Click here for the TLDR. If you want to understand why, keep reading!
Ahhhh, exporting. Nothing gets people quite as confused as the export dialog box in Adobe Lightroom Classic. There are so many dropdowns, checkmarks, text boxes, and options. Most people just skip over the entire thing and just click the nice big “Export” button down at the bottom without putting much thought into it.
Unfortunately, that can make a photographer’s images look quite different on Instagram than what they saw in Lightroom Classic.
In this article I want to teach you not just how, but why we set our Lightroom Classic settings the way we do when exporting for Instagram. Let’s dive in!
**Note: this article is going to focus on Lightroom Classic; if you are looking for the instructions for Lightroom (cloud, non-classic version), click here. **
First, we need to decide where on Instagram we are trying to post content. Feed posts have very different export requirements than stories / reels. The main difference between the two is something called an Aspect Ratio.
An aspect ratio is simply the comparison between a photo’s width and height. For example, a square image would have an aspect ratio of 1:1, a vertical image from most DSLR or Mirrorless cameras would have an aspect of 2:3 (width of 2, height of 3) and horizontal would have an aspect of 3:2 (width of 3, height of 2).
Instagram Feed posts need to have an aspect between 1.91:1 (the most “panoramic” option) and 4:5 (the most vertical option).
Instagram Stories need to have an aspect ratio of 9:19 (vertical).
Many of our common photographic aspects fall into this range, such as:
If the aspect ratio of the image you want to upload to the Instagram isn’t in the range of 1.91:1 – 4:5 (for feed posts), or 9:16 (for story posts), that image must be cropped. Because of this, our first step is to use the crop tool in Lightroom Classic to ensure that our image aspect ratio will be accepted and uncropped by Instagram upon upload.
In Lightroom Classic, we can set our aspect ratio by locking the small padlock in the Crop tool options and choosing a ratio from the dropdown menu. You can also set up your own custom aspect like 1.91:1 if you want to see just how panoramic of a horizontal image Instagram will allow. I also like to use 4:5 to see just how vertical I can make an image without any extra forced cropping from Instagram.
**Important: Instagram will let you upload an image of any aspect ratio; it will just automatically crop those images that don’t fit between 1.91:1 and 4:5 (for feed) or 9:16 (for stories)**
You might also find it useful to make a Virtual Copy of the image you are cropping for Instagram to allow you to keep the uncropped version as a separate file in Lightroom. You can do this by right clicking on the image in the Grid video (“G” on the keyboard) and choosing “Create Virtual Copy.” That second file can now be edited and cropped without affecting the other file.
Now that we have our image properly cropped, let’s click the Export button and look at our options.
This step is one of the most important, but it’s also one of those things that I rarely change. I prefer to always export to my Desktop. From there I’m able to easily access my files, do what I want to do with them, then delete them.
**One key thing to remember is that all exported images are copies of the originals in your Lightroom Classic catalog. Because of this, you are always able to delete the exported images after they’ve served their purpose without causing trouble inside your Lightroom Classic catalog.**
To set this up, ensure that the “Export To” at the top is set to go to a “Hard Drive.” This doesn’t just mean the internal or external hard drive. This applies to all devices attached to the computer, both internal and external. If you want files on the Desktop, that’s technically a location on the internal hard drive so that’s the option we want to choose.
Once that’s set, move down to the “Export Location” section, and set “Export To” to Desktop. From here, I would recommend checking “Put in Subfolder” and naming it “Images for Instagram” or something similar. This will make it much easier for you to find and delete these images when you are done with them.
When exporting for Instagram I prefer to not rename on export. Simply uncheck the “Rename To:” checkbox and you’ll be all set. This can be a useful feature when exporting images for a client, but in the case of Instagram I think it adds unnecessary complexity. Nobody can see the filename on Instagram.
Skip it. If you are trying to make a Reel to post to Instagram, use something like Adobe Premiere Pro, not Lightroom Classic.
THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT STEP!
Let’s start with “Image Format.” This is the most important step of the most important step. Set this to JPEG for Instagram export (stories or feed posts).
The next option in the File Settings box is “Color Space.” We have a few options here. For Instagram export, always use sRGB, because it is the color space that Instagram uses. Setting this to any of the other settings will cause the colors in Lightroom Classic to look very different than the colors you see once the image is uploaded to Instagram.
The quality slider should also be set to 100 with the “Limit File Size To:” box unchecked. Quality is the level of compression you want to apply to the image. One thing I need to say right away is that quality does not affect the image size (image dimensions in pixels); it does, however, affect the file size (amount of space the image takes up on your hard drive). More compression (lower quality) is going to give you a smaller file size – but at the cost of image quality. Over-compression is not very fun to look at! It will look like “banding”, i.e., non-smoothness or even jagged edges where there should be smooth gradations of tones.
