Hello, lovely Messians!

Sasha (@sasha_zeen) here! Many of you might know me as a fellow Messian and the Get Messy Instagram Community Manager. I am so excited to be here to share a quick photo tutorial with you.

Whether you are only starting out your creative or Instagram journey or simply want to learn how to take better pictures of your art, I hope this article will be helpful to you.
First of all, here is a very quick video if you don’t have much time. In the video you can see the tools that I use, some photo angles and the quick explanation of my photo editing process. I will illustrate all examples with photos from my own Instagram feed.

However, if that was too quick for you or you have a few more minutes to read through more detailed instructions, I welcome you to the second part of this article.

What I use to take photos for my Instagram:

  • My phone – you can, of course, use your DSLR camera or any other camera that you own, but, no doubt, a phone camera is the easiest and most accessible tool for most people. I currently have Samsung Galaxy Note 8, but my photos were just as fine when I owned Samsung Galaxy Note 2.
  • A white background – if you’ve watched the video, you know that I do not own a white desk. So, I bought a big piece of white paper and use it as my photo background. I use white because that’s how I like my Instagram feed to look like, but you do you. Choose pink, green, blue, or maybe, you have a nice wooden desk (just know that I am jealous!) – any background will do as long as it is monochromatic (preferably, so it doesn’t distract a viewer’s attention from your art) and clean. Please, avoid using the floor as your photo backdrop, unless you have gorgeous natural wood floors, in which case – go ahead. If you have shiny flooring, it will be very obvious that your journal is lying on the floor, and it will create a glare that will distract viewers from your art. You can most definitely use a blanket, your cardigan, your bedding, or just your desk to take a photo. Just be mindful if it looks pleasing in the final shot.
  • A phone clip (very rarely) – you can see the kind of a clip I use in the video. I do not recommend it, though, as it is quite wobbly if you accidentally touch it while taking a photo or a video. However, it serves me well when I need to take a photo where both of my hands have to be in frame or a video.
  • Any props that suit your photo – you can photograph just your journal or add a few things around it that compliment your art, tell a story or explain what supplies you used to create it. It’s all up to you and your visual preferences. Here are a few examples to demonstrate what I mean.

The most important things for taking a good photo:

  • Natural light. I don’t think this is new information for anyone, but natural light really is the key for taking a good photo. The best light for photography can be seen during the so called golden hour – right after the sunset. However, it’s very unlikely that we will wait for this magical time all day just to snap a pic of our journal, right? So, my advice is: if it is sunny, take your photo in the shadow. The direct sunlight creates very harsh shadows. If it is overcast, the world is your oyster, you can take the photo at any place with a good amount of light. However, be careful – in such weather your photos might have a blue tint, which you then can correct when editing your photo.
  • Clean your camera lens. Yes, really. If you take a photo with your phone, take a special cloth, a towel or the bottom part of your own T-shirt and clean the lens. Just think about – how many times a day you pick up your phone and, not even thinking about it, touch your camera? The fingerprints on the camera lens make photos blurry. If you have some dirt on the lens, it will be visible on the photo too. The same goes for a DSLR camera, but, in this case, use special tools to clean the lens.
  • Angle. The most popular angle for taking a photo of your art for Instagram is from straight down. Like this.

Make sure you hold your camera parallel to your surface to nail this angle. If you slant it a little bit, it is going to be noticeable. So, if you do slant it, do it on purpose to show your journal from a certain angle, for example, like this.

Another way you can showcase your journal is by holding it in your hand against a wall, a desk, the sky, the grass, the flower field – let you fantasy go wild, but remember about the good lighting.

Choose what you want to show on your photo.

If you are photographing a journal, there are many ways you can photograph it. It can be closed, but surrounded with art supplies. You can photograph an empty page – inviting and waiting for you to add that first mark. You can place your art journal spread in the middle of the photo and make it your focus point. Or, you can photograph its half, bits and pieces of it and share it on your IG feed on different days. Let me share a few of my photos to demonstrate the point.


