Here is how I take pictures for Instagram. I see something. I take the picture. Or if I'm photographing a spoon, I walk around, put the spoon down, and take the picture. Whatever is next to the spoon is real. I didn't put the Garfield cartoons in the picture after the fact. I didn't put my kid's sneaker or the bottle of bubbles in the frame after the fact. It was there and I put the spoon down next to it. If I have a lot of spoons to photograph, I put the handful down and photograph them the way they landed. I don't spend time arranging them to look random. They ARE random. It's a real moment.
This may seem like a silly distinction to make in a media as curated as Instagram. I only show you parts of my life, and I definitely crop stuff out. I also curate my feed as a whole, to delete old posts that don't work well as a team with the overall thing I want it to be. So why quibble about how staged a photo is? And isn't it just as staged if I put a spoon in a particular spot? Don't I sometimes arrange spoons quite geometrically?
But I don't think it's silly. In a space where the only rules on what I do are the ones I impose on myself, I find it helpful to have some structure to the photographs I take. This rigor makes them more meaningful to me. It feels more like I am capturing the reality of a situation than constructing it. The discipline of this also makes me make strong artistic choices by chance that I would never have chosen otherwise. I used to pose my spoons next to succulents or artfully arranged fruit. Those pictures with the Garfield and sneaker and bubbles? Way better. But I wouldn't have done it if I didn't have the rules for myself.
When I take a picture of a moment in time, I am amazed at how often my first picture is the best picture. The act of taking out a camera changes things, and the sooner it is put away the more intact the moment remains.
So here are my rules for keeping it real on Instagram: I can walk around with a spoon, but then I put it down and take the picture. Ideally, the picture will tell a bit of a story beyond the spoon: the book someone is reading, the cherry tomatoes picked from the garden, the wooden bowl I promised my grandmother I'd refinish ages ago. Glimpses of my real life.
I try to snap as few takes as possible. Usually the first is the best, but sometimes I have to try a few places to find the right light. I use filters and focus to make it look like reality and to draw the eye to what I want to be the object of attention, but I try not to juice the colors.
I try to share my life in a real way. That is, after all, what I want from you.
My blog has evolved into a series of short essays on the nature of entrepreneurship, craftsmanship, and their overlap. If either of these topics is something you think about, you will probably like this.
One idea is as worthless as another until you actually do something about it, and then it is the action, not the word that matters. --Orson Scott Card