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How I take and edit my Instagram photos: faking a white background

October 5, 2015
How I take and edit Instagram photos: faking a white background

Here’s a little secret. I don’t own a single white table or have any white surfaces in my house. But I still take photos that have white backgrounds in them! How? I fake it! It’s no secret that everyone manipulates their Instagram photos to some extent, but honestly I’ll admit, I can never post a photo that hasn’t been edited in some shape or form. Let’s take the Watercolour Lettering Leaf that I created in my last blog post and use it in this example.

First thing’s first. Lay out a large sheet of paper onto your table. If you don’t have a large sheet, just lay lots of copy paper down until there’s a sufficient amount of white surface for you to place your work on. Don’t worry about the edges of the paper showing if you choose to use multiple sheets of paper. They will disappear when we edit the image!

This was taken on my phone, hence the bad quality

I use my digital camera to take a photo of my work from a bird’s eye view. I use an Olympus S-H1, which works great for the things I want it to do. I like to use the 1:1 function which makes my screen square and shows me exactly how my Instagram photo will be aligned. The most important thing however, is to make sure that your photo isn’t grainy despite being a bit dark. This makes the photo easier to work with.

I then transfer the photo to my phone, where I will be using the free app called Snapseed to do the rest of the editing. Here’s a step by step with videos!

Note: If your image is not already in a 1:1 ratio, you can crop your picture (using the 1:1 aspect ratio) in Snapseed before we begin

1. Remove wrinkles in the paper

The paper has a few wrinkles, but that’s okay! I use the healing tool to get rid of them super easily! Tap on the pencil to bring up a list of tool. Choose healing, and simply tap on the area that has the wrinkle to remove it.

2. Brighten the photo

I increase the brightness and highlights. These are found under the tune image tool. Usually, I increase the brightness to about 40 or so and the highlights to 70-100. It really depends on the photo. This can wash out the colours in the picture so I increase the saturation to get the colours back. Just enough to get the colours looking more like real life.

3. Selectively increase saturation & whiten background

I want to increase the saturation of the colours in the leaf but not the overall photo. For this I use the selective function. Tap on an area you want to increase the saturation of. Slide down to choose saturation, then slide right to adjust the strength of the saturation. Tap the (+) button to choose more spots to increase the saturation of. Do the same for the brightness of the white background, selecting certain areas that you want brightened.

4. Whiten the background even more

I still think the background could be whiter, so I take advantage of the exposure brush. In the brush tool, click the paint brush with the +/- and choose exposure. Usually I increase the exposure level to 0.7. Paint/swipe across the areas that you want to be whiter. To have a smaller paint brush size, simply pinch and zoom. To zoom back out, double tap the rectangle on the left. The eye on the right will show you the areas you have ‘painted’ over.

5. The final touches

Usually I’ll just look over the photo to see if there’s anything else I want to change. I felt like the photo was a bit blue to I increased the warmth under the tune image tool. I increased the exposure on some more areas to whiten them again, and then I’m done!

In most of my photos, I use a combination of the exposure brush and the selective brightness to make my background whiter. Usually, if the image is mostly black and white, I’ll use the selective brightness. The exposure brush is used for photos that have lots of colours that I don’t want to wash out with the brighten function.

Previously on Snapseed, you could adjust how wide of an area the selective brightness effect would affect, so you could easily avoid washing out coloured areas. Now that they’ve removed that function, I have to resort to the less than perfect exposure brush.

Here are a few more before and afters from my Instagram page!


Note the edge of the paper, which completely disappears once we finish editing the image!

Here are some more before and after photos, but with a lot more colour:

I do hope that this post has helped you edit your photos! Do let me know if you try it out. I’m always willing to help you out if you have any trouble!

Stay creative!

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  • Reply mynameisodee October 5, 2015 at 9:06 pm

    THIS IS BRILLIANT!!! Thanks for sharing this, Jo! Will be trying this as soon as I get home 😉

    • Reply Jo Cheung October 5, 2015 at 9:08 pm

      Yay! Hope it works out for you! 🙂

  • Reply Melody March 13, 2016 at 12:45 pm

    This is SO HELPFUL!!! Thank you so much for sharing!

    • Reply Jo March 14, 2016 at 10:49 pm

      So happy it’s helped you!

  • Reply Ezzie March 18, 2016 at 4:21 am

    This is great! Thanks for sharing, Jo! I discovered this blog post through @therevisionguide on Insta. After much overthinking, and hence, procrastination, I finally set up an Insta today to showcase my crafty projects. I had been obsessing over how to make the background whiter and now I have a free tool to try. Excited to see the difference. I’m grateful to makers like you who are willing to share secrets.

    • Reply Jo March 19, 2016 at 3:33 am

      That’s awesome! I’m so glad this post has helped you! I would love to see your craft projects! What’s your IG handle?

  • Reply Kerianna Fettig March 22, 2016 at 4:45 am

    Thank you so much for these tips! I love that you included step by step instructions with video- very nice! What if I only use my phone for taking pictures (iPhone 6)? Any chance I could get similar results? Thanks again ????

    • Reply Jo March 24, 2016 at 9:37 am

      Hi Kerianna!
      Happy it’s helped! As long as you can get a non-grainy and non-blurry picture to start with, the editing process should be the same. As far as I know, the iPhone 6 has a great camera on it, and will be able to create the same results! Hope that answers your question!

  • Reply Kerianna Fettig March 22, 2016 at 4:47 am

    Sorry for the multiple question marks after “thank you”- not intentional! Was meant to be a smiley face.

  • Reply Petra Lucas March 26, 2016 at 12:07 am

    I just downloaded Snapseed on your recommendation and I love it!! Ive just stumbled onto Instagram and hand lettering and this blog is a treasure trove of information! Thank you so much for sharing!

    • Reply Jo March 27, 2016 at 10:23 am

      That’s awesome! I’m so happy that you are enjoying Snapseed. I seriously can’t live without the app! Have fun with your hand lettering adventures!

  • Reply Monika April 3, 2016 at 12:56 pm

    I have seen several people dodge the question of how they get their photos so white. Thank you for your honest sharing. This is very helpful!

    • Reply Jo April 4, 2016 at 8:55 am

      No problem! I’m happy this post has helped you! Community over competition, as they always say!

  • Reply Olivia April 11, 2016 at 6:36 am

    This is amazingly informative! Really helps a lot! I always had snapseed but had no idea you could do all that! Thanks so much!

    • Reply Jo April 12, 2016 at 11:18 pm

      Thanks Olivia! So glad you can put this tutorial to use! Snapseed is truly an amazing phtoo editing app once you get to know all the tricks!

  • Reply Sabina January 28, 2017 at 1:08 am

    Thank u so much for sharing! Ur work is beautiful

    • Reply Jo February 15, 2017 at 6:19 am

      Thank you!

  • Reply Rina Indrasari February 3, 2017 at 2:17 pm

    I’ve been trying to make my instagram looks beautifully white but still not as good as yours. Your step by step is very detail and the before after sample looks very good. I’ll try to apply it in my photos. Thank you for sharing

    • Reply Jo February 15, 2017 at 6:19 am

      Thanks so much!

  • Reply AlamHati March 10, 2017 at 5:12 am

    thank you.. I love selective tool in snapseed. I never use before until I found your tutorial. Now my white background much look better but still need more practice. Thank you for your tutorial

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