How to Create Engaging Images for Social Media – 5 Proven Methods

How to Create Engaging Images for Social Media – 5 Proven Methods

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This article has been contributed by Ashley Lipman.

In the 1800s, playwright Henrik Ibsen coined the phrase that would evolve into the adage, “a picture is worth a thousand words”. While the way we consume imagery has evolved dramatically over the past two hundred years, that phrase still rings true — especially in social media and marketing.

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Strong visuals are often the driving force behind audience engagement on social media. It’s no longer a benefit to have eye-catching photos; it’s a necessity.

Here are five proven ways to create eye-catching pictures for social media to engage your audience and reach your marketing goals.

1. Develop a Strategy

Woman using Instagram

The key to success with any form of audience engagement is to put a strategy in place. Your photo content should have intent.

Clarifying the intention for your photos creates the framework for capturing compelling images.

a. Outline Your Goals

Start by outlining your goals. These should connect to your overarching brand goals and speak to your niche. Consider what your audience wants and how you can present that to them visually.

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Your goals may evolve over time. Many brands start with a goal of building followers and standing out in the feed. From there, the goal might develop into boosting engagement. Finally, some photos may be posted with conversion goals. Clarifying the objectives now and how you hope they evolve in the future will guide the content creation process.

b. Create Brand Consistency

The photos you take should be in alignment with your brand. While you might get a few likes on well-taken images that have nothing to do with your message, they’ll only take you so far in terms of audience engagement.

Consider your brand tone and messaging. If your style is light-hearted, whimsical, and fun, the images you showcase on social media should reflect those values. If your brand is more serious and strait-laced, your images should reflect those features.

Brand consistency not only shapes the content of your images but the editing style as well. Use this as a guide to identify dominant colors and themes when crafting a strategy for your photos.

c. Create Best Practices

If you don’t already have brand style guidelines, now is the time to create them. Dedicate a chapter to your social media, outlining the colors you’ll use, what subject matter is acceptable, what should never be featured, etc. For example, if you’re promoting body positivity as a part of your brand, you might write it into the best practices that no one in your images should be photoshopped.

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Setting best practices allows you to remain consistent whether you’re snapping photos by yourself or scaling up to work with a large media team. This is also an essential consideration for influencers to guide who they’ll work with and what they’re willing to promote in their photos.

d. Consider a Professional Photographer

Professional photographer taking photos

When creating a strategy, it’s worth considering working with a professional photographer. An experienced photographer can juggle the technical nuances of photography and capture the subject matter more efficiently than an amateur or DIYer.

Keep the following in mind when looking for a brand photographer.

Relevant Experience

Choose a photographer with experience in brand photography that’s either directly related or adjacent to your niche. For example, if you have a fitness brand, aim to work with someone who’s familiar with a gym set-up and capturing action shots.

Brand Alignment

The photography and editing style of the photographer you choose should be aligned with your brand standards. From subject matter to editing style, ensure that the photographer you’re vetting is a good fit for your brand.

Value and Availability

When choosing a photographer, take some time to understand the pricing structure, licensing agreements, and what’s included. Keep in mind that the cheapest option may consist of the least amount of finished photos and that paying more now could offer a better ROI.

e. Create a Shot List

Finally, create a shot list as a part of your photography strategy. Consider the places and poses you want to capture as a part of your visuals. Some shots may be replicated over time to account for new products. Others may be seasonal or relevant to specific topics. Brainstorming and creating a shot list can help you capture the photos you want for your social media.

2. Use Professional Photography Techniques

If you’re unable or unwilling to hire a professional photographer, don’t fret — you can still create eye-catching photos for your social media channels. There are many solo influencers and business owners who handle photography themselves. The key is to use professional photography tips and techniques.

a. Prioritize Lighting

Ring light around camera lens

Lighting quality is perhaps the most critical aspect of your images. It’s important to use natural lighting whenever possible, particularly diffused, gray light. This lighting ensures clean, crisp lines and even distribution.

If you’re a solo brand that plans on including self-portraits, it’s worth investing in photography lights like ring lights for indoor shoots. You can get fantastic starter ring lights for an affordable rate. They’re also portable, allowing you to capture eye-catching photos on the go.

b. Ensure Stability

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Stability is another important aspect of photography. Whether you’re using a smartphone or DSLR camera, it’s worth investing in a compatible tripod for your photo sessions. This simple tool helps capture balanced shots, clean lines, and self-portraits without the limitations of a handheld selfie.

c. The Rule of Thirds

Instagram rule of thirds

The Rule of Thirds is a classic principle that applies to composing visual images from website designs to paintings. In this case, photographers imagine their photo as a nine-square grid. The subject of the photo should be placed somewhere along the intersecting lines to create balance. It’s a technique that ensures balanced, eye-catching photos, often without the viewer being aware of the technique.

Fortunately, modern cameras and smartphones often have a grid setting. Turn it on and try using it to frame your social media photos.

d. Shift the Focus

Clear, focused photos are a must for social media success. However, you can still experiment with layers and depths when capturing images. For example, one photo could showcase the model with a bokeh effect in the background. Another might show a close-up of a new product with the model unfocused in the background.

