13 Tools To Help You Consistently Produce Unique, Effective Visual Content
I will never call myself a graphic designer. Or a photographer. Or a videographer.
I didn’t go to school for media or have a day job that equipped me to produce content professionally.The pros spend thousands of hours perfecting those skill sets, and I will never seek to minimize the importance of their work.
That being said, I’ve been able to create a lot of opportunities for myself due to the content that I share on social media. I value being able to capture moments to the best of my ability, whether I have a photographer or videographer with me, or not.
I pay for and professional photoshoots sometimes. Maybe I’ll book studio time for my next brand campaign. Maybe I’ll hire a videographer to get footage of the party I’m throwing next week. That’s not always how things unfold, though. Being able to document things on the fly goes a long way. You don't have to use every single latest program or app to be a great content creator - you just need to find a system that works for you.
This is not the “definitive” must-have list of apps and programs. This is not a list of apps that I’m signed up to market as an affiliate partner. These are the tools and processes that I recommend to friends, family, and clients - because they work for me. I hope they help you, too.
Let’s get into it.
"You don't have to use every single latest program or app to be a great content creator - you just need to find a system that works for you."
1. UNUM: for planning your Instagram grid
Instagram is a visual centric platform. Powerful images that generate strong reactions and drive engagement take center stage. Another thing to consider: the overall impression that someone gets when looking over your profile for the first time. Before someone even clicks on one of your pictures, what will their split second assessment of your grid communicate to them?
UNUM allows you to see how your grid will look before you post those new pictures you took. You can move images around until you find the sequence that looks the best to you. Additionally, you can temporarily delete images that you’ve already posted to see how your feed would look without them.
2. Snapseed: for quick photo edits.
There are a lot of photo editing apps in the world. Snapseed is my favorite because it’s free, easy to learn, and consistently improved upon. It’s a google product that lets you edit intuitively. What you see is literally what you get, as you can play around with parameters such as contrast, exposure, sharpness, shadows, and warmth in real time with the swipe of a finger.
3. Afterlight: for tweaking pictures
Afterlight is one of the newest additions to my personal arsenal. I’m particularly fond of its capabilities in the realm of color overlays. What does this actually mean? You’re covering an image with a semi-transparent colored box. This semi-transparent box can give the picture that you just shot on your iPhone and edited with snapseed a whole new feel.
4. HUJI: for that cool “retro” photo effect
If you’ve been trying to figure out how all of your friends get that cool “retro” effect on their pictures, you’ve come to the right place. I don’t recommend becoming one of the people who uses this app for every single thing that they post, but it can be a cool way to add some more variety or character to your feed or posts. You can see an example of how the app works in the shots below. The first was shot with my iPhone camera, while the second was shot with the app.
5. Pic Collage: to combine multiple pictures
I love using Pic Collage to share screenshots of articles I’m featured in without making my grid look sloppy. Don’t assume that people are going to click on all of your posts when they visit your profile. Sometimes, all that matters is what they see as they scroll. When I use Pic Collage, I do so with this in mind.
Check out the before and after versions of my Black Enterprise feature below. I did not need the author byline or social media sharing buttons featured on my IG grid. I did need a clean square that shows people the publication byline, article title, and my picture. Those are the important elements that I needed to highlight visually. Of course, I still credited the author, Lydia, in the caption, and offered a lot more context about how the article came to be.
Additionally, I use Pic Collage to turn tweets into visual content as I see fit. Check out tip #13 if you want to see where I found these backgrounds.
6. iMovie: to edit and sequence video clips effectively
The difference between a video that somebody watches from start to finish and a video that someone swipes past in the first 20 seconds? Sometimes, it’s all in the sequencing. Peoples’ attention spans are shorter than ever. If your video starts with choppy footage that takes 20 seconds to generate any sort of emotional impact, you probably already lost the vast majority of your audience.
iMovie allows me to take a bunch of footage from my iPhone and other sources, chop it up, and create a coherent, attention-grabbing final product. It won’t give you nearly the array of options that come with Adobe Premiere or After Effects, but that’s not always a necessity for creating content that serves a specific purpose. About 35% of my Ari Lennox video interview was shot on my iPhone. The other 65% or so was filmed by a professional videographer. The entire project was edited by yours truly in good old iMovie.
7. Canva: to create designs and format document templates without opening Adobe Suite
One of my favorite parts about Canva is that they offer pre-formatted layout options with fitting dimensions for Facebook profile cover images, postcards, resumes, powerpoint presentations, IG stories posts, and much more. Below, you can see a couple of slides from a social media workshop that I conducted a few months ago. Thankfully, creating my slide deck was the easy part.
