instagram tips

You don’t have to instagram your washing up.
Of course, if you’d like to, then go right ahead – your account is all yours & you should do whatever your heart desires on there. An account of everyone’s different piles of dirty dinner plates could actually be fascinating, so my title is actually redundant here.
What I’m really referring to though is the idea that it is somehow dishonest to only show the good things in your photographs – to live the ‘perfect instagram life’.

It’s something that seems to be on people’s hearts and minds. It’s everyone’s guilty insta-secret – this styling of tables and coffee, the deleting of sub-par shots -and we only ever confess it to one another in secretive, whispered tones.

Someone tweeted this article in Vogue, where the author describes becoming  “a publicist for my own self, sending out clear, controlled images of the life I want to convey” on Instagram.
On BBC Radio 4’s Bookclub a few weeks back, I heard three women berating the age of social media sharing – ‘a photo of a plate of food!’ one exclaimed. ‘There’s just no STORY in that’.

It sort of seems du jour to be down on the carefully worked instagram feed, and I get why; in a time when even Beyonce & Miranda Kerr are photoshopping their ‘grams, its all too easy to feel like everyone has a better, prettier, more photogenic life than you. Don’t we all need a bit more authenticity? Where are the real, unfiltered photos of dirty clothes, of washing up?
Not on Instagram.

But then, Instagram was never supposed to be a place to share real, unfiltered images; its unique selling point when it launched, and the reason most people downloaded the app, was in fact the filters themselves. Wasn’t it?
I remember it being a game changer for mobile photography, in a time when the cameras in phones were still really disappointing. It made you want to actually use your phone’s camera – and share the photographs you took!

The accounts Instagram promote, feature, and support reflect this – they are consistently galleries where people post their best, most considered work. They seem to want to be a platform where mobile photography is taken seriously – not just an extension of the facebook photo album. More like the golden days of Flickr, I suppose.

I think that a lot of people have an idea that a true photographer should simply record the world as it is, like David Attenborough watching a polar bear cub die. It’s not for us to intervene. Everyone could be an amazing photographer, this theory quietly suggests, if they only had the time, and the camera, and someone to show them how to work it.

But I don’t think that’s true – if the polar bear tried to eat the cameraman, I think David’s journalistic impartiality would be out the window, and photographers frequently interfere and play around with their subject to capture the right image. Wildlife photographers lay bait in photogenic spots and wait all day; couples at weddings drive out to more scenic spots for their bridal shots. & then the magic happens. Not everybody is a great photographer, just as we can’t all be writers, or singers, or Nigella Lawson (sigh).

So I’m standing up in defence of the styled instagram shot, because I think the line is a bit arbitrary. Is it ok to use a flash, or is that lying about how light it was? Why is it ok for a pro camera to automatically adjust the white balance, but wrong to use a corrective filter on mobile to do the same? It feels like old vs new, like deciding any words coined after 2001 don’t count and can never be allowed in the dictionary.

A photographer conceives of an image, and uses all of his or her available technical knowledge, skill and expertise to make it a reality. My images shown in this post are styled, edited and considered. Does admitting to that spoil them?

In reality, the vast majority of my instagram (& other) photographs are spontaneous moments of stumbled-upon loveliness (here, here, here) – though I might move a stray Mars bar wrapper before I snap. I guess I’d say my strength is in finding those moments – and who knows, perhaps the tweaks are unnecessary perfectionism. Generally I’m against perfectionism – I really am – but I just don’t want to post anything that doesn’t fill me with joy. It’s ‘the edited highlights of my life’ as I said on Radio 4 (!).

So finally to my title: why isn’t anybody photographing their washing up? Perhaps it really is because we’re all trying to pretend to be more perfect – I suppose that’s the reason I make sure the house is clean and dustbunny-free before people visit, and so I guess the same is true for instagram.
But perhaps it is also because it’s boring to take a photograph of something boring! If it doesn’t excite me or interest me or inspire me, why am I taking a photograph and sharing it with the world? And who in the world is going to want to see it?

There definitely are elements of Instagram that are contrived – gallery curation, optimal posting times, engagement formulas. Strategies used by individuals and brands to build their social network but they are about the act of sharing, rather than the content being shared.

