Instagram: The photographic differences between print and social media

Chris Hudson, group art editor at National Geographic Traveller (UK), shares tips for shooting effectively for print and social media

By Chris Hudson
Published 7 Jan 2017, 08:00 GMT, Updated 8 Jul 2021, 10:59 BST
Print or Digital?

Print or Digital?

Photograph by National Geographic Traveller (UK)

At National Geographic Traveller (UK) we're incredibly lucky to work with a host of top travel photographers based across the globe. We're equally lucky to be able to share their experiences through an expanding number of channels, be it in print or digital. But, interestingly, we're noticing how having these channels means we have to adapt and vary the stories we're trying to communicate.

This is most noticeable between our print title and Instagram feed. We like to share our photographers' experiences across both mediums, but have found the response to certain styles and types of photography varies greatly between the two. Print is much easier to build a story, not only in the fact we can use several images at once to paint a picture, but also in the size and scale we can work at. There is much more fluidity in print. Instagram is all about grabbing the attention in the split second — it effectively is about putting up the show-stopping, DPS-opener-type imagery. You could almost say it is more throwaway — you see it, you like it, you move on. Images that require time, thought or effort to interpret and understand will often be passed by on Instagram.

We've put together a few tips at National Geographic Traveller (UK) on how you can be effective when shooting for print and Instagram, focusing on some of the nuances that we've encountered on the design team in our time:

Make it captivating

Instagram is about that 'wow' shot — brighter, bolder, simpler and more colourful — these images grab the attention. Landscapes that are real want-to-be-there shots work, as do close-ups that show a real detail or interpretation of a culture or destination — these images have to be simple. Print images can be more detailed and contain more content that the viewer can spend time deconstructing.

Tell a story

Print gives a photographer the luxury of more space — nearly all our stories in the magazine will contain at least five photographs, which gives the photographer the chance to capture imagery that doesn't have to cram so much in. Photos have to work in a series, whereas on Instagram shots will have to stand up on their own to make any sense in someone's feed. So the story has to be simpler, and told within that one frame.

Balancing the composition

Play it straight on Instagram. Don't go for imagery that is too complex in terms of content. As we touched on previously, often the 'wow' landscapes and details get good feedback on Instagram, whereas print allows you to shoot anywhere in the middle, often because you will have other shots to back it up. Print shots can have a lot more going on in them, have levels of detail and story, because the viewer is able to spend time analysing what you have presented.

Set the subject matter

This point applies equally to both Instagram and print— always try and look at a scene from a different perspective. Searching the hashtag 'London' on Instagram would throw up hundreds of the same kinds of photographs — if you're shooting and you want your photos in print, or lots of likes on Instagram, think about capturing that landmark in a way that might not have been done before.

Think of size and scale

Never forget that Instagram photos are no bigger than the palm of your hand, and so all of the tips we've covered so far are really borne from this fact. Simple, captivating and easy to decipher, imagery will get audience response. Treat your Instagram feed a bit like a portfolio — put the best of the best up there, and save your detailed, reportage photography that might need a bigger canvas to go into print and be allowed the time and space to tell the story.

Discover the Photography Magazine

The National Geographic Traveller (UK) Photography Magazineapp is available now on iOS, Android and Amazon app stores.

Filled with previously unpublished images from our photographers around the world, along with tips, tricks and tutorials from industry experts, the Photography Magazine covers everything from equipment to post-production touch-ups.


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