A tricky little trick to make instagram photos one million times better

I shared this photo a few days ago on instagram:

We just recently had the walls painted, new trim and carpet installed and things are looking so much fresher upstairs (more on that soon!). We still have trim to caulk and paint, pictures to hang and furniture to arrange but I couldn’t help but bring up a struggling fiddle leaf fig tree into our bedroom.

While walking through the room on Saturday morning, the tree looked so pretty with the light of the window and so I did what I do and stopped to snap a photo and posted it on instagram.

Instagram is a funny thing because while, yes, this is an actual photo I took, it is also teensy bit untrue.

We could talk about this all day long and go super deep into how social media can become just a snippet of the best of the best and leave out the not-so-pretty of everyday life and cause feelings of inadequacy and comparison and ugly things.

I’ll save that conversation for another day.

Today I’m more talking about enhancing reality. Kind of like how makeup enhances our features, I’ve found some tricks that enhance what comes out of my camera.

Let me show you what I mean.

Here’s the photo of the fiddle leaf fig tree straight from my phone:

I promise it looked much lighter and prettier in person, but this is the best my camera could do with the minimal natural light it had to work with.

NOTE: I turn off all artificial lights when taking photos – both with my real camera and iphone camera. It was what the pros did when they photographed our old house for the magazine, so I’ve just followed suit. I do find that photos are much less grainy and true-to-life color without artificial light. It just makes it super tough during our very dark and gray winters/early spring here in the Pacific Northwest to take natural light photographs.

This is where helpful tools come to the rescue.

To get my photo instagram-ready, I do a bit of editing.

After snapping the photo in the regular camera app, I first edit the photo using Afterlight, and then do any retouching using the TouchRetouch app. Both are paid apps (.99 and $1.99, respectively) and worth every dime.

Here’s my process:

Start by opening the photo in Afterlight.

To make edits, click on the second icon over and scroll through to find the appropriate tool.

All photos I post on instagram go through at least an adjustment to the brightness. It makes a huge difference.

For this particular photo, I brightened it twice and reduced the contrast just a bit, then saved. When saving for instagram, be sure your finished size is 800 px or higher for optimal resolution.

I usually stop at this point for most photos, but in this case, I wanted to remove those two uncovered outlets to clean things up a bit and let the tree be the focus.

NOTE: I struggle with this a little bit. I mean, isn’t it totally a misrepresentation to photoshop out outlets, crumbs, cords, spots, etc?! I waffle between LET’S BE COMPLETELY REAL! and ENHANCE IT ALL!

For this photo, though, I decided those outlets were just distracting and was happy to make them go away.

Here’s how that happens:

Rather than opening photoshop on my computer, uploading the photo, editing, saving, air dropping it back to my phone and then posting … I use the TouchRetouch app. It is certainly not as powerful as photoshop, but it does the trick for iphone photos.

Open up the brightened photo and click on the Quick Repair button. With the tap of your finger, you draw over the spot you want to remove and it magically disappears.

It’s seriously so fun. And so easy. The software just clones from a nearby area, so it may take a little bit of trying before it comes out right.

Once you’re done, click to save and you’re set. You can post directly to instagram from this app, or open instagram directly.

Again, here’s the side-by-side:

Kinda crazy, right?! Do you hate me for posting doctored photos?!

I discovered the retouch app while on our road trip and used it a couple of times to clean up some photos.

One was this photo of a random bus sign we parked nearby while getting gas:

The old sign, blue sky and fluffy clouds were just so eye-catching. What wasn’t great was the highway billboard and extra wire running along the bottom and so through the magic of three taps I pulled those out.

Another time the app came to the rescue was when a random kiddo at the pool found his way into our photo with our besties:

With some brightening and retouching, the colors are happier and the lurking boy is gone.

Here’s one more example:

After a full day of sweaty sight-seeing in Savannah, we ate at the most delicious restaurant and felt so grateful for these kids who were such great travel companions. I wanted to document their cuteness, and loved that great boxwood-covered wall and industrial light, but was not so happy with that white thermostat. By removing that and cloning the boxwood out further to the left, the photo becomes cleaner and highlights my little darlings.

