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Instagram is a fantastic app for your smartphone and tablets that lets you add cool stylish effects to your pictures, and then share them online on sites like Facebook and Twitter. It's a great way of sharing your photos and also following your friends photos.

The results can be quite impressive and make average photos quite stunning. Take a look at these.

Here are some of my photographs. Most are raw and taken straight from the camera, but a few of them I have edited in Photoshop just to bring them to life and add more depth to them. Below my photo's there are some hints and tips about taking photos.

My Photography Tips

Taking photographs is one of my favorite hobbies. I like taking photos so I can look back on the nice things I've seen, plus its cool to have your photos printed out and framed or used as computer screensaver/digital photoframe.

Anyone can take photographs. I'm not really a professional photographer, but my knowledge has simply come from practicing, reading magazines and websites. It also helps if you've got an eye for a photo. Most of the time you can see stunning images with your eyes, it's just the capturing of the image that can be tricky.

Here are a few tips for taking better photographs; some of which may be obvious, but these are things I've learnt over time and I thought I'd share.

1. Clipping Objects

This is a common thing thats easy to do, but afterwards, you'll kick yourself for doing it and wish you'd have clocked it when taking the photo. Here is an example of it. At first glance its not a bad photo, then look at the bottom right. What's that doing there? In my opinion, either put the object clearly in the shot, or leave it out all together. Try not to clip objects as they distract attention from the main photo. Although clipping can be a useful thing, especially on close up shots, think of a flower picture. You could clip that, but being zoomed in will create a nice effect.

2. Too Much Light

This may seem obvious, but be careful when taking photos in direct sunlight, as a wishy washy photograph is poor. This also occurs when taking photos of objects that are really in the shade, but sunlight can silhouette around the object, creating white blurs all over your photo. Take a few steps around at different angles to avoid shooting into the sun. Also the opposite thing about dark conditions is I see a lot of photos in dull light, and without a flash etc, you are literally wasting your time. You'll end up with a blurry picture with an indistinguishable object.

3. Equal Portions

When taking landscape shots, try and get an equal amount of both, as it's more pleasing to the eye. Imagine a picture of a field being 90% of the photo, and 10% sky, you can't get a feel for the photo as the angles proportions are off. If you have many layers for example sky, sea, beach, harbor, try maintaining equal portions of each object as again its more visually pleasing. Overall, it creates equal weight for each detail.

4. Focus Fail

If a photo is out of focus then its a fail. I've taken many of these in my time, especially when zooming in on an object. The only solution is to retry. Keep still and take your time when taking the photo. Ideally a tripod or stand is required to get the perfect shot, as without one, you can move when shooting and blur/send the image out of focus.

5. Focus Techniques

A nice use of focusing is when you've got a foreground object in focus and let the background go out of focus, drawing your attention to the focal point of the shot. This technique is used a lot in magazines and online for lifestyle images etc and can look really nice. Getting this wrong means you'll end up with an out of focus seagull and a clear shot of the promenade! Again, it's about taking your time and moving around until you see what it is your looking for. Often you can imagine what the photo should look like. It's just capturing it that can be tricky.

6. Interference

When taking a photo of a person or object, always make sure there are no interfering objects in the way as these can muck up your shots. Take this example for instance. You're all the way out in Scotland walking round some botanical gardens taking photos and your missus takes one rare photo of you. There's a fern in my face and a hand rail (clipped) at the bottom of the shot. If she'd have taken one step to the left, and taken time whilst taking the photo, it would have been a better shot and more usable for photo frames and Facebook profile pictures.

7. Angles

In my opinion, good angles can make a photo. Think about looking at a building. Sure you can look straight at it, and take a picture, but you're likely to clip bits off it and not show the viewer what you have seen; you have probably seen the whole thing and so capturing a portion of it is diluted content. In this example, I've got down quite low and looked up at the building, capturing the height of the building. You may look daft kneeling down in front of a building, but getting a good angle on something looks better than straight 'point and shoot'.

8. Contrast

I love using contrasting colours in design/composing photos as it make things stand out. In web design, photography and all types of media, contrast is heavily used to make elements carry more weight than others. This example shows a white lilly against a dark leaf. The subjects contrast against one another. Without contrast, you can't create depth, and if everything is one colour or washed out then its just plain old boring. Think about a bright sandy beach against a deep blue sea, that's excellent contrast. Contrast creates lines on an image this can be useful to highlight the focal point, or highlight colour differences of an image; like I have done here with the water lilly.

9. Composing

This may sound strange, but some tutorials I have read have gone on about composition. This is literally your creativity when pointing the camera. Remembering the points I have mentioned about depth, contrast, focus and proportions and still composing a good photo. Over time, you'll create your own style and ways of doing things, but sticking to some basic guidelines will help you along the way. There is no right or wrong way to compose photos. In a sense, the judgment is in the eye of the beholder, and some photos could mean more to you than others.

10. Photoshop

Photoshop is a fantastic piece of software for editing photos. It's a very powerful tool. Simply open up your photos using Photoshop and tweak contrast/brightness, photo tint etc and you'll see a dramatic improvement. You can achieve some impressive results with Photoshop. I use it a lot for editing family photos/holiday photos etc. There are lots of plug-ins available; like photo filters etc. At the click of a button, you can create that Lo-mo style Instagram effect, without having to tweak a hundred controls.

These are just hints and tips to get you thinking more about the photos you take. I'm always thinking, one day I'll take a photo thats flawless! Better equipment can help you get a better shot, but ultimately its the technique and the subject you're viewing that really makes a stunning photo.