Travel Advice

The Real Effort That Goes Into A Good Instragram Photo

posted by Courtney Jones May 13, 2017 22 Comments
Instagram Distorts Reality
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The Real Effort Behind A Good Instragram Photo.

I love Instagram. It’s my favourite social media platform.

I really don’t understand Twitter. I still don’t have a clue how/why to use it. Facebook is full of click-bait and trashy quizzes like How Your Choice in Condiment Can Predict Your Future (okay, fine, I’ll admit that I take those quizzes #pleasedontjudgeme).

I do really like Pinterest though. Where else can you design your future home, dream wardrobe AND plan your dinner? It’s also a great resource to find blog articles about destinations I want to visit, making it my second favourite social media channel.

Instagram is still my fave though. I love the high-quality images, location tagging and disappearing stories – it’s dreamy. However, as much as I adore Instagram, I legitimately believe it distorts reality. Part of the reason I love it so much is part of the problem: the high-quality, carefully curated images. Instagram is a platform to post your best photos. While there are definitely loads of private accounts posting low-quality selfies, the majority of public accounts holders, myself included, are very strategic in their photo selection.

I’m super choosy about which photos will make the cut. A photo of a crowded pool on a cloudy day? No way. A photo of a popular tourist destination packed with people? Never in a million years. Sure, I’m super truthful about real experiences on my blog, because I aim for transparency (and the stories are generally hilarious), but my Insta account is where I showcase my best photos #wannabephotographer.

SO, in the interest of transparency, and to have a bit of fun, below are the real stories behind some of my Instagram shots!

Shibuya Crossing, Japan

I literally starting planning this photo from the second I booked my trip to Japan. At the time, I was just starting to get into long exposure photography, and was obsessed with the idea of taking a long exposure shot at a busy intersection at night.

In order to take this photo, I had to find a spot at the side of the busy intersection to set up my tripod, then place my camera on a 10-second timer (because I didn’t have a remote) and wait for the traffic lights to change. As soon as the ‘walk sign’ lit up, I dashed into the intersection (had to get into position before the 10-second timer was up), and then proceeded to stand perfectly still for 20 seconds, the length I had set the long exposure. I spent the whole time hoping no one was going to steal my camera, as I was facing away from it (which, in retrospect, probably wasn’t my brightest decision ever).

Figure 8 Pools, Sydney

My own private pool 😉#figure8pools #royalnationalpark

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I discovered the Figure 8 Pools on Instagram, and was instantly drawn to them. When I found out there were located in a national park just outside Sydney, I knew I had to go. Instagram made them popular, so I knew I would have to go super early in the morning to avoid the crowds.

John and I woke up around 5am, drove down to the park and did the 30-40 minute hike down to the pools. We were the only people there, but not for long – we could see other people coming in the distance! In the name of a good Insta pic, I quickly jumped into one of the perfectly shaped figure 8 pools (it was so cold), and John took a bunch of photos of me floating around like a weirdo. Oh yeah, I also had to hold my breath and sink underwater anytime a wave crashed over the pool, to avoid getting scraped to sh*t on the jagged rock walls.

Fushimi Inari-taisha, Kyoto


At least I was honest in the description, right?? The place was totally packed. I mean, like grossly packed with people. Tourists with selfie-sticks galore! We tried a few times to get a good photo, but there were always crowds in the background. I had read online that the crowds thin out as you trek further up the hill, so we just kept on going. We were dressed in winter gear, but the hike was making us super sweaty, so we ended up walking around in a t-shirt in February!

We finally found ourselves in a less populated area, and patiently waited for a clearing of people to pose for a few photos.

Gold Coast, Queensland

When you have the entire beach to yourself

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Of course I had the beach to myself; it was 6.30am on a cold, drizzly, random Tuesday morning! Also, note my lack of beach attire – I was in Gold Coast for a work conference #notaholiday

Golden Pavillion, Kyoto

This temple is literally covered in gold!

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Covered in gold and surrounded by people! I know it looks like no one is around, but that’s just because the entire grounds are fenced off, so I’m basically standing as close as possible, and angling my camera to cut out everyone else.

