As anyone who has spent any time on Instagram knows, color-themed accounts are everywhere. You know the ones. You open their profiles only to be greeted by a perfectly color-coordinated grid ― maybe it’s a sea of blue, or perhaps a wall of pink ― leaving you wondering why your own life isn’t so perfectly coordinated.
The average Instagram user probably doesn’t put too much thought into what gets posted and when. But it’s a different world for Instagram influencers, who seem to have taken over the platform with their well-curated feeds and perfectly posed photos.
One of the most common ways they present themselves and their lives on Instagram is through a carefully curated color palette. “Building a consistent Instagram theme for your feed is super important if you want to attract more followers and engagement,” notes a blog post on Later.com, an Instagram planning app.
With that in mind, we wanted to know: How much work actually goes into keeping up appearances? What is it like living life through a single-colored lens? To find out, we spoke to four individuals who seem to have mastered the art of the curated color palette.
So, how do Instagrammers choose their signature color?
As you may have noticed by scrolling through your own feed, pink ― especially of the millennial variety ― and blue palettes are quite popular (the latter apparently garners more likes). But the possibilities for one’s Instagram palette are daunting.
Noelle Downing, a fashion and lifestyle blogger whose account @noelledowning predominantly features orange and rust tones, said her color scheme was a strategic decision.
“I always really liked warm tones. For a long time I really loved the color red, and that actually used to be the main focus,” she said. “Now I’ve moved away from that because I started noticing that, weirdly, when bright red was in a photo, it wasn’t performing as well as the ones that had an overall warm tone instead of one red thing.”
“I think creating the overall feed helps you build something that people know you for,” she added.
One of Downing’s friends and fellow influencers, Steffy Degreff, who goes by @steffy on Instagram and runs the blog Steffy’s Pros and Cons, has a similarly warm palette, with orange and mustard yellow taking center stage. For her, though, the palette seemed to grow out of her own genuine love for those colors.
“Before my feed was really that color, I feel like my life was that color, if that makes sense,” she said. “At my wedding, all the bridesmaids were in [mustard yellow] and it was the color for my wedding. My couch is orange. There were elements of it around me, and I feel like as time went on, I was like, ‘You know, I don’t really want to buy things in colors I feel uncomfortable in, or not myself in.’ So I started to gravitate more toward that color in other aspects of my life. And before I realized it, everything in my feed was that color. Now, of course, it’s an intentional thing, but in the beginning it really wasn’t.”
Jesus Castillo Ruiz, who has the phrase “I believe in pink” in the bio of his @xuzzi Instagram account, said his choice to focus on the rosy hue was more about accepting pink as his favorite color than a professional strategy.
“In this society, where men must always be blue, it was difficult for me to accept who I really was. But when I did, I felt happy and that feeling of welcome and joy came along with the color pink, so I started to relate it with good feelings such as love and compassion,” he said. “Besides, when I think about pink, inspiration starts flowing.”
Artist Stella Maria Baer (@stellamariabaer), who generally sticks to a light, airy palette with neutral tones, said her color scheme isn’t necessarily about being strategic but about reflecting her life. She really began sticking to the color patterns on her Instagram account around five years ago, she said, when she began taking photos of where she grew up in northern New Mexico.
“I think initially it was a meditation on where I grew up and the landscapes and different conversations I was having with friends about the different colors of our bodies,” she explained. “But I think over time, there’s a cycle of [Instagram and life] feeding each other. As a painter and photographer, I feel like Instagram is one of the mediums I work in and the color relationships are part of that.”
There are challenges to living within the boundaries of a color scheme.
As one might surmise from seeing a feed with such a strong theme, it takes a lot of behind-the-scenes planning. Instagrammers often need to buy clothing and other items that match the color schemes they’re trying to present.
Downing said keeping her feed consistent in terms of color can be a little tricky, “because you have to shop the colors that you want your feed to look like, you have to only shoot at the places you want your feed to look like.”
For example, she said, “Purple is not really a color that I ever wear and I might see something that looks really cool that’s purple, but I may automatically write it off, because doesn’t go with my feed.”
“I would say 90 percent of the time, when I’m shopping, [I keep in mind] this overall aesthetic I’m trying to achieve,” she said.
Degreff agreed, admitting that Instagram affects her purchases.
“When I’m shopping I always check for all the orange and yellow things,” she said.
Ruiz explained that in order to keep his feed looking uniform and organized, he has “to plan everything in detail, from what clothes I will use, to the place where I will make the photos, ending with when I will post it.”