To the lady on Radio 4 who thinks food has no story, I say, wait 50 years. I would totally go to an exhibition of photographs from half a century ago of plates of food from all around the world. What was portion size like? Can I still recognise all the food today? What does it say about our changing ideas on nutrition?

To the girl at Vogue, I say – if Instagram is messing with your head, you need to get off instagram. It’s not the filters or the content that’s a problem, it’s the like-addiction, and that’s a whole different post for another day.

I say it’s not dishonest to only share the photographs you’re proud of, any more than it’s lying to go out in the outfit that looked best, or fraudulent to spellcheck a blogpost. Yes, we need more openness and honesty in the world and yes, the perfection myth needs to die – but please, not at the expense of inspiration and art and pride and pretty pictures of people’s coffee cups from above! Let some things be sacristan.
Let’s take down Facebook instead 😉

Edit: Well, this is me told ;).

Where do you stand on this? Do you prefer accounts that are all about the beautiful pictures, or do you follow a mixture of real-life too? I’m really interested to find out! Leave me a comment below to chat.

PS. A life needs secret plans… I’m working on something top secret and SUPER exciting to launch soon, to help you make your Instagram dreams a reality. Look below.

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  • Cadence Johnson

  • March 25, 2024

Major thanks for the post. Really Great.Loading…

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  • tlovertonet

  • January 12, 2024

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  • January 27, 2023

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  • Evil pager

  • January 21, 2023

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  • Muddling Along

  • September 01, 2015

Well said – as you say, the ‘like’ addiction is not part of the problem with instagram, it is an issue with how some people use it

  • Sara

  • August 30, 2015

Agreed 100%….now then, when can I expect the sabotage of facebook? lol

xx Sara

  • xantheberkeley

  • August 29, 2015

Totally agree with this!
Haven’t been to your blog for ages… it’s looking wonderful. Nice one!

  • Julia Kendal

  • August 26, 2015

Loved this post Sara! I joined Instagram a few months ago (ever late to the game!) and have been figuring out what I want to use if for what parts of life are for sharing there. I love storytelling and have begun to think of Instagram as a way of challenging myself to tell better stories (contrary to the Radio 4 discussion!) – through taking better photographs and challenging myself on how to caption them. I like it as a way to hone another form of writing and storytelling, along with blogging and other creative exploits.
While I’m here, as a newbie to your blog I’m really enjoying it 🙂

  • Alexandra

  • August 26, 2015

I think, to an extent, social media isn’t around to demonstrate exactly how real a person is. Most individuals use Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc, as an escape from the real world and I believe they understand that life isn’t that beautiful 100% of the time.

  • Jenna Richards

  • August 24, 2015

This is a really interesting post.

I used to flick through my Instagram feed and feel a bit depressed because it was full of pretty people and pretty things. These days I take it all with a pinch of salt. I ‘get’ that Instagram isn’t really ‘dirty dishes real life’. I went to an Instagram styling workshop and it really opened up my eyes as to how much work goes into making these beautiful photos. I actually appreciate them a lot more now. Me however, I just post photos of my kid looking cute as and when I please. And even then? Would I post photos of snotty noses and tantrum tears? Probably not. Even my ordinary life is filtered. xx

  • Autumn

  • August 23, 2015

I wrote recently about how for me blogging (not instagram) is a place where I share my thoughts, but I do try to take a positive spin to it as it helps me feel more resolved. I did mention I would talk about hard things sometimes, but it isn’t the purpose of my blog.

I was surprised at how many things people had to say both positive and negative. I think it is easy for people to get caught up in what people do or don’t post, but we’re all human and we’re trying to communicate the little things 🙂

  • Sara Tasker

  • August 23, 2015

I heard today about a wedding where the theme was ‘better than perfect’ – it gave me a headache just thinking about it. Your comment reminded me of this though! What does perfect even mean any more?
I like your laid back attitude to it all. Reality is both pretty and messy – sometimes we just choose to share the prettier side x

  • Sara Tasker

  • August 23, 2015

I find our conversations, or conversation fragments often trigger these larger debates or considerations in my head (if not on my blog!). I think you get it, and have a lot more insight than most. That is both a great thing, and makes me slightly nervous of you 😉 xx