El Nido, Philippines


‘Feeling like a mermaid being scraped to pieces by really sharp coral’ is a more accurate description. First of all, I had to swim a decent distance from our dive boat to get to this little lagoon area. Although it looks super tranquil, another boat zoomed by, creating waves, which then pushed me onto a patch of super sharp coral. I hate damaging sea life, so not only was I in pain, I felt really guilty!

Hanging out in the vines, Mudgee

Celebrating my 29th birthday in the Mudgee wine region ❤️

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I was on a wine tour, and everyone else thought I was barking mad. I saw the perfect photo opportunity in the vines, so posed like a crazy person while my Insta-husband played photographer. This is one of about 20 photos from that moment.

Sculpture by the Sea, Sydney


This was yet another instance where people thought I was a total nutcase. I had my GoPro on a gorilla pod on the ground, and was controlling in with through the app on my phone. A random guy was literally taking photos of me taking photos of myself, so I’m 99% sure I’ll end up featured in some article about how selfie-obsessed the world has become. #whatevs

Oh so romantic, Fiji

Sometimes you don’t know the true value of a moment until it becomes a memory

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For starters, how cheesy is that description?! Awkward, right?

Let’s get more awkward. I made my poor husband stand in the sunset holding my hand while we waited for our camera timer to go off. Next time you’re admiring a romantic photo, think about how it was taken. Chances are, some random photographer didn’t happen to capture a special moment. Nope, it was probably carefully staged and awkward executed, just like this one (at least I’m hoping, because, if not, my life is definitely defined by awkward moments).

Matching matcha, Osaka

This one is bad – I bought this ice-cream cone specifically to take this photo. It was the dead of the winter, and matcha flavoured ice-cream is gross. But how cute does it look against the green in the castle? So I bought it anyway.

Wrap up on Instagram

Okay you guys, hopefully this will serve as a good reminder that, while some photos are absolutely real, most Instagram photos are not always presenting reality! So before you start to feel FOMO because your experience in a certain place doesn’t look as good as everyone else’s on Instagram, remember that it probably took them a lot of planning and execution to capture that specific moment!

In the meantime, be sure to follow me on Instagram so you can continue to see the end result of all my awkward efforts 😀

What are some of the crazy things you’ve done to get a good photo??

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The Real Effort Behind a Good Instagram Photo

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Hendrik May 14, 2017 at 8:11 am

Great post, was really fun to read on the one hand due to the way how you wrote about it. On the other hand – I totally agree, Instagram (mainly) but also other apps and social media platforms seem to go in a direction that has not really a lot to do with reality anymore. I for myself also just want to make a great photo, not staged, should still be natural but high quality.
And then I see photos with 40k likes where ppl seriously are putting artificial elements (single tree etc.) into a scenery to make it more dramatic, which has nothing to do with the original anymore. That’s bad IMHO. Your photos I like, I don’t see anything awkward or bad, actually you just take some extra effort to make the shot a bit more special, perfectly fine 🙂

Courtney Jones May 15, 2017 at 10:29 am

Yep, totally agree that social media has created a world where we stage photos to make them more ‘likeable’ or interesting. Glad you enjoyed reading it 🙂

Natasha May 14, 2017 at 8:50 am

I love your pictures, they are all fab and so inspiring. You are so brave to leave your camera there in Tokyo, not sure I am trusting enough to have been able to do that! haha

Courtney Jones May 15, 2017 at 10:24 am

It definitely wasn’t my smartest decision, but fortunately, it didn’t come back to haunt me!

Zinara May 14, 2017 at 9:18 am

Girl, my previous blog post is a bit about that and I’ve been talking and thinking about this a lot lately. Instagram makes everything so dreamy and glorious but travel isn’t always like that. My question is, how far should we go to take the perfect photo though?

Courtney Jones May 15, 2017 at 10:20 am

It’s tricky! One one hand, I think of Instagram sort of like a form of Tumblr or another photo sharing platform – people use it to showcase their best work. I think the problem is that Instagram is used for inspiration – where to go, what to wear, what to buy – so by only posting certain (perfect) photos, we’re inadvertently promoting a place in a less than realistic way.