The photos [of my proposal] were awesome. ... [But] I felt so insecure about the fact that it was a dark photo, except for the sparkly Eiffel Tower. Noelle Downing
One of the most challenging things for most of these Instagrammers is trying to keep things looking uniform while on vacation or traveling to an unfamiliar place.
“If I’m somewhere where there’s a lot of greenery, then it’s like, ‘Uh-oh, how am I going to shoot?’” Degreff said.
“Traveling is a big thing where you might go somewhere, and you’ve been dying to go there, and there’s a lot of people there, and you normally don’t have a lot of people in your photos, or you just don’t want that, or the light is going another way and doesn’t have the muted light you normally have,” Downing said. “It can be frustrating, especially if you’re traveling with family members or your fiancé, and not with another influencer or an assistant. It can be a fight.”
On top of that, lighting is key, especially for Instagrammers who keep their feed looking bright and airy. One dark square could throw off the entire flow.
Ruiz said he has to “arrive hours before the start of an event to be able to have the right light in a photo.”
Degreff said having to photograph nighttime events and share the pictures on her account is stressful.
“You’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to take one picture and it’s gonna stick out like a sore thumb and everyone’s going to know it’s a sponsored thing, too,’” she said. “It’s happened to me, where I show up to a sponsored [event where] I have to take a picture and post, and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s literally nothing I can do to make this look like my own.’”
She said she tries to avoid booking night jobs so she doesn’t have to worry about it.
Downing further explained her conflicting feelings about nighttime photos with a personal anecdote about the night her now-fiancé proposed to her in Paris. The proposal happened as the sun was setting, and afterward the Eiffel Tower started to sparkle with light.
“The photos were awesome,” she said. But she waited almost two weeks to post one, “because I felt so insecure about the fact that it was a dark photo, except for the sparkly Eiffel Tower, and felt really conflicted about that.”
There’s a lot of editing that goes into every photo.
Editing photos is a major part of what keeps an Instagram feed looking uniform. For instance, Instagrammers who want a cohesive look will tend to stick to one filter, or edit the lighting and contrast levels in a consistent way.
Sometimes, Degreff explained, if there’s something in the photo that’s bothering her, or it’s a little too blue ― “blue is the devil,” she said ― she’ll digitally paint in colors to make it look like the rest of her feed.
“That sounds insane, I know, but it’s like an art to me, to make it work,” she said, adding that she could spend anywhere from five to 30 minutes editing a single picture. (Degreff shared some of her editing secrets in a video on her YouTube channel. It truly is fascinating to see.)
Both Ruiz and Downing also admitted they’ve spent up to half an hour editing their photos.
In terms of whether these individuals use their phone cameras or digital camera, it seems to be a mix of both. The same goes for editing software. Some photos are totally edited on the phone, while others may be edited on a computer using Lightroom or Photoshop.
Baer noted that she leans more toward editing on the computer, to ensure the colors in her images are truly accurate.
Do these Instrammers get color fatigue?
The Instagrammers we spoke to had different thoughts on whether they’d ever change their palette.
For Ruiz and Degreff, it was pretty much a hard no.
“Never to this day,” Ruiz said. “Also, having to think about doing everything in pink always makes me come up with new ideas.”
Degreff also said she would “never” stray from her orange and mustard yellow theme.
“I love those colors so much, you don’t understand,” she said, noting that the one thing she does get sick of is “buying the same things over and over.”
“I have my yellow cardigan that I love and I wish I could wear that every day and be OK with it, but obviously I’m a fashion blogger, so I try to find the newest yellow cardigan that I can link to for people so they can wear it, too,” she said. “That part gets kind of tiring, because I’m like, ‘Why do I need to find another yellow one? I have the one I love.’ My wardrobe does all kind of start to blend together as one, but I will never get sick of that color. I just love it so much.”
Baer and Downing, on the other hand, were open to embracing change.
Baer said she always tries to add new elements to her feed, but that she is known for her consistency.
“I go through phases, though,” she said. “When I was working on a mural, it was mostly a black background, so a lot of my photos changed and I try to be open to that and let my work, life and experiences shift.”
Downing said changes to her feed come naturally.
“You are a person at the end of the day, and your person does obviously change over time,” she said. “I’m sure in six months, especially with summer, it will be very different. That’s always fun and stressful at the same time.”
“I just want to connect with my followers and have them enjoy what I’m putting out there,” she added. “I think if I never change, then it’s just robotic and isn’t as genuine.”