I have a confession to make. I’ve been battling some serious Instagram envy recently. And it started when I found an old acquaintance’s feed.
I was just checking in on the people who liked my post when I came across it. Her feed was full of perfectly styled photos. You know, the ones with the brightest of white backgrounds and careful pops of pink and teal. The desks were pristine and the coffee cups unstained and the flowers perfectly perky. The magazine and notebook covers untouched and unbent.
And she had thousands of followers. And all her photos had hundreds of likes. But that’s not what really bothered me.
What really got to me was scrolling down to the bottom to find that her first post was only 2 weeks old. 2 weeks!
In two weeks, she’d gotten almost 10 times as many followers as I had in over a year! And using bought stock photos that other accounts were posting too!
Has something like that happened to you, too? I mean, here I am laboring over each photo and each caption. My account has grown slowly but steadily, and I was perfectly fine with with. I was proud of my progress and the real connections I’ve made and the honest conversations that sometimes happen in my comments.
And then I found this account and I felt dumb.
My heart sunk into the lowest part of my stomach and I started to question everything. Should I make my white backgrounds whiter? Should I change my brand colors to teal and pink? Should I just give up in despair and admit to myself that I’ll never do anything amazing?
Ugh… it was horrible.
It took several weeks and a handful of conversations with some seriously rad people (thank you, husband and Amy Walsh), but I finally regained my confidence. And it was really just about remembering why I chose to do things this way to begin with.
And that’s the thing. I don’t think choosing to use stock photos is necessarily wrong. And neither is hiring a photographer to create your images. And neither is just doing it yourself and learning as you go.
But for me and my brand, the last approach is the best, and I want to share the reasons why. So that I can finish processing this and move forward confidently. But definitely also so that you can find strength and comfort if this is your approach too.
So, without further delay, here are the 3 reasons why I take my own Instagram photos:
You’ve already heard about how I launched this thing right in the middle of our out of state move and how my business just started making money this year. So it’s no surprise that I’ve never had the budget for anything other than DIY’d Instagram photos.
Instagram works best when you’re posting every single day. Even multiple times a day if you can pull it off. That’s 5-15 photos a week if you’re posting Monday through Friday. That’s a minimum of 260 photos a year!
Stock photos can seem affordable, especially if you buy them in packs. But when you’re living off savings and you’re not sure when your husband will find a job in a new state and you don’t hear any clients coming for miles and miles…
Even now that we’re in a much more stable place, I can’t justify dropping several hundreds on Instagram photos. I’d rather do that for professional headshots, photos for my website, and coverage of my workshops.
Professional photos are wonderful and so valuable. But just like professional branding, if you’re not a place where you can really afford it yet, that’s ok. You can attract the right people and grow your business without it… and maybe upgrade down the line if it feels right.
Yes, stock photos are beautiful. Yes, it can be nice to look at pristine desks and gold office supplies and pretty floral notebooks. Yes, I envy every pretty latte I scroll past.
But my real life isn’t a stock photo. My business doesn’t look like that.
My desk is almost always full of coffee stains, or post it notes, or scribbles compliments of my daughter, or all three. And as much as I like some of those perfect desks, I love my real desk much much more.
By taking my own Instagram photos, I can show you my real life. You get the real me, my real space, my real family. My captions are all my real honest thoughts on the things I’m learning and struggling with and celebrating.
And that’s something my ideal client appreciates. Because she’s going to work directly with me and wants to know what I’m like before making an investment. She wants to know we’ll be a good match. And she has to be ok with my kiddo walking in on some of our Skype calls.
Stock photos have their place, but they’re made to be impersonal. They can’t strongly reflect any one personality or lifestyle too much because they have to appeal to many in order to sell. They can fake realness to a certain extent, but it only goes so far.
Your real photos show so much more than those perfectly manicured shots ever could.\
It’s an opportunity to grow
I’m not a photographer or a stylist or a hand-letterer. And that means taking my own Instagram photos has been a learning process.
I’ve had to learn a little bit about lighting and iPhone settings and technical stuff like that. Because when it’s so cloudy and rainy all winter, you realize how good the light was in the desert and how much you overestimated your own photography skills. I’ve gotten to play with layout and pattern and balance to create flatlays that feel real and on-brand. I even picked up a little calligraphy!
But most of all, I’ve gotten to discover my visual style – something I didn’t think I really had before.
A lot of my earliest photos, and some of my recent ones, are dark and grainy and just bad. Some of them are boring and predictable. And all of them lack the perfection and sparkle and shine of professional stock photos.
But all those photos have pushed me, even just a little, to grow, learn, and embrace my own creativity. They serve as a visual record of my journey since starting this business and tell a story I’m happy to share with the world.
It can be so tempting to give in to the trends and just do what “works.” To share the types of images that get quick results and tons of attention.
But doing things your way, showing your real self, can work so much better. You might grow more slowly and only attract some attention. But the people you do draw in will be there for you, not some polished ideal or alternate reality.
And those are the people you really want.