How to Edit Travel Photos for Instagram

Instagram - #travelphotography hashtag

Do you know that over 500 million photos have been posted on Instagram with the #travel hashtag? It means that almost half of a billion travel photos are already there, and honestly, plenty of them are pretty similar to each other. Why is that?

The answer is simple. Most people who post photos on Instagram solely use predefined Instagram filters so photos of average Instagram users (especially taken at the same locations) look similar.

If you want your travel photos to stand out on Instagram, you need to learn more about photo editing. That is, you shouldn’t rely on built-in Instagram filters, but instead know how to edit photos using other tools that Instagram offers + other powerful photo editors to make your photos even more personalized and to follow your unique style.

In this article, you will learn how to edit your Instagram travel photos like professional travel bloggers. Here, we will go through 3 options: using Instagram tools, other photo editing apps on your phone or photo editing tools on your computer.

Table of Contents

How to Edit Instagram Travel Photos Like a Blogger

No matter how good you are at photo editing, bad images will stay bad images. So, before you post on Instagram shoot the best possible photo first.

What does it mean? Well, plenty of people take snapshots (or at least take photos without much thinking). These snapshots then become average Instagram photos. But we are pretty sure you are not here to learn how to take an average Instagram photo, but instead how to make your profile stand out.

So the first 3 rules for you are: 

  1. Make sure you shot in max. resolution and max. quality;
  2. Ensure there is enough light;
  3. Take more than 1 image to be able to choose the best one later. Once you have a lot of great photos, you are ready to edit them and post on Instagram.

There are also 3 options on how to edit your photos before posting them on Instagram:

  • Option 1: using the Instagram app (fastest);
  • Option 2: using another mobile photo editor (fast enough);
  • Option 3: using photo editor apps on your computer (slowest but the best).

The first 2 are certainly the most popular because people want to prepare photos for Instagram as quickly as possible. But on the other hand, if you want better results and have more time to invest in it, you can use photo editing software on your computer.

Option 1: Using The Instagram App (Fastest)

There are 2 steps in editing photos on the Instagram app:

Step 1: applying filters

Instagram - Applying filters

Plenty of people will use just this when they post photos on Instagram. It can be enough for someone, but by using just basic filters you won’t be able to personalize your photos, because they are used by millions of others, maybe even for the photos taken at the same location. We don’t prefer these filters, but it’s up to your taste.

If you want to get an image with a more vintage look you can use Clanderon, Gingham, Reyes, or Rise. On the other hand, if you prefer a warmer or more colorful look you can use Juno, Ludwig, Mayfair, Lo-Fi, or Hefe. 

After applying the filter you can adjust the intensity. If you are planning additional editing you may want to lower the intensity.

Step 2: add more editing

Instagram - Tools for editing

You will probably get some fine adjustments after you apply the filter using other editing options. Also, you may not want to apply filters, instead just manually edit your photos. 

In any case, Instagram offers a lot of editing tools that you can use for fast editing.

Adjust

Before you move to creative editing, you should use Adjust tool you can level the horizon of your photo or adjust perspective (vertically or horizontally). We find this tool useful if you want to adjust the horizon for seascape or for other photos with a stressed horizon.

Instagram - Adjust

Lux

The first is Lux – this works as an adjustment of exposure and contrast so if you add more lux you will get more dramatic photos, and with less lux, the photo will be narrower. If you have landscape photos with great colors (taken on a sunny day) adjusting lux between 70 and 100 could be the only editing you will need to do. Just play with it and adjust the photo to your taste.

Brightness

It’s simple, it will make your photo brighter or darker according to your taste. But be aware of the intensity in order not to get over- or underexposed photos.

Contrast

You will probably use it in combination with Brightness. If you have a photo taken on a nice sunny day, you will get a good effect if you lower Brightness (-20, -30) and add Contrast (+10, +20). More contrast for more dynamic photos, less contrast for a flatter image.

Structure

This tool will add more texture to your photos. You should use it if you want to stress out the details. Of course, as with previous tools, you shouldn’t use them extensively because it can make your photos look too unnatural. Also for macros, close up, and portraits this tool can make photos appear too sharp so you should avoid using it on these kinds of photos. For landscapes, cityscapes, or seascape photos you can play with intensities between +10 and +30 to get the best results.

