#VailBen Dispatch 7: Tips For Taking the Best Instagram Photos in Vail

Jul. 5, 2014

Photographer Jack Affleck suggests shooting into the sun.

Photographer Jack Affleck suggests shooting with the sun at your subjects’ backs.

Part of my job as the winner of America’s Best Summer Job in Vail, Colorado is to give all my friends major FOMO.

What is FOMO, you ask? Well, it is that modern syndrom unique to social media users stuck behind their desk while their friends show off on some fantastic summer vacation. FOMO is: fear of missing out.

I have attempted to incite FOMO on the city-dwelling masses by posting my adventures in Vail to my favorite social media accounts, like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

So far, I think I’ve been doing a pretty good job. I’ve provided plenty of things for the envious to salivate over: succulent steaks on white tablecloths, hikes up wildflower-filled peaks, my wide smile at the crest of Class Four rapids.

But I think I can do better—despite only armed with an iPhone. (4S, no less.) I want to take the best Instagram photos possible. So I turned to some Vail-loving professional photographers for guidance. I asked them how I might improve my digital photo taking and turn ordinary cell phone shots into drool-worthy mountain art.

And the advice was so good, I thought I’d share it with you. Now we can all become master documentarians of this mountain town we love. Oh, and make all our friends super jealous.


Jack Affleck

Shoot People in the Shade

“Most people shoot with the sun on their subjects, making them squint into the bright sun. Have them in open shade, or the sun at their backs, which will mean the sun is in your lens. Cool effect. Best used if you can find a tree branch’s shadow to hide in. The sun makes the subject glow with a backlit rim light effect.”

Take Photos During the Magic Hour

“Walk up Berrypicker and shoot in the Aspens early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Use that light filtering through the leaves to make a magic feeling to the shot.”


Zach Mahone

Snapseed is a Mobile Photographer’s Best Friend

Snapseed is my go-to editing app. It not only lets you manipulate the image any way you want but is has a bunch of great filters that you can can change the opacity of. Selective spot editing is also pretty awesome in this app.”

Ask: “Is Your Photo Interesting?”

“If you really want to build a following on Instagram with your iPhone imagery, you have to have a compelling image that is somewhat relevant. People don’t particularly care about what you had for lunch today or what color your shoes are—unless you do it in a fun unique way. But if you find yourself somewhere cool doing something fun people can live vicariously through your images. Make it interesting!”


Logan Robertson

Think Small on a Big Mountain

“One of the best things you can do when photographing in Vail is to be sure to show off the foreground and environment to give viewer some scope. When you are sharing your trip with world you want your followers to get a small taste of how awesome that feels, and to do that they need a real slice of the big picture.”

Go Beyond the Instagram Filter

“It’s pretty common these days to edit photos when posting from your iPhone, but the truth is that your phone is capable of much more in-depth and professional editing than Instagram’s LoFi filter. One of the easiest ways to enhance your mountain travel photography is to use one of the many apps available to spend a little time before posting and make that picture look perfect. There are many options available from Pro brands like Adobe.”

Have a great mobile photography tip to share? Let me know on Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #vailben!

Vail America's Best Summer Job BenBenjamin Solomon is the winner of America’s Best Summer Job, a 10-week, all-expenses paid summer job exploring what summer in the Vail Valley has to offer. A freelance writer based in New York, Benjamin has contributed to publications such as Vanity Fair, New York, Travel + Leisure and is the former editor of Next Magazine. Follow his journey on Blog.Vail.com as well as on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #VailBen.