The 5 Golden Rules of Instagram


As a long serving Instagram (IG) user, I’ve had plenty of time to uncover what works & what doesn’t. Here are some of my thoughts on what makes someone a great addition to the Instagram community.

1) Meaningful Profile

You know on Twitter where someone has the default blue egg for their avatar? Or they can’t be bothered to fill in their profile details? Or they put something hysterical in their location field like “planet Earth“?

Well, the same sort of thing can happen on Instagram. Your picture, username & bio are all prime real estate. Don’t squander the opportunity as your profile lays out a welcome mat to potential new followers.

Oh, another tip is that it helps to have the same username as you do on Twitter; as the username format is the same (e.g. @JOEL_HUGHES) then this make’s it easier if you cross post usernames.

2) Be A Good Editor (part 1)

For my sins, I like to take pictures of decaying or rusty items such as sheds; infact, a rusty, decaying shed is my idea of photo heaven. And if I came across such a shed then I’m pretty sure that I would take lots of photos and then play around with them in some photo editing apps later.

However, what I would not do is to post all of my photos of the said shed; some of those photos will have been poor (out of focus, poor composition etc), some better than others & some also rans; not as good as the others. It’s up to you to be the initial harsh critic. Edit and edit hard. Don’t let the world have to witness the floor of your edit room. Less is more.

3) Be A Good Editor (part 2)

I try to respect the people who have decided to follow me on Instagram. As mentioned in the previous point, I don’t post multiple shots of the same items unless I am sure that the shots stand up on their own & actually add something. Or I may have given the shot a completely different type of edit/effect (even then I probably wouldn’t start with the same source shot as one I’d already posted).

But a further extension of this rule is that of frequency. I’m cautious not to hog the limelight & cautious to respect the attention of the people who follow me; I try to do this by posting a maximum of about four photos per day. I also try to make sure that I don’t post photos all in one go as that can then swamp people’s feeds (I tend to take photos outside of IG, edit & then post later).

4) Tag Manners

A key method to give your photos greater exposure is to dip into the tags swirling around. E.g. If I take a pretty picture of a rusty shed then I may add a comment containing tags such as “#rust #shed #rustporn #decay” etc.

This allows the photo to appear in those relevant searches which is a great way to reach people who are probably not following you.


However, it would be seriously uncool if I also tagged the photo #blackandwhite (when the photo is in colour!) or #earlybird (when not shot with that classic IG filter). The onus is on you to ensure that the tag makes sense for your photo. Tagging your photo with every tag out there (irrespective of suitability) is sad, desperate and disrespectful to the IG audience. Grr!

5) Following is for a reason

As of today I am following 178 people on IG. These people have been carefully selected over time – they probably obey the spirit of the rules I set out above (otherwise I would have unfollowed them by now).

So, I’m pretty fussy about who I follow but I back this up by reviewing all of their photos; all the photos which pass through my feed get seen. I kinda think they deserve that attention; which is surely why you follow in the first place? This is why I cannot follow hundreds of people as, otherwise, I couldn’t be as through with my reviewing; I might miss something.

So, if someone follows me on IG who is following more than a few hundred people or (shudder!) thousands then I know immediately that they are not really reviewing any of the photos; they are not paying much attention to the people they follow (why are they following then? Beats me…)

Note: it’s a funny old world. I’m happy to follow 662 people on Twitter and am happy in the knowledge that I will not see all of their tweets. But, on Instagram, I have a different approach.

These are my (tongue in cheek) golden rules but, like with Twitter, there is no right & wrong, it’s a tool & we use it as we wish.

What are your ‘golden rules’?


Ps I didn’t post another obvious rule where you don’t steal photos & post them as if you took it. What is it with those people?!

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5 Responses

  1. Jai says:

    I completely agree with all of those rules. One of my golden rules is the explicit or distasteful image rule. I use Instagram as a carefree outlet to share my art & vantage point with others and I follow people who do the same. Therefore, I’m not amused or excited by the nude & drug infatuated Instagrammers.

    • Joel says:

      Hi Jai,
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      I have to say that I’ve not seen much like that (luckily!) – is this on the popular page? That’s pretty hopeless isn’t it?


  2. Andrea McLaughlin (@AndreaM) says:

    I’m a photographer and an Instagram purist. I only use my iPhone, only edit in iPhone apps or Instagram filters and I never transfer pics I’ve taken with my DSLR. And I only shoot in square format. This is just for me; my personal challenge. I follow lots of people who don’t have that rule for themselves. I follow 187 people whose work is amazing and it’s time for a few more…this time some Android users. Can you suggest good photographers to follow?

    My Instagram pet-peeve is food photography. A lot of the food photography just looks gross. Sometimes so bad it’s funny!

    I love Joel’s rusty sheds and such! I’m following him on IG now @ joel-hughes.

    • Joel says:

      Hi Andrea,
      thanks for your comment. I’m with you on the iphone only; it seems a bit overkill to transfer your DSLR images in. There’s plenty of creative freedom with the iphone and the apps.

      As far as folks to follow (and I should blog this), I would recommend you check out:
      – @elinlia (great gift for a range of shots)
      – @mortenbk (wonderful urban & decay)
      – @westatom (great UK street shots & countryside)
      – @zoot (grear details)
      – @benjayin (always a good shot)
      – @whholland (a client of mine, wonderful painter).
      – @quopper (amazing trees/landscapes)
      – @gotofig2 (a recent find, *amazing* street stuff)
      (sorry no links there!)

      But there are loads more, you can check out who I follow if you like.


  3. Instagram « #thinkingworks says:

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