Warmth

This tool will add more yellow or blue colors to your photo. It depends completely on your taste and the effect you want to get – a cool or warmer appearance.

Saturation

With the Saturation tool, you adjust the intensity of the colors. If you go to -100 you will get a B&W photo. With highly saturated photos you will get extremely colorful images. So, you should consider adjusting it from +20 to +50 for the best results.

Color

This tool will add tint to your photos in some of the available colors: yellow, orange, red, pink, purple, blue, teal, and green. You can add a tint to the shadows or highlights. Also, you can adjust the intensity of each color.

Fade

This tool adds some fading to your photos. Good choice if you want your photo to look more vintage.

Highlights

With the Highlights tool, you will make adjustments to the bright segments of your photo. The purpose of this tool is to adjust the dynamic range and help you emulate HDR manually (together with the Shadows tool). This tool will make bright segments brighter or darker. For example, you can use it on landscape photos with a lot of white clouds to make a more dramatic look.

Shadows

The Shadows tool does the same as Highlights but on darker segments of your photo. So, you can make them darker (i.e. if you want to stress out the siluets), or brighter (if you want to fetch details on the dark segments).

Vignette

The vignette tool will make the corners of your photo darker. For vintage-look photos, you can keep it between 70 and 100.

Tilt Shift

It’s a kind of artificial bokeh for photos. When you activate Tilt-Shift you can choose between radial and linear. When you activate it, part of your image will stay and other parts will be blurred.

Sharpen

With the Sharpen tool, you will get a slightly “harder” effect than with the Structure tool. It’s good for when you want to stress out the details, or if you have a slightly out-of-focus photo and you want to make it sharpen, or if you want to get a grainy effect from the film photos.

Tools within the Instagram app are especially good when you want to edit photos the fastest way possible and when you don’t have anything for “hard editing”

In many cases, your photos will be ready for posting in less than 5 minutes.

Most Instagrammers use just the predefined filters, so you can start playing with them and also edit photos with additional tools (lux, brightness, contrast, etc). A few more minutes editing will get you better photos than what standard Instagram users get, so it’s worth the trade-off.

When you use additional editing tools try applying them on your raw files for the best results. So, start with adjusting Brightness and Contrast. If you start with Lux, you probably won’t need hard adjustments of Brightness and Contrast because Lux adjusts the exposure.

Our favorite Instagram settings:

1. Warm/vibrant look

Instagram - Warm look

Brightness: +10
Contrast: +35
Structure: +10
Warmth: +70
Saturation: +30
Highlights: -20
Vignette: +20

2. Vintage look

Instagram - Vintage look

Brightness: -20
Contrast: -25
Structure: +10
Saturation: +10
Color (purple): +50
Highlights: -10
Shadows: -20
Vignette: +30

3. Cold/cool look

Instagram - Cold look

Brightness: -15
Contrast: +40
Warmth: -50
Saturation: +25
Vignette: +30

The good sides of using only Instagram to edit photos:

  • You will prepare photos for your feed the fastest way;
  • A lot of filters for predefined editing (get ready to post in 30 seconds or less);
  • Solid tools for additional quick editing;
  • No need to install and learn how to use other apps.

The bad sides of using only Instagram to edit photos:

  • A lot of people use the same filters you use, lack of personalization;
  • For any advanced editing (i.e. removing unwanted objects) you will need to switch to other mobile apps.

Option 2: Using Another Mobile Photo Editor (Fast Enough)

You might wonder why using an additional/external photo editor on your phone when you already have editing options on Instagram? The answer is simple – external photo editors have a lot more tools and provide you with more options for advanced editing

So, if you need to do anything besides adjusting brightness and contrast, you should do it on external apps either on your phone or your computer (see option 3 for this).

Furthermore, some of the external apps have fantastic built-in filters, so you can get even more personalized Instagram photos. For example, you can use an external app to:

  • Get a lot more parameters similar to photo editors on your computer (such as white balance, curves, etc.);
  • Resize, crop, and rotate the photo;
  • Remove unwanted objects;
  • Add a lot more filters;
  • Add additional effects;
  • Add text and frames.

…and so on.

These 4 apps are our top picks for photo editing on your smartphone:

  • Snapseed;
  • VSCO;
  • Adobe Lightroom.