I don’t use the retouch app often, but it sure is wonderful when I need it.

I do, however, brighten every single photo I take.

It’s a tricky little trick that makes my instagram photos one million times better.

52 Responses to A tricky little trick to make instagram photos one million times better

  1. Corrie December 6, 2017 at 3:11 pm #

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I am so excited about these apps, as a new mom without a ton of time to fix pictures!

  2. Kaitlin L April 11, 2017 at 6:36 am #

    I instantly downloaded these apps, because I too have a photobombed random kid picture. When I tried to edit him out, though, it just stretched my other 2 kids’ features into the empty space. Did you go through the process several times afterward to edit everything out?

  3. Carolyn April 7, 2017 at 8:23 am #

    Ha! I do this sometimes too. The other day I took my in-between-eyebrows wrinkle out. The brightening is by far the most crucial. Whenever you shoot at a window and the light is facing you, it makes the rest of the pic dark. Makes it hard to photograph inside and that’s why real estate photos look weird bc they combine two photos so it’s all exposed evenly. Anyways, great tips.

  4. Jess April 4, 2017 at 10:56 am #

    This was such a wonderful post! Your instagram editing posts have been so helpful to me. Thanks for sharing the magic. ;) Also, I laughed so much about editing out that kid at the pool. Such a funny before and after.

  5. Nimisha April 4, 2017 at 4:50 am #

    Your posts are the best! Came here in 2012/13 for the rolled paper flowers, and haven’t left since :)

  6. Kimberly April 3, 2017 at 9:44 am #

    Thanks, Emily, for this post!
    We have three little ones, and while I have a BIG desire to create a lovely home and capture this sacred stage in our family with cute pictures, I realistically have little time and energy to devote to teaching myself these tricks and researching and trial and error with everything. Thank you for making it easy with posts like these to keep up with the latest and bring more beauty to our everyday lives and homes. Truly, THANK YOU!!

  7. Jordan Kuban April 3, 2017 at 5:26 am #


    I mean, I’m all about a little eyeliner and mascara to feel a little more like myself so I can handle brightened photos and removing Outlets ;)

  8. Vicki April 2, 2017 at 8:51 pm #

    Instagram is all about the photos and who wants to see uncovered outlets? Great apps! Thanks for sharing.

  9. jade xoxo April 1, 2017 at 4:11 pm #

    Thank you for these awesome app resources. I’m loving them so far. Since you too are an Apple user I have a question for you. When I save an edited photo in the Touch Retouch app, using the save to Gallery option. The new edited photo shows in my photo gallery on my phone, but when I login into the iCloud website the edited photos do not appear there. Do you also have this issue?

    Thank you so much!

  10. Madeline Osigian March 31, 2017 at 2:05 pm #

    I don’t have insta, but this is great for blogging pictures too. I don’t think it’s deceitful or “unreal” of you because you wrote this post with before and afters. Now we know your tips, so you’re being real and beautiful at the same time. (I will admit, though, that I was scared that in that last photo of your kids, you were going to remove one of their heads entirely. Haha!)

  11. jo March 30, 2017 at 9:34 pm #

    Thank you Emily, I just downloaded and can’t wait to use it, I usually don’t buy apps as I’m kind of a dinasour when it comes to using them. I’ll update you when I start using it. Thank you for the examples!

  12. Maureen Robertson March 30, 2017 at 6:28 pm #

    Is the cost of the app one time or for each time you edit a photo?

    • emily April 1, 2017 at 7:19 pm #

      It’s just a one-time fee.

  13. Esther March 30, 2017 at 5:03 pm #

    Just wondering if there is a big difference between the editing and lighting options that come with the iphone camera? If I get the apps are they substantially better? Thanks for sharing how you do all these things. It really helps to see your process.

  14. Chris March 30, 2017 at 3:45 pm #

    Wow! This is awesome! My kids will be impressed with their mom’s insta photos!!!!

  15. Laurie Kehler March 30, 2017 at 3:33 pm #

    Oh good heavens! Here I was thinking I was soooo smart, doing all this in Photoshop and THEN having to send it back over to my phone! Dang, this is f-a-n-t-a-s-t-i-c!! Thanks for sharing!

