Friday, August 24, 2012

Storytelling With Instagrams: First, Get Your Story Straight

As I explained last time, to my way of thinking, the process of posting photos to Instagram is a form of storytelling. Each little square of visual goodness that I post reflects a tiny tale from my life; every decision I make in creating that image should be focused on helping me tell my story.

The first step of storytelling with Instagrams is to get your story straight.

I've noticed that some Instagrammers focus in on just one particular kind of story. By composing a series of images that repeat certain strong themes, the photographer tells the same story, more or less, in slightly different yet reinforcing ways. Here are some examples:

Nicolee Drake, know as cucinadigitale, tells stories about the soft colors and glowing sunlight of Rome. She emphasizes bleached walls, faded colors, and rough textures, often set off by vintage bicycles, old cars, street markets, and quaint lines of laundry hung out to dry. When I look at her feed, I can feel the bumpy cobblestones under my feet, smell the hot city air, hear the commotion of Italian traffic nearby. I've never been to Italy in real life, but after drinking in these photos, I think I would feel quite at home there.


The artist know as mitsubachinoie has a young daughter, maybe 7 years old, who is often featured in her pics. Usually, the little girl is happily playing or exploring some interesting object and is photographed at a distance from the camera. Almost always, she is alone. This style of composition, coupled with the soft pastel tones and gentle filters, gives me the sense of watching a precious Alice in her own personal Wonderland and I feel like I have stepped into a dream.

Dswardhana is all about nature and most specifically, trees. Scroll through this feed and you will see trees in every perspective and variation imaginable - landscape shots, trees reflected in water, close-ups of leaves, branches, trunks, flowers, berries, shadows, highlights, lines and geometry. Edited to maintain realism and a fresh green sense of filtered light, these photos take me out into the woods and make me feel like I've been hiking all morning. They fill me with peace.

Clean, crisp, geometric design. Minimalist compositions, mostly black and white. Photos of familiar objects are edited and filtered just enough to give me a sense of abstracted reality. I love to stare at these images until I figure out what I am actually seeing; ideamaxima creates picture puzzles that tease my brain and encourage me to marvel at the ordinary.

Lots of Instagrammers do flowers, but moonlightice takes it a step further to tell stories about flowers with bright, bold, translucent colors, lit by a strong sun and often framed against the sky. This perspective of looking up at the bottom of the blossom makes me feel like I am an ant, trudging through a field of gigantic flowers that tower over my little antennaed head. And the sharp, dramatic, slightly unnatural lighting effects give me a distinctive sci-fi vibe, making me wonder if I am living on another planet in a different solar system.

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I admire the restraint and discipline that these Instagrammers bring to their art. By focusing on a certain type of photograph, and repeating the central themes and elements of their signature look, their photos flow together effortlessly to tell a single, cohesive story. 

As for me, I'm more of an Instagramming generalist; I enjoy telling stories about different parts of my life. Which means that each of my photos must stand on its own, and tell a story all by itself.

So here's an example. Let's say that I find myself sitting at a dinner table in front of a fresh, colorful and very pretty taco. 

This is not my taco. But it's Instagram-worthy, don't you think? {source}

Of course, my Instagramming instincts kick in immediately, and I reflexivley grab my phone to take a photo.

But there is a difference between posting a picture of a taco, and telling a story about a taco. This is the all-important moment when I ask myself, what is the story here? 

Is this a special birthday taco, commemorating my grandma's 90th? 
Or a Cinco de Mayo blowout with some rowdy friends? 
Maybe there is a toddler at the table who is about to experience her first taco ever?
Or maybe a midnight Taco Bell run, taken with a heartsick teen who is getting over his first breakup?

These nuances matter. 

Before I snap a single shot, I want to be sure that the story I'm about to tell is clear in my mind.  Every decision I make in creating this photo will be guided by the story I am trying to tell. 

So I'll say it again: the first step of storytelling with Instagrams is to get your story straight.

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P.S. This song, If You Don't, Don't, by Jimmy Eat World, contains the lyric, "Won't you get your story straight?" It played over and over in my brain as I wrote this post. 


  1. i like this very, very much. i think it's so important for us to remember the shape of things & their form -- and the nuances that exist there too, in the shape of the story.

    1. For me, the story behind an object is what makes me care about it. Without the story, it's just...a taco. There are millions of pretty tacos in the world, but the story behind each one is unique!

      Glad you are enjoying. :)


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