Snapseed

Snapseed - Interface

Snapseed is one of the most popular mobile photo editing apps. It’s owned by Google and it’s free to use. The app is incredibly straightforward and intuitive. 

There are few filters for quick editing, but the best purpose of this app is its editing tools and effects. It’s like having Photoshop in your pocket. Another good thing is that you can save combinations and make presets for quicker editing. So, you can create your own editing style and just apply it to photos.

Let’s go through the most useful tools to show you how we edit photos for Instagram with Snapseed in 3 steps (we intentionally skip the filters because other tools are better at it):

Step 1: fine-tuning
Snapseed - Tune image

There are 7 main tools for fine-tuning your photos:

  1. Tune image;
  2. Details;
  3. Curves;
  4. White balance;
  5. HDR scape;
  6. Tonal contrast;
  7. Selective.

Tune image is the single most useful tool of Snapseed. You will probably use it the most for the fine-tuning of your images. The stack of options is pretty close to the Instagram editing tools, but in our opinion, Snapseed’s algorithm simply works better and provides you with nicer images.

You can adjust brightness, contrast, saturation, ambiance, highlights, shadows, and warmth. You will notice that endpoints are very different compared to Instagram editing tools, so we recommend you to not over-edit your photos and try to find some sort of balance. 

The good rule of thumb is to keep all parameters between -30 and +30 to get balanced photos (not over-edited, but to have some personal touch).

After that, you should go through Details (to add sharpening), Curves (to adjust exposure further if needed), and White balance (to adjust temperature and tint).

There are also a few more advanced tools. HDR Scape enables you to add HDR effects to your photos. Tonal Contrast enables you to make advanced adjustments of high, mid, and low tones. But the most interesting tool is Selective because it enables you to make fine-tuning with all the options from the Tune image but on a specific part of the photo.

Step 2: editing
Snapseed - Tools

Editing makes all the difference. 

Snapseed offers you 7 tools to edit your photos just like you would on your computer (but faster, of course):

  1. Crop;
  2. Rotate;
  3. Perspective;
  4. Expand;
  5. Brush;
  6. Healing.

If you ever open any photo editor on your computer you will know what to expect. No matter if you want to crop or level the photo, adjust perspective or remove unwanted objects, you will do it easily in a few simple clicks.

Step 3: effects
Snapseed - Effects

If you are more creative you will definitely like tools for adding special effects like Drama, Vintage, Grainy Film, Retrolux, Grunge, Noir, etc.

There are also 2 tools for face editing: portrait tool (offers you to edit skin, face, and eyes) and head pose (to additionally edit the face, starting with the position of the head, but you can also make your smile bigger or smaller, as well as edit the size of pupils and focal length effect).

You can also combine 2 photos with Double Exposure and add text and frames on photos. There are a lot of predefined text effects and frames, so you will be able to leverage your full creative potential.

Once you finish editing you can directly share the photo to Instagram or save it. Just to back up the custom presets we mentioned in the intro: you can make presets and share them with a QR code. It’s a bit different than on other apps, so if you want to create custom presets to make your own consistent style, you should screenshot QR codes and scan them with Snapseed to pull your preset.

In the end, we’d like to share with you a few of our favorite Snapseed settings:

1. Warm/vibrant look

Snapseed - Warm look

Brightness: -10
Contrast: +40
Saturation: +15
Highlights: -10
Warmth: +30

2. Vintage look

Snapseed - Vintage look

Tools: Vintage
Brightness: -5
Saturation: -5
Style strength: +15
Vignette strength: +20

3. Cold/cool look

Snapseed - Cold look

Brightness: -10
Contrast: +15
Saturation: +15
Highlights: -10
Shadows: -10
Warmth: -20

VSCO

VSCO - Interface

VSCO is one of the best photo editing apps when it comes to presets – it’s the king of filters

The app is free to install, but if you want to use all the presets you need to buy a monthly or annual subscription. However, for some users, free presets will be just enough to create a personalized Instagram feed, but if you want to leverage it using premium-grade presets, you will need to buy a subscription.

Step 1: presets
VSCO - Presets

There are a lot of presets available. Some of them will make your photo look warmer, other – cooler, or more vibrant. There are a few B&W presets available as well. You can also save your favorite preset combination.

