I feel like I have a creative crisis every five minutes these days. I spend a lot of time theorising how to remain creatively productive and energised around a (not particularly creative) nine-to-five job, and within that how to prioritise competing creative desires. And somehow it all mostly ends up with me not producing much of anything at all. It’s frustrating. I know there’s no great secret in solving this dilemma; I need to be more disciplined, get out of my head and just do stuff.
There’s a part of me also realising that a big factor in what holds me back creatively is comparing myself to others. This is a chronic habit of mine and I think perhaps the greatest manifestation of this habit recently has come through Instagram. Now – I adore Instagram and it’s essentially become my go-to for creative expression. I have discovered and connected with loads of amazing people through the platform and it provides me with so much artistic inspiration. I’m honestly blown away by how drop-dead-gorgeous the feeds of some of my favourite Instagrammers are. This year especially, Instagram has really made me want to take better photos and strive toward a feed equally as beautiful.
Somewhere along the way, however, I think the exact nature of that inspiration warped. Instead of striving to take better photos, I was striving to take photos that looked exactly like popular Instagrammers’. I mean, it’s obvious that there’s a very particular kind of Instagram aesthetic, at least in the kind of food and travel categories I mostly follow. Muted colours awash in natural light, flatlays against pristine white backgrounds, bird’s eye shots of café tabletops that could only ever have been taken whilst standing on a chair, hands thrusting bunches of flowers or ice-cream cones or cold-pressed juices into frame, an endless monotony of marble, and that same goddamn picture of the Bondi Icebergs swimming pool over and over.
That aesthetic is seductive. Your feed looks clean and fresh and curated. I played into it and people responded. I looked at my feed and it had finally started to look like a pretty, cohesive collection because I’d ruthlessly tried to work this aesthetic into every single photo for a good few months. Instead of feeling like I was fulfilling my inspiration, however, I felt restricted. My Instagram feed looked pretty, yes. But it felt so, so same that it kind of made me sick. It wasn’t me. That aesthetic works for a lot of people, and maybe it comes perfectly naturally to them. It doesn’t come naturally to me. I wasn’t learning to become a better photographer. I was just recreating Instagram’s most likeable photos.
About two months ago, I knew I had to start doing something different. At the same time I noticed that the picture quality on my iPhone 5 camera seemed to be deteriorating, and so I actually came to an easy decision: I would, at least for the time being, take all of my photos with my DSLR. I want to become a better photographer and this step was suddenly so obvious. iPhone photography is convenient and fun and challenging in its own way, but forcing myself to learn more about using my DSLR and post-processing is what I needed. Doing this provided a surprisingly powerful distance between the act of photo-taking and the Instagram platform itself. It quite literally forced me to start thinking outside of the square again.
I want to be more conscious in taking photos from a place of inspiration that isn’t Instagram likes. The more I work on that, the more I realise how hard it actually is. Once you get tangled up in that big old mess it’s very difficult to get out. But I feel like I’m on the right track. I’ve always loved taking photos, and getting back to a place of capturing and sharing things that I find beautiful and interesting and happy-making without Instagram being the motivator is a liberating goal. I realise now that this is the only way I’ll ever actually find my own aesthetic. One that is genuine and personal; a natural style that has been explored and refined through experience and skill.
Even now, just writing this, I know I need to push myself harder to step away from the ugly world of comparison and trust in my own creative style. Not just in Instagram, but in everything. But that is an exciting challenge, and I’m ready for it.
The photos above are a few I’ve taken with my DSLR over the past two months.