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How to Take Better Photos and Win More Instagram Contests

Here\'s How To Turn Your Instagram Photos into Real Winners, Just Using Your Phone

how-to-take-better-photos-and-win-more-instagram-contests
By MELANIE EVANS | Updated February 14, 2024

It's more difficult than it appears to take a good Instagram photo with your phone. But there are so many great photo contests, with so many great prizes it pays to learn how o take a winning Instagram shot, literally.

To help you up your game we've put together a beginner's guide to taking and editing winning Instagram photos to help you create an Instagram feed that makes people go "wow" - and helps you win more Instagram contests and cool prizes.

Setting Up Your Phone

There are two things you need to know about how to use the camera on your phone in order to take a good Instagram photo before you can even think about composition, lighting, or editing:

What is the best way to take good Instagram photos?

Take an Underexposed Shot

Have you ever taken a picture of a bright sky and later discovered that half of it is overexposed? Mobile phones have a tendency to naturally blow out parts of your photograph, resulting in over-highlighted areas. However, there is a way to fix this: underexpose your shot. Instead of ruining the entire shot with over-exposure, it's better to have a slightly under-exposed photo that you can then brighten with editing.

On an iPhone, tap and hold the brightest area of the screen to lock in the focus and exposure. Following that, you can move your camera around to compose the photo you want. Perfect for those sun-drenched product shots!

Turn off HDR.

HDR (High Dynamic Range) is difficult to master and can result in an unnatural and overdone image. Essentially, the function takes multiple exposures of the same photo and merges them into a single image with a lot of details. When it comes to taking good Instagram photos, keep it simple; less is more.

Getting the Right Shot for an Instagram Photo

When it comes to capturing the perfect shot, two factors should be considered: composition and lighting. If you master these functions, you'll be able to take dreamy Instagram photos in no time.

Photo Composition

Finding a way to direct your viewers to the subject of the photo while capturing a story or emotion is the key to successful composition. There are a few things to keep in mind when composing an Instagram photo that will elevate it from "good" to "wow."

The Rule of Thirds

The Rule of Thirds is widely regarded as the most important rule in photography in general. It is used to allow an image to flow from section to section and create energy and interest by aligning a subject with literal guidelines and making their intersection points into squares. Fortunately, your phone has a fantastic grid tool that can help you with this. All you have to do is enable the "grid" setting in your phone's camera settings.


TIP: If you're standing in front of a door, stand in the middle and evenly space your grid for maximum impact. Pay close attention to the smallest details, and vary your subject along these lines or intersections to keep your followers interested and entertained.

Find Your Signature Style

Having a distinct Instagram feed style is critical to standing out and achieving success on the platform. Especially when contest judges come to your page, you want them to get a sense of what you do and what kind of content they can expect. Instead of thinking about each Instagram photo individually, plan out your entire Instagram feed.

Stick to a Color Scheme

Finding and sticking to a theme that works for you, whether it's a color palette or a style palette, will make your Instagram photos really pop. Choose a warm, cold, or neutral color palette for your Instagram feed as a quick expert tip. Neutral is a minimal color that works well for fashion, lifestyle, and home brands. Travel bloggers are known for their warm photos, whereas nature and landscape photographers are known for their cold photos.

Lovely Lighting

We've all experienced the heartbreak of taking a great Instagram photo only to discover it's been completely overexposed by the sun, or that that awesome selfie at the bar was simply too dark to be Instagram-worthy. Before you begin shooting, keep in mind that nothing can save a poorly lit photograph. When planning a shoot, keep the following suggestions in mind:

Make Use of Natural Light

When there is enough light, an iPhone can take some incredible photos. When photographing indoors, sit near a window and away from any artificial light that might cause your photos to turn yellow.

Shoot at the Appropriate Moment

Taking photos at dawn or dusk will result in soft shadows and light contrasts, and there's nothing more important than perfect light for taking a good Instagram photo! The same can be said for golden hour, when your subject is backlit, and you get a spectacular result. It also saves time when it comes to editing.

