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Improve your Instagram Photos in 5 Minutes

Who else is frustrated when they take photos for Instagram, your website, your shop, or other social media, and your images look dark and shadowy? If you are like me you may not have the luxury of natural light most of the time. As I create in the evenings, there is rarely the opportunity to seek out beautiful light outside. In addition, I live in an older home that is deeply guarded by lurking pine trees blocking all but the smallest amount of light. It’s great in the summer, as it keeps our home cool, but terrible when you want to take a quick post. Not a single area inside is suitable. When weather permits, and I have projects completed, I go out to my patio. We can’t always wait for the ideal situation. We have to make do with what we have.

Today I am going to share with you a quick method to improve your photos. The best part is, it will take you less than 5 minutes to put together!

Supplies Needed

You will need 3 pieces of white foam core board. If you work on a smaller scale, you can actually cut them down, but if you like the option of room for larger projects, then get 3 full sizes pieces. This foam core board is available at stores like Walmart, Dollar Tree, Office Depot, Staples, and more. I purchased mine for $1 each USD. The price, availability, and size will vary depending on where you shop.

You will also need something to hold them together. Duct tape works great, I used Gorilla tape because I had it, and it also works great. Masking tape will work, but it’s not as strong.

You will need some source of light. Maybe you do have natural light, but it just doesn’t fill the area as much as you’d like, this could also help you out. If you don’t have any available light, then you will need to grab some artificial light. I highly recommend getting some daylight balanced light bulbs, and use inexpensive lamps, such as a desk lamp, work light, OTTlite, hanging light kit, whatever. 1 light will work, 2 is better.


Placing 2 pieces of foam core together, tape along one side, then fold over and tape the other side. This will leave a small gap in the inside corner, but it will allow you to fold and put away your reflector when not in use.

Repeat the previous step with the third piece.  When you are done you should have something that looks like the image below. The tape is on the back side, and you now have a 3 sided open box. You could optionally use an additional piece below if you want a white backdrop to your items. I’ve used a piece of designer poster board from We R Memory Keepers that I purchased at Hobby Lobby. 12×12″ scrapbook paper is also a popular size, and is available in many colors. I tend to work too large to use scrapbook paper as a back drop.

Lighting Setup

As you can see above, I have an exposed bulb on each side over the reflector wall, angled toward my box. You can also see the cave that I live in. I crawl out of it from time to time and say hello to people. Hi!

The lights that I am using are actually lights from a photography kit, but I promise you that you can purchase some 75W daylight balanced bulbs from the store that will be equivalent. These bulbs came with some light stands I purchased ages ago and they are terrible for photographing people. No where near the power you need. They work great for this purpose though. I often just use my OTTlite and a 2nd lamp with a daylight balanced bulb for photos on the fly when I don’t want to plug these puppies in.

IKEA sells light kits to use with hanging paper lanterns, or other lamp shades. You can also purchase these at Cost Plus.  If you have a space you can hang these from your ceiling, this would be ideal! I’m considering purchasing a 2 pack of these, simply because I could hang them directly above my studio table and switch them on when needed.


What a Difference

The below image was taken without the reflector, but with the same 2 lights. No editing has been done to the image. I could edit it to give it a bit more brightness and life again, but the shadows that are here will still exist.

This image below is the same light setup, but with our 3 sided DIY reflector. Notice how much brighter it is and the shadows are diminished a great deal.

Finally, here is the same image with minor editing in ColorStory. All images were taken with an iPhone 6 plus. Editing helps bring a bit of the contrast back that we see with our eyes. Our eyes are much more powerful than a camera. Would you like a tutorial on image editing? Let me know in the comments below.

You can do it!

If you don’t have daylight bulbs in your home, you really should consider it for your creative space. Fluorescent and Tungsten bulbs give off a color shift making it hard to see true to life colors. I’d love to see your before and afters. Share on social media and tag me @paintandletters! Use the hashtag #paintandletterstips

Until next time, you are amazing, you are creative, you can do this!

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