Recommendation for the presets depends on each photo and your style and preference. You can start by exploring some of the most popular ones that are featured. Also, you can adjust the intensity of each filter once you apply it.

Step 2: fine-tuning + editing

VSCO enables you to fine-tune the image so you can adjust exposure, contrast, sharpen, clarify, saturation, highlights, shadows, white balance, skin tone, grain or fading, or add shadow/highlight tints in different colors. 

The paid version of the VSCO enables borders tools to make frames and the HSL tool to adjust each color separately. Also, you can edit images using the Adjust tool where you can crop, rotate, level the horizon or change perspective by X or Y-axis.

Once you finish you can save the picture and post it directly on Instagram.

Here are some of our travel photos edited by VSCO for your inspiration:

1. Warm/vibrant look

VSCO - Warm look

Filter G3: +5
Exposure: -1.0
Contrast: +0.5
Sharpen: +1.5
Saturation: +1.0
Temperature: +3.0
Tint: +1.0
Shadow tint – yellow: +1.5

2. Vintage look

VSCO - Vintage look

Filter: M3
Exposure: -0.5
Sharpen: +3.0
Temperature: -1.1

3. Cold/cool look

VSCO - Cold look

Filter C1: +3.0
Brightness: -3.0
Contrast: +0.5
Sharpen: +3.0
Clarity: +1.5
Saturation: +1.0
Shadows: +1.0
Temperature: -2.5
Tint: +1.0

Adobe Lightroom
Lightroom - Interface

Is there anyone who hasn’t heard of Adobe Lightroom? If you have ever converted RAWs to JPEGs it’s a good chance you did it in Adobe Lightroom.

The good news is that Adobe Lightroom has a mobile version as well. And another good thing is that the app is free to install, but there are premium features you need to pay for.

However, for most users who don’t have an Adobe CC subscription, the free version will be more than enough. A lot of functionalities and interfaces are pretty much the same as on the desktop version. Besides “standard” editing tools like adjustments of brightness, contrasts, exposure, and so on, there is an option for bulk editing, so you can apply the same style to all your photos. 

Also, there is an option to edit just one part of the photo. In the end, you can easily create the presets and make your batch editing even smoother.

Step 1: import photos

Upload all photos you are going to edit, and then choose if you will edit them one by one or in bulk, but it’s easier to import them all at once.

Step 2: edit photos

Once you are using the Edit mode the party begins! 

You should start first with these 2 tools:

  1. Crop;
  2. Healing.

When you click on the Crop icon you will not only be able to crop the photo but also choose tools for rotation and flipping. Also, you will be able to straighten the horizon with 1 click and choose the aspect ratio. 

The healing icon will open a different menu for tools such as clone and healing brush that help you remove unwanted objects.

When you finish technical editing with Crop and Healing tools, you could add some creativity. 

So, you have 3 options to continue with creative editing:

  • Option A: Fully automated + tweaks were needed;
  • Option B: Use presets + tweaks where needed.
Lightroom - Presets
Option A: fully automated + tweaks where needed (use it only if you are in a hurry)

If you are in a hurry you can try this: just click on Auto and the Lightroom’s algorithm will adjust all parameters for you. Of course, you shouldn’t expect miracles, it’s the auto adjustments based on algorithms. If you have an extra minute, pass through other tools to adjust colors and exposure if needed.

Option B: use presets + tweaks where needed

There’s a good chance that you will use presets, especially if you try to get a consistent look of your photos. Pre-defined presets are a good choice for the beginners but we encourage you to create your own presets to create a personalized style of Instagram photos. 

When you apply presets you can adjust the photo using a few more tools:

  1. Light;
  2. Colors;
  3. Effects;
  4. Details.
Lightroom - Tools

We recommend you to make adjustments starting with the Light tool. When you click on the Light icon you will be able to adjust exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, blacks and whites, and curve. 

Then move to the Color tool to adjust white balance, saturation, and vibrance. Also, you can adjust each color separately.

The next group of tools is Effects. You can adjust texture, clarity, vignette, grain, and a lot of other things (if you read our article from the beginning you probably have an idea which of the effects you will use for what). 

