How to Step Up Your Photography on Instagram with Fujifilm Ambassador Chio Fernandez

photography on instagram

Go on and roll your eyes, I’m obsessed with Instagram. I’ve always been interested in photography, but in recent years having a phone camera and access to a photo sharing app like Instagram has really made it way more accessible. (Also does anyone know if Photobucket is still a thing? RIP, early 2000s Megan.)

I’ve been on a mission to upgrade my photography game and luckily, I was invited to The Photography Show x Fujifilm's workshop with London photographer Chio Fernandez. The entire session was about how to style a picture and while Chio mainly shoots food, portaits and interiors, the things we learned apply to pretty much any kind of image you're taking. 

I managed to grab Chio for a quick chat afterwards and - being the endlessly patient human being she is - she shared some of her best advice for keen photographers. 

How to style a photograph

In terms of styling, I would say my key tip is storytelling. I think you have to think very well about what you wanna tell with that image and then stage it and decorate and style it, so it matches what you wanna say.
— Chio advised.

While of course meticulously laying out your props and playing with negative space is important, Chio really drove home that people want to follow a narrative. It's all well and good to have a beautifully styled image, but if it doesn't invoke a certain feeling or kick your imagination into gear then you've missed a trick. 

photography on instagram

Chio insisted that you shouldn't be afraid of photographs with a "human touch". You could go the literal route by including an actual human presence, like a hand adjusting a set of cutlery or fingers wrapped around a coffee cup. And then you could also go for little details, like a slightly rumpled napkin to suggest somebody had just been there.

People want to follow a story when they go into your Instagram, or into your Instagram stories or even a blog. With a website, maybe it’s more about the one photo and catching [that] wow factor.
— she finished.

Lighting and angles

If you don't have a well-lit image, you don't really have much. While most of us can't afford a studio lighting set up, natural light is absolutely gorgeous and definitely does the job. We were really lucky to be working in Somerset House's restaurant Spring for our session with Chio, which has a private dining area with a glass roof to let all the natural light in. 

Beyond utilising the great natural light, Chio also really pushed us to play with different angles to get the best shot. She was all set up with a tripod to get the best top-down shots, however at one point she managed to convince me to stand on one of Spring's (undoubtedly expensive) chairs for a really unique perspective shot. 

photography on instagram

Whenever I think about how important lighting and angles are, I always think of my colleague Sunil at marie claire UK who's a wizard with a camera. One day, he spent nearly twenty minutes meticulously setting up a fragrance flat lay on a spare white office desk by the window. As he stepped away, a rare spot sunlight suddenly started streaming in and he literally ran across the aisle to catch it; shooting as quickly as possible to make the most of it as the coloured liquids cast stained glass shadows. And the photos were beautiful.

Flat Lay Background

I'm sure you've seen at least one gorgeous shot of perfume bottles and luxury makeup bits and bobs snapped on glorious marble tabletops. Sure, it may now be a social media cliche but it's a hell of a lot more interesting to look at than a plain white backdrop. Plus if you're married to the idea of a cohesive grid, having consistent backgrounds can help pull your social feed together and bring a professional touch to your photography.

photography on instagram

If you don't happen to have a gorgeous ivory marble dining table lying around the house, then Chio had a fantastic hack for photographers on a budget. She bought a couple of cheap foam boards from a stationery store and then covered them in wood-effect contact paper - the kind you can get cheaply off Amazon for just a few quid. All she had to do was light and snap her images from a certain angle and you would never have known she wasn't shooting on a chic rustic table.

I can imagine newspapers, old magazine covers, wrapping paper and even wallpaper samples would make amazing backdrops so go forth and experiment, my pretties.

I've also seen textured fabrics and printed bedsheets work really well for a softer, more delicate look. Former Sassy Singapore editor Faz Gaffa (who also runs a killer blog called The Brown Girls' Guide) is a total master at this, as well as a person to work with.

I always look to her for inspiration when I'm putting props together. It also helps that she's textile queen.

photography on instagram

Although Instagram has introduced landscape and vertical images into their feed, it seems like people prefer to stick to regular old squares.

photography on instagram

As a result, a lot of mobile phones and cameras including my little point and shoot - the Sony RX100 - have the ability to shoot in square formats, but Chio advised us against it. In fact, she actually pushed us to shoot in portrait-orientation and explained that vertical images are actually more striking when you're scrolling through a social media feed.

photography on instagram

Another perk of vertical images is thanks to one of Instagram's recent features, where you can retroactively upload pictures to your Instagram Stories. If you upload a square image to your Insta-stories, you can't control the way the app zooms in on the image - just make life easier for yourself and shoot vertical.

Just Keep Shooting

There's this saying that if you practice something for 10,000 hours, then you can finally count yourself an expert in it. Photography's a similar beast and the more you practice shooting with your gear, the better your mastery over your images becomes and serious newbies should take every opportunity to pull out their camera.

Chio said, "If you're getting started, take as many photos as you can."

photography on instagram

Finding your own photographic style is something that comes with time and learning from other photographers you admire is key.

Find inspiration from Pinterest, Instagram - there are so many good photographers out there - and then add your own ideas to it. And I think that’s the best you can do, try to recreate what you see and find [out how you can] create that lighting, [how you can] use flowers.
— she said.

Invest in Your photography Equipment

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Given that we were at a Fujifilm session, it'll come as no surprise that there was a lot of emphasis on the equipment we were using. I have an older iPhone with a potato-quality camera, so being able to test drive a gorgeous fancy new Fuji X-A5 was a total dream. The photographs were just so crisp and vivid, and it broke my heart to give it back at the end of the session. 

Although natural talent plays into photography, eventually you hit a wall if your kit isn't up to snuff. 

Make sure that you have good kit to use...just taking [photographs] with a phone is great, but having a camera can get you those colours and that light which is very important.
— she said.

A lot of people tend to use massive Canon or Sony DSLRs, however my main camera is actually a Fuji X-T10 - a lightweight mirrorless camera that really packs a punch. I love it to pieces even though it's kind of falling apart a bit and having a go on the Fuji X-A5 was like driving a Ferrari in comparison. It had the old features I loved like film simulation and a super lightweight body, as well as newer exciting ones like a 180° tilting LCD screen ideal for selfies/vlogging and 4k video recording. 


If you're interested in attending The Photography Show and grabbing some new photography gear, check out the details below.


the photography show

Date: 17-20 March

Venue: The NEC, Birmingham

Price: £13.95+ for adults

photography on instagram

Study with Chio

class details

28 april

Food Photography and Styling with Chio Fernandez and Chef Amy


Thank you to the photography show x fujifilm for the free workshop. I'll also be attending the photography show, so if you see me - say hi!