While my Instagram process varies slightly from shot to shot, I thought it would be cool to walk you through everything it took to get one of my favorite shots from my last trip to Bali and Japan. Hopefully, by now, you’re following me on Instagram, but if not head over and hit that follow button! I can wait for you to come back. The photo I will be talking about is this one below. The pagoda, the waterfall, and a teeny-tiny me.
As I sat in the airport lounge in Bali waiting to board my flight to Tokyo, I was searching for places to see while I was there. The first place I look is Instagram. Instagram is great for scouting locations if you already have an idea of what/where you were looking for, and I really didn’t. I knew I could see a lot of Tokyo just by walking around and using their fabulous public transportation system, but I also didn’t want to limit myself to only Tokyo even though my stay was very short.
After coming up mostly empty-handed searching Instagram, I turned to my favorite method of searching for photo inspiration – Pinterest. Pinterest is a search engine and after typing in “beautiful locations in Japan,” a photo like this popped up.
It took some time to figure out what the name of this magnificent place was and where it was located, but once I figured that out I knew I had to go.
So I only had three days in Japan, and I knew I wanted to shoot at the Fushimi-Inari Shrine and now Nachi Falls. Luckily Fushimi-Inari was kind of on the way, so I made a short stop in Kyoto before continuing. This shot was difficult to get because it is actually in a relatively remote part of the country. There are two trains per day that go from Osaka down to the Nachi Falls area and I just barely made it on the last one. Google Maps’ transit planning was a lifesaver during this trip since English isn’t widely spoken. My trip looked a bit like this.
It would have taken more than 10 hours driving to cover the 730+km journey. Luckily with Shinkansen Bullet Trains, my actual train riding time was probably only about 8 hours in one direction. I left the hotel at about 4:30 AM to catch the first train to Kyoto hoping to make it to Fushimi-Inari before the crowd – Check out my Japan Highlights on Instagram to see how that went. I spent a little over an hour in Kyoto before departing to Nachi where I finally arrived around 3:50 PM.
I knew I wanted the pagoda and the waterfall in my shot and I wanted to be small to give some sense of scale. Other than the waterfall and pagoda I had no idea what to expect of the terrain here. I could tell the photos I saw on Pinterest were taken from an elevated spot so I hoped there would be a place to set up my tripod. Going in completely blind to a shoot like this isn’t ideal for a travel blogger’s Instagram process, but it forces you to walk around and try a couple of different options out to get it right. Another thing to mention in my Instagram process is planning for lighting. Lighting makes or breaks a photo, so I like to shoot a half-hour before and after sunrise or an hour or so before sunset. I only had about 45 minutes of light left when I got to Nachi Falls to get my shots.
My goal was to show a sense of scale with me being small and the Pagoda and waterfall being the focus. After trying a couple of different angles, I settled on the one I posted. Ideally, the camera would have been slightly higher, so the roof line wasn’t there in the bottom corner, but to do that I would have had to shoot from someone’s window!
I tried various settings for a few of the different attempts since I also knew I wanted to get the blur of the water coming down, but 1/10 sec at f4.0 seemed to give me the best results.
When searching for the perfect Instagram shot, my process is just to try a bunch of different angles and camera settings and most times a few will turn out, and some may even blow you away!
First of all, if your camera lets you, SHOOT IN RAW! I cannot stress that enough. RAW lets you tweak even the most minute details and saves all of the light and color data giving you way more flexibility when it comes to editing. I’m sure you’ve seen on Instagram and elsewhere a lot of creators selling their presets to make your photos look like theirs. While they are useful if your shot looks exactly like the shot they created the preset on, most of the time they won’t work correctly. They can be a great starting point to get similar colors, but you will almost always have to tweak some of the settings. You can buy my presets here.
I use Lightroom to edit all of my photos and have created my own presets that have worked pretty well for my past couple of trips where there is a lot of green and gold. Photos can take anywhere from 10 minutes to over an hour to edit depending on how good I was at camera settings that day. My particular editing style lately has been to try and bring out the natural beauty in my images to hopefully inspire some wanderlust in my followers.
Learning Lightroom will take a while, but eventually, it will just become part of your Instagram process because you can see how powerful it is from the before and after shots above! Remember to crop to 4×5 vertical because then your photos take up more real estate on your viewers’ feeds!
I hope this was helpful to see the thought process from start to finish for getting the perfect Instagram shot. I’d love it if you went and gave this photo some love on Instagram! I have been considering adding more photography content here on the blog, would you all be interested in seeing more of that? Let me know in the comments here or on Facebook or Instagram!