Why having an Instagram aesthetic does NOT have to be limiting

A young woman in the woods holding up her DSLR camera and her iphone looking jokingly confused and smiling

When I ask my Insta followers how they feel when hearing the term "Instagram aesthetic," most responses are somewhere along the lines of "I find them frustrating/limiting/too hard to pin point." The overall impression that I get is that people who do not already "have" an aesthetic feel somewhat intimidated by the concept OR they feel that developing said aesthetic would limit their ability to "post what they wanted."

There's this impression of an aesthetic as something that curates a "fake" lifestyle, limits creativity, and ultimately presents a false impression that cuts out all of the "real life" stuff you might want to post about.

But what if I told you that it was just the opposite? What if I told you that an aesthetic could help you generate authenticity and open up freedom and clarity in your posting? Would you be more interested in giving it a try?

"No Christina, because I don't HAVE an aesthetic. I'm just me!"

YES. That's exactly my point. YOU ARE YOU. You are unique. And you have a unique perspective on the world that is worth sharing. An aesthetic can help you do that.

But what is an "aesthetic"?

So before I go any further, let me clarify what I mean by an "aesthetic."

As an adjective, "aesthetic" means to be "concerned with beauty or the appreciation of beauty." As a noun, it means "a set of principles underlying the work of a particular artist or artistic movement.

In Instagram terms, I see it as an underlying theme that runs through people's grid which demonstrates how they celebrate the beautiful moments in their lives (and even the messy moments can be considered beautiful, so don't call me out on that whole "but it's so curated" nonsense).

Think of it this way: if ten people had the same experience in the same room, they might all take away a different aspect of that experience that they found most exciting or most beautiful. An Instagram aesthetic is just the demonstration of that unique view on life. And everybody has one. Even if you like all sorts of different things, there is always one common denominator that runs through those things: YOUR PERSPECTIVE.

An aesthetic is just the practice of being mindful and intentional about making your content reflect what you most desire to celebrate. And I mean that in a very broad sense. You might celebrate light or colour or nature or clothes or messiness or cats or ALL OF THE ABOVE. But there's a particular WAY that you celebrate those things that can manifest itself in a visible aesthetic on your feed-- that way, when people land on your grid, they immediately get a sense of what you're all about.

A park bench facing out towards an open field and foliage-covered trees with the golden light of sunset shining onto the bench

What are the practical elements of an Instagram aesthetic?

Having an Instagram aesthetic does not mean that you have to have a grid that is JUST white, pink, and light blue or JUST flowers and forests and flat lays (Although it can if that's what you want. There's no rules here). It means that you have to be mindful and intentional about why you love what you love so that you can seek to capture MORE of it with your camera and create MORE of it in your editing workflow.

Practically speaking, I see an aesthetic as having two key elements: content and feeling. The content is the actual subject matter in the image. The feeling is how that subject matter has been portrayed using framing, light, colour, and editing (which I won't get into now because that's a topic for another post). So two people could go out and shoot similar content and still end up with a different feeling depending on how it was framed and edited.

And "feeling" is malleable. You can evoke a similar feeling in a number of creative ways.

If you narrow down what type of feeling (or feelings) it is that you want to emulate in your images (cozy, excited, inspired, wistful), then the content can reflect that feeling as you use your creative eye. In this sense, you could shoot a lot of different subject matter (a nice meal, a walk with your dog, a beautiful landscape, a picture of your kids) and still manage to create a common thread between them based on how you framed the subject, how you utilised colour and lighting, and how you edited the final image.

Why an aesthetic can actually free you rather than limit you:

See, if you have a clear sense of what it is that you love, from favourite colours to favourite times of day to favourite foods to favourite outfits to favourite messy moments with your babies, you can start to gain a real sense of self and what aspects of beauty you are naturally drawn towards.

This mindfulness of content and feeling does NOT have to limit your ability to capture and post what you want. As you develop a sense of WHY you photograph particular things and the WAY in which you want to capture them, it actually gives you more freedom as you go out to shoot because your creativity can run free while retaining the CLARITY and IDENTITY to propel itself forward. Rather than posting "whatever" because it was "cute" and then looking at your feed six months later and thinking "I don't feel like any of this is really 'me,'" you can create content that you feel totally and completely reflects your values and unique view on the world. You can feel proud of the consistency of an aesthetic on your feed, not because it is "curated" but because you look at it and say "Yes! That's ME!"

An authentic, mindfully created aesthetic can help you visually unlock what sets you on fire. It can give you a sense of direction. And it can change and grow with you, but in an intentional way.

Your Instagram aesthetic does not have to be your shackles: if it is, then you haven't found the aesthetic that's right for you. When done well in a way that is true to self, it should be like a pair of glasses that, when lifted to the eyes, can help you see the beauty of the world more clearly. And that's the kind of confidence and unique vision that we want to be putting out into the world.

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Why an instagram aesthetic does not have to be limiting

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