Tonje Lilleås

Instagram Reels – how to make cinematic edits

Instagram released their TikTok competitor earlier this year: Instagram Reels. But what is Instagram Reels? Why should you use it? How should you use it? And is it as simple as copying your recipes from TikTok posts?

What is Instagram Reels?

When Instagram launched Instagram Reels in august 2020, there’s no doubt it was a response to the extreme popularity of TikTok. Instagram needed to provide an alternative to bring back users and creators to their platform. We’ve seen Instagram do the same thing with Stories (vs. Snapchat) and IGTV (YouTube).

Instagram Reels is in short a way for users to create short video edits to share with both their followers, and on the Explore page to attract new followers. The video edits can be up to 30 seconds long (started with a 15 second limit), and can either be recorded and edited directly in the app or uploaded from your camera roll.

In the app you’re offered several different tools to make your edit more interesting; such as adding music, text, graphic elements, filters and more. When you’ve finished an edit you can upload it to both your Reels feed (a dedicated feed in your profile) and your general feed. If you have a public profile, you can also end up on the Explore page, making Instagram Reels an actual possibility of being presented to a new audience in Instagram. As a newer creator og a creator with a smaller following this is a very valuable trait, as getting “discovered” on Instagram is otherwise hard these days.

Why should you use Instagram Reels?

And this last point is really important in answering why you should use Instagram Reels. Being discovered and growing organically in Instagram has been challenging for a while. Smaller creators are drowned and seldom reach the Explore page in Instagram. And to be discovered you need to show up on the Explore page. Instagram Reels makes it possible.

Right now Instagram favors Reels content. Several creators report significant growth in their following after having started to post on Instagram Reels. If your goal is to grow a following, now is the time to get on the Instagram Reels train.

Likewise if you like me don’t necessarily chase followers, but rather just want more people to see what you create, now is the time to start posting Reels. Especially if you’re, like me, already into the whole videography thing. Instagram Reels is a new place for people to see what you create. And you’ll be pushed forward by Instagram as they try to make people go from consuming TikToks to consuming Reels.

How should you use Instagram Reels?

Now you might be thinking “Sweet, I’ve got a lot of popular TikToks, let’s copy and paste”. However tempting, I encourage you to stop and think a bit about what the difference between Instagram and TikTok is.

Instagram is oversaturated with amazing photos and cinematic videos already. What’s popular among Instagram users isn’t necessarily the skits and trends that’s been made so popular on TikTok. With highly curated feeds and a focus on quality, it’s not very likely that random dance challenges will hit it off on Instagram Reels; at least that’s what I think.

I think Instagram Reels will be the perfect platform for higher quality content that brings some kind of value to those who watch; education, inspiration, motivation, entertainment and all of the above. Somewhat like YouTube or IGTV, but in a very much shorter format.

View this post on Instagram

I’m so ready for the weekend and it’s only Wednesday! Just really longing to get outside when it’s not dark out and try to capture some images. That’s pretty much my plan for this weekend. That and celebrating Halloween and playing with the kids. But first a couple of crazy work days🖖 #exploremore #explorelocally #exploretocreate #fallvibes #fall2020 #autumnvibes #autumncolours #liveterbestute #utno #utpåtur #mittnorge #norwaynature #nordicliving #nordicnature #canonnordic #canonstories #liveforthestory #hikersofinstagram #hikemore #goldenlight #getoutsidemore #getoutstayout #outdoorlife #adventurevisuals #pmgridchallenge #pixelandlens #mountainsarecalling #lakeside #15

A post shared by Tonje Lilleås (@tonjelilleaasphotography) on


Defining your niche and audience

When choosing how you should use Instagram Reels, here’s a few things to think about

  • What is my niche on Instagram today?
  • Who are my followers, what are they interested in?
  • How can I bring value to my followers through Instagram Reels?

As an outdoor photographer and videographer, I have a pretty defined niche. I also consider family adventures, green lifestyle and nordic lifestyle as some of the pilars of my niche. I know that a lot of my followers today are people that know me, or that have similar interests and lifestyle to me. The people I want to reach through Instagram Reels are pretty much the same; outdoorsy, creative and/or adventurous people. Based on this I know what I want to do with my Instagram Reels; I want to make cinematic edits to inspire people to get outside as well as educational content sharing tips on outdoor lifestyle and content creation.

If you need more tips on what to create for your niche, try to check out some popular hashtags for your niche and see what kind of Reels people are making. However do make sure you don’t copy others, make your own twist on it. It’s only when you are authentic that people will find it interesting to follow you in the long run.

Making sure you’re visible

Posting Instagram Reels doesn’t make you magically show up on the Explore page. You have to be wise about your posts.

