Here’s How to Plan Your Next Instagram Photoshoot
The Great Wall of China veiled in fog, the bright blue waters of Pigeon Point, vibrant shots of Machu Picchu — these are the images you'll see on expert traveler Tara Donaldson's feed. One look at her Instagram had us going, "How does she do it?!" Luckily, we got the chance to ask her all about creating a top-notch Instagram feed — everything from picking the right spot and how she decides what outfits to wear, to the right way to approach a stranger and ask them to take your picture.
BIKINI: How do you pick the perfect spot for a photoshoot?
TARA DONALDSON: A location for a photoshoot definitely picks me, rather than the other way around. I like a lot of color in my photos, so I'll always be drawn to a place that's really colorful and vibrant. Photoshoots are best done where the backdrop isn't busy, where there's really one dominant color, and you can stand out against it. That's why the beach is my favorite — all blue everything! My three key tips for good pics are: always wait until the sun is shining, make sure that the sun is behind the photographer, and try to shoot in the afternoon when the sun is in prime position to color everything perfectly — it's not the muted colors of the morning or the shadowy tones of the evening.
BIKINI: What gear do you bring along? What purpose does each item serve?
TD: My one staple for a photoshoot is a hat. There's something about it that makes travel photos look more finished and makes you look more like a great adventuress. In most cases, I wear my personalized beach hat that's been everywhere with me, from The Great Wall of China to the back of a camel at the Pyramids of Egypt. Besides the hat, I have my iPhone, of course. I'd say 95 percent of the pictures on my Instagram are taken with that — it's all about the right editing app! When I want to be a little fancier, I tote my Canon Rebel. The one item I never bring, and don't even own, is a selfie stick.
BIKINI: How do you do outfit changes?
TD: To be honest, I have actually never done an outfit change! I definitely plan what I'm going to wear ahead of time, thinking about what backdrops I'm likely to see and what colors would best pop against it. Of course, you won't always know what you're going to see or where you'll end up on a travel day, so I wear a lot of white. White looks good against everything. If it's not white, I'll wear a bright, solid color. Usually, whatever I wear for that day is the outift that appears in my photos. I'll try to spread out how I post them so it doesn't look like the same thing square after square.
BIKINI: Do you plan all of your shoots, or are some of them spur-of-the-moment?
TD: You can never really plan everything. Spur-of-the-moment experiences and photoshoots are part of what makes travel so fun. I'm definitely guilty of scouring Instagram for photos of a place I'm going so I can check out the spots and figure out what I could wear there, but it's the photos that are unplanned that are the best! I recently climbed up a dirt hill in a white dress at Bryce Canyon National Park to stand between two hoodoos — when I woke up that morning, I hadn't even known rock formations like that existed!
BIKINI: You said you like to wear solids — are prints harder to capture on camera?
TD: The thing about prints is, unless they are simple, bold prints, they don't always pop. A windowpane print, for example, could work well for a photo. But something like a mini floral wouldn't have that same presence and could make you blend into the background.
BIKINI: What's your favorite photo you've posted on Instagram?
TD: My favorite photo is actually one I took in Tobago last year. Trinidad and Tobago is my country of heritage and where I spent my childhood summers, so the island is home for me. In the picture, I am standing on the famous jetty at Pigeon Point Beach wearing a yellow dress. I wanted to capture the dress blowing in the wind and my cousin was able to snap the photo at the absolute perfect moment.
BIKINI: Who is your photographer? Does the same person always take your photos, or do you switch it up? How do you direct the person taking the photo?
TD: Really, it's whoever is there at the moment. A lot of the times it's my dad, if we're traveling together, or friends. Sometimes I'm on a press trip with other travel writers and we take turns taking photos of each other. When it's not any of those scenarios, it's a stranger. I've asked many random people to take a picture of me, which feels utterly ridiculous at first, but then you get used to doing it. I try to stick to people who don't look like they could outrun me in the event they wanted to snag my camera. I usually set up the shot just how I'd want it and show that to them before handing over my phone or camera. Most of the time, if I just play and move and the photographer keeps shooting, we'll get the perfect shot out of one of them.
BIKINI: What advice do you have for someone who is nervous about asking a stranger to take their picture?
TD: If you're nervous about asking someone to take your picture, try to always ask someone who's solo and might want their picture taken. It's an exchange of favors, rather than them just doing something for you.
BIKINI: What is your favorite editing software? What changes do you usually make?
TD: I don't think I get too crazy with editing. I use an app called A Color Story. It's all about making colors pop. They have a bunch of great filters, but I stick to the same one to create a cohesive look. Beyond the filter, sometimes I'll do a little brightening. Often I'm straightening horizon lines or crooked shots.