5 Things to Remember When You See A “Perfect” Instagram Photo

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Let’s Be More Critical When It Comes To Social Media…

So, you’re browsing through your Instagram feed and you keep seeing perfect photos. Right? Maybe you feel jealous – maybe it’s envy – but whatever it is, it’s not always healthy to feel these things over a few photos.

Why does this happen? How did we get here? For some of us, it’s almost weird to think back to a time before social media. Before every aspect of our lives was created, curated, and shared. It was made with good intentions – but these days, we’re not sure it’s all that “good”.

Instagram is a particularly important medium to be critical of. Photos – by nature – are visual. Something many, many, many people can experience and consume on a daily basis. Whole industries are now built around it – and with money and importance comes the dark side of the industry.

We obviously browse Insta, too – but we also know a little bit more about the “content creator” side of it. From our experience, here are a few things that we should all keep in mind when it comes to those perfect photos we see on social media.

It’s A Snapshot In Time

Couple holding hands and walking on grass with trees and fog in background
This is one moment out of many that day.

In general, it’s important to remember that photos are a snapshot in time. They are a piece of a moment. A fraction of a moment. A “snapshot” into a day. However, they make it seems like that moment is what the whole experience was like.

Not true. Not by a long shot. When we have our experiences, not every moment of that experience is going to be like that. In fact, that “moment” you are looking at could have been staged. You know the saying “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is”? Yeah, that applies here.

We’re not saying that people shouldn’t capture moments in time that make them happy, bring them joy, or are beautiful – but remember that that one singular moment doesn’t account for the whole experience. Basically, there’s more to the story.

That view from that hike might look amazing – but it also took half a day to get there and a whole bunch of money and time to get the shot right. This moment doesn’t just exist “free-standing” in time. So don’t be sad when your experience doesn’t compare – it’s your experience, and no one else’s.

It (Probably) Took More Than One Take

Woman jumping on beach with water and sand underneath her
Not every shot was just like this one…

This one is more aimed at questioning the authenticity that we experience in every day life. Comparing photos makes us ask things like “Why do my selfies look terrible? Why was my ice cream not as tall and covered in toppings as the influencer’s photo? Why was that flag not flying perfectly when I visited, too?”

These are the things that we start to compare to our own photos and experiences. The truth is “good shots” take time to get right. It’s rarely what that place/thing looks like ALL the time. So, we shouldn’t expect it to look that way when we experience it, too.

It really comes down to setting expectations for the person consuming the photos. It can be easy to “sell” someone on an experience through one perfect photo…. only to have them visit and be totally bummed out. Then, they think they did something wrong because it didn’t compare. The reality wasn’t the same as the expectation.

Just remember that if your photo doesn’t look exactly like the one that brought you there – your experience isn’t less valid without a “perfect photo”.

Related – How to Determine if Blogging is For You

It’s (Probably) Edited

Photo of waterfall and greenery with sun
Nice shot – but keep in mind that it could have been edited!

We’re not content creators that use color and imagery for their craft – we do it, too. Shots can look beautiful with a little touch up or a heavy edit – depending on the scene and what they use the photo for. We aren’t aiming to kill creativity, either.

However, when people at a viewpoint get photoshopped out, when the street in Europe is actually a completely different color, when the waterfall was only just kind of blue and had a smaller trickle over it – it can be misleading. When creators are open about their edits it’s not a problem, but when the edited version is passed off as “real life”, we run into issues.

Again, this comes back to the setting of expectations. Is the reality of the experience, the food, the thing the same in the photo as in real life? If the two differ drastically – and we as consumers don’t know about it – we might be disappointed. Often, we are.

So remember to be critical when seeing a “perfect” Instagram photo. If someone knows how to use photo editing software, a photo can be changed A LOT.

Related – Dating Expectations versus Reality – How They Differ

Was it Legal?

Woman standing in sunflower field with arms stretched out and blue sky in background
Just because you see someone else do it doesn’t mean it’s allowed…

Sometimes, in an effort to get the best shots – the perfect shots – people are willing to go the extra mile. This includes – unfortunately – endangering their own lives or breaking the law to do so.

There have been countless cases of people dying from falling over the edges of walls, cliffs, or waterfalls for the most daring or cool selfie when there are often barriers set up for common sense safety. National parks are getting trampled through where people aren’t supposed to be walking. Fields of sunflowers getting destroyed because one person posted a pretty photo (this happened in Canada).

It’s obviously tragic when people lose their lives – but this loss is just so unnecessary if social pressure to deliver the perfect experience wasn’t so high. In fact, it’s now expected that experiences look a certain way. Feel a certain way. And if yours don’t, they are somehow less “good”.

The perfect shot is not worth the risk or the consequences. Snap your photos safely, make your memories, and move on to do it again sometime.

That Person Is Imperfect, Too

Woman in white bikini with white hat sitting on sandy beach with clear water and cliffs in background
Remember that one photo doesn’t tell a person’s whole story.

This one goes for whether we’re talking about the photographer themselves, the subject of the photo (if it includes a person) – or both. Remember – behind these photos there are people, just like you and me.

Like you and me, they are imperfect. They have their bad days, too. They struggle. The photos do not represent their lives in whole – but often we think that that moment captured on their photo is how their whole life is.

“Look at them being all happy,” we might say… not realizing that they are actually battling depression or other demons. Smiles can go a long way – and they can be deceiving. We aren’t saying that everyone in their photos are unhappy or suffering – but remember that they DO have hard times, like you and me. Their life isn’t perfect so don’t expect yours to be, either. Just do you the best you can. That’s what matters.

And there you have it – a few things that we think you should keep in mind when browsing through Instagram! In the end, we just want people to be critical of what they are consuming on social media. What do you think? Do you agree or disagree? Let us know!

As always, Stay Curious,

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Things to remember when seeing a "perfect" photo on Instagram