To summarize this section, use JPEG, sRGB, and a quality of 100 with “Limit File Size To” unchecked.
Every image you see has a width and height measured in pixels. This size determines what’s possible for that file. If you are hoping to print something big, you need way more pixels than if you are just planning to email the image to a friend or client. This is where we make that determination.
This one is simple. Instagram has a maximum pixel width of 1080, so I would recommend turning on “Resize to Fit:” and setting it to “Width & Height.”
Next, set the “W:” to 1080 and the “H:” to 1920 pixels. It’s important to pause here and fully understand what we are doing. We learned earlier that Instagram can only accept certain aspect ratios for feed and story posts (1.91:1 for horizontal feed, 4:5 for vertical feed, and 9:16 for stories). The one constant is that Instagram likes the width of any of these posts to be 1080 pixels.
By setting the width and height to 1080 x 1920, we are telling Lightroom Classic to keep our images as large as possible within those constraints. Lightroom Classic will never stretch our images on export, instead it will make them as large as possible while still fitting those constraints. Here are a couple of examples.
Example 1: We crop an image to a 4:5 aspect ratio to make the most vertical feed post we can.
When we export this 4:5 aspect ratio image with the Image Sizing set to 1080 x 1920px, we will get an exported image with the pixel dimensions of 1080 x 1350px, or as large as Lightroom Classic can make it without any stretching, while still keeping it smaller than 1080 x 1920.
Example 2: we crop an image to a 1.91:1 aspect ratio to make the most horizontal feed post we can.
When we export this 1.91:1 aspect ratio image with the Image Sizing set to 1080 x 1920px we will get an exported image with the pixel dimensions of 1080 x 565px, or as large as Lightroom Classic can make it without any stretching, while still keeping it smaller than 1080 x 1920.
Example 3: we crop an image to a 1:1 aspect ratio.
When we export this 1:1 aspect ratio image with the Image Sizing set to 1080 x 1920px, we will get an exported image with the pixel dimensions of 1080 x 1080px, or as large as Lightroom Classic can make it without any stretching, while still keeping it smaller than 1080 x 1920.
This allows us to “set and forget” these settings and not have to worry about changing them regardless of whether we are exporting horizontal, vertical, or square images.
Feel free to check “Don’t Enlarge,” although it will rarely have an effect unless you have a very low resolution camera and/or do significant cropping to your images.
As for Resolution, it doesn’t matter. Since we are exporting for a screen display, we can completely disregard this setting. Resolution allows us to set a scaling factor between pixels and inches and is sometimes useful for printing. In this case, leave it at the default of 300 and call it a day. In fact it could be set to 1, 100, 1000, or anything else and it wouldn’t make a difference at all.
To summarize this section, turn on “Resize to Fit:,” set the Width and Height to 1080 and 1920 pixels respectively, check “Don’t Enlarge,” and leave the Resolution at the default value.
This one is easy. Sharpening will help make your images look a bit crisper. This won’t help you if you took a blurry image, but it will help make a sharp image look a bit sharper.
I recommend turning it on and setting it to “Sharpen For: Screen” with an amount of “Low.”
This will allow Lightroom Classic to apply a bit of extra sharpening on Export giving your images a bit more pop and help make up for any blurriness from viewing it on a low pixel density phone screen.
This setting is only important if you want to limit the information that goes with the image. Metadata is the information about your images that is not the actual colored pixel information. Examples of metadata info include shutter speed, aperture, capture date, creator, and a lot more!
Lightroom gives you the option to strip some of the metadata from the files on export. For example, if the location where an image was taken is in the metadata, you might want to strip that from the files before you upload them to the web.
I usually choose “Copyright Only.” (Side note: You can input the copyright information under the IPTC section of the metadata of your file, which you can find and change in the Library module righthand panel.)
Also, if you just want to remove location information, there is a checkbox for specifically that information. You may choose to include all metadata except for location! Or you might not need to limit at all!
Not much to see or do here. Just set it to “Do Nothing” and move along. You can configure Lightroom to do things after it’s done with the exporting process. I’ve never really seen a use for this unless you are a very advanced Lightroom user with some niche situation.
Make a Preset
When you have everything set up the way you want it, save your work! Click the “Add” button in the lower left corner and save your settings as a preset. That way you can access them more quickly in the future. I have a lot of export presets in my main Lightroom catalog!
TLDR Export Settings
|Cropped Aspect Ratio|
|Instagram Stories:||9:16 Aspect Ratio|
|Instagram Feed:||Between 1.91:1 and 4:5 Aspect Ratio|
|Export To:||Specific Folder|
|Folder:||Desktop in a subfolder called “Images for Instagram|
|Limit File Size:||Unchecked|
|Resize to Fit:||Checked and set to “Width and Height”|
|Sharpen For:||Checked and set to “Screen”|
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