What's Your Instagram Story, Helen?
For a while now I've been intrigued by the stories behind the Instagram feeds of the many women (and the occasional man) within the Instagram community I belong to.
Many of these women have beautiful feeds that take time, creativity and perseverance. So, what makes them start an Instagram account in the first place? Why do they put so much time and effort into their feed? How have their lives changed because of it? And what opportunities have come out of it that they hadn't anticipated?
So, I'm starting a series. A regular interview with an inspiring Instagrammer where I would love to know more about the story behind the pictures.
To start, I'm going to interview myself. That's not me being narcissistic, but hopefully by putting myself first it'll give confidence to those I interview. Plus, it'll help me work out my questions.
What's Your Instagram Story, Helen Redfern?
Scroll back through your feed to that first ever photograph. When did you post it?
20th July 2014.
How would you describe your feed in those early days?
Bright and over-saturated. Occasionally blurry with yellowy whites.
Care to share your first few pictures?
This pink flower was my very first photograph. It was taken with my DSLR some weeks earlier. I didn't know what to post when I first created my Instagram account. It had to be something good as it would be seen by thousands of people all keen to see what I'd post* - so went with a picture I'd taken whilst practicing with my new camera.
*So, it felt like a lot of pressure to produce that first picture as I thought lots of people would be 'judging' me. Truth is, no-one actually saw it. It had two likes. From family members.
How would you describe your feed as it stands now?
Autumnal! A love of nature, books, cake. And the stories behind all these items.
Why did you post that first picture? What was going on in your life at that time?
I was an aspiring author and was trying to get my recipe book published through my agent. At the time I also wrote about books and food for a book website called Novelicious. As part of my column I would take photographs of the cakes and bakes. So, naturally I became interested in photography. I had an account on Twitter and Facebook at the time but I created an Instagram account because I read someone's rather snooty tweet saying Twitter wasn't for photographs but for words (oh, how much has changed since then!). As I had been posting quite a few pictures on Twitter I thought I'd better go to Instagram and post my pictures there instead.
What are the similarities and differences between your account then and what it is today?
Funnily enough the subjects of my photographs three years ago were much the same as now. I can see flowers, cake, chickens, apples and eggs. DogFace and CatFace are there, as well as blackberries, tomatoes and what I make with them.
But it was less selective. I shared my trip to Disney in Florida which I wouldn't do now because it doesn't go with my feed and my nature/slow-living story. There's lots of blue and bright colours back then. And a lot of detail shots. I think I was using my DSLR at the time so I could zoom right in to the centre of the flower. A drop of water on a leaf was one of my favourite subjects for example.
Tell us the story of your feed. When did you consciously start to 'style' your feed? Can you tell by looking at your grid?
I didn't attempt to style my feed until nearly a year later. On the 6th May 2015 I took an overhead shot of my curry preparations with fresh coriander and garlic. I had decided to use a piece of white board that was left over from our recent kitchen refit. I'd either seen someone else do it, or read about doing it. So I took the photo and brightened it - either with the inbuilt Instagram tools or using an app. I think by then I might have downloaded a brightening app in an attempt to make the colours pop.
The photograph got a lot of likes - about 36 I think, and I was hooked. I started using the white backdrop more for my rhubarb harvest, pressed flowers and bunches of lilac. Then I did some pastel fairy cakes and got 77 likes. I was on to something!
I carried on like this for some time. Some on white backdrops, close-ups outside or landscape shots.
I also posted lots and lots of books at this time and flirted with being a bookstagrammer. But I wasn't reading enough to talk about them as well as photograph them. Without realising I wanted to tell a story with my photographs.
So around October 2015 I was beginning to think about Instagram a little more. It was starting to become more than an app. Unbeknownst to me it was also helping me decide which direction I wanted to go in creatively.
From that October through Christmas to January the following year I posted mainly book photographs.
I was also starting to learn about photography at that point and began a free online course.
And then I started a mentoring package with Sara Tasker at the end of January 2016. I started looking at my feed as a whole rather than the individual photographs. I contrasted each photo, colour-wise with the previous one. And I started to experiment with how I was going to tell my story. This all started to filter through to my blog and I created A Bookish Baker.
How has your account evolved over time?
Since being mentored by Sara I stopped focusing on the small detail and zoomed out on my photographs. Showing a broader story. And I made sure I had more negative space in my photographs; allowing the subjects to breathe.
And I stopped using the books and bits and bobs around my house as just 'props' but tried to create a picture out of something that had caught my attention. The leaves, the blossom, the story behind the eggs laid by my chickens and ducks, the cakes and the recipes to go with them.
I bought my brown backdrop table in September of 2016 (£10!) and from then on my feed started to get a little darker until eventually it became the feed I have today. (You can read more about the evolution of A Bookish Baker on Instagram here.)
What drives you?
I'd be lying if I didn't say I valued the likes and follows from other people. Because I do. But I think what is at the core is creativity. I never thought I'd be a photographer, or keep people intrigued in my duck or chicken stories. Or, even share my writing online. But I love creating something out of my day and sharing the story of my day.
How has Instagram impacted other parts of your life?
Because of Instagram I started A Bookish Baker. The name was because I wrote about, baked and photographed food in books. Funnily enough, once I gave myself that name what started as a narrow focus, and was driving me mad as I felt so constricted by it, became broader. Even though the name should have limited me it actually took the 'self-conscious me' out of it. So by being A Bookish Baker instead of Helen Redfern I felt less shackled; less tied by my own self-doubt and fear of failure/success. And I became more confident with my writing as I began to write captions that told a story. This did wonders for my confidence and encouraged me to write more on my blog.
What opportunities has it brought you?
Creating an Instagram account has brought me to the attention of a few brands and I've earned a little bit of money through that.
From a long-term perspective, though, it has brought clarity to my writing career. And given me much needed confidence.
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