  16. Lisa M. March 30, 2017 at 2:02 pm #

    Thanks for the tips! One question…I usually use the editing features that come along with Instagram. What difference do you see with IG’s and the app you’re using?

  17. Sharon Chapman March 30, 2017 at 1:45 pm #

    Thanks. Just purchased and will give them a try. I so enjoy all your posts.

  18. Melissa March 30, 2017 at 1:34 pm #

    Hi Emily! I have a non-photo editing question. I saw in your picture that the inside of your trim is not painted white, it’s still the wood stain color. Do you have plans to paint that? I was wanting to switch out our wood trim to painted, but couldn’t wrap my brain around how it would look:-) Also, we have taupe colored vinyl windows instead of white, so I thought that contrast with the white up against the taupe wouldn’t look quite right. So I was thinking if I left the wood trim color on the inside next to window (like in your photo) and did white trim on the outside it might look okay? Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!!!

    • emily March 30, 2017 at 3:02 pm #

      We are going to have the wood trim painted as well as the new white boards. They still need to be caulked as well. I think it would look best to have all of the trim match to look seamless …

  19. Elizabeth Ford March 30, 2017 at 1:26 pm #

    I am totally buying this retouch app right now! Genius!

  20. Anne Bogel March 30, 2017 at 1:18 pm #

    The Public! LOVED eating there (three times!) when I was in Savannah last fall.

  21. Brooke March 30, 2017 at 1:08 pm #

    These are great apps I have been using the photoshop app, the touch retouch app is terrific! I completely relate to your feelings about editing photos for social media!

  22. Meysha March 30, 2017 at 12:59 pm #

    These are great tips—thanks for sharing!
    On another note, where did you find the basket? And do you keep a trip tray in there and water in place?

    • emily March 30, 2017 at 3:02 pm #

      Thanks! The basket is a recent find from HomeGoods and yes, there is a plastic tray at the bottom to catch drips.

  23. Corbie March 30, 2017 at 12:34 pm #

    WOW! This is a game changer! Thank you Emily!!!

  24. Rachel Serene March 30, 2017 at 12:21 pm #

    I was JUST texting a photographer friend today about how I can take better photos for IG. I didn’t know about the retouch app! Thanks so much!

  25. Susan March 30, 2017 at 12:06 pm #

    Thank you so much, Emily! I am going to get those pronto!!!
    Question- do these apps work only on small photos for Instagram/FB – or can you export the edited photos to actually print, or use in photo books such as I’m presently putting together on MyPublisher. Com?
    Just wondering if the apps “lose their magic” a bit or a lot when the photo is made larger…
    thanks from a Carolina fan!!

    • emily March 30, 2017 at 3:04 pm #

      Hmm … I’m not sure! I’m guessing they would work okay since you can save them at high resolution. I would give it a try for sure!

  26. Robbie March 30, 2017 at 11:40 am #

    Thank you for your tips. So many times I see photos on IG and want to suggest these tips to others about their photos. Keeping our pictures clean helps us see the main thing and not the distractions. We all enjoy a nice photo.
    Nice job, Emily.

  27. Judi Robinson March 30, 2017 at 11:34 am #

    I love your tips, thank you!
    I got Afterlight a while back when you mentioned using it and just bought Retouch today!
    Like you I struggle with not wanting to present life in an unrealistic way. I don’t ever want to add to the comparison battle that is in each of us. Your likening it to being like ‘putting on makeup’ is so helpful. Enhancing the good features of our reality and downplaying we would rather not draw attention to. I’m going to keep that in my mind as a good rule of thumb as I post things.
    Thank you!

  28. Beth March 30, 2017 at 11:23 am #

    very cool! Thanks for the tip!

  29. Kate March 30, 2017 at 11:03 am #

    You do realize that when you took that photo of the tree in your office, that if you had put your finger on the tree itself, the camera would have used it for light metering rather than the window beyond and you would have likely gotten a very similar effect as you got with the app, right? Try it next time. Much easier than messing with apps (though those are very handy too!). But that photo should have been easy to get by metering on the right object.