8. Typito: TO MAKE EASY VIDEO EDITS, CAPTIONS, AND ANIMATIONS
I’m frequently amazed at how difficult it can be to make simple modifications to video files. I spent a few hours trying to figure out the best way to add permanent closed captions to a clip I wanted to share from a recent keynote speech that I delivered. I wanted to make the clip more accessible, so that if people were scrolling the timeline but couldn’t hear the audio, they could still potentially get some value from the clip.
Eventually, I stumbled onto Typito. It’s a relatively new post-production tool for dummies such as myself. You can stitch together an assortment of titles, subcaptions, special effects, and much more with relative ease. I used it to add subtitles to the clip below.
Been job-free for two years as of yesterday. I’ve been *actively* figuring things out on my own since then. Letting go of comfort zones has been THE most consistent element of this period in my life, so it’s only right that I share this clip from my very first keynote speech today. I’m not a naturally confident public speaker, but I’ve been forcing myself to take (almost) every opportunity that comes my way because I believe in my ability to improve. I believe it’s important to tell my story - especially the low points. That was a focal point of this speech - the topic was “finding the silver lining in your darkest moments.” Thank you @CassondraLenoir and the entire @PassionIsPursuit team for this opportunity ✊🏾
9 Boomerang: captivating video loops - whether you’re on Instagram or not
A lot of us know that Boomerang is a great way to keep things interesting on IG stories. A somewhat lesser known fact: there is a standalone Boomerang app that allows you to create the same looped content without ever opening up Instagram.
If you’re just not into Instagram, that’s cool. Don’t feel like opening up the app today? That’s cool, too. Don’t have time to open Instagram, go to IG stories, and swipe to find the Boomerang feature? Gotcha. The Boomerang app lets you create the same attention-grabbing effect whenever you see fit.
10. Hyperlapse: to create time lapse videos for emotional or contextual impact
Do you have a tripod for your iPhone, or a friend with hands? Hyperlapse might be for you. If you’ve ever wanted to offer people an abbreviated version of a longer visual experience, consider incorporating time lapse videos into your social content.
Foot Locker did a great job with this in the unboxing video of the Nike Kobe 9 'Bright Mango' below. Seeing pictures of shoes is enticing, but this video really reminds you how amazing it feels to walk into a store and try on shoes for yourself. Think about how to re-create experiences that sell, convey impactful emotions, or convert on social media.
11. HypeType: to create animated text videos
You ever look at someone’s IG story and see a bunch of cool special effects that you assume would take hours to recreate? You might be right. It’s possible that they paid an illustrator to spice things up, or learned how to create the illustration themself with the help of Adobe Suite. Or, they might have just used HypeType. This app is a great tool for creating visually enticing word art. The typography options on IG stories are cool, but limited. If you want something a bit more polished and unique, check this app out.
I haven’t used this app a lot yet, personally, but I will soon. I almost shared this video I made using a quote from Beyoncé’s Vogue article last week, but never got around to it.
12. Archillect: to find attention-grabbing, aesthetically pleasing background imagery
Ok, so boom. Let’s get super futuristic right quick. Let’s talk about Archillect. Archillect is a “synthetic intelligence made to find and share inspiring visuals over social media channels. She is a living inspiration archive. She is a digital muse.” To translate, Archillect consistently curates some of the coolest, most attention-grabbing imagery that the internet has to offer. Whether you follow @archillect on Twitter, check out archillect.com, or utilize the term to make your image searches more targeted, the benefits are apparent.
I like to use google and pair archillect with specific colors that I have in mind so that I can quickly find what I’m looking for. For example, you can look at the screenshots below to see the difference between searching “red” and “archillect red” on google image search. You better believe I’m using the second option.
13. GIPHY: to create your own gifs and convert gifs into videos for Instagram
A lot of us probably know about GIPHY at this point. It’s the premiere search engine for Gifs. If you follow any of their social feeds, you see how quickly they capture moments from important events and moments for the sake of the people. An underexplored aspect of GIPHY is its ability to create new gifs and convert gifs into mp4 format.
You can upload any video to GIPHY, trim it, and turn it into a gif in about 45 seconds, assuming your internet connection is sturdy. That’s right - you can turn any moment captured on video into a gif with a few mouse clicks. On the flip side, there are advantages to being able to turn gifs into videos.
I wish that Instagram already was gif-compatible. In my humble opinion, we should already be able to upload gifs to our Instagram feed, or IG stories, as we see fit. That’s not the case, though. We can only upload pictures or videos. GIPHY offers an easy workaround. As seen in the screenshot below, every time you upload a gif to their platform, it offers you the opportunity to download the MP4 file as well.
Bonus Tip: if the MP4 file is less than 3 seconds long, you’ll need to duplicate it a few times before uploading to Instagram. I recommend iMovie as a quick way to do so, but you already knew that.
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