Years ago Instagram was filled with poorly filtered and over processed HDR images. Thankfully we have moved away from those days but how did we end up in a world without much color?
Before we start I'd like to make it very clear that I am not referring to every singular person on Instagram. There are still many people, landscape photographers like myself who post photos full of color. That said I've noticed a continuing trend of influencers who tend to follow the same exact style.
Typically the style consists of these three qualities:
- Raised black values ("Fade")
- Crushed highlights
- Reduced Saturation
There is nothing wrong with editing in this style. As you can see I have personally done it myself and will likely do it again in the future. However, it feels as though any random travel or nature photographer I stumble upon edits in this exact same way. So it got me thinking, why did this become so popular?
In the world of social media, the amount of content you produce is likely more important than it's quality. Not to say that you shouldn't post quality content but if you were simply trying to gain traction it's typically better to post more often than only post your absolute best. Keeping up with such a task can be difficult. Especially in a genre like landscape photography where you don't control the weather. Many times you might take a week long trip and only come back with a few photos during golden hour. While that yield is great for your portfolio it simply isn't enough to keep a consistent schedule on your social media profile. What if I told you that you could sleep in and never worry about the weather but still get enough material to post?
That is what this style excels at accomplishing. This look wants mood meaning you don't have to wake up for that golden light or have the perfect cloud cover. It can be overcast, foggy, or even sunny and you can walk away with a photo that will look great. A prime example of a place like this is Iceland. I spent seven days there and only one of those days had any sun. Thus if I was someone who was trying to gain a following and needed consistent content it would be nearly impossible to keep up if I was only posting photos from ideal conditions.
I took this photo during daylight hours with zero preparation in mind. It didn't require good light, filters, or even a tripod (although I did use one). This photo certainly isn't winning any landscape photography contests but it's just good enough for my social media profile. In short, using this technique means you can travel somewhere and produce a larger sum of content by removing factors outside of your control.
Now that we've established why such a style is appealing to someone producing a lot of content, the next result is how that person's style will influence others. This is one of the more obvious reasons why Instagram has lost all its color. The people that are posting the most content with a lot of followers are all using this style because of its versatility. This, in turn, influences newer photographers into mimicking said style. One of the ways to earn income as a nature/travel/adventure Instagram influencer is to sell Lightroom presents. As a new photographer, this can be a great way to learn how people achieve the ascetics they enjoy. Over a few years, some of those new photographers might become influencers themselves and the cycle will continue.
Influencer groups are another reason this style is so popular. Typically these groups consist of people with a larger following who travel or work together to create content. A great example of this is local photographers in the area around Bavaria, Germany. There's an absolutely insane amount of photo locations in this small area and many of the larger influencers from that area take photos together. They all influence each other, all have thousands of followers, and nearly all of them edit in the same style. Thus so many of the photos from that area end up looking strikingly similar. One of those spots is in northern Italy just a few hours drive from Munich. If you haven't seen this location on Instagram then you may be living under a rock.
Again I did nothing special to capture this photo. It's taken a few hours after sunrise, handheld, point and shoot. Yet it's been one of the most engaged photos I have ever posted even though it looks exactly like every other photo from there.
One thing I have struggled with as a landscape photographer is coming to terms with the idea that many of my favorite photos don't match the ideals of many viewers. I may get more engagement on a photo that took very little technical knowledge or preparation and have a photo I spent multiple days waking up for sunrise to capture get minimal reception (see above). With that in mind I still take photos for my enjoyment and remind myself that I can separate the work I would put in my portfolio with all the content I post to social media.
So where did the color go? Wel,l it's still there but certainly might not be the ascetic viewers are looking for. My advice is to keep shooting what you enjoy whether it's bright and vibrant sunrises or moody overcast green spaces. Your happiness is always more important than your follower count.
I'd love to hear what you think about why there is such saturation (pun intended) of this style on social media.