How to Kick Ass on Instagram

Allan Dixon
Sep 11, 2014 · 10 min read

I will teach you how to be awesome on Instagram

I have been paid to take photos and upload them on Instagram. That’s not a joke. Over the course of one year I managed to engage followers and build a network of people on Instagram. It has directly led to paid travel, free flights, friendships and invites to exclusive events. Here’s the blueprint to how you can do it too.

First — What Not To Upload

Why Aren’t People Following Me?

Let’s have a look at your Instagram gallery and see how you’re doing. Hands up if you’re guilty of anything below:

  • Have you any photos of coffee cups, protein shakes or cups of tea?
  • Are your photos a random assortment of your life? Like a mix of what you ate today, inspirational quotes, relationship selfies, your office desk and gym progress?
  • Posted a screenshot of the weather, cycle/run maps or a song?

Or what about…

  • Can anyone take the same photo with little or no effort?
  • How colourful are your photos? Any depressing greys in there?
  • Any blurry, grainy, out of focus or shaky photos?

Don’t be the person who posts a picture that isn’t worth a thousand words.

Let’s Start Kicking

To increase your likes and followers you need to start with a good foundation. Stick to a road map, it may take time and work but will payoff in the end.

1. Pick Your Topic to Photograph

Cats, food, fashion, nature, portraits, sunsets, selfies. Whichever you select, your photos need to be centred around that topic. Consistency is key.

If you have a talent (everyone does) you could showcase that. Be it dancing, drawing, literature, fashion trends, great cooking or an obscure interest. There are bound to be people searching for the same interest.

Pick a topic that you’re most happy to do and stick with it. It will define you who are.

If all else fails just take photos of your pet.

2. Revamp Or Start a New Account

Between June 2012 — June 2013 I only uploaded a measly 12 photos. My account was pretty much lying dormant for a year so I decided to give it a real go. Since June 2013 I began to only upload photos of nature, adventure, wildlife and travel, thus defining my topic.

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My photo uploads over two years

If you feel like you’ve already uploaded too much mixed up lifestyle photos then maybe it’s time to start a brand spanking new account focused on a topic.

Let’s Talk About Your Username

I hope you already have a snappy, short, memorable username. Using your full name is fine too as long as it’s not a tongue twister.

Fear not! You’re able to change it if you want. Click the ‘edit your profile’ button on your Instagram profile on your phone.

Try to create your username something short, memorable, something that identifies you or describes your character. The easier and shorter it is, the more memorable it is for everyone else.

3. Get a DSLR Camera

Instagram is about mobile photography, but if you want to play with the big kids then get a DSLR camera.


  1. Images will be clearer
  2. Greater resolution
  3. Better image quality
  4. You can play with the focus
  5. They shoot photos in RAW which means the photo retains all its colour information. This gives you more dynamic range while you’re editing the photo.

If you don’t understand any of that then brush up on why DSLR’s are better than point-and-shoot cameras.

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@laurenepbath, @teknikfotograf, @laurenepbath, @teknikfotograf

“I don’t have the money to buy one” — Borrow a friends camera or find a used camera online or in an exchange shop. Start with a entry level model of Canon, Nikon or Sony. Whatever you fancy, as they all do the same thing.

“I don’t know how to use it?” — Isn’t learning fun?

“I don’t …”— Shut your pie hole and get over it!

I started out with a Canon 60D. Learnt a lot, broke it by accident, cried, then upgraded to a Canon 5D mk iii.

Once you’ve taken your photos you can transfer them from your computer to your phone by either USB, Bluetooth, Dropbox or email.

“The world needs dreamers and the world needs doers. But above all, the world needs dreamers who do” — Sarah Ban Breathnach

4. Learn to Edit Photos

If your goal is to get hundreds of likes and lots of attention, then your photos need to be out of this world. You’re going to have to edit them.

The original is on the left and finished edit on the right. As you can see it was a little dark and needed some lift with exposure. The idea is tweak the photo to get the best out of the bright and dark areas. Not to completely change it, we’re not photoshopping models here.

I use Photoshop Lightroom on the computer, then Snapseed on the phone to make a few minor tweaks. The photo must still look real, so go easy on the saturation.

5. Only Upload AMAZING Photos

I’m not going to tell you how to take photos, but the general rules of photography apply with composition (rule of thirds), framing and great lighting.

Try Google’s ‘creative photo ideas for Instagramto start with and play around with other peoples suggestions to suit your topic. Eventually you will develop your own style and be praised for it.

With Instagram it’s about being creative, make it visually appealing, shoot from a unique angle, include props or apply a great effect while editing.

Only upload the best of the best.

Create something that will make your followers go “wow!”

Only Upload The Best Of The Best

6. Find and Refine Your Unique Style

People love people that are different. Figure out what you love doing. Find your voice, show off your style and eventually the right people will find you.

“How can I find my unique style?” Your unique style is hiding inside your talent. Photograph the things you love to do and your style will shine right through.

My interest is nature and adventure with a mix of ‘taking selfies with animals’. Some people think they’re hilarious, crazy, cute so there’s anticipation for what could possibly come next.

