Adam O'Neill
5 Tips To Rule The Instagram Pipe Community

A Brad Pohlmann diamond shanked Canadian and a Brad Pohlmann bent Dublin with Bakelite.

In my time here at I've worn a number of hats: copywriter, photo processor, photographer, and now social media specialist. Currently, when I'm not neck deep in forums, social media sites, and spreadsheets, I do maybe 90% of the content you see on social media. What, exactly, does that have to do with anything, you ask? Let me explain by way of showing you something very few people here have seen — my first ever pipe related social media post.

Seriously, avert your eyes.

Yep, there it is. Bask in its glory. Okay. You done? I'm gonna go ahead and guess you are, because let's be real: it's objectively, on every level, a horrible photo. So now that that awkwardness is out of the way, let's get into some tips to make sure this isn't you.

5. Inspiration

Everyone needs a little help now and then — sometimes to get started, sometimes to just get over a hump. Admitting as much is one of the easiest ways to succeed in life, love, and work (and any weird hobbies you may obtain along the way). This is the way I like to think about looking to others' work for inspiration. You're not copying them; you're merely looking to them for some passive guidance (just make sure you don't actually copy them — if you see something you like, grab a couple of the elements that draw you to it and incorporate them into your own style). Instagram, Tumblr, and even Pinterest are great places to look.

That all being said, notice that I've placed inspiration at number 5. There's a reason for this. Simply, while inspiration is all well and good, nothing replaces hard work and repetition, and all too often relying heavily on waiting for inspiration makes us lazy and, yes, uninspired.

Wessex Gold Virginia Flake and an Alan Bros. "Pearl" in the natural sandblast.

4. Experimentation

Try new angles, new compositions, and new textures. Try natural lighting; try artificial lighting. Try a combination of the two. Don't be discouraged when they don't work out on the first try (I can almost guarantee they won't, and that's okay), and don't be over-confident when they do. When you find a style you think works for you, stick with it, at least for as long as it takes to perfect it. Which reminds me...

"Neutral" angles like this one were something I had to get my head around quickly.
Samuel Gawith Squadron Leader and an Ropp Etudiant Sandblasted (J11).

3. Light, colour, and composition

Now that you have a style that works for you, leverage it to get your head around the fundamentals of photography. For me, everything started to click into place when I started doing bird's eye/flat lay shots like the image below. My basic angle was locked, so I could start experimenting with light, colour, and composition.


Being that you're reading this article and not off shooting somewhere, I'm going to assume you're using a phone. If that's the case, please, I beg you, turn off the flash. While the latest few phones from all the manufacturers have made great steps in terms of mixing blue and yellow LED lights for a more natural feel, they all still have some way to go and often feel flat and lifeless. Use natural lighting where you can and experiment to find the best ways of using it. Partially closed blinds and afternoon sun are some of the best, and I encourage you to use them.

Try shooting multiple versions of the same shot with the light source coming from varying angles; you'll soon notice that side or back lighting works better, especially for the textures found in pipes and tobacco, and that while front lighting does add drama, it also tends to wash out colours and de-emphasise textures.

Oh, and if you include things like liquor bottles or Chemex coffee makers, experiment with re-positioning light to shine through them. I think you'll like the results.

A Barling System bent Billiard and Rattray's Marlin Flake.


Try experimenting with different colours and, more to the point, figure out which colours will complement and which will clash. If you've got a coffee cup in the shot, try finding flowers, items in your pockets, or anything else you can think of that goes with that colour. Experimentation is important here, but here's a link on colour theory to get you started down the right path.

While we're talking colour, go ahead and experiment with selective colouring (everyone does eventually) and then realise how tacky it is and promise to never do it again.

Ugh, why Adam, why?
A Ropp Extra Canadian.


Possibly the most important of the fundamentals is composition (or framing as it's sometimes known). I encourage you to read up on it further, but simply put, it's the way in which the objects or elements are placed within a photo. It's what we use to tell the viewer where they should be looking, and how the eye should flow through the photo. Learn the rule of thirds; learn about the golden ratio. Look at landscape photography and notice where the horizon is positioned, and where the elements are placed. (As an aside, also note how MANY elements there are. You'll notice that more often than not it's an odd number, and there's a lesson there about symmetry in nature, and how more often than not the brain rejects anything that it finds TOO symmetrical, but that's a lesson for another day I think.)

Clockwise from left: Cornell & Diehl's Corn Cob Pipe and a Button Nose, Peterson's Holiday Season 2016, a Peterson Christmas 2016 (87), a Mark Tinsky Christmas 2016 Bent Apple, an 8deco Bamboo Tamper, McClelland's Christmas Cheer, a Savinelli Saint Nicholas 2016 320 KS, and a Scott Tinker Tamper.

2. Context

After the fundamentals, context is key. Simply placing a pipe on a background is one thing if you're just trying to show off the pipe, but more often than not it makes for a fairly flat and boring shot. Start adding things like your tamper, lighter/matches, or maybe a little pile of tobacco. Now we're starting to get there, but it's still not really context. Try to think about what you'll be doing when you're smoking this particular bowl. Do you have a beverage? What kind of beverage is it? If it's a cup of tea or coffee then the tools you used to make it should make for excellent context, especially if you're using a Chemex/pour-over or a cool little tea pot. Will you be reading a book? Listening to an album? Don't worry if these items are too big for your frame; just make sure that enough of the item is in the shot to identify it. Besides, by overfilling the frame you give the impression that there's much more going on in the scene, which can feel inviting.

Clockwise from left: A BBB straight Billiard, Dunhill 2406, and a Barling System bent Billiard.

1. Consistency

Keep at it. When I started I set myself a fairly rigid goal: one shot a day. Turns out that was a massive commitment, but you can dial that in to wherever you think it's appropriate (one a week, two days, etc).

Got your own tips? Leave us a comment below to let us know.

Category:   Resources Tagged in:   Instagram Photography Pipe Culture Tips


    • Alvaro Lucena on January 12, 2017
    • Excellent tips Adams! Very helpful information to keep the images fresh, interesting and inspirational. Thank you very much for sharing it. Cheers

    • Bryan Webber on January 12, 2017
    • I enjoyed reading this. Good tips.

    • Adam O'Neill on January 13, 2017
    • @Alvaro Thanks Alvaro, though I'm not sure you need the tips my friend ;)

    • Adam O'Neill on January 13, 2017
    • @Bryan And thank you for reading Bryan!

    • Rhys on January 13, 2017
    • Good tips thanks. I'm on IG as @goldcoastrhys ...i try and make nice pictures

    • Adam O'Neill on January 13, 2017
    • @Rhys Thanks Rhys. We've actually seen you around on some of the Facebook groups. Oh, and GO THE MIGHTY BLUES ;)

    • James Foster on January 13, 2017
    • Great read!

    • Adam O'Neill on January 13, 2017
    • @James Foster Thanks James!

    • Jerry Roman on May 25, 2017
    • Great tips, enjoyed them,food for thought.

    • Adam O'Neill on May 25, 2017
    • @Jerry Roman Thanks Jerry, we're always glad to help.

    • Gene Bowker on June 11, 2017
    • Really enjoyed the ideas, I'm going to have to step up my IG photo game.

      I'm @rustedrailpipes on IG if any other pipers are there!

    • Adam O'Neill on June 13, 2017
    • @Gene Bowker Glad you enjoyed it, Gene, and good luck.

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