8 Tips From a Pro for Growing a DC Instagram Following

In order for Holly Pan to grow her Instagram following to over 38,000 in a year and eight months, she’s had to be strategic about everything she posts. A mother of two with past experience as a business analyst, Pan takes still life photos herself and snaps some of her shots with a selfie stick—while others are taken by her husband, who she coaches through each shot.

Pan spends around 50 or 60 hours a week working on her blog, Petite Flower Presents and her Instagram feed, but even if you’re just a casual ‘grammer who wants to grow their following, her tips below apply.

Play Nice With Others

#tbt I've worn this #outfit again, certainly want to relive this moment again, too! ??#girlfriends #NYFW15 ? @pablocastillogu

A photo posted by Holly | 小花 (@petiteflowerpresents) on

“I always reply to comments on my posts and I’d go to that person’s page to return favors,” says Pan. “One thing I do that I think helps a lot is making genuine comments about other’s posts. I’d read their captions first and then comment with something specific. This usually will encourage others to reply and comment more on my feed, and just like in any social environment, a step further from small talks often lead to better conversations and friendship.”

Find Good Backdrops

This strange weather just gave me a perfect excuse to take this sweater vest out for a spin. #ilovemrmittens ? @christie_ferrari

A photo posted by Holly | 小花 (@petiteflowerpresents) on

“My recent favorite spot is City Center, the building complex is modern, streets around it are clean with less traffic, perfect for #OOTD,” says Pan. “I love La Colombe near Chinatown: The shop decor is very Instagram friendly, the plate setting are super pretty, good latte art, and the coffee is not bad at all.”

…Even in Unexpected Places

Did you stop & smell, ehh, in my case, look at, the ??? today? Wish you a good night & a #beautiful weekend ahead! ???

A photo posted by Holly | 小花 (@petiteflowerpresents) on

“I love Whole Foods,” says Pan. “It is the source of all my flower shots! I either take them in the store or buy the flowers there and take the pics at home.”

Don’t Do All Your Editing in the App

“Most of the time, I use Lightroom on a computer to process images but I also use Instagram’s own tools to adjust a few attributes—exposure, contrast, etc.—before posting,” says Pan.

You Don’t Have to Eat It All

Afternoon delight ? #yumyumyum

A photo posted by Holly | 小花 (@petiteflowerpresents) on

“I personally love the colorful appearance of macarons but I can’t handle that much sugar, so I buy them, take pics and let my sons have them later,” says Pan.

Mix It Up

“There is no fixed formula on mixing different types of posts. Some (very successful) bloggers only do outfit posts, even from one angle. Some, like me, would prefer a variety,” says Pan. “I post things other than clothes because 1) I get bored looking at just fashion, while food and the the like would give a little visual break now and then; 2) they are other aspects of my style that I feel people can easily relate to; and 3) when one runs out of good outfits to post, flowers (some use interior photos) are great ‘fillers.’”

Love Thy Legs

Had me at "hello" ? #shoecrush @gucci

A photo posted by Holly | 小花 (@petiteflowerpresents) on

“People love headless shots, especially those #fwis (from where I sit) ones involving long and lean legs. For some strange reason, these kinds of shots are glamorous (beautiful legs) yet super relatable (no face). Killer combo,” says Pan. “To get a great leg shot, it is all about the angle. Using the front camera of a cell phone and take advantage of the natural distortion of a wide-angle lens, to find the best angle that will make your legs appear long and lean. For me, it is upper left side with a slight tilt towards the front.”

Light It Up


“Ideally, window light for still life and direct light on a cloudy day for outfits are the best, and time best to shoot is either morning or late afternoon,” says Pan. “In reality, we often end up shooting late in the morning, when the sun light becomes very strong and the shadow too harsh. In that case, we try to find shaded spot to avoid harsh shadow on the face.”

Associate Editor

Caroline Cunningham joined Washingtonian in 2014 after moving to the DC area from Cincinnati, where she interned and freelanced for Cincinnati Magazine and worked in content marketing. She currently resides in College Park.