image is sharpened, resized and exported in the correct format, it’s time to transfer it to your phone. There are several ways of doing this and I do not believe any is better than the others; just choose which method works best for you.

The most common solutions for computer-to-phone transfers are via Dropbox, Email or iCloud/cloud services. My preference is via Dropbox. I export the images into a Dropbox folder which automatically syncs with my phone. This is a quick and easy workflow and if you only use dropbox for the images you transfer to your phone, there’s no need to purchase a monthly plan as the free one offers enough space.

Final Adjustments Before Uploading

Most people are ready to upload the image at this stage but there’s still one final step that’s essential in making the image look as good as possible on Instagram. Due to the color differences between a computer and a phone, you’ll need to make a few final adjustments.

I prefer to do this with the Snapseed app, which is a flexible and easy tool to use. Open the image in Snapseed and make some adjustments to the Brightness, Contrast, Ambience, Saturation and Details.

Optimize Images for Instagram Snapseed

The adjustments don’t need to be big. Normally I stay beneath +20 on all the sliders but it might depend on the specific image (and how well your computer’s monitor is calibrated!)

Now, your image is finally ready to be uploaded and shared on Instagram, looking just as good as it does on your computer.

As I mentioned, there are several ways of transferring images from the computer to the phone. What’s your preferred method? Let us know in the comments! 

Optimize Images for Instagram