Instagram has always been about life through rose-tinted lenses (see: 2016 orange filter). Recently, though, the “photo dump” trend has made a resurgence, favoring spur-of-the-moment shots of weather, food, people; all-things-Instagram.

It’s all about the natural look. Pictures in your photo dump should look as if they were taken almost unintentionally. They should be less posed and filtered and instead cleaner and more candid. Photo dumps call for more variance – maybe throw in a top-angle shot of delicate finger foods or perhaps a zoomed-in snap of the sky.

The artlessness of the photo dump should take the pressure off. Aren’t they about seeing the beauty in the ordinary, about romanticizing life as it is?

But being authentic on a platform like Instagram is almost an oxymoron. As more photo dumps appeared on Instagram over the last two years (even Joe Biden hopped on the trend!), patterns in the order and types of images posted emerged. Inevitably, photo dump templates surfaced, stenciling the appropriate images for conveying low effort and spontaneity. Below is one such template.

Despite their innocent facades, the majority of photo dumps inevitably involve strategic curating. I don’t think I have to point out the irony in following a prescribed formula for a “candid” set of pictures.

To be fair, it’s not like Instagram formulas are unique to photo dumps. Growing up, I remember planning Instagram posts being absolutely terrifying. I would spend hours combing through fifty iterations of the same photo, consulting friends for permission to post any shot with their side profile, and applying the same obnoxiously saturated VSCO filter to every picture.  

Although Instagram may look like it has left behind algorithm-obsessed inauthenticity in all of its pink-brick backgrounds and Clarendon-filtered selfies, I’d argue a less visible yet more powerful filter has emerged.

Recently, YouTuber Trisha Paytas posted a series of social media hard truths on TikTok. In a caption on an image of broken vases and red roses, she confessed she struggles with “not having an aesthetic life.”

I believe that modern Instagram and photo dumps create extremely powerful illusions of constantly camera-ready lives. It’s a more calculated and thickly-veiled form of self-presentation than ever before. There should be no room in modern Instagram for trends that promote a singular stylized form of aestheticism that all should aspire toward – that isolates those who perceive themselves as lacking an aesthetic life.

In reality, I’m a hypocrite – I must confess that I have fallen prey to the photo dump trend. There is a certain beauty (and humor) in looking around, phone in hand, for that “vibe” or “personality” shot. At its best, photo dumps bring out the creativity and spontaneity in capturing life's moments. There's a certain thrill in discovering the perfect angle or lighting that truly encapsulates the mood you want to convey.

In your next photo dump, embrace your authenticity in all of its clumsiness. Take small steps to break out of the mold. Instead of posting a perfect shot of your caesar salad bowls, maybe try posting it half eaten, or with ranch dripping onto the table. There’s so much beauty in life as it is – and your photo dumps can be beautiful as they are.