With its growing shoppable features and the increase in advertising options, Instagram is becoming more and more important for brands. The platform now has over 25 million business profiles, compared to just 15 million in July of 2017. And with this rising attention and competition on Instagram comes an increasing demand for exceptional visual content.

The almost constant need for content is a struggle that most marketers are familiar with, and it can be easy to fall back on the tried and true and well documented #flatlay  that Instagram & bloggers made so popular. And while it’s important to look at the metrics of your content and understand what your audience finds the most engaging, strong brand content should do more than try to replicate successful posts.

When planning content for Instagram, it’s good to follow a guide like the 80/20 rule  or the Rule of Thirds, but keep in mind that 65% of Top-Performing Instagram Posts Feature Products.

Customers want to see products from the brands they are following, but brands need to be conscious to keep their product features creative, to add value and engage the user if they want a double-tap to translate to the bottom line.

If you’re searching for creative and fresh ways to capture your content, here are 5 ideas to help spark some new ideas.


The Messy Pile


Photo credits left to right: @bando, @team624comm, @jacobreischel

This styled image is similar to the flat-lay but slightly more authentic. It’s a good way to show a variety of product, doesn’t require the use of a model, and allows brands to appear less perfect and scripted. The secret is that sometimes these shots actually take more time to style than other product shots.

Perfecting the messy pile requires not going too crazy with ‘stuff’. It’s a good rule of thumb to channel Coco Chanel’s advice on accessorizing: before leaving the house, look in the mirror and remove one thing.

 Other Tips for the Perfect Messy Pile:

  • Keep the background pretty simple.
  • Pick a theme.
  • Play with angles. Move around as your taking the photo as different angles might capture different aspects of the composition.
  • Think about the negative space. With a lot of clutter, it can be nice to have open space in one part of the photo.


The Shelfie Stack

Lauren ConradanthropologieeuWest Stanton

Photo credit from left to right: @laurenconrad, @west_stanton, @anthropologieeu

Customers like to see products and post-purchase moments (or, what the products will do after they purchase them). Inspring #shelfies are great for encouraging viewers to think about how a product will look in their home.

Although it isn’t quite as authentic, a fun alternative to the shelfie is a stack held up by a hand (see example above from @west_stanton). The key to this shot is that the camera angle should be looking face onto the product rather than positioned overhead.  A few products that make for good shelfies include bath and beauty products, books, dishes and kitchen utensils, and folded clothes.


The Single Product Focus

Swell BottleKate Spadevioletandbrooksjewelry

Photo Credits from left to right: @swellbottle, @katespade, @violetandbrooksjewelry

This photo is especially good for shoppable product features (think paid promotions), because it puts the focus on a single product, while still offering context from the background. If you’ve upgraded to the iphoneX, use the portrait mode to automatically blur out the background. If you’re using another phone, you can fake a short depth of field by using an editing app after the fact (try the Snapseed Lens Blur tool).

Although the product is the focus here, the background is just as important in the success of this type of content. It’s important that the background fits your brand, and that it inspires the viewer. For example, the Kate Spade customer will look at the photo of this watch and be able to picture herself living the life of this photo.


The Personal Feature


Photo Credit from left to right: @gigipip, @jennakutcher, @annabeckdesigns

Adding a face into photos is a great way to increase engagement (Sprout reports that images with faces get 38% more likes than those without). But adding any part of a person still has a positive effect on engagement. There are a number of interesting ways to add a human element into photos while maintaining the product focus.

Here are a few:

  • Holding Product Up/Out (you can play with the background here– use a simple white wall, create a color block effect with a paper background, or take it outside for blurred out scenery).
  • Holding product in front of a person’s face (this is a good way to add a little humor to your feed)
  • Looking forward. This style is especially successful for hats, backpacks, and clothes with a detail in the back.


The Massed Out Approach


Photo Credits from left to right: @libertylondon, @smittenonpaper, @riflepaperco

Although some studies have shown that photos with a strong foreground and background perform better on Instagram, there are times when showing the volume of your products can be very engaging. This is especially true when the product you are promoting has different colors or styles, or if you are a brick and mortar store trying to get traffic into your store. In these cases, it’s less important to convey the details of the product, and more important to show that your store has a good selection for customers to choose from.

As with the Messy Pile images, getting these shots to look just right can require some styling. Make sure to choose good lighting, make at least one product in focus, and remove any unnecessary elements from the photos. Finally, remember that it’s all about the mix, so break up your massed out photos with a mix of single product features, flat lays and other lifestyle photos.



Visual commerce platform Curalate reports that 72% of instagram users  have made a fashion, beauty, or style purchase after seeing a product on the platform. This is a pretty staggering statistic that is only expected to increase as Instagram adds more and more tools for businesses. If brands want to capitalize on the store-front nature of Instagram, they need to engage their audience with content that shows off product in a manner that fits this highly visual platform. What types of photos do you find work well for your brand on instagram?


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