a view of the eiffel tower from the trees

Now you see it, and now it looks good…

Let’s start with the obvious one: not all pictures are worthy of sharing.

The blurry, grainy photo of your two day old takeout dinner may be worth sharing just for irony, but certainly not for artistic purposes or travel #inspiration. With the rise of smartphones which are actually getting kinda smart, it’s easier than ever to take great raw images, which is the first step toward Instagram glory. The second step, a few taps…

a tree with leaves around the tower
It’s a nice photo and all, but it’s not artsy.

I was in Paris last week and it was beautiful. Well, Paris is always beautiful, but with some autumn foliage remaining, it was particularly so. I whipped my handy Google Pixel 2 camera out, and got what I thought was a solid image. Yet like most images taken on a camera phone, it didn’t do any justice to what was in front of my eyes. Not the vibrant colors, nor the scale of the freaking Eiffel Tower on feet in front of me.a tree with leaves around the tower

Ah, much better. The rich orange, reds and (slightly) over dramatic blues in this photo make me want to go back to Paris, like now. So how did we get from solid, decent photo at the top, to pretty nifty looking photo which may win some “hearts” on Instagram? It’s a lot easier than you think, thanks to apps…

a plate of food on a white surfaceVSCO

VSCO is the best one stop, one tap solution for elevating photos. The “good stuff” is $19.99 a year, but if you love pretty photos it’s well worth giving up your $5.99 a pop iced triple quadruple frapuccino with extra caramel for a few days. VSCO comes with brilliant presets developed by top photographers, instantly transforming your image for the better. When you find a setting you like, you can further refine with tools in the app. The process looks something like this…

a screenshot of a city skyline

You start with your raw image, and are presented with a ton of presets, as you can clearly see. Just tap until you find one you like.

a screenshot of a city

This one above is pretty cool, but a bit insane. I’ll then tone it down a little bit, using the editing tools below to remove a bit of brightness and maybe a little bit of saturation as well. a city skyline with lights and a body of water


Snapseed is a free app, which was bought by Google. When it comes to little touches, it’s just about the easiest entry level app you can work with on your phone. We’ll take the example of a meal. People love posting photos of their meals in Instagram.

a plate of food on a tablea plate of food on a tableThe photos above are a simple before and after of what selective lighting can do. They’re by no means supposed to be perfect or beautiful, but they’re an example of “selective adjustment” in Snapseed, where you take something, even just a little thing that’s too dark or muted and give it life. a plate of food on a tableFirst, you hit your toolbox. a screenshot of a phoneThen go for “selective”, which allows you to add selective adjustment spots. You simply pinch to see how much area each dot you add will effect. a plate of food on a table

Here, I used the “+” icon at the bottom of the screen to add lots of little areas of brightness around the edges of the plate to bring it to life. Now it’s a brighter more attractive image, I can just add a little bit of saturation in “tune image” to give it some more color. It’s like five taps and took less than 2 minutes.

InstagramAdobe Lightroom Presets

Adobe Lightroom is available on your phone, but it’s best in the full desktop version. The app is not free, but it’s arguably the most powerful photo editing software in the game, and there’s one really cool feature: user presets.

Famous photographers and Instagram stars have made many “preset packs”, which offer a variety of finishing touches for your photo needs. In fact, the Eiffel tower photo at the start of this article was a one touch pack from Peter McKinnon. Another great set can be found from Tom Dalton, pilot and Instagram extraordinaire.

If you play with any of these three options, play being the key word, you’ll instantly elevate your photo game in a big way. The key is always starting off with a great image, or using tools such as the selective tool to get the scene just as you want to start with. Get the image looking flat out perfect without effects and it will almost always look even better once you’ve added the cool tools.


Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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