    • emily March 30, 2017 at 3:05 pm #

      Sometimes I find that it blows out the color too much and makes it all grainy. It’s just a case by case basis, I suppose.

  30. Ginny Mapes March 30, 2017 at 10:56 am #

    I just purchased it —however, since I have the new iPhone 7 plus, I do not think I need it? I see all sorts of built in photo enhancers.???

  31. Debbie C March 30, 2017 at 10:56 am #

    Thanks so much for these tips! There are so many apps out there, it’s really nice when it gets narrowed down to just a couple tried-and-true ones! Time to go to the app store…

  32. Jen March 30, 2017 at 10:45 am #

    Being a pro photographer, I will totally back you up on turning off the incandescent lighting (unless you are using the new bulbs that have a truer white balance to them). The reason we do this to minimize color tone (white balance) issues. When you have a mix of lighting you can’t get the proper tones and color of the object or person you are shooting. Using only natural light preferably (or all incandescent and fixing your white balance) is the only way to go :) As for editing, I love Afterlight too! There are also apps you can use to manually adjust your camera settings on your phone before you take the picture so you can do less editing afterwards. The ones I use are “Yamera” and “ManCam”. I don’t know if they are still available though but I’m sure some research could pull something up :)

  33. Polly March 30, 2017 at 10:27 am #

    Thanks for the great tips! Would you mind sharing with iPhone version you have?

    • emily March 30, 2017 at 3:05 pm #

      I have an iphone6s

  34. Melissa Gottschalk March 30, 2017 at 10:25 am #

    This is amazing and will be so helpful! Thank you!!
    (and yes, your kids are darling) :)

  35. Kristin Johnsen March 30, 2017 at 10:12 am #

    These ideas and apps are great – thanks so much for sharing! I love the idea of removing wires and random signs – I had a great photo from the South of a sign that just has too much junk in it – I”m gonna give it a try! I’m cracking up at “removing” the random kid from your photo!!! No officer, I’ve never seen that boy before in my life! Running off to get the apps!

  36. Cynthia E. March 30, 2017 at 10:11 am #

    Thanks for sharing such great tips! I got the Afterlight App after you showed you used it some time ago and now I need the Retouch App! The family pool pic made me laugh with that little boy sneaking in…never would have known from your edited pic! Photobombers don’t stand a chance with the tips and apps you shared! Lol! Thanks again!

  37. Lesley March 30, 2017 at 10:11 am #

    Well I am sold. And I have never paid for any apps.

  38. Chelsea March 30, 2017 at 10:11 am #

    Always love your tips! Thank you Emily!

  39. Trudy March 30, 2017 at 9:59 am #

    I’m so glad I ran across this. How many times have I wanted to edit out a wire or something from an otherwise great photo? And a buck ninety nine is a great value for the power to eliminate distractions from a photo. Thanks for sharing!!

  40. rachel March 30, 2017 at 9:58 am #

    Love these tips and your honesty! I was going to say that I love your “transparency”. LOL!

  41. Janiece March 30, 2017 at 9:34 am #

    You have the best tips! Thanks for sharing!

    • emily March 30, 2017 at 10:29 am #


  42. Chantel March 30, 2017 at 7:16 am #

    Facetune has a similar tool, and it’s super convenient. What *I* never thought about was brightening a photo in Afterlight (which i love, btw), saving it, and THEN brightening it again. GENIUS! So many iphone photos could’ve been saved if I thought about that trick.


  43. Kristen March 30, 2017 at 7:08 am #

    Thanks for sharing this info! I purchased the apps and probably spend way too much time today editing photos! :)

  44. Lori Plyler March 30, 2017 at 5:08 am #

    That is incredible! I love side by side comparisons. Thought I’d toss another option into the ring, although I don’t know how a comparison of the two would pan out. I’ve been using the free Photoshop Express app for a couple of years now and LOVE it. It’s super simple as well.

  45. Lori H March 30, 2017 at 4:06 am #

    Wow! So neat. I feel like I am in the audience of a magic show :)
    I am no photographer but even I could do this, I think. Thanks for sharing!

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