Creativity and Instagram: Thinking Outside the Square

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

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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. 

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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 cafĂ© 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. 

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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. 

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The photos above are a few I’ve taken with my DSLR over the past two months.

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  • Mon (Mon’s Adventure)

    Love this post Terri! I have been feeling the same about people’s feeds. I struggled, because I didn’t think mine would ever look as pretty or the same as other feeds – but then I thought, I don’t want it to, because it will just fit into the same mould. I love your pictures, so keep doing what you’re doing :)

    • http://www.littlewanderings.com/ Terri @ Little Wanderings

      Thanks Mon! It’s a tough trap, hey. The line between inspiration and imitation is often a murky one, I think, and particularly with Instagram. But I love your thinking! Here’s to our own, unique moulds! x

  • http://www.missdirections.com/ MissDirections

    This! I was saying something very similar to a fellow blogger the other day, I love pretty pictures on iinstagram but they are all the same! And there needs to be more background, more story, a picture should tell a thousand words and one of crumpled white sheets probably aren’t the right words.

    • http://www.littlewanderings.com/ Terri @ Little Wanderings

      SO MANY CRUMPLED WHITE SHEETS.

  • ironchefshellie

    First of all, let me say, what gorgeous photos there are in this post, i’m loving your processing style to.

    Second of all.. OMG yes. A few weeks ago, I was like, “ok so I think I need to post in themes now, that’s whats gonna make my feed look good”. But then I realised, thanks to your post for spelling it out to me, that I’m almost trying to copy what popular people do! Evident in my last shoot, which I don’t love. The cake turned out meh, the shoot itself just didn’t work, and I’m left feeling blergh. I need to just have the creative freedom like I did before, and who cares if the feed is a mish mash of everything, that’s life!

    Keep on being awesome missy xo

    • http://www.camillaferraro.com Camilla Ferraro

      YEP! That’s why I wing most of what of post. Might not be the best way but saves me from overthinking. As soon as I try to ‘mimic’ something it doesn’t go to plan. Will always love your feed missy!

      • ironchefshellie

        right back at ya lady! x

    • http://www.littlewanderings.com/ Terri @ Little Wanderings

      First of all, thank you! You have no idea how much that means. And thank you for sharing this post around, I’m loving the discussion!

      It’s a huge relief to hear other people are feeling the same way, I’ll admit! OMG – I’ve noticed that style of posting in themes start to crop up a lot as well. It is gorgeous, but wow, a lot of work. And I can see how quickly it could seem forced! Unless you’re a full-time Instagrammer, it sounds exhausting.

      YES to mish mash feeds!

      You are seriously one of my biggest photog inspirations – I’ve always considered you someone who really flaunts such an incredibly gorgeous, unique style outside of the typical Instagram aesthetic. I’ll always love your stuff even if it is mish mashed! x

      • ironchefshellie

        <3 I love your writing too, I forgot to mention that! But thank you so much for your lovely words!

        I'm going to give myself permission now to stop following the crowd again and be myself. I'm usually oh so good at that, but perhaps now that it's my job it's a bit different. Here's to awesome, original feeds! *cheers* xx

        • http://www.littlewanderings.com/ Terri @ Little Wanderings

          Cheers to that! x

  • http://hungrycookie.net/ Hungrycookie

    Great post Terri. Seriously…the number of people trying to copy the #followme couple is hilarious. Plus everybody is too embarassed to eat out with the person who stands on chairs haha. Keep up the great shots! Cass x

    • http://www.littlewanderings.com/ Terri @ Little Wanderings

      Thanks Cass! Seriously, the number of travel Instagrammers that have defaulted to the same back of head / landscape shot over and over drives me crazy. Show a darn face once in a while! xx

  • snowflakespalmtreesandpretzels

    Great photos! Love your blog! Keep up the good work!

  • http://www.slightlyastray.com/ Anna | slightly astray

    I gotta say that I love your instagram feed. But I do love your newer pictures with the real camera :D. I admit that sometimes I try to make my pictures into that Instagram aesthetic too, but I give up. I don’t know what filters people are using lol to get their pictures so pretty. I love your pictures that’s just your style :).

    And yesssss… recently, I noticed that my Iphone 5 camera isn’t so good anymore too! What is up with that?! I don’t really want to have to get a real camera… :/

    • http://www.littlewanderings.com/ Terri @ Little Wanderings

      Aw, thanks Anna! Just trying to take a step back and make sure I’m creating stuff from the right place. :)

      And yes, iPhone 5! I don’t know what’s up with that, but if it’s all part of a marketing ploy to get people to buy new Apple products… it just worked on me, haha. Caved and upgraded to an iPhone 6s yesterday!

  • Berny @ I Only Eat Desserts

    So much nodding was happening when I was reading this post! I took up studying photography full time this year (epp 1 more month left) but there is so much to a single photo. One image takes me around 2-3 hours to set up and shoot but people usually see the final result and not all the hardwork that goes behind the background.
    Oh and so much agreement with the same same Instagram photos – that marble table haha. My feed is quite ugly now to be honest and I only have images from my phone camera. I’ve actually stopped posting my studio work on Instagram and deleted my previous photos – a bit over people screenshotting my images, cropping out my watermark and then putting an Instagram filter over all my editing :/

    • http://www.littlewanderings.com/ Terri @ Little Wanderings

      That’s such a shame about your studio work on Instagram! I was always so blown away by those photos, your product photography is seriously amazing. It’s very frustrating that people can be so disrespectful :(

      • Berny @ I Only Eat Desserts

        Thank you so much for the kind words – I love product photography :D I’m in the process of making another website as my portfolio so will need to hit you up when it’s done to show you more of my work!

        • http://www.littlewanderings.com/ Terri @ Little Wanderings

          You definitely must! :D