Why are post-instagram photographers scared of colour?

“So what are you saying, you don’t like our wedding photos?” My wife said sharply, breaking the docile atmosphere. She was clearly taken aback by my idle commentary. We had been scrolling Instagram and mumbling aloud as people do in a conversational dry spell.

The tension hung for a moment before I took a short breath and checked the back of my neck for the cold sweat that was sure to follow. Our wedding photos are good – I’m happy every time I look back at them, and they capture so many beautiful, tender moments from our special day but I always feel that something is missing. Worse still, I know what it is.

The colour is missing.

Now, in defence of our wedding photographer (and to placate my wife if she ever reads this article), if this washed out palette belongs anywhere, it belongs in the world of wedding photography. This sepia tinged treatment is bottled nostalgia, and that is what most people hope to feel as they look back on images from their union. It makes things look timeless, it suggests that your wedding existed somewhere outside of our bleak present, but in 20 years time we’ll look back at this trend and recognise the photographs of the early 2020s as readily as we identify the crop-tops and tamagotchis of the 90’s or the big hair of the 80’s – and they’ll look dated.

Brown/orange tones are safe

Part of the appeal of editing photos in this way is that it increases the likelihood of a photo that will look ‘good enough’ and will create a product that fits in nicely with a social media feed. It brings a uniformity to a gallery of images. It looks similar to what influencers in the photography space are releasing so it can piggyback on their success. These advantages are attractive, it also means you have a plan when you edit, even if that plan rarely changes.

The downside is that you lose the ability to tell bold and impactful stories with colour and as a result you become less inclined to look for stark colour contrast in your compositions.

Contrast is a useful tool in isolating the subject of your shot, so relinquishing it in any form is relinquishing some control of storytelling in your image.

Modern photographers don’t think in black and white

How much of your social media feed is in greyscale? A tiny fraction if any. In general, we’ve lost our appetite for stories told in terms of just light and dark.

That’s a shame, because the images that benefit from most from this prevalent desaturation are the ones that work because of contrast in exposure. The thin wash of colour becomes a safety net that dilutes the impact of a shot that is striving to tell a story through shadow.

My personal Instagram feed is currently monochromatic. I’ve challenged myself to find photos that work because of the intensity of light, not the colour of it – and I’m increasingly happy with the results (even if I get fewer likes!).

Check out my instagram

It’s easier to create through editing than in the real world

There’s a dusky aesthetic to this trend and I think that is intentional. These photos suggest that everything happens as the sun sets or rises – before the day becomes cluttered with modern life or the night unfolds it’s blues, purples and blacks across the world, but that’s not always true.

I feel that most of these images would look better if they were captured at these times. On hazy mornings or winter afternoons in the UK the world takes on the glow of a low sun and if you’re lucky, for an hour or so, the world outside can actually look like these images.

If you want the look, find it – don’t fake it. If I see much more of it, I might scream!