  • Sara Tasker

  • August 23, 2015

Def agree with the real-life-motherhood – that’s what first drew me into IG really, when I was at home with Orla. Your example is the perfect balance that I love – pretty picture, honest words. Keeps my eyes and brain happy 🙂 xx

  • Sara Tasker

  • August 23, 2015

Definitely. And I think there’s middle ground – a story told with a few tweaks to keep it pretty, no? 🙂 Thanks for stopping by, Lynn

  • Sara Tasker

  • August 23, 2015

This is a thought-provoking comment, Steph. On the one hand, I absolutely understand and agree – the last thing any of us need is more pressure to conform, especially to ridiculous standards of domesticity or alleged perfection. I can see how contrived photos can exacerbate that, and think honest captions play an important role in mitigating that risk, eg. ‘screaming toddler not shown’.

I think for many, that frozen moment of calm, however much chaos was all around it, *is* part navigating their real life. I include myself in that; I’m naturally inclined to remember my worst moments, but my Instagram reminds me of the times when I almost had my shit together.

There certainly are a lot of similar accounts run my similarly white, middle class women, but that is just one of the many demographics who use instagram every day – for example, I think IG is even bigger in Asia than here in the West. & for me, one of the biggest appeals of using Instagram is seeing into the lives of people completely different to me, and being able to choose for myself who and what appears in my feed.

Thanks for the comment and the food for thought. x

  • Sara Tasker

  • August 23, 2015

Thanks! I’m curious to hear more about how you felt before reading my defence? 🙂 I definitely agree – room for both is the absolute ideal. I love that Instagram is sort of democratic and self-decided in that way – we can all make our feeds full of any combination of things we like, or need, or want.
& yes to the memories and document of life. It’s why I would never go back and delete my old, less-than-impressive photos. I know a lot of big accounts do, but those memories mean an awful lot to me, and I think it’s all a part of the story! Thanks for the comment Sarah, lovely to hear your perspective x

  • Sara Tasker

  • August 23, 2015

Firstly, I feel totally honoured to have prompted your first *ever* blog comment! What a privilege 🙂
I loved hearing about your Insta-journey. I definitely get the tug between the beauty and detail of DSLR with the speed and efficiency of mobile phones. Plus, I have to say, now I know it really well I sort of love what the iPhone camera can do. A bit like people’s passion for toy cameras and Dianas, maybe? (or perhaps that’s just in my dreams! ha!)
I love love love your closing line – this is a big truth for me. I find the pictures make me live the life I want to live more. On days when I have nothing to post, it makes me go out and look for it – be that a trip to the florist or a walk in the park. I’m really grateful for that influence in my life.
Great first comment – please come back soon and leave more 😀 xxx

  • BritW

  • August 23, 2015

I enjoy both and think it depends on the person ‘gramming. For certain people, the entire point of doing it is to have one place in their life where everything is beautiful, where everything is curated, a place to be reminded that there is more than dirty laundry and crusty dishes. I don’t think that’s dishonest–I think we as viewers need to remember more often that no one is perfect. It’s such an overused phrase…I believe it’s lost its meaning. We need to take things at face value and just enjoy them, especially depictions of others’ lives.

  • Nicole

  • August 23, 2015

I checked because I had a vague memory of the same discussion with you previously and wasn’t sure if my memory served me well (apparently it did…).

No credit due for re-tweeting, tho I use twitter so little maybe a bit of a fanfare for the fact that I tweeted at all (and that one of the few times I have used it has sparked a conversation of this size). Occasions like this make me really appreciate the reach of “social media” and that there are so many people to have a “conversation” with on an interesting topic.

