If you’ve noticed a significant deviation from the meticulously curated, overly filtered photos that typically swarm your Instagram feed, you’re not alone. Welcome to the age of the “photo dump” — the current trendy way to share photos on the social media platform that’s also switching up the traditional Instagram mold.
So, what is a photo dump?
Simply, it’s a deluge of random, often unedited photos Instagram users might post after a weekend or vacation, utilizing the app’s carousel function. The dump could consist of anything from a picture of a sunset to a plate of food to the ocean or an open bottle of wine, burning candles and a casual mirror selfie. Memes will even be dispersed throughout the dump, often used to convey any chaotic emotions or general feelings the user is experiencing. But ultimately, it’s just like taking a scroll through your camera roll, picking the photos you find most appealing at the moment and posting them.
“A photo dump is basically using the Instagram carousel posts to share a slideshow of memory,” explains Taylor Loren, a creator and social media strategist. “So these can be random photos of really any specific timeframe that you might indicate in your captions, but the photo dump is supposed to give off the alert or the vibe that it’s really casual when in reality it’s actually super curated.”
The trend has also taken off among celebs within the past year. Everyone from supermodel Bella Hadid to singer Dua Lipa to rapper Megan Thee Stallion has been known to dump. Just last week singer/actress Demi Lovato asked their followers if they had photo dumped correctly.
Again, this isn’t an entirely new trend. The photo dump can be traced back to summer 2020, our first pandemic summer.
Claudia Langella, a 22-year-old full-time college student, tells InsideHook she started dumping around then. Now it’s mainly what her Instagram feed consists of.
“I started posting more photo dumps to my Instagram feed last summer. The pandemic made me really rethink my relationship with social media and posting a collection of random, albeit, still pretty pictures took the pressure off of keeping up my social media presence,” she says. “In high school and at the start of college in 2018, I cared so much about what my grid looked like. I’d spend hours going through photos from my week in hopes of picking one that would complement the eight most recent pictures on my profile—it was all about the grid.”
When the pandemic came along, our lives quieted down and subsequently so did our camera rolls. Instead of taking photos from our idyllic vacations and enviable parties, we started snapping photos of the mundane: the bread we were baking, the trendy whipped coffee we were drinking and all the pretty trees and apartment buildings that caught our eye on daily walks.
“I think slowing down in 2020 and seeing my camera roll fill up with squares of more ordinary in-the-moment pictures made me want to post the things that I genuinely found appealing. Instagram became more fun when I started approaching it as a casual place to share my life,” Langella adds.
Social media applications, in general, have been trending in a more casual, authentic direction, which could partly explain why the photo dump has taken off.
“I think that we’ve just seen such a shift in the way that people create Instagram content,” says Loren. “So, a couple of years ago, it was very, very curated and it was all about posting your best photos to Instagram, and then through Instagram Stories and then with the rise of TikTok, which is very, very not aesthetic, we’ve seen the pendulum kind of swing to the other side where authentic content has been trending.”
For years, Instagram has been known for its beautiful influencers, heavily filtered, slyly edited photos and perfectly captured shots. The competition and unattainable beauty standards Instagram breeds have become exhausting and dangerously damaging to its users, particularly young women. The photo dump could well be a response to the extreme pressure to maintain an aesthetically pleasing grid, to convince your followers you’re living your best life and looking damn perfect while doing it. The pandemic not only squashed anyone’s ability to posture but ended much of the desire to keep up the facade at all.
The photo dump is also taking us back to Instagram’s roots. Before the influencers, Lightroom presets and the glut of sponsored content, there were shoddy square photos of what people were having for lunch overlaid with the app’s built-in filters.
The first-ever photos on Instagram were uploaded by the app’s co-founder Kevin Systrom in 2010, and include semi-blurry snaps of his dog, a taco stand, a bowl of chili and his wife enjoying a cocktail. Compared to today’s Insta standards, Systrom’s string of photos would be considered utterly uncouth — but they exude the informal and spontaneous qualities users are now desperately seeking. Once again it’s become socially acceptable to post a random photo of your dog or dinner on your Instagram grid.
Langella also points out the similarities between the photo dump and the Facebook photo album, and how the former is Gen Z’s version of the latter — admittedly though, the photo dump often undergoes a bit more curation.
“The photo dump is my generation’s equivalent to those huge photo albums our older relatives post on Facebook, but the pictures you’ll find in a dump are much more intentional,” she says. “Where moms and aunts post a number of similar photos from the same event in one Facebook post, younger social media users tend to pick the more aesthetically pleasing photos that have