You’ve seen them plastered all over Instagram: photos of everyday items, composed into a somewhat artful snapshot. Playfully nicknamed “shelfies,” these photos aren’t just limited to shelves. They can be of a laptop, open book, coffee table, or pretty much any other mundane object. The trick is to design photo that doesn’t look like you accidentally snapped your bookshelf when trying to take a selfie.
First: Make sure you have decent lighting. No matter how much you filter and adjust your photo, you won’t be able to eliminate weird shadows or obnoxious glares from the original. Your best bet is to get natural light by setting your props next to a window during the day.
Next you’ll want to figure out a good backdrop for your photo. In general, it’s best to keep your background fairly plain so your items can do the talking. A wood table is one safe option, or you can pull out a placemat or contact paper to play around with solid colors or subtle patterns like marble.
Now it’s time to gather your objects. Don’t go overboard when picking items—blank space in your photos is actually more visually pleasing than a crammed frame because it gives the subject room to breathe, letting your eye know where to focus. Same goes for color pallet: Keep it simple. Pick just a few hues that complement each other well for the cleanest color scheme. Some surefire picks are neutrals, or black, white and gold.
Reach for items that are personal to you and tell the story you want to share. Sure, you could add a perfume bottle just because that’s what all the beauty bloggers are doing (check out how to do your makeup to look better in photos here), but if you’re more into traveling, add a quirky souvenir from your last trip instead. A surprising pop will catch your followers’ eyes immediately. Oh, and plants will almost always earn you some likes.
Once you’ve set up your objects, don’t just take a quick snap and go. Play around with the angles. Overhead shots tend to work well on smartphones, which aren’t as good with depth as a fancy DSLR camera would be. But you might also want to try an angled close-up, with one object in focus and the rest of your background a bit blurred.
If you’re familiar with photography, you’ve probably heard of the rule of thirds, which applies to Instagram photos too. Basically, you want to keep your subject toward the edge instead of in the middle. Picture your photo with a tic-tac-toe grid overtop (or better yet, turn on the grid of your camera screen) and keep your point of interest in the intersections or along the lines. People’s eyes tend to be attracted to those outer thirds before the center, so this lets them view it more naturally.
Instead of trying to get your photo perfect in one shot, take it from more distance than you’d pictured it, which will give you room to crop and adjust. Plus, if you’re taking a standard rectangular photo, you’ll probably want to cut it down to fit the traditional Instagram square anyway.
Keep your edits to a minimum. A photo with just a bit of exposure and brightness adjustment will look way more impressive than one with a strong filter. If you do choose to go with a filter for a quick edit job, tone it down a bit by sliding it down from 100 percent. Now go get snapping!