Yes to the wine and stationery (two of my favourite things, how could I refuse?), lets sort a date. x

  • TheDaydreamerDiary

  • August 23, 2015

Thank you for this great post, Sara! I am glad to be back home and have a proper internet connection now that allows me to comment 😉 I always thought that IG was bringing something new to the social network world, not only because it was picture based, but also because it gave everyone the opportunity to share snapshots of their travels, life, work etc. I am perfectly ok with the fact that they may be edited, after all, IG was born with in-built editing tools, right? As long as the pictures tell a story, I don’t mind whether the brightness has been tweaked with and I usually smile at everyday shots that may not be as polished as the styled ones; mine is probably also a self-indulgent smile since I am no photographer and am fully aware of my own artistic limits 🙂 That’s the fun of IG too, not to mention that as much as I would like to carry around a camera with me 24/7, given my lifestyle, this is not going to happen. So, my trusted phone is my ally in spontaneity. As I write about edited pictures, it comes to my mind that I am not so lenient towards journalistic photography which, in my opinion, has a different mission altogether – probably akin to that of written journalism – but that’s a different discussion, right? For the record: food pictures tell tons of stories and only looking at a full dish all kinds of ideas and bits of experience come to mind. I wouldn’t even wait 50 years 😉 So, I cheer for IG and for its mixture of styled, professional looking pictures and the informal snapshot: diversity is my motto here.

  • Cinnamonwithlove

  • August 22, 2015

I read a lot of articlrs on various our blogs, but here goes my first ever comment, because you sure did make me think about this one.
First of all, the accounts I follow are a mix of styled and rl photos. When I first downloaded IG it was for the filters and to share photos with friends, who had already used the app, INSTAntly. Discovering new accounts showed me the other side of the app, the more artistic one, the world of styled coffees and playing with petals. Very inspiring and motivating. So I started styling and playing myself and I’m definitely loving it. The second step I took thanks to IG was the decision to purchase a camera. My phone camera didn’t satisfy me any more (not necessarily for Instagram, but I wanted to have/take creative and good photos of my daughters for private use) The moment I took my first dslr photo I thought, I am never ever posting a mobile photo. But I was so wrong. I mix it up now because I usualy want to post immediately and therefore I make sometimes double or just Android shots.
How ig changed my life? I am now discovering the world of dslr (beside Ig) and even if I don’t post the shot I took, hey I still get to enjoy my styled cuppa with flowers or petals on the table, which I didn’t before, so thank you Instagram for my instalife turning real.

  • Sarah Norris

  • August 22, 2015

This is a great blog, I was having a lengthy discussion yesterday on this subject and now you’ve changed my mind!! I like to see a mix, I like to see normality but often feel inspired by the more curated shots – there is room for both! If anything, IG has made me think more about my photography and its how I document my daily life at home and work – it’s something to look back on, tidy or not?! Xxxxx

  • Steph

  • August 22, 2015

I follow mostly real life. I love a bit of escapism because my life isn’t all that pretty and I spend a lot of my time at work thinking about social inequality, so I need to switch off every now and then. But, if I’m honest, I find the sheer volume of contrived prettiness on Instagram quite eerie. As an intersectional feminist it concerns me that Instagram is so white, middle class and aspirational, and that it places yet another pressure on women – to reflect domestic perfection in their everyday life. I feel that pressure and I know others do too. I suppose I feel conflicted! Sometimes I like a dreamy edit of a flower, mostly I love learning how other women navigate their real lives.

  • Lynn Hogg

  • August 22, 2015

I like to see amix – some of the accounts I follow have beautiful pictures, others document real day to day life and tell a story. It’s good to have variety 🙂

  • Rachael Smith

  • August 22, 2015

I’m all about the beautiful images, I don’t want to see the dirty dishes ? I do like it when mums share the reality of their day to day though, I’ve often shared photos that look pretty and serene but been honest in the comment that in actual fact in this photo my kids are arguing. Maybe spoils the magic for some but I like that kind of honesty as I feel less like a failure ?

  • Jax Blunt(@liveotherwise)

  • August 22, 2015

Really interesting discussion. I am one using a camera part of the time, and my phone some of it, but I’m doing that because I’m learning photography, and when I get a good shot, I want to share it! The feedback I get is invaluable too.

I also share my drawings, and that’s a whole other thing. And once I shared a shot of my washing basket with the tag #honestinstagram and that was surprisingly popular 😉

I guess it’s whatever you make of it, pretty much like anywhere else on the ‘net.

  • Vinicius Breves

  • August 22, 2015

Hey Sara, thanks for your reply.

I sent an email to you these days, check it out if you have an opportunity.

About my “photographically sound images” I’ll make it easier to you, my instagram is @breves333 and you can visit

I hope you enjoy.

