Taking Images for Social Media

Getting the right visual to share with our social media audiences can sometimes be hard. Not only do we have to contend with the constraints of working within tight deadlines, we ‘re often challenged in higher education to find the resources and budget to produce rich multimedia content. High end DSLR cameras and video equipment are expensive, and the staff needed to use them effectively are often overbooked.

Luckily, almost all of us have an alternative right at our fingertips – our smart phones. The technical process of taking and editing photos (and videos) has never been easier, thanks to a variety of tools and apps available for the phone. I’d like to share with you some of my favorites to get you started on how you can leverage your phones to start producing rich content.

The Equipment

Smart PhocusSmartPhocus

The SmartPhocus / Now Bridge Optix is a phone case for iPhones that will turn it into a rig for both photo and video work. The The base set can be purchased with two or three threaded lenses: a telephoto lens, a wide-angle lens, and a macro lens (the last two are bundled together and screw into one another). The body itself has three separate threads for connecting to a tripod, as well as a shoe for adding either a flash or shotgun microphone (both sold as additional accessories). The base cost for the iPhone runs between $79.95 and 109.95 depending on your model of iPhone.

The quality of images from the SmartPhocus and the iPhone are stellar – normally comparable or better than the production abilities of most local television stations. Given that most departments already have access to a smartphone, it provides a very inexpensive option for being able to shoot professional quality videos.

Taken with Macro
Wide Angle
Taken with Wide Angle Lens. Note you do get a slight distortion about the edges.


The iographer is a new tool on the market that does the same thing as the SmartPhocus, but for the iPad. A Steering wheel like enclosure prtects the iPad and provides a steady surface for holding the ipad, and several shoes are open for microphone and flash attachments.

Shooting Apps


Free application for ioS and Android.

The latest figures indicate that Instagram might become the most popular social media network among teenagers within the next few months, surpassing both Facebook and Twitter. For social media posting, it’s a no-brainer – it’s standard dimension images is geared for smart phones and publishing to Facebook feeds, and it’s interface is very simple.

Simplicity comes with a price, however. The functionality for composing a photo is limited. The latest version has added a feature for adjusting focus and lighting, but this is bundled and can’t be modified separately (to adjust, place your finger on the screen for the portion of the screen you’d like to use for focusing and light adjustment). There is a useful grid feature that will allow you to compose your image (for more on the Rule of Thirds and its effect in composing a good photo, please refer to this Wikipedia article).

After taking the image, there is little post-editing within the Instagram app save for rotating the images, adding a blur, and Instagram’s most famous feature, the filters, which are primarily designed to mimic effects of older photographs – i.e. mimic the blemishes or overexposures common with instamatic cameras, which the app was meant to mimic. These do add color and dimension to your photos, but please remember that applying a filter will also destroy some of the pixel data from the original photo. Be sure int he setting for the app to select the Save Original Photo option, which will save a copy of the original photo to your phone’s camera roll.

Camera AwesomeCamera Awesome

Free application for ioS and Android; upgrades for more filters cost between 1.99 and 8.99

If Instagram is an economy car, Camera Awesome is a luxury sedan. This app has a ton of features that allow for much more precise manipulation of the photo and video capabilities of your phone, both during the taking of the images and after.

You can see already from the app window we’ve got a lot more features than in Instagram. The top pull out menu allows for a grid overlay for composing to the Rule of Thirds, but also several other options, including the Golden Ratio.

Camera AwesomeA Horizon Level will allow for adjusting for a flat horizon (that indicator would glow green when the image is level). Focus and Exposure can be indepedently modified (it requires touching and holding down the combined focus and exposure tool until it breaks up into two separate tools).

From the menu at the bottom of the screen, there are several options for controlling the shutter for the camera:

  • Normal Shutter
  • Big button (a photo can be taken clicking anywhere on the phone screen)
  • Image Stabilization Mode
  • Fast burst
  • Slow Burst
  • Timed intervals
  • Single timed image

After taking the image, there are tools for modifying the temperature, color balance (called Awesomizer), and contrast in the image. Camera Awesome also provided several dozen filters for free, and around a hundred in collectible priced sets. These filters can be applied in group presets, or in separate steps (filter / texture/ frames). These can get a little crazy, and can be more destructive than Instagram filters, so be sure to select save originals in the app settings here as well. However, if you need to mimic the effect of an old image or are looking for something to use as the background for a text or quote image like you see on Pinterest, these are handy tools to have.

Blux Camera AppBlux Pro

.99 for basic, 2.99 for professional

Blux Camera is even more complex. I admit, I haven’t had a chance to work with this one as much as I’d like, but if you’re really wanting to set up a shot, it can’t be beat,as it allows you to do apply your filters and adjustments in real time as you are composing the shot.
Blux Camera hides most of the tools in swipe out menus from every side of the screen.

  • Swiping from left to right reveals saturation, contrast, brightness and sharpness controls. You can also select to have a histogram on screenfor level adjusting.
  • Swiping from right to left reveals a series of filters and presets that affect color temperature, white balance, and vignetting effects. Blux provides presets for macro, food, and portrait photography as well as for specific weather conditions. There’s also an option for adjusting for backlight, which is a often a real problem when working with smart phones.
  • Swiping from top to bottom brings up the settings for the app, including aspect ratios for the images taken.
  • Swiping from bottom to top reveals the app’s camera roll and sharing options to send the images to various social media platforms. (Note: Blux Pro does not automatically push out images to the Camera Roll – they have to be exported to the roll in order to download them off your camera).

Blux includes a feature called PEAR. If enabled, it captures data about the current location, checks local weather conditions via the internet, and suggests a combination of filters and presets in order to get the best photo.

Like Camera Awesome, Blux provides Rule of Three guidelines and artificial horizon tools, but ups the ante with a couple of tilt shift effects.

Editing Apps

Adobe PhotoShop ExpressAdobe Photoshop Express

Adobe Photoshop Express provides some of the basic functions of this image editing program. You can adjust the hue, brightness, and white balance of images and apply some preset filters. In addition there is a handy red eye  removal tool for your candid images.

Over App


Basic Version is Free; expanded version with more fonts is $1.99  

Over is a image processing tool for overlaying text and simple graphics over images. The basic version comes with a library of around twenty fonts. The editing tools allow you to size, weight, color. alignment and positioning of the text. Over allows you to create multiple layers to an image, so you can build more complex designs that include multiple fonts and elements. Over is a terrific tool for turning an image into a quick inspirational message to be included in a post, Instagram or Pinterest feed.

Camera Awesome Filters

More Options

These are just a few of the tools I use, but there are many, many more you might want to test and try out to see what works best for your needs. Brett Passmore of the University of Central Arkansas and Carrie Phillips of Arkansas Tech University have a comprehensive list of must-have iPhone video and photo apps on their website – go check them out.

About the Author


Jeffrey Stevens

Jeff Stevens is the Assistant Web Manager for UF Health Web Services. He focuses on user experience, information architecture, content strategy, and usability.

Read all articles by Jeffrey Stevens