I’ve definitely been surprised (let down) by places IRL after building expectations solely from Insta!

Only By Land May 14, 2017 at 12:04 pm

I love Instagram too, it’s my favorite social media platform. I must admit I look at the view I’m going to take already editing and filtering it in my head before I’ve even taken the shot! I’m impressed with your Shibuya crossing shot, I worked out from looking at it that you’d used a long exposure but presumed someone was taking the shot. I would be worried not only about the camera but also about someone walking into it and knocking it over! The final image was well worth the effort and risk! It was good to read how you made all your pictures, yes, you must look strange to passers by but the finished Instagram images are stunning!

Courtney Jones May 15, 2017 at 10:06 am

ohhh, yep, I also start planning my editing before I even take the photo! T

Kevan May 14, 2017 at 2:51 pm

Very insightful post. Photos can certainly be deceptive without being an outright lie, but at the same time that is also what makes them great. It give the photographer the ability to express a certain thought or feeling to convey through a lens and filter to create that same feeling or emotion in the viewer. Photos are not life, they are art and an interpretation of one moment of life.

Courtney Jones May 15, 2017 at 9:55 am

That’s a really good way of looking at it! I love this comment: ‘Photos are not life, they are art and an interpretation of one moment of life’ – so so true!

Lynne Sarao May 14, 2017 at 7:21 pm

Ha ha! I absolutely loved this post and every single story behind the photo! You should do a regular series on this! I’ve had some really interesting things happen to me trying to get the perfect shot as well. Usually I’m not so patient and give up too easily! But please keep doing what you’re doing because the end results are fantastic!

Courtney Jones May 15, 2017 at 9:40 am

I’m glad you enjoyed the stories!

Sara Essop May 14, 2017 at 7:55 pm

Looking at your photos I’d never have guessed that so much effort went into them. They look so…effortless. Instagram is my favourite social media platform too, because I love looking at beautiful photos. I’ve never quite got the hang of Pinterest.

Courtney Jones May 15, 2017 at 9:34 am

haha yep, loads of behind the scene effort! It’s so fun to check out all the photos on Instagram!

Umberta May 15, 2017 at 7:32 am

Ahah I really enjoyed this post! Although all the perfect – in reality not so perfect – pictures, Instagram is my favorite media too! Even more then Pinterest. I find a lot of ideas & inspiration on Instagram, not only for travel, but also for home decoration or fashion.
Anyway, i would love to visit the 8 shaped pool!!!

Courtney Jones May 15, 2017 at 8:52 am

It’s such a good place to get inspired!

Susan Portnoy May 20, 2017 at 8:49 pm

I love behind-the-photo stories and this was great. I would have loved to have been there in Tokyo when you were standing there for 20 seconds with your hands up. Hilarious. But the result is great. Also amazed how sharp you are considering it’s hard to get the focus right on shots like that.

Courtney Jones May 20, 2017 at 9:06 pm

Definitely not one of my classiest moments 😉

Jean May 20, 2017 at 10:27 pm

This made me laugh. Living in Melbourne I see the Insta queens all the time and I love photobombing them on my way to lunch.

Audrey May 21, 2017 at 2:59 am

Thank you for this article, it is such a fresh a much needed reminder that photography is staged. I love IG but I definitely get down sometimes comparing myself to huge bloggers who get everything planned/staged/edited. A little spontaneity never killed nobody 🙂

Crazy Travelista May 21, 2017 at 5:48 am

Totally feel you on this one and can totally relate!! The struggle is real planning and taking all these IG photos, especially when you’re alone! Ive had many people taking a photo of me taking a photo of myself. I’m waiting for those to surface somewhere haha. Thank you for being raw and transparent! Love the post! Oh, and I STILL don’t understand Twitter either. Like wtf? Hahaha

Courtney Jones May 21, 2017 at 5:53 am

I’m glad I’m not the only person who doesn’t get twitter!


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