Playing with layers creates dimension in your imagery, which will stand out on social media feeds.

e. Work the Angles

Another professional photographer technique for creating stunning images is to experiment with different angles. Try the same shot from above, below, or the side. Changing the angle takes minimal time and effort and can yield incredible results.

f. Use Burst Mode

Finally, if you’re doing a solo photoshoot, use burst mode to capture a sequence of photos in one click. This tool will help you find the perfect photo without having to check and reset. It’s also great for capturing action shots or various poses.

3. Develop an Aesthetic

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If you’ve been in the world of social media for a while, you’ve likely heard the term “Instagram aesthetic”. This pertains to the consistent look and feel of your social media posts and should be in alignment with your brand. Creating an aesthetic will help you transform your photos into something creative and new, appealing to your audience and moving you closer to your goals.

a. Choose a Theme

Start by identifying your theme. Note, that this should reflect your brand tone as identified earlier. For example, your theme could be bright and colorful or dark and moody. Your focus could be on people or natural surroundings. You could have vibrant, busy photos or stark, minimalist-style images.

Choosing a theme for your images ties into the overall goal of brand consistency. It should be in alignment with what your target audience wants to see.

b. Choose a Consistent Color Scheme

Another aspect of creating beautiful images for social media is to use a consistent color scheme. You might determine that every photo you take should have a blue component. Conversely, you could determine that monochromatic images are best for your brand. The idea is that every image feels the same, even if the subject matter is dramatically different.

c. Create Editing SOPs

Outline your editing standard operating procedures (SOPs) to contribute to the quality and consistency of your aesthetic. This document could include which Instagram filter editor you use for your photos, any presets you use consistently, and even overarching themes (vibrant, matte, high contrast, etc.).

Outlining editing SOPs makes it easier to work through batches of images to ensure they’re all consistent and clear. It also makes it easier to outsource the task to someone else as the brand develops.

d. Keep the Grid in Mind

Instagram grid on smartphone

When it comes to visual social media, Instagram reigns supreme. That’s why it’s so vital to keep the grid in mind when creating social media images.

Look at how a block of photos appear together on the grid so that you’ll see what a newcomer to your profile will experience. From there, break up the grid and schedule your posts accordingly for better balance.

4. Tell a Story

Photo on social media

Taking a storytelling approach is the best way to create an emotional connection through your brand photos. It showcases the human side of a brand, provides more insight into how the brand came to be and its core values.

a. Know What Your Audience Wants

Take some time to understand what your audience wants to see. Images that showcase your brand’s work in the community or customers using your product or service could resonate with them. They may want to know more about your past and how you got to where you are.

Remember that you can use a series of photos to tell a story, releasing them over a period of time for dramatic effect. If you ever find yourself wondering what people want to see, ask your audience using polls or quick question-based posts.

b. Stay Focused and Relevant

Remember to keep your images in alignment with your brand. There should be a context in your photos that sparks a connection when someone scrolls to your photo in the feed.

Remember that text elements can be used to punctuate social media photos. A picture of a mountain isn’t necessarily relevant to a business coaching service. However, a mountain with a quote overlay about climbing toward goals brings everything together.

c. Be Authentic

Finally, be authentic when choosing the style and subject matter of your photos. Modern consumers know when they’re being pandered to. Your images should be authentic to your core values and showcase them in a visually appealing way.

5. Use Analytics to Adapt

Analytics on smartphone

Here’s the secret that social media experts don’t always share when preaching their skills and expertise: success stems from experimentation. Many times in social media marketing, it’s about throwing something at the wall and seeing what sticks. Using analytics to adjust your focus is this theory in action.

a. Identify the Outliers

When you look at your analytics, start by identifying the outliers. Highlight your top-performing posts and see what they have in common. You may discover that images with a person featured perform better than scenery-centric images. You might find that natural surroundings perform far better than urban settings.

The key is to find what people are drawn to and expand upon it. Be sure to note any variances in events or posting times to determine whether it is indeed the image that caused the peak in popularity.

b. Look at Engagement

When it comes to measuring the success of your photos on social media, it’s important to look beyond the likes. Likes are just one aspect of the broader engagement umbrella. Other important factors include:

  • Saves
  • Sends
  • Shares
  • Reach
  • Actions

Analytics categories will vary from platform to platform, but the key performance indicator is how many people interacted with your content in some way.

c. Identify the Source

Another important feature to look at when determining where opportunities lie with your social media photos is the source. On Instagram, you can use Insights to determine whether your engagement came from existing followers or those who found you on the feed.

If people outside your usual followers are engaging with your content, it means they’re noticing it in their feed. Identify what it is about those images that stand out and encourages people to take action.

d. Evaluate Follower Growth

Next, look at your follower growth rate. When someone chooses to follow you, it means they want to see more of your content. Use your analytics to determine which content sparked their decision to follow you, and use that to shape your social media photo strategy moving forward.

Final Thoughts

There’s always room for improvement when the goal is to create incredible social media photos. Develop a content strategy, take heed from the experts, and use analytics to help you adjust and perfect your approach.


About the author: Ashley Lipman is an award-winning writer who discovered her passion for providing knowledge to readers worldwide on topics closest to her heart – all things digital. Since her first high school award in Creative Writing, she continues to deliver awesome content through various niches touching the digital sphere.