Let me know what you think about it 😉

  • Sara Tasker

  • August 22, 2015

Hi V, thanks for joining in the discussion here!
What’s interesting about your comment is it reminds me very much of the advice I give to makers and other professionals who use Instagram as a promotional tool for their work – that is, to share their everyday. People don’t follow on instagram to see the same products or work they can see on your website – they want a glimpse into your world. So I absolutely agree on this point, which is why I always have time for coffee photos and selfies!
But I suspect (& I’ll go and investigate your feed once I’ve written this to check), that as a photographer you only ever post photographically sound images. You probably only ever *take* photographically sound images, in fact, so you’re already choosing from a better bunch than most of us! 🙂

As to likes and follows, I agree the spam is irritating. Whether the number counts depends a lot on what your aims for your instagram account are – many use instagram as a promotional tool for their business, and undeniably a better, wider reach is a postitive thing. I’ve personally been able to monetize my photography work via Instagram in a way that wouldn’t have been possible without a large following, so while I accept that your aims are far more noble and worthy, I’d still say I can absolutely see the appeal of likes & follows!
Thanks again for such an interesting perspective. Sara x

  • Sara Tasker

  • August 22, 2015

Ha! I didn’t remember who had tweeted it, or I’d have credited you! 🙂

I have mixed feelings about DSLR photos on instagram. I agree it goes against the original principle, and I always try to take an iphone photo for instagram, even if it is a duplicate of a ‘real camera’ photo on my blog (like today’s!). I like the challenge of staying to iphone for instagram, personally, but I also do enjoy a lot of gorgeous analogue and digital photography I see on Instagram that I wouldn’t have found without it. I don’t blame photographers for using it as a platform to get more exposure, and overall I don’t think it spoils my instagram experience.

But accounts of magazine style shots, all glossy and post production, styled to the max, are undeniably dull. More boring than washing up, by a long stretch.

I’m not going to touch the journalism vs art debate – mainly because I’m not sure what I think, and will ponder it a bit. I suspect my images most often fall in the middle – a real moment, slightly tweaked. Of course, there are total spontaneous captures in there too, and they do feel like the most satisfying, my personal favourites.

April is unbelievable – this year is flying by. Wine and papergoods soon please x

  • Vinicius Breves

  • August 22, 2015

Instagram is a new world for me, not because I didn’t know but because didn’t use it before.

I’m a photographer and for a long time everytime when I thought about instagram comes to my mind many things about rights of the images and this kind of things.

Today I’m living another relationship with this “social media” I’m building an artistic work, and for the first time, I really want to share my work with the world.

But, It’s not so simple.

I think if you only share “good/perfect/artistic” pictures all the time, maybe people can know your work, but don’t know who are you and are you think.

Because work, it’s a part of life, but it’s not the life.

So, today I try to mix all these things my work, what I think, some personal things…

And I believe that way you can really touch people.

About likes, everyday many fake profiles follow me, to offer more likes and followers, and about this, I think: I don’t want more followers or likes I want to inspire people with my work and these 2 things are very different.

I hope to have contributed in some way, have a nice day.

  • Nicole

  • August 22, 2015

I want to be clear, when I tweeted that I wasn’t bashing careful curators and people who hone their art and skills, it peeved me that people are using Instagram against the very heart of it.

The whole point of Instagram is that it is a mobile photography app, no?

In my opinion it makes a total mockery of it when people use it as a photography sharing platform for images created by cameras and means external to a mobile. I can get on board styling images and crafting an image (tho I could get involved in another discussion entirely about whether photography is an art and for images to be crafted and presented by the artist or whether it is a journalistic means of pictorially representing the true image as found, but I think that’s a whole different post entirely and probably subjective anyway) but feel that for images to be created elsewhere and imported in is the real lie.

In answer to your talking point, my favourite accounts are the ones that nestle quietly in the overlap, those who capture their every day moments with beauty and style.

