Gloom & Glow
For the past couple of years I've wanted to participate in something so, so badly. I've been watching from the sidelines with envy, wishing that I could be involved and wondering if I should splash the cash in hope of a return on my investment. I've seen others bloom and blossom, their Instagram feeds flowing like well-curated galleries and their followers rapidly growing, and thought I want that to be me.
If you're at all invested in Instagram, chances are that you follow Sara Tasker and fawn over her beautiful gallery. Sara was one of the first people I followed when I began to take Instagram seriously and is as genuinely lovely in real life as she comes across online. I've had the pleasure of meeting her IRL several times and frequently chat to her via social media, pondering the nuances of our favourite app among other things. I considered enlisting for mentoring with Sara a while ago, but sadly could not spare the funds at the time. Ditto her Insta Retreat online courses that always seem to fall at times when I just can't spare the money. Last summer, I watched a group of my digital friends work their way through her Bloom & Grow course and promised myself that I'd sign up to whatever she did next. Then came the winter version, Gloom & Glow.
I'd been struggling with my Insta-identity for a while. What was my Instagram all about? What did I want to focus on? What was my aesthetic? How could I get my grid to flow? I didn't understand why my followers weren't growing, but looking back I can see that I was all over the place. My travel posts were out of sync with the rest of my content and my photos had no distinct 'look'. Was I focusing on travel or my day-to-day life? What colours did I like to capture? I felt completely lost, and Gloom & Glow came at exactly the right time.
Sara's winter photography course was aimed at discovering all the best bits of winter photography; learning tips & tricks for shooting outside in different weather conditions, playing with light, getting cosy indoors and allowing yourself to leave your comfort zone and play around at being creative. Yes, I got all of that out of the four week course, but I also found myself discovering my overall aesthetic and learning more about what I want to share on Instagram and here, on my blog.
As soon as I began creating images with the course homework in mind, I saw a difference in my photographs. Almost immediately they looked more pulled together, more uniform. I could see a distinct style coming through and borrowed a small exercise that others had recommended from Sara's previous courses. I thought about three words that I wanted to come across in my photographs, using my most recent images as a point of reference. The words that I selected were light, slow and focus.
Light because I love photographing bokeh, but also because I wanted to show the lightness of the darker months. I wanted to counteract my gloom with plenty of glow.
Slow had been on my mind for a while, but during the course it became my mantra. Not only did I want to write about all things slow on my blog, but I wanted my photography to portray a slower pace of life.
Focus had a double meaning. It referred to playing around with the focusing in my shots, again thinking about creating bokeh but also putting the focus on unusual points of the image, focusing tightly on little detail or purposely blurring shots. But it also meant placing a focus on the content that I really wanted to share: the little moments that captured my attention.
Scrolling through my Instagram feed, I think it is really obvious to spot when I started Sara's course. I've asked a few friends to try to pinpoint my first Gloom & Glow photo (without reading my captions) and they all selected either the exact photograph or a couple of shots earlier, when I was playing around before the course officially launched. Three months on, I'm still thinking about those three words and the overall aesthetic of my feed when I plan what I want to share.
I've decided that my feed is more lifestyle than travel, as I knew I was getting lost in the hordes of travel-focused feeds that all blur into one after a while. I still share content from my travels, but I try to make it fit more seamlessly into my overall feed, rather than suddenly sharing 20+ photos that jar with everything else. I've developed what I like to think is a distinct look, instantly recognisable when someone finds themselves on my feed. Green, white, grey and rust tones are prevalent across my images, perfectly tying in my favourite colour, snowy winter landscapes and my red hair. I'm thinking more about empty space in my images and learning that cluttered photographs aren't received well. I'm thinking about my grid in advance, planning my layout while also realising that now I have a more uniform style, my photos already look better together.
I'm still sharing what I want though. Photos of landscapes that inspire me, the best bits of the places that I travel to, the little details in everyday life, snapshots of nature and the occasional photograph of myself. I'm just learning to consider each tiny detail of a photograph before deciding if its right for my feed. And I'm still making mistakes, while at the same time realising that I can share whatever the hell I want. It's easy to take Instagram too seriously, and I've found that I've actually started posting less but am receiving higher engagement.
Captions count too; Instagram isn't just about images. Another thing that Sara has taught me is that sparking a conversation with your caption is the best way to receive high engagement on a post. Think about what you want to share and link your photos and words together into a story or a question. Comments are more important than likes in Instagram currency, and encouraging people to interact with your image and leave a meaningful comment is one of the most valued achievements. I've found that if you tell a story through your image, the words to accompany it come naturally. Rather than grasping at straws and trying to find a link that isn't there, my best engagement has come from images and captions that truly relate to each other.
Gloom & Glow might be over for me, but I'm still using what I learnt. I'm starting to think about how I can evolve my images as the seasons change, and how I can take photos on beautiful sunny days without ruining my feed. I'm thinking about how the colours that I'm using can apply to spring and summer. I'm wondering how I can use light in clever ways and what subjects I want to photograph in summer. Sara's initial subjects are still inspiring me with this: how to shoot in different weather conditions, how to use light to your advantage, how to take photographs inside and how to tell stories with your pictures. This course isn't just for winter, I just need to think outside the box now that the days are getting brighter and longer. I need to continue thinking about the stories that I am capturing.
Disclaimer: This is in no way a sponsored post, I just genuinely love Sara's work and her course.