  • Post at the right time: days and hours matters
  • Quantity is important, you can’t post once a month
  • Use good and enough hashtags
  • Write proper captions
  • Post to your feed as well as to Reels

When the right time to post is differs a bit. Analyze your followers and what days you’ve posted your most popular posts if you can. The best times to post is 11AM, 2PM, 6PM and 8PM, so make sure you try to stick to posting around those times.

I’m all about high quality content. But you have to have both quality and quantity if your goal is to be featured on Instagram Reels. I’m not going to give you a number, but post as often and consistent as possible.

Good hashtags for instagram Reels when you have a smaller following are the hashtags with 50K-500K posts. You can off course post bigger hashtags, but it’s more likely that you drown then. Also make sure they have a featured Reels position.

Don’t put a few emojis as your caption. It helps to put a bit of effort into your caption, as this shows that you’re a bit more serious about the stuff you’re making.

How do you make content for Instagram Reels?

As mentioned there’s two ways of making content for Instagram Reels; either in the Instagram app itself or by uploading content made outside the app.

Making a Reel in the Instagram app

First select Reels at the bottom of your Instagram camera. This will provide you with several tools to help you create your reel such as recording video, adding audio, AR-effects and more. You record by holding down the record button, and you can record all at once or one clip at a time. It’s also possible to use both clips that you record and uploaded clips in the same Reel.

You can choose how long you want your Reel to be, with a maximum of 30 seconds. Once your Reel is recorded you can add music and effects to your liking. Music can also be played while recording the video for the Reel if you prefer that. There’s even a possibility to set a timer and record hands free, or using the align tool to line up objects from your previous clip before recording your next. What can I say; it’s just to get creative.

In my opinion making a Reel directly in the app is a way that resembles making a TikTok more than anything. And if your niche suits that kind of content, go for it!

Making a Reel and uploading it to Instagram Reels

This is how I make my Reels:

  1. I brainstorm ideas for the Reel I want to make
  2. After deciding on the idea I want to move forward with I make a shotlist
  3. I film my shots using the setup needed to get them (here’s a link to a list of my gear)
  4. Editing happens in Final Cut Pro X
  5. I export my edit to my phone and upload it to Reels

Pretty straight forward workflow.

I find all my music on Musicbed. However it’s totally possible to find a song in Instagram Reels first. Just download it in for example iTunes, add it to the timeline, edit your video and delete the music before you export. Once you upload your edit to Reels, simply add the song in Reels again. Make sure you align the music to the edit if you choose to do it this way.

Settings for exporting for Instagram Reels are 1080×1920 with 24fps. Now to achieve best quality for these videos you have to either shoot vertically (if you shoot at 1080p) or you have to shoot at 2.7K or 4K if you choose to shoot horizontally. As you might see if you check out my gear list, you’ll see that my only option is to shoot 1080p for wide shots when using a gimbal. This results in my videos being a bit soft at the moment, and I’m hoping to be able to acquire some gear that allows me to shoot at 4K or in vertical mode with the gimbal at some point.

How to make cinematic edits for Instagram Reels

There’s no reason your Reels can’t be as high quality as anything else you make, and in order for that to happen you should make your Reels the way you make your other content. Some time ago I made a post on “How to tell a story in 15 seconds” and I think a lot of that’s useful when thinking about how you can make a good Reel as well. Also thinking about how you film your B-roll can be helpful and if you’re new to that I urge you to check out my post on B-roll for beginners.

I think the most important thing to make cinematic edits for Instagram Reels is to think about a Reel just like any other bigger video project.

  • Make a shotlist and stick to it.
  • Vary your angles, be creative to show angles we don’t see as often. But don’t overdo it.
  • Focus on smooth footage.
  • Keep motion in the same or at least few directions throughout the edit.
  • Don’t overuse slow-motion, but use it right and when it adds to the edit.
  • Kill your darlings, only what’s necessary to tell a story should be left in.
  • Focus on storytelling – cinematic does not just mean slow motion, transitions and color grading.
  • Less is most likely more – don’t overdo it with fancy transitions.
  • Focus on pacing, creating a mood in your edit that suits both the footage and the sound/music you use. Do not always cut to the beat.
  • Keep colors somewhat natural, and focus especially on natural skin tones.

If you keep these bullet points in mind I think you’ll be well on your way to a cinematic edit.

Explore to create for Instagram Reels

Now this was a long ass post. But I hope it was somewhat valuable and made you want to get out and up your Instagram Reels game. I think the most important thing is to create something that is uniquely yours and that show authenticity, as that’s the only thing you’ll be able to keep up with in the long run. Or the most important thing is to have fun creating. So get out there and explore to create for Instagram Reels. Remember there’s always more to explore locally and I can’t wait to see what you all create. Leave your Instagram handle in the comments, and I’ll be sure to check it out.



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