instagram tips: learning from my mistakes III

Another retrospective look at how I would do things differently, with the benefit of a little hindsight… Funnily enough, people often cite these as my most helpful posts – and Lord knows I don’t need much encouragement to criticise myself! Previous instalments here and here.

A photo posted by Sara (@me_and_orla) on

What’s wrong with it: It’s over-processed & overdone. The scene is entirely artificial – between you and me, it was a sponsored post (I was poor that month, please don’t judge me) & I had hardly any time to get this together. It’s fine, I suppose – it got over 3k likes! – but it leaves me feeling a bit empty. There’s no story, no narrative, no implied moment – and that’s what I look for in photography.
What I’d do differently: Create a believable scene. Back up for more negative space and context. Edit more softly.

It's the village owl hunt tonight, but I'm more interested in the lilacs…

A photo posted by Sara (@me_and_orla) on

What’s wrong with it: It’s blurry AF. Why did I even share this one? I’m pretty sure it was a mistake – there was a crisp, clear shot next to it in my camera roll and for some reason I hit the wrong one, and realised too late. I remember being furious with myself, but by then it had a zillion likes, so I decided to let it be. It’s a surprisingly easy mistake to make, especially when working on a smartphone – we’re so used to small-scale, low detail images, that it’s only when we look on something bigger we spot our mistakes.
What I’d do differently: Be more diligent! The lilacs were blowing in a breeze, so it’s natural that some shots would blur – I should have spotted this before I shared it, sadly.

Searching for selkies in Scotland today. Sharing #mymonthofsundays, & would love you to play along! ?

A photo posted by Sara (@me_and_orla) on

What’s wrong with it: This picture did relatively poorly – a fact that still makes me pretty sad about life. Look at it! It’s brilliant! Isn’t it? I like it, anyway. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d blame the time of day I shared it, perhaps a lack of context in the shot to explain it, and my confusing caption referencing ‘selkies’. That, or the world is fill of idiots who prefer poorly staged cups of tea to seals swimming in the wild… ?
What I’d do differently: Post at my peak-engagement time, and perhaps explain a little better what the viewer is seeing. Choose some specific hashtags to appeal to wildlife/nature lovers, rather than my usual generic cache.

A photo posted by Sara (@me_and_orla) on

What’s wrong with it: THE TILT SHIFT. Dear God! What happened, I think, is that I really wanted to use the picture but realised I’d inadvertently captured my unflattering reflection in the french press . Did you ever read that story about the woman pretending to be a man on a heap of dating sites who got caught out by her photo reflection? That’s all I see when I look at this photo so I lamely attempted to disguise it without any real effort. My golden rule with tilt shift is, if you can tell you’ve used it, you’re using it wrong. Or perhaps better yet – if you’re adding it in post production, just stop. The end.
What I’d do differently: Delete it! This picture wasn’t worth saving – although if it has been, I *might* have considered a bit of photoshop I suppose.

Nymphin' about in my lovely new @boden_clothing Serena dress ?

A photo posted by Sara (@me_and_orla) on

What’s wrong with it: I do love this picture – but the edit & quality make me sigh over missed opportunities. Look how perfectly that curl is falling over my shoulder! Don’t my ankles look skinny? But alas, it is over-contrasty and poorly exposed. It’s too bright and too dark and grainy, all at once, and I’ve long-since lost the original so it’s gone beyond all repair. C’est la vie. *wipes a tear*  
What I’d do differently: Take it on my proper camera! Oh, I love my iPhone, but back then I was on a 4S & it simply couldn’t handle the contrast of this bright sunny day. Other than that, a more careful VSCOcam edit would have helped – I think back then I was editing in Camera+.

A photo posted by Sara (@me_and_orla) on

What’s wrong with it: The light here is interesting, and the room was a gem (Orla’s old bedroom at our previous house – not that she ever actually slept in there!). I think what fails for me in this snap is the amount of contrasting angles – so many verticals not quite vertical, too many horizontals that aren’t actually level. In a shot with a lot of straight lines, I’m always looking to line up things pretty directly, especially on iPhone – I find it visually more pleasing, and it translates well onto instagram where the world is presented in a grid of perfect squares.
What I’d do differently: Line up and change my angle a little. A step to the right – and possibly a crouch to avoid blocking that wonderful sun – would have made this picture infinitely more satisfying to me.

Sneaking back into bed with a cup of coffee for a secret 10 minutes…

A photo posted by Sara (@me_and_orla) on

What’s wrong with it: I’m sorry but wtf even is this, Sara-of-109-weeks-ago? The fact that you even got 80 pity likes on this is astounding, as it’s the dullest, crappiest picture in the history of crappy instagrams. I’d delete it, but it’s all part of the journey or something, right? ?
What I’d do differently: Add something for detail or interest – a crumpled magazine, tea-stains, a sleepy toddler foot. Not post pictures just for the sake of it!

What do you think? Do you look back on your old photos and want a do-over, or is your archive entirely beautiful?

PS  If you’d like a slightly less savage critique of your own gallery, check out my Mentoring programme for iphoneography and Instagram.

  • I really like this series! Photography is so subjective, and it’s interesting to learn from your perspective. (Also: I totally lol’d at the “80 pity likes”, haha)

    • I’m so glad! Honestly, these are really easy posts to write (self criticism being one of my natural talents! ha!) and I always feel like that must mean they’re flimsy and useless, so it’s really nice to hear people find them interesting! 🙂 xx

  • I loved this post! So much to learn. I am hopping off to read the first two installments! I know its not easy to accept one’s mistakes so well done! 🙂


    • Thanks Divya! Keep in mind it’s all subjective – I’m never this critical of anyone else’s work! 🙂

  • This is an awesome post and so refreshing! I always find so many mistakes in my shots and can always see by the likes that people notice – or at least have preferences on what to like 😀

    • Thanks Corina! Do you know, I find it so much easier to point out my mistakes than my strengths. Maybe that’s a British thing?
      I know what you mean about the likes – Instagram is sort of great for giving that immediate feedback, although sometimes it’s a bit heartbreaking! haha! xx

  • Haha your commentary is the best! I agree that keeping photos up as part of the journey is a must; how else are we going to get our laughs?

    • hahaha you’re right. I was honestly aghast to find that sheet photo in my feed. Like, not only did I post it, but I didn’t feel the need to address it in my previous two posts on this topic?? Ha!

  • Quality quality quality 🙂 Thanks for tearing some of your old mistakes apart for that reminder. Definitely always room for improvement for everyone.

    • Always. I look forward to writing one of these posts three years from now dissecting what I’m shooting right now. Onwards and upwards, forever! 🙂 x

  • This is awesome advice. Your photography is refreshing 🙂

    Hannie Arden from

  • This absolutely cracked me up – love love love these posts, please keep them coming!

  • LOVED this. I’m new to your blog but have been admiring your photography through IG for eons. It’s nice to see how you would change things and what you would alter given the chance. Damn the instant-ness of IG!

    Sal xxx

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