It’s summer!!! AKA the #1 time to do things outside. Long gone are the days of being curled under a blanket watching cheesy holiday movies on Netflix. Those days have been replaced with me scrolling through Instagram thinking about all the cute summer things I should be doing and reflecting on how I should have been working out all winter instead of watching cheesy holiday movies on Netflix.
Ah, summer. But while one of those goals is long gone, the other is still within reach. All those cute summer things that make you want to go out and live ‘gram your life are actually pretty attainable.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m addicted to the scroll as much as the next person, but I don’t think lying in bed doing it makes me feel good. Passively engaging with other people’s lives makes me crave real engagement in my own life. And as I’m scrolling through the photos of social influencers laughing with their best friends while eating funnel cake and standing in front of a ferris wheel at a parking lot carnival, I can’t help but have this feeling that I’m missing out.
And as quickly as that FOMO enters my mind, I realize I freakin’ hate parking lot carnivals. They are shady as hell (the sound of a creaking ferris wheel is what my nightmares are made of) and on what planet would I ever willingly buy a $12 funnel cake that makes me feel sick afterward? So no, I actually don’t want to spend $30 going to a sketchy AF carnival to hold a funnel cake as a prop, fake laugh for 30 minutes, and snap a few staged pictures while the dude selling hot dogs laughs at me from inside his food trailer.
But why does the picture still get me? Because the picture makes the experience look fun — it makes me nostalgic for an event I didn’t go to and elicits happiness even though I know the experience would actually be slightly miserable.
And I know I’m not alone with this. Ultimately, what we need to set us straight on Instagram, is to have the emotions that the photo evoke match the emotions from the actual event.
When we look at influencers’ posts and we weren’t there for the event, we infer that the photo is reflective of the event itself (logical). So when we see a picture of people having fun, we assume the event was fun (makes sense). But what we know and have to keep reminding ourselves of, is that this assumption isn’t always true — but it’s hard to convince ourselves of something other than what we see.
So instead of doing not-fun things that look fun (ferris wheels are boring and we all know it), I think it makes more sense to keep doing the fun things that aren’t naturally picture-perfect. As a photographer, I am drawn to visuals. And as a millennial who wants to hang on to experiences, I want photos as evidence and reminders of these experiences (if you don’t have a photo with a caption #takemeback what are you doing with your life?). So, to get the things that are truly fun to actually look fun, we just need to make them a little more photogenic.
And you know what’s actually fun? Hanging out with my friends in my backyard while getting drunk off rosé and talking about podcasts, side hustles, arch nemeses at work, and the latest documentaries we saw on Netflix. But there are no neon lights or carnival sounds here, no cotton candy or funnel cakes, and no perfectly-styled outfits.
So to hang on to these experiences through photos and make the photo look as fun as the event actually was, I get creative and pull some blankets together, collect a few rugs, grab some existing household items, and style the space. And as we can all agree, all good things center around food, so with that I have a perfectly ‘grammable event that kicks the ass of any carnival in a Wal-Mart parking lot.
Here are some seriously easy tips for making your next hangout totally ‘grammable:
Add color and texture with textiles.
Textiles are just a fancy word for blankets and fabrics. Layer them as tablecloths, grab some cute napkins, or even grab a curtain or sheet set to add fun patterns and visual interest to your event photos.
Plate your food.
Even if you are eating $5 delivery pizza, you’d be amazed how much of a difference that plating can make. My go-to styling tool is a wooden cutting board. Grab some pieces, sprinkle some crumbs, and stack ‘em up and you’re all set for a styled shoot.
Parsley on everything.
I would say it’s just me but I know it’s not. The reality is this: everything looks better with some plants. Whether it’s your house, your picture, or your food. Throw some sort of fresh herb or parsley because it’s cheap AF and you have food that looks real fancy.
Photograph movement and real emotion.
As a photographer, I hate posed photos. I like the real, candid moments that help you preserve the memories of the night you had. Sometimes that means the lighting is wrong or that the person you’re taking a picture of is blurry, but as long as you have the emotion, you’ll love the photo. Aim to get pictures of people laughing, moving, dancing, whatever. Because that’s what makes life fun and those are the things you want to remember.
Natural light or bust.
Nothing ruins your photos like artificial light. Even if you think the photo is dark (iPhone, I’m looking at you), keep it that way and brighten it up afterward. The yellow from artificial light, especially when mixed with sunlight can be super tricky. And if you want a pro-tip, I generally avoid harsh direct sunlight when I can, meaning I try to shoot in a shaded area where shadows aren’t casting down in weird ways on people’s faces.
Don’t obsess over the photos.
Photos should be reflective of the experience, but they shouldn’t be the experience itself. And yes, there is a difference!
Whatever you do, have fun with it. Because summer nights are those nights that I live for, and even if my pictures aren’t 100% perfect, the feelings behind them are authentic and true. And at the end of the day, I would much rather have these experiences with friends than scroll through the ‘gram with a severe case of FOMO. Let’s channel that FOMO and have it drive us to action — call the friend you haven’t seen in awhile, invite your neighbor over for a glass of wine, or take your bike out and head to the closest park. And if you need more convincing to step out of your comfort zone, do it for the ‘gram.