My metrics were likes. I don’t get many comments on any of my photos.
Unpopular Photos (>100 likes)
Photos that were unpopular on my Instagram did not have my face (1, 2, 3, 4), were not obviously tied to a specific well-known location or beautiful place (1), and tended to have more abstract aesthetics (1, 3, 4). Most of my followers are my friends from Harvard, and because I was studying abroad this past year, nothing was apparently worse for my engagement than the faces of specifically male friends of mine that said Harvard friends wouldn’t have known (2), even if the actual photo was well-composed. I don’t necessarily think that the composition in the case of my unpopular photos mattered in the end, because for some of these I actually tried quite hard to frame the photos (2) or took (and posted) photos because they were already naturally pleasing aesthetically, at least to my eye (3, 4).
In short: Unpopular photos prominently featured men unknown to my audience, are “aesthetic” but not as “accessible” or “relatable” close-ups, and/or generic, unidentifiable scenes.
Decent Photos (100 – 200 likes)
I usually post photos that are highlights of my travels and weekend adventures. Usually, I don’t feature very much in these photos, or sometimes make an appearance in the distance to show scale, or have my back (or the back of a companion) facing the camera. Of these average photos, those on the upper engagement end tend to be photos of more unusual and unique scenes, like taking my groceries on a boat (7) or very beautiful, untouched natural scenes (6) that are obviously connected to a specific place (i.e., not general snow, like 8, which would be on the lower end of engagement in this class).
Again, I think that these photos actually tend to be the most well-composed, usually because I’m the one taking them and composition (at least, what I know about it) is important for me—for example, (5) is still one of my all-time favorite travel photographs, and I went very out of my way to frame the buildings with the arch. I really tried when taking all of these to follow rules of photography and to frame things correctly, like with the cliffs around the bay (6), or the “arrow” of the boat pointing to the horizon (7). However, I think they only receive average attention because a) they fit with my general content (are “unsurprising”), and b) don’t show my face.
In short: Decent photos have beautiful scenes of “fun” and “adventurous” locales, and sometimes feature figures “artfully placed”, all of which “hint” at what I’m up to, which I guess I want people to assume are things that are, as suggested, super fun and adventurous. (I never post very long or explicit locations or captions, I guess to also encourage this?.)
Popular Photos (200 – 300 likes)
Without question, my most popular photos across any social media, including Instagram, are pictures of my twin sister and I, sometimes getting more than 300% more engagement than other photos. This is likely because it seems like most people are somewhat fascinated with twins, and we rarely pose together so it’s a double treat. Every photo on Instagram, even the photos that get low engagement, is already part of the “highlight reel” of my life; having a twin is extremely unique, and for pretty much all people, unless they already have a twin, is an unattainable thing. This makes the photos especially enticing: anyone, given the resources, can go to Venice and post a picture, but very few people can post a photo with someone with their same face. Composition for these twin photos sometimes doesn’t even seem to matter, like with (12), which was a terrible selfie taking during H-Y a few years ago, something I would literally never post on Instagram now. My most-liked photo on Instagram ever is (9), which is my sister Ava and I, well-framed, slightly candid, and wearing vaguely similar outfits. Photos of my face and body are generally popular, especially when I’m a little dressed up or “fashionable”-looking, which I think might be because I don’t often post my face. Strangely, these photo are most popular when they are slightly candid and not “posed”, which tends to be indicated by where I’m looking. Photos of me smiling alone looking into the camera are probably seen as too “posed”?
The Next Three: Why These?
Again, I think I have a curated Instagram, and definitely push an aesthetic. I only post things to Instagram if they are already visually attractive, and hopefully well-composed. I usually edit them using the same filters, which ensures that they share a similar color scheme. This process, in case anyone is curious, starts by putting ~10% of the Aden filter on the image, before lowering the highlights slightly, sometimes increasing the saturation of the new (Aden-ified) colors, and fading the image slightly. The Aden filter makes all images lower-contrast, softens and desaturates the color tones, and warm cooler tones slightly by casting a purplish-pink tint. The final look is warm, pastel-y, cozy, and slightly retro. (The addition of the Aden filter was meant to draw VSCO users to Instagram.) You can see how the edits I use change the image in the before (a) and after (b) of (15).
So, with those as a given, I think that images (13), (14), and (15) would be popular on my feed. (13) has my sister and I wearing almost-matching grey turtlenecks while wrapped in the same scarf (people love twins wrapped in things together), and not being overly-smiley, as if the photographer sort of just caught our attention during a heart-to-heart. It has a) twins, b) “fashionable” outfits, c) an usual and beautiful beach background that matches well with said outfits, so all in all should be a success.
(14) is an instantly recognizable and “cool” background: the Berlin Wall. My sister and I (more twins!) are wearing matching outfits (this almost never happens!), and our clothes match the scene behind us, which, with its homosexual kiss, itself a taboo in some places, has connotations that feed into the intrigue of the image. (From what I’ve heard and seen in popular culture, people have a lot of fantasies about twins. Twins are often sexualized together in advertisements and things like that.)
Finally, (15) is nicely framed by a door; it has my full body, and also looks a bit casual, like someone just happened to snap a photo of me as I stepped out of my house. I never dress like this (I was borrowing a friend’s clothes in Oxford), so it’s surprising and eye-catching.
In short: Popular photos have my twin and I together, and provide some sort of surprising edge. (I think that if we posted twin photos all the time, they would slowly become the “norm” and would thus give diminishing returns in terms of engagement.)