Next, move to Detail to adjust sharpening or reduce noise if needed.

Once you finish creative adjustments of photos, you should move on to “technical fine-tuning” using the tools under Optics. We mean corrections of optical artifacts (chromatic aberration, lens distortions). Also, if you didn’t rotate/straight photo in the beginning you can do so now with Geometry which enables you to rotate and straighten photo + correct distortions.

If you need to make adjustments on just some parts of the photo you can use tools under Selective – almost all main tools we mentioned (Light, Color, Effects, Details, Optics) can be used with Selective editing as well.

And… when you finish editing don’t forget to export photos and post them on Instagram. 🙂

The good sides of using external mobile apps to edit photos:

  • More advanced editing options than just using tools on the Instagram app;
  • Fast enough editing when you’re traveling;
  • Ability to create a more personalized look of the photos;
  • A lot more presets and filters than on Instagram.

The bad sides of using external mobile apps to edit photos:

  • The learning curve for advanced editing options if you are a new or inexperienced user;
  • More editing options can create an over-editing loop, so you can easily spend more time than necessary editing photos.

Option 3: using photo editor apps on your computer (slowest but the best)

Adobe Photoshop - Interface

Some of us simply don’t like to edit photos on small screens. If you want to edit RAW photos and keep them not just for Instagram but also for your own collection, you will probably use photo editing software on your computer.

In that case, you can use Adobe tools – Photoshop & Lightroom (they come with Adobe CC subscriptions), Gimp as a free alternative for Photoshop (we encourage you to try it), and Raw Therapee or Darktable as free alternatives for Lightroom. Also, you can try Luminar as the best paid alternative to Adobe tools.

We won’t give you our recommendations on what to edit and how to edit photos for Instagram using photo editing software on your computer, because the scope of editing depends on each photo and each way of editing.

But if you are not as experienced, we’d recommend you to start following the steps we outlined for photo editing using mobile apps and then move on to additional editing.

And also try not to overkill. In other words, try not to do so too much while you are traveling. You don’t want to end up spending the whole time on your laptop instead of enjoying the trip. 🙂

The good sides of using computer apps to edit photos:

  • Better editing experience on a bigger screen;
  • You can edit photos straight from the camera (i.e. RAW photos);
  • Lots of personalization, especially when you become an experienced user.

The bad sides of using computer apps to edit photos:

  • You can spend a lot of time editing if you are a pixel peeper;
  • Slower process (need to transfer photos to your computer, edit them, put them back them to your phone and post them to Instagram);
  • A long learning curve for new users, especially if you use Adobe tools;
  • Additional gear required for editing (laptop).

How to Edit Photos on Instagram After Posting

In short, you can not edit your photos after you post them on Instagram, and probably this option won’t be available any time soon. The reasons are obvious: some people would abuse this feature. 

However, once you post a photo on Instagram you can change descriptions, hashtags, locations, or tag people. So, when you edit photos for Instagram, think about all the stuff in advance because once you post it, you won’t be able to edit it, and the only option is to delete the photo and re-upload it.

Conclusion

Everyone wants to have a nice and beautiful Instagram feed especially if travel photography is your favorite.

If you want to stand out from the average Instagrammer and create your own style which is consistent with your photos you should stop using (only) default filters and presets which are available to all Instagrammers. Instead, you should leverage all tools that are available for you.

Instagram’s tools are a good choice if you often don’t have too much time to spare if you don’t want to edit more stuff or you combine Instagram filters with additional adjustments.

If you are more willing to use other photo editing apps like Snapseed, VSCO, or Adobe Lightroom, we highly encourage you to do so, because the real power of personalization will be locked off with these 3 apps. 

Which one you will choose depends on your preferences and needs: VSCO has plenty of pre-made presets and an easy way to create your own. On the other hand, Snapseed and Adobe Lightroom have plenty of additional options such as removing unwanted objects.

In the end, if you like to edit photos on a bigger screen you will probably choose apps and software for your laptop like Adobe Photoshop & Lightroom, Luminar, Gimp or others.

There is no single right way to edit your travel photos for Instagram, so all options we discussed here are at least worth trying before you decide which one will fit you.

How do you edit your travel photos for Instagram? Which apps do you use? Any tips you want to share? Feel free to write them in the comments below.

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