Your Instagram Is About To Become A Must-Follow

Gone are the days when mind-blowing photography was left to the likes of Irving Penn and Annie Leibovitz — camera phones have made everyone a self-published photog. But, there is an art to taking a cell-phone pic that really wows your Instagram followers. Luckily, it doesn't involve an MFA, as Nashville shutterbug Emily Blincoe proves snap by snap.
The talent and care that go into Blincoe's playful photographs is crystal clear, so it might surprise you to find out she didn't start shooting until her 20s. "My younger brother — who was so into film photography he turned our laundry room into a darkroom — bought me a camera and tried to teach me all about it," she says. "It didn't stick until a few years later, when simply documenting my life turned into obsessively photographing everything around me. I spent a long time taking terrible photos, but I stuck with it every day until I had it down."
Her persistence paid off. Last year, Blincoe was able to quit her job to pursue photography full-time. We asked her to share some of the tips she's picked up over the years and had her put them in action using the LG G3, with its laser autofocus camera. From using your phone to shoot still lifes to capturing candid moments other cameras couldn't, follow Blincoe's lead for an eye-catching feed — just don't blame us when your phone starts blowing up with Likes.
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Shoot from unexpected angles.
Let's face it: With everyone taking the same snaps of brunch, cocktails, and stunning sunsets, there's a lot of redundancy on Instagram. To make yours stand out, switch up the way you take the shot. "When it comes to still lifes, I love to shoot from overhead," says Blincoe. "Sometimes, if a photo feels a little boring to me or if I feel like the shot just isn’t clicking, I will grab a chair or ladder and try to shoot from a higher angle. Same goes for getting really low to the ground. It can change the entire image." Sure, it might look a little bit silly for a second, but who cares if you get the shot?
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Capture ordinary things in a whole new way.
"I’m most inspired by taking normal everyday items and turning them into something a little more interesting to look at," says Blincoe. Try giving yourself photo projects or assignments that push you out of your comfort zone. "I couldn’t tell ya what separates my photography from others, but I do know I’m not afraid to try new things. I feel like I’m always learning and growing and trying to keep a fresh perspective, which is what keeps photography fun for me."
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Always consider composition.
"You have to be careful your image doesn’t end up looking flat," says Blincoe. "You want to be really aware of how your eyes will flow across it." Figure out what the focus or main point of the image is, and then make sure the image leads someone's eyes to that point. "It’s a lot easier to make sure your composition is nice when you can actually see your screen. The LG G3's large screen is great to get a good look at what you’re doing."
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Don't ignore the background in portraits.
Even when your subject is clear-cut, composition is still key. Unless she's filling the entire screen, you want to pay a fair amount of attention to what's going on behind her. "That’s what I think gives the photo layers — something that makes someone look for a bit longer."

A nice portrait of Blincoe's friend Kate would be lovely, but isn't it more fun with a fake-flower wall? "The background can make or break an image — it doesn’t always have to be over the top, but it can give you a sense of place or add a fun spark to an otherwise plain image."
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Play with light.
What's the number-one quality of a killer photo, according to Blincoe? Light. "The wrong light can ruin an otherwise amazing photograph. You’ve got to know how to work the light and how to work with it," she says. Brightness and contrast, warming and cooling, and shadows and highlights are all tools she adjusts regularly, but subtly, to make the most of lighting.
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Play with contrast to amp up drama.
"Harsh light casts dark shadows, and you can use that to your advantage," says Blincoe. To find the sweet spot between the two, play around with the exposure settings in your camera app. "If you tap to expose it in the shadows, the highlights will be overblown, and if you tap on the brightest spot, the whole image might be a little too dark. The trick is finding the right balance for a compelling image."
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Shoot outside at just the right time.
Whether you're shooting fresh foods at a farmers' market or your BFF frolicking in a field, natural outdoor lighting can really capture the mood of a moment. "Nice, even light is crucial. Shooting in the 'golden hour,' shortly after sunrise or before sunset, is going to generally be your best bet."
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Help your subjects loosen up.
When it comes to portraits, the last thing you want is for it to look like a school photo (you know the ones; they're probably still on your parents' walls). "My favorite type of portraits are those that really capture someone just as they are, in their element," says Blincoe. "Keep it simple, and make sure their face is lit nicely. If they're stiffening up, ask them to drop their shoulders, shake it out, and regroup. Many times, when they go back to their position, it’s in a much more natural way."
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Be sneaky with your shots.
There are a million different candid photos to take, but the number-one trick to nailing any of them is to not look like you're waiting for people to pose. "Sometimes, shooting from the hip is less distracting to the would-be subject," says Blincoe. "I like to find a nice location and just wait it out until the desired subject wanders into frame." Turning the sound off your phone is a must as well — nothing ruins the moment like a cheesy ringtone.
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Always have your phone ready.
The best photo moments can't be constructed — you find them in the moment. Luckily, in those moments, you probably have your camera phone ready to go. "A camera phone is great for publishing on the go," says Blincoe, who otherwise shoots with a Canon 5D Mark II. "I’ve taken a ton of shots with my camera phone that I would have missed simply because sometimes you only have a second to get a fleeting shot. I’ve also been able to squeeze my phone into a little spot to get a shot that I just couldn’t get with my bulky DSLR. With a camera phone, you just pull it out and boom. Nothing to set up or click around — you just take it."
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Get obsessive about color.
Anyone can take a picture of their brunch dish; make yours stand out by playing up the color (and, yes, that might mean playing with your food). "On my still-life color food shots, I like to play around a lot with how the color flows around," says Blincoe. "I rarely end up going with my first attempt on those types of photos — if you’re spending a ton of time editing a photo or having to mess with it too much to show the color, you should probably just scrap it and reshoot if possible."
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Get to know photo apps beyond Instagram.
"My favorite camera app is VSCOcam," says Blincoe. "I use the C1, C2, and C3 [filters] probably the most (turned down to about half). M5, A5, and E1 are all favorites, too. I like to mix it up, but keep in mind that less is more."
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Take advantage of your camera's built-in tools.
"I found that the voice command feature that lets you say 'cheese' or 'LG' to take a hands-free photo was quite handy when I was holding a doughnut or some scissors in the air and had my body bent all kinds of ways where I couldn’t really see the screen," says Blincoe.
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Don't go overboard with editing.
There are a bazillion apps meant for tweaking images, but the strongest photos benefit from a light touch. "I just add a little ambiance and structure in Snapseed, and I take the VSCOcam filters down to about half," says Blincoe.

That's not to say you shouldn't use a retouch app to stamp out a little speck of dust or a wrinkle that’s overly distracting, but before you invent a Lauren Conrad-worthy mix of filters, remember this: "My general rule in both my camera phone edits and my DSLR edits is to keep it as real as possible," says Blincoe. "Editing should slightly enhance the photo, not take over the photo."