6 Tips for Making Awesome Instagram Reels

A little over a month ago, I shared a blog post about my initial experience with Instagram Reels.  Since I wrote that post, I've shared fifteen more Reels, and gained around 2,000 new Instagram followers mainly off the back of those posts.

All this progress has meant that I've gained some new insights and best practices about Instagram's newest feature. So today, I thought I'd share some of my tips for making awesome Instagram Reels!

If you're not really sure what Reels are, why they're great for bookstagrammers, or what bookish content you can make with them, check out my original post about Reels.

Ready to get creating? Let's go!

1. Be Aware of the Margins

Honestly, I think this might be the number one thing people should know before attempting to make a Reel. When you post a video to Reels, it tends to cut off the edges a little bit. Furthermore, the controls on the top and bottom of the screen will partially obscure anything you put there.

I can't tell you how many times I've been watching a Reel and not been able to see the titles/captions because they're right behind the like and share buttons!

Lesson learned: make sure your text, captions, etc. are safely in the main part of the frame.

If you share your Reels to your feed (and I highly recommend you do), another consideration is that Instagram cuts off a large swathe of the top and bottom of the video when people are viewing it on your feed. Of course, many of them will tap the Reel to see it full screen anyway, but it's a bonus if you can get all or most of your text inside that frame.

Here are a couple of screenshots of the same Reel when viewed normally and when viewed on my feed. As you can see, I positioned the text and captions to be easily visible either way.

2. Phone Tripods Are a Godsend

Okay, so you don't need a phone tripod to make great Reels, but it makes things a lot easier and gives the video a more professional feel. They're relatively cheap, too -- mine was around $20.

If you want to do cool transitions, though, I would consider a phone tripod a necessity. To make the transition look good, your phone camera has to stay perfectly still, and a tripod is pretty much the only way of ensuring that.

3. Always Save a Backup of Your Drafts

I'm gonna be honest: Instagram Reels are a new feature, and they can be pretty buggy at times. Even once you have a Reel saved to your drafts, stuff can go wrong with them. I've been burned more than once :/

Thus, whenever you finish a Reel and you're happy with how it looks, download it to your phone using Instagram's "save" feature. It won't save with audio, but you can always add that back in if you have to re-upload it to Reels.

So where's the save button? Whenever you finish filming a video, or when you hit "Edit" on a draft, you'll get this screen. The save button is indicated by the red arrow in this screenshot:

4. Post Reels to Your Feed ... With Covers!

As I mentioned above, I highly recommend sharing your Reels to your feed. It just makes it so much easier for people to find them. If you want the free exposure, it's a no-brainer in my opinion.

But what if you have a super pretty, carefully-coordinated feed? No worries -- just add a cover that matches the rest of your feed!

Remember, the aspect ratio for Reels is 16:9, not 4:3 like most phone cameras shoot by default. If the positioning of your props and stuff is super important for your feed's theme (like it is for mine), be sure to switch to a 16:9 aspect ratio for taking your cover photos so you know exactly what it will look like on Instagram.

5. Add Captions!

Reels makes adding text to your videos super easy, so I advise adding subtitles to all your Reels if they involve speaking. Aside from the fact that it makes your videos more accessible, most people watch videos on their phone with the sound off, so subtitles are a must.

Some people even add captions for the lyrics to the background music, but that's really up to you if you think it makes the frame too cluttered and confusing. The places where captions are especially needed are when someone is speaking or lip synching along to a song or audio clip.

6. A Note About Comedy on Reels

People can make Reels about all sorts of things, but in my experience, many of the most popular Reels (and TikToks) are funny, comedy-style ones. As such, a LOT of people (including me) try to make them.

I'm not going to pretend to be some kind of comedy expert, but I've gotten some great responses from some of my Reels (and underwhelming responses from others), so I've learned some best practices over the past month or so.

  • If a LOT of people are making the exact same joke, either steer clear or put your own spin on it.
  • Keep it simple -- don't jam tons of information into a short space of time. My general rule of thumb is that if you have more than one title visible in the frame at a time (not including the subtitles), seriously consider whether or not you can simplify it.
  • Make sure the joke makes sense to people who aren't you. This seems intuitive, but I've seen a lot of Reels that were supposed to be funny and ended up making me go, "huh?"
  • At their core, Reels are often memes, just with audio instead of a picture. If you've ever made your own version of a meme, you already know how to make a hilarious Reel!

Final Thoughts

Instagram Reels are still relatively new, so it's possible their shine will wear off in a matter of time. For now, though, the algorithm still seems to be promoting them like crazy. If you're thinking about jumping on the Reels train, I hope these tips help you make some awesome videos!

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