Thursday, 7 July 2016

The Golden Rules of Instagram & Why We Don't Get Along

Today I'm going to take a different route on my blog, steer away from my usual "I love the sea" spiel, float adrift from my endless Ocean/Cornwall fan-girling photographs and focus on something utterly material, utterly 1st world and utterly blogger: Instagram.

I love Instagram, it's quite possibly one of my favourite social media platforms. In fact, I'll let you in on a secret; I am awful at social media. Truly rubbish. I begrudge every moment spent on Facebook, pass the absolute bare minimum of time on Twitter (Hence why I am awful at replying to tweets - I'm sorry guys!) and have lapsed into a bad habit of letting my blog become so neglected. The truth of it is, I'd much rather be outdoors, and now that I'm living by the sea again and the weather is fair, I am scolding myself over any time spent indoors. But the one social media platform that slips under my huffing-and-puffing, the one that I never bemoan giving my time to and the one that I'll always enjoy is Instagram. 
An image paints an entire story, it details even the littlest and most insignificant memories and immortalises it forever and Instagram is the social media platform that celebrates just that. No Facebook feed filled with borderline-racist-memes re-shared by the family member that probably voted for UKIP, no complaints about general lethargy or constant updates about matey-over-the-road's hamster. Just photographs, images from a mixture of people you know and complete strangers. It's a mine of visual inspiration, creative-brain-food and what's more - you can curate your very own gallery of personality and day-to-day memories. Instagram can be anything you like.

I flipping love Instagram. 

I have used it for probably around four years now and in those four years, I've used it in a variety of ways only just to circle around back to the beginning. Here are my confessions.

At first, I used it like everyone else I followed (friends only) and spammed the world with constant pictures of what I was up to. Yes, I used all of the filters, I completely abused the square format and couldn't tell you what a hash tag was if you asked me. I thought they were something to do with telephones and answering machines. 

Next, I began following some more arty-peeps from my school of art & design and noticed that they were sharing edgy pictures of things that were predominantly hip in rectangular formats (suave,) and were also using this thing called #vsco #vscocam. I figured it was only polite to bandwagon this trend (Cue my phase of edgy random object pictures). Oh and I also began to utilise the infamous hash tag :P 

I noticed that my following seemed to grow, only small at first but grew it did and what can I say, I was a sucker for the likes and validation. I promise there is a point to this post, and I will reach it eventually in a way that is typically Sarah - convoluted, round the houses and (oops, going to have to break the rule of three here.) 

I began to care about Instagram in a way that revolved around the 'aesthetic'. At first, I had merely enjoyed just sharing pictures of day-to-day life and having a easily navigable gallery of memories. It enabled me to look at my year in a really concise and satisfying way, so that when I felt like I hadn't achieved much, or had forgotten most of what had happened - Instagram was there to show me that actually, I had a really nice coffee three months ago and hey, remember that time we walked to Nare point at sunset and the sea was as flat as a Millpond? I would otherwise have lost that memory in the ever-filling-mine-of-information that is my head. That was my favourite thing about Instagram. 

I lost sight of that, and the more perfectly curated Instagram accounts I followed that featured impeccable flat-lays, expertly arranged flowers and areal shots of canyons, the more I became vexed and obsessed with my 'aesthetic'. I saw all these blog posts/tweets/discussions that centred around themes, colour schemes, moods, branding etc and I started to think: "Oh no! I can't post this picture because it doesn't look good next to that other picture on my gallery." After a while, I went through a phase of only featuring photographs that I took on my Nikon camera instead of my mobile phone because I was focused on getting my Instagram to look flawless and professional. I wanted it to look gleaming and high quality, like all of those expert instagrammers that I followed.

And that, was exactly around about the time I stopped enjoying Instagram.

Sure, my following was on the up, my gallery looked clean and probably the best it ever had in the whole time I used Instagram and the pictures were getting more likes than ever. But none of that gave me any satisfaction. I learned then, that I don't operate that way. Likes, popularity, validation... that doesn't do it for me. When I looked at my insta grid, I didn't see a reflection of what I was up to that month, I didn't see a true reflection of my life and personality, I just saw a curated gallery. 
For so many people, that's what Instagram is about and I totally get that. Having the power and creative potential of curating your own gallery is exciting and amazing and fun. It  truly is, there is this huge part of me that really enjoyed it but the part of me that missed the original reasons for using Instagram was noisier and more determined in my inner-conflict; it threw all of its toys out of the pram. 