Example Time: Here’s an example of @frostyphoto finding and refining his photo style.

He started out by uploading photos of his lifestyle. Later switching to photos with white boarders and focusing more on nature and people.

For over one hundred weeks he was uploading stunning photos with white boarders but only averaging 300 likes per photo.


He switched back to full square images and only focused on photos of nature. Within ten weeks his likes per image shot up to 600.

James — “I felt the white boarders made the images smaller and I lost a lot of power in images, bigger is better right?!

That’s our lesson on style and photos with white boarders.

7. Upload At Least One Photo a Day—Not Twenty

Please do NOT post multiple photos all at once. Especially of the the same thing!

I try to upload at least one photo everyday. Not much interaction on the weekends as people are usually busy not being on their phone. The exception is on Sunday night as people have work the next day.

You can upload more than one a day, just leave a time gap between posts.

Vary the style of photo so you’re not posting ten sunsets in a row (unless this is what you do, but use a different angle). — e.g. sunset, landscape, water, wildlife, people, landscape, people, wildlife… just mix it up.

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Further reading: ‘frequency of uploadingand ‘when’s the best time to post?’

8. Write a Caption

If the photo’s great then there’s a chance your followers will want to know more about what’s happening in the photo. Gives you a chance to tell the story and behind the scenes of what happened (location, people, action, your feeling, tips, how you got there).

There is no one way to write a caption. You could write an inspirational piece, a short simple caption, an essay, something to grab attention, a short witty caption, something inviting and fun or ask a question to your followers. The list is endless.

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Do not leave it blank. How else can we get to know more about you and the photo?

Add your personality in there as nobody wants to read an instructional manual.

9. Hashtags (Done Right)

Ok so people (usually always) say you need to tag your photos. Each photo is allowed a maximum of 30 tags, but wait!

Stop hash tagging so much. You’re annoying people.

As you’re posting you can tag your photo with some relevant tags (zero to eight maximum), then wait and put the remaining tags as a comment so that not many people will see them (but makes your photo still findable in search).

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Once you get a lot of engagement from your followers you don’t need to tag photos as much.

Keep tags to a minimum in a post or all in a comment and relevant to the photo.

If you have a style, story or a unique photo topic then make up your own hashtag. Make it informative but short and relevant to your whole gallery. If you use and talk about it enough then other people will start using it too.

10. Talk to Your People and The World

Instagram is one big community. The more you give to the community, the more the community gives back to you. Do this by liking, commenting and following other people.

Like and comment on other peoples pictures. Commenting even a simple “great photo!” can leave a positive impression. After all, everyone likes to get great feedback and positive reinforcement.

Respond to comments on your own photos. Reply to any interesting comments and thank your followers for genuine compliments.

Follow people that you actually admire. They will give you inspiration, ideas and tips. Interact with them enough, be relaxed and sincere fashion and you might even meet them in person (A friend of mine met Pixie Lott because of Instagram/Twitter).

11. Epic Photos Get Reposted (Shoutouts)

When you take epic photos the next step is get them in front of a huge audience.

There are hundreds of accounts with huge followings that repost other peoples photos. If they pick your photo you’ll get credited and great exposure.

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@BestVacations, @CleanAndGreenEating, @FashionForAll

Your job is to find accounts that post similar photos to you. Tag your photo with their name, tag their account and hashtag in your caption or in a comment under your photo and hope they love your photography.

The more accounts that feature your photos the more likes and followers you get. In order to be featured your photos need to be epic.

Example Time: As people scroll their feed, they’ll see a photo posted by a big account and might say “cool photo, I really like it, who took that? Lemme see if they have more photos like that”. They’ll click into your profile and if they like you or your style of photography maybe you’ll get a new follower.

If you have a great photo you think a big account would love, then get in contact with the account moderator. Look for contact information everywhere. In their bio, kik messenger, Instagram direct them, tweet them or find their Facebook page and see if it have an email on their about page. Just figure out the best approach and make sure they’re the right type of account for your style of photo.

There’s More?

Yes. Plenty more to come.

Youtube Video coming soon! I’ll link it at the top when it’s live.

Three golden rules to remember

Only upload amazing photos

Be consistent

Get them featured by big accounts

Now go get ’em tiger!

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Oh yeah, if you also want to continue following my wildlife adventures I’m @daxon on Instagram.

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If you found value in this article, it would mean a lot to me if you hit the recommend button (This will help this post get distributed and shown to more people).

Special thanks to Colm Mc Glinchey, Regina Dixon, Brian Dixon, Andréa Henry, Matt Schlicht and Claire Burge for proofing and top-notch suggestions. You’re stars!

Thanks to Brian Dixon and Colm Mc Glinchey

Allan Dixon

Written by

Animal Whisperer | Adventurer | Marketing | 360 Video | Photos | Be Awesome | Ireland— @daxon

Allan Dixon

Written by

Animal Whisperer | Adventurer | Marketing | 360 Video | Photos | Be Awesome | Ireland— @daxon

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