  • Sara Tasker

  • August 22, 2015

Hurray! Thank you Susie – especially as I was a bit nervous about posting this and potentially offending people. I’m off to hunt down your washing up picture now – it’s a bit of a silly example really as I’m sure it can look lovely and quietly domestic. Perhaps I should have said ‘you don’t need to instagram your cat sick’ or similar 😀 (slightly less good as a post title, though….) x

  • Sara Tasker

  • August 22, 2015

Yes yes yes! I get a special kind of quiet satisfaction looking over my own IG feed, because it’s all my favourite memories, my favourite photographs, my favourite things. I suppose it’s my life, filtered a bit – ‘the edited highlights of my life’, I called it on Radio 4 – but it’s been proven in studies that reminding yourself of happy memories makes you happier and more satisfied overall in life. Instagram is a great tool for nurturing gratitude, I think! x

  • Sara Tasker

  • August 22, 2015

Wholeheartedly agree with everything you say – thank you for taking the time to comment.
Captions are so key – I wish I had included this in the above now! Plenty of times I’ve posted a lovely chilled out morning-scene with a caption confessing I’m actually stuck in traffic eating cold toast, but the photo is what I’m doing in my mind! & that to me is what IG is all about. Aspirational is fine, but a completely fictional life is no good for anyone – viewers or posters. I suspect the people who fictionalise their real life to such an extent are probably a bit unhappy with their reality, and imagine that everyone else is doing the same. xx

  • Sara Tasker

  • August 22, 2015

Yes, creative scope! That’s exactly what drew me in too. A little bit of everyday creativity, wherever we are!
You’re right, that most healthy users do understand, though I suppose it’s always good to be mindful of the vulnerable too. As others have said, captions go a long way to explaining this – as well as posts like this, hopefully!

  • Hannah Straughan

  • August 22, 2015

Such an insightful post; I’m totally with you on this. I have a career which I do enjoy, but has zero scope for creativity — for me, IG is a much needed creative outlet. Most healthy IG users are fully aware that beautiful, styled accounts are not an accurate representation of one’s real life. Now I’m off to try a styled washing-up shot ?…

  • Sara Tasker

  • August 22, 2015

Totally agree! That’s what I aim for – my comments are often quite sarcastic and making fun of myself, and now you mention it, my favourite accounts are the ones that do the same. Beautiful pics with an admission of toddler tantrums in the background! 🙂

  • Belinda Norrington

  • August 22, 2015

I think the sweet spot on IG is lovely, interesting photos but with a lot of genuine heart and soul in the comments, putting the photos in context and sharing a bit of real life that way?

  • Christine

  • August 22, 2015

I definitely agree with what you’re saying! Pretty pictures can have their own value, but at the same time I also feel like they can be seen as “fake” or “having no meaning”. I agree that styling and photography are art forms, and having these skills are something to be admired. But posting these sort of styled photos as examples of your talents and skills is completely different from posting these photos and pretending that this is just your life. So for me, it really all depends on the captions and purpose of these styled photos. You can post pretty pictures and pretend that your life consists of these perfect coffee cups and magazines, or you can post these same pictures and say something real about what happened in your life today. Take food bloggers as the perfect example. Their instagram account could purely be made up of perfectly styled photos of cakes and brownies. But no one would have a problem with it because they don’t say, “oh, I just casually baked this cake on a whim and it turned out like this” but rather, their audience knows that these photos are styled, appreciate the styling, and know that these photos are not accurate representations of the actual cooking process or their life. But when someone else styles their life, and acts like they don’t, well, it’s a completely different story. And a story that many people would not be okay with, including me, because honestly, when you do that, it takes the meaning out of all your photos and doesn’t make your followers feel good.

Sorry for the long comment, but this issue is just something that has been all over my mind lately!

  • Katie Sutton

  • August 22, 2015

I totally agree with you x IG for me is a gallery of my best images, best objects, best flowers I wouldn’t post anything that I didn’t believe to be beautiful in the same why I won’t buy an ugly spatula or towel!! Everything in my house has to be perfect in my eyes and it’s up to everyone else to decide if they want to like it xxx three cheers for filters and faffing!

  • Old Fashioned Susie

  • August 22, 2015

I’m virtually cheering you on as I read this. Couldn’t agree more. I did IG my washing up once and it got a surprising high number of likes; perhaps it was the “behind the scenes” nature of the curated feed that is sometimes a reality check. Almost like saying, yes I’m real and do real things??

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