Instantly Up Your Instagram Game With These Simple Tricks

Are you secretly harboring dreams of Instagram glory? Do you spend an unseemly amount of time debating filters, only to have your most epic sunset shot outperformed by a friend's perfectly lit and framed photo of a blueberry scone?

We know the feeling, and unfortunately, it's not your camera phone's fault. Camera phones, further enabled by Instagram, are capable of producing gorgeous photos these days, but most of us don't know how to harness their true power.

Hawaii photographer Jake Marote launched his career with nothing more than an iPhone and an incredible sense of adventure. He now has more then 30,000 Instagram followers and credits the time he spent experimenting with and learning about his phone's camera as one of the building blocks to his success.

Marote graciously passed along some of his favorite camera phone tips and tricks with the Huffington Post, giving you the opportunity to instantly up your Instagram game.

Get snapping, folks!

1. Play with your camera's focus
"The phone’s camera will automatically focus itself, but it also gives you the option to manually focus the camera on a certain object by simply tapping on the object," Marote notes. In most cases, this changes the lighting of your shot.

"If you focus on something close (in the foreground), the object will become more distinguished and the background will become brighter. If you focus on something in the distance, such as the sky, the foreground will become darker and the image won't be so blown out or over exposed."

If you're trying to photograph someone in front of a sunset, for instance, you can choose whether you want to focus on the person, thus washing out the sunset, or focus on the sky, thus silhouetting the person.

2. Learn when to use the flash
But, wait, you say, "I want it all -- the sunset and the subject!" Marote gets it, "Sometimes you want to be able to capture the sunset as well as distinguish who it is standing in the picture. This leads us to the next tip which is the camera’s flash."

You can choose to have your camera’s flash on auto, turned on, or turned off. "In low lighting situations," Marote notes, "the flash is your friend. The flash on the phone’s camera isn't very powerful so make sure that your subject is not too far away from you."

3. Get moving with the burst feature
Want to capture someone jumping for joy? Many of the new, high-end camera phones -- like the iPhone 5s or the HTC One X -- have the option to shoot on burst mode, allowing you to snap multiple photos per second.

"This option is great for action shots," Marote says, because "you will end up with a sequence of photos" to choose from.

It is nearly impossible to time the perfect shot of your friend's cliff dive or your son's backyard dunk. But, "if you're using burst, you can capture from the start of the jump until the landing. Then you can review all the photos in the burst and choose the best composed photo."

4. Apps are your friends
Instagram was just Marote's gateway app. Curious about how other photographers were achieving such special and interesting shots, he went searching for what else was out there. "Thats when I discovered phone apps," he says.

After obsessively trying "all kinds of camera and photo editing apps," he eventually narrowed them down to a select few. "In no time," he and fellow photographer Shaun Harada, "were producing quality shots from our iPhone cameras."

His go-to list? Camera+, he says, is a must since it offers grid lines and a horizontal level to help you achieve a "straight, level horizon in those landscape pictures." It also has a quick shutter, the option to "manually adjust your focal and exposure points," and (why didn't we think of this?) a self-timer.

After Marote takes his photos, he uses Filterstorm -- "basically a simplified Adobe photoshop for the iPhone" -- to edit them. He also recommends Snapseed, which might be a bit simpler to use, to bring out natural colors and enhance the brightness or contrast.

5. Accessorize
"The composition of your photo," Marote advises, "plays a big role in the overall outcome of the photo." This is especially true of landscape and scenic photos when you just can't fit everything you want to in the frame. "In these cases," Marote says, "you can use a wide angle lens or fisheye lens attachment."

Ninety-five percent of Marote's iPhone photos, he says, are taken using a Watershot Housing Pro, which comes with a wide angle lens. No matter the brand, however, water housings are of particular importance for capturing summertime fun. With your phone securely stored in a water-proof casing, you're free to capture everything from adorable marine life to sunset surf adventures.

Take that, homemade scones of Instagram!

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