I only use 2 programs to edit my photos – VSCO and Snapseed. You can see my process of editing in the video. Here are the basic steps I take:

  • Import to VSCO and apply filter A6. Set the filter at about 6.5-7 transparency level.
  • If there are deep shadows, I use the Shadows tool to make them lighter.
  • Import to Snapseed. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the language settings to change them to English for you, so when you see me work in it, everything is in Russian. However, here is how it all looks in English.

  • I use the Selective tool first to add exposure in selected areas. Usually I lighten the white background. Sometimes, if the background has some tint, I will use the Selective tool to decrease saturation in some places.
  • Then I work using the Brush, where I also use exposure and saturation to enhance separate areas of my photo.
    The last thing I do (if there is a need) is take the pipette in the White Balance tool, click on the white are of my photo and see if it counteracts any blue/purple hues on the photo, if there are any.
  • After I export my photo to Instagram, I use the inbuilt editing tools to add brightness, contrast, details and then post it to my feed.

As you can see, my editing process is pretty basic and I rarely use any other programs.

The final question you should ask yourself – would you “like” your own photo on Instagram? If not, what’s wrong with it? Is it too yellow? Not enough light? The angle is weird? The art is not visible enough? There is a mess in the background? Listen to your own criticism carefully and take a better shot of it. Learn from your own mistakes, but also, subscribe to creators whose photos inspire you. Analyse what you like about their shots and try to recreate it with the tools that you own.

How to get featured on Get Messy Instagram Account

As you know, we share artists of different levels, so it doesn’t matter whether it is your first art journal page ever or you are a seasoned artist. Moreover, we do not only feature out members’ art – anyone can get featured! So, the main criteria for selecting photos to be reposted to Get Messy Instagram is the quality of the photo.

Here is a small checklist that might help you get features in case you are interested in it:

  • Well-lit photo
  • Your art can be seen very well and is in frame (unless the crop was intentional)
  • Natural editing (not oversaturated, the exposure is right, no blown-out or very dark areas)
  • No mess in the background, unless it’s arty mess, such as tubes of paint, brushes, paper, books, etc.
  • Preferably no people in the background

Please, don’t hesitate to share photos of just your art desk or studio (delicious!) or your own beautiful face. We love seeing artists at work, too! So, ask someone to take a photo of you while working or a picture of you holding your journal, you painty hands, etc. The above requirements apply.

Using hashtags

You might think hashtags are useless or only some spammers use them. That’s definitely not true. Hashtags are a great tool that an help other artists (including us!) find you, thus making your art and Instagram profile more visible.

Get Messy has a set of hashtags that we regularly open and go through art posted under the hashtag. If you would like to get featured on our IG account, definitely don’t forget to use the following hashtags: #getmessyartjournal #getmessyart #getmessyhabit #messypages.

If you are a member, I highly recommend you use the specific season hashtag when posting to Instagram – it’s always going to be #gm + season of + the name of the season, e.g. #gmseasonoffinishing, #gmseasonofmusic, #gmseasonofbloom.

There are many other helpful hashtags that can help promote your IG page and art:

#artjournals #artjournaling #mixedmediaartjournal #junkjournals #junkjournaljunkies #creativejournal #journalpages #carveouttimeforart #artforbreakfast #createeveryday #mixedmediajournal #creativepractice #carveouttimeforart #doitfortheprocess  and many others.

If you are ever in doubt as to what hashtags suit the art that you post, take a peek at what fellow artists use in their captions and try those hashtags as well.

You can also see how Jules photographs her journals for instruction and teaching.

I have tried to cover the most basic points from taking a photo to posting it online. However, if you still have any questions, do not hesitate to contact me. You can send me a direct message on Instagram @sasha_zeen or @getmessyartjournal. See you there! 😉