I had seen all of these strict instagram rules about how to take the perfect pictures, how to grow your following as quickly as possible and they really bummed me out. After much discussion with friends who 'get the whole insta-thing' and a bit of thinking, I made a solid decision a few weeks back to abandon 'the aesthetic' approach to Instagram and take myself back to the very beginning, to use it like I did when I opened my account four years ago; a place to store all of the little insignificant moments into pictures. I abandoned the idea of only sharing pictures I took on my camera (which would always have to be tediously uploaded) and went back to sharing the haphazard snapshots that I captured in an instant on my phone. That was what instagram was to me, it was an instant photograph, like a polaroid, but digital of course :) 

Since I have gone back to this old-fashioned method of using Instagram, I have felt truly liberated. My following has plateaued and you know what? I am totally fine with that. There is no pressure about what photograph I share, it can be a personal thing again. A thing for me, for my friends if they want to be nosy, and if lovely strangers from the web sphere wish to follow along and interact, then wahey, that's just great! I love following along the lives of others. Since using Instagram, I have been able to gain an insight into other ways of life from all around the world. Glimpse into North American lifestyle, view beautiful coastlines hundreds of miles away, gaze at the Scandinavian snows and lust over Scottish highlands and ancient cities. It has expanded my understanding of culture around the world and grown my inner map. It's filled me with wanderlust and inspiration and enabled me to connect with people from all over the map! I truly love it. But do you know what?
  • I don't care about the rules anymore. 
  • I use my iPhone to take pictures.
  • I'm not overly bothered about hashtags unless I want to find something specific i.e.) #cutespringerspanielsdoingbackflips or #poldark. 
  • I don't stay up late at night worrying about my following. 
  • I don't consciously obey a theme/colour scheme. 
  • I don't pause and wonder if that photo will 'go' with my 'aesthetic' before posting. 
  • I don't curate a gallery. 
I try to let my feed be a natural flow of memories, postcard-like snaps and colourful stills that fill me with nostalgia and the mood of the moment. It is my virtual day-to-day moment album.
I admit, I did recently set up a separate insta account for my wedding photography business []. This I use solely to act as a sort of informal portfolio. I consider it more of a business feature rather than something I do for pleasure. But my personal insta (@saltyseaflower) on the other hand, is about the things that matter to me: experiences, moments, little joys. It's a celebration of normal day to day life, and it will continue to be just that. 

So, here I am. Justifying myself for not following the rules. I'm not spitting on the rules, I'm not insulting the rules, more... choosing to believe they are merely a concept and therefore imaginary (sort of like bedtime.) Those rules don't make me happy, they bring me no joy and trying to follow them seriously ruined the whole experience of Instagram for me. 
But you know what? I don't have the right answer. We have freedom of our thoughts, beliefs and words! Let Instagram be for you exactly what it is you want to make of it. Go off into the world and curate your beautiful gallery, spam us with phone pictures of your guinnea pigs, wow us with those drone arial shots of that sand-bar in the Bahamas that I am desperate to get on, and hash-tag the hell out of your selfies. Do what you want with your pictures (Within reason, I for one am not overly partial to ritual animal/people slaughter) and don't let your enjoyment of a wonderful social media platform be marred by rules that you (like me) may not find any joy in following.

Go. Make art. Make memories. Enjoy it. 

Side notes:

  • Yes, much to my regret, most of my early embarrassing stuff got deleted when I went through my 'perfect insta' phase. 
  • I'm still a sucker for square format [This came from my early A level photography days from when I was obsessed with shooting on Holga + Diana cameras] 
  • If there is a visible pattern in my insta content, it's not intentional. I'm just a bit obsessed with the colour blue, grey misty skies and water. 
  • I use the after light app to edit my snaps. 



  1. Good for you! Your photos are always beautiful and whimsical, no matter how you take them, purely because you have a naturally good eye for what will look good, even if you're not thinking about it!
    I totally understand about feel restricted by it all though... I may need to take a leaf or two out of your book!

    1. Thankyou Anna! ^_^ It's natural as a creative person to want to share our 'best' but it's finding the balance between quality and soul :P Ya know, having fun along the way and all that jazz ^_^ x

  2. Your blog is always so refreshing. And this last post didn't disappoint.

    1. Yay! Thankyou Cerys :D I'm glad it lived up to your expectations ;) x

  3. Love this post! I got so fed up seeing so many posts about how to create the perfect Instagram feed. In the end, I unfollowed tons of people because they're accounts all started to look the same and lost all personality. I've recently discovered the joys of Snapchat for this reason. It's so refreshing to see some of the 'big bloggers' in a more normal light - and I find it much more fun. No pressure of followers or like numbers to get bogged down with either.
    Also, the icing on the cake of this blog post for me was that you search #poldark - glad I'm not the only one! ;)

    1. That's exactly how I felt, I was searching for fresh new instagrammers to follow and get absorbed in but I was just seeing the same thing over and over :(
      You're totally right, snapchat is a great way to strip back all of the glitter and shiny and just see the raw day-to-day life :) I'm just very forgetful when it comes to keeping up with all of that :P

      And Poldark related instagram post are always a bonus ;) Can't wait for series two! x

  4. You take such stunning pictures that I'll bet your life and your 'aesthetic' overlap in many ways but either way I adore this post. I've never been skilled enough to create a pattern to my pictures, no themes, no flat lays, no grid chat at all. In fact I'm firmly committed to the anti-aesthetic that is my little life (and the spaniels, obviously) and since I gave myself that talking to I've never enviously espied another instagram account. No matter how stunning it looks. Mine is really just for me. That's not to say that the validation isn't delightful but it's not everything is it? Although having said all of that I suspect that having a themed instagram is brilliant for your photography business - what better way to have a portfolio. For personal accounts though, I'm all about the real life.
    Loved this Sarah, A LOT.
    M x

    1. Thankyou Michelle! I was really worried about how many people and ideals I was going to rumble by posting this :P I thought that surely there must be other people out there who were feeling the same, frustrated at all these 'instagram rules' ^_^
      I'm glad you claim your own-ness over your Instagram and fill it with what's important to you ^_^ It's hard to look back and get the feel for memories when an instagram is filled with endless peony flatlys :P (Although I do appreciate pictures of a bunch of fresh spring flowers ;) )
      At the end of the day, popularity and validation doesn't equal happiness, it just boosts the old ego >.<
      So glad that you enjoyed this post :D


  5. I have never followed a theme and I'm fully aware my instagram is literally amass with bright various colours and doesn't always have that opaque white and blue hue that most instragram gods seem to have, but hey ho, I don't actually use it so much to strive for the worlds best following, i just really enjoy it as a platform and that's ok for me! Alice xx

    1. I'm all for colour, vibrance and life! I love following along your adventures :D I guess it all depends how the individual wants to use the platform and if you're like us, and you use it for social/scrapbook reasons, you can get more of an idea of how passing of time feels with an eclectic mixture of colour, seasons and places :D
      I love a cheeky coffee flat-lay as much as the next person, but I also like to see where people go and discover new places to explore ^_^ xxx

  6. I love this post!!! I've only been using IG a few months (and I currently can't post as Instapic have taken away the ability to post!)but I really like posting random pics of my interest. I've ended up really liking the Bookstagram community and it has been fun exploring hashtags. But I don't think I could have one theme!

    1. Yay! Thanks Kezzie! :D boo instapic. There are some great communities on instagram, it's a really refreshing platform and who wants to stick to a theme anyway when you've got a hundred and one different thoughts, ideas and inspirations ^_^ Themes and colour schemes suit some people just fine but the inside of everyones head doesn't necessarily look like that :P Some people are messy and eclectic, others are chaotically tidy or tidily chaotic and others are all about the perfection ^_^ As my nan says, if we were all the same, it would be a very boring world :P x

  7. Eff the theme - I admit that I also fell into the whole aesthetic thing but now I just honestly don't care (more like I don't have the time ahah) and it's just fun posting pictures you think of good, and fun! Your photos are always the best though, makes me want to drop everything and head to the coast ;-)

    Cherie | sinonym

    1. Theme arranging is a very time consuming thing >.< Time that could otherwise be spent adventuring of course :P

      Perhaps you ought to come and give the coast a visit! :D Thank you once again for your kind words ^_^ <3 Happy exploring xxx

  8. I have so much time for this! I have quite literally gone through the same arc of love affair to quiet resentment with Instagram and it has left me disenchanted with a visual art that I loved so much before. I also limited myself to uploading just DSLR pictures, but when I was looking through my feed I was more and more thinking 'eh? can't remember that happening then. why'd I upload that?!'
    I'm doing the same as you an going back to scrapbooking life through images, whatever bloody file format they are.
    If I wanted professional pictures all the time I'd pick up a magazine!
    Glad we're insta buddies now to :D

  9. Thank-you - i've become more and more preoccupied with getting the "professional perfect" theme, to the point where i delete old photos if the overall feed doesn't look 'right' and i've stopped enjoying it! I want to try taking IG photos with my new camera, as it connects to IG automatically (olympus pen) but i definitely need to take on this post! THANK-YOU xxx

    Bumble & Be

  10. I couldn't love or agree with this post more! The "golden rules" of instagram that you must follow to see growth and engagement and I just cannot, for love nor money, seem to crack. The instagram accounts that are so perfectly curated that you cannot help but feel envious! I also love that comment about the border-line racist memes on FB! Joining the Instagram Communities has been so fun and Instagram suits me to a tee as it's so visual and inspiring... much like Pinterest, but lets not get started on Pinterest too, I'd be here all day lol! Great,very eloquently written and thoughtful blog post.


  11. THANK you a million times over for writing this post. Sincerely. I love using Insta to include the special, beautiful moments in my life, and to doesn't come from a staged photo.


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