Cloudy vs. Sunny: Which is Better?

What's our recommendation? Accept the gloom with open arms. Cloudy days are actually ideal for shooting because the light spreads out evenly, and you can do so much more in post-production with the image. These are also ideal days for taking selfies!

The Top-Down Foodie Flatlay is For foodies.

Entering a food themed contest? Then go for a flat lay.

Look for a photogenic location. Look for wooden tables, marble slabs, and anything else that could serve as a simple but textured backdrop for your meal. Don't forget to take a seat by the window to take advantage of the natural light!

Increase the exposure, contrast, and sharpness of your image. Increasing the intensity of these editing techniques will give your food more life. However, take care not to overdo it!

Add a subtle fade to bring the photo together for that wow factor.

Taking Great Travel Photos for Instagram

Travel and landscapes are popular Instagram contest themes too. You have to go all out if you want to take killer Instagram photos in nature. Explore uncharted cliffs and landscapes that no one knew existed.

Look for a big backdrop. Visit National Parks, walk through wildflower laden fields, and go out during golden hour. Find a backdrop that allows you to fully immerse yourself in the wild, wherever you are.

Fill in the blanks with your focal point. An open landscape shot is lovely, but including a human in the distance allows your viewers to imagine themselves there. Like an alert, it's instantaneous.

Instagram Contest Photo Editing and Post-Production Techniques

You've taken a fantastic photo, but how do you turn it into an Instagram-worthy masterpiece? It can be difficult to know where to begin with so many editing apps available! Here are a few of our favorite Instagram photo editing apps, as well as some pointers on how to get started:

VSCO An elegant, simple-to-use app that every serious Instagrammer should have. We recommend picking a favorite preset and adjusting the filter strength to a 4-6 to find the perfect style for your brand with the beautiful and minimal one-tap presets. If you want to keep your Instagram feed consistent, using the same filter or set of filters on all of your photos is a simple way to do so. They also have a great community to ask for advice.

Snapseed An all-purpose photo editor perfect for image enhancements and corrections, Snapseed is the ultimate fine-tuning app. Before uploading to Instagram, we recommend using this app to crop, rotate, straighten, and adjust your perspective.

Snapseed also has features not found in other apps, such as the ability to change the ambiance of your photo for a moodier or softer vibe, or the ability to brighten, darken, or saturate specific parts of your photo with the brush tool. You can also use the healing tool to remove any blemishes or stray people who may have accidentally entered your shot.

A Color Story is the app for you if you like bright whites and vibrant colors. Each filter is designed with color in mind, and their "Disco Ball" filter will eliminate shadows and make your whites super white in an instant, which is ideal for product shots. You can also use their unique S-curve editing tool to fine-tune your photos.


TouchRetouch Easily remove blemishes and unwanted objects from your photos with TouchRetouch. Select the object you want to remove with the brush or lasso, then let the app replace it with the surrounding image. For those pesky sun flares, this is ideal!


And, of course, Instagram: Instagram's own photo editing software has vastly improved over the years, and we strongly advise you to include it in your editing arsenal. Increase your lux for a quick boost to your photo, then use the in-app software to tweak your brightness, contrast, and temperature.


When it comes to taking a good Instagram photo, keep in mind that a little goes a long way. Users went a little filter crazy when Instagram first became popular (thank you automatic Bokeh). After you've finished editing your photo, take a step back. Return to your photo later to see if you've over-edited it. If you're going to use a filter, keep it simple and set the intensity scale to 3-6.

When it comes to photo editing, there are so many options that it's easy to go overboard. Stick to the golden three: brightness, contrast, and saturation if you're a beginner. Switch back and forth between the edited and original versions to ensure that your photos are the perfect fit for the contest theme, and you'll be on your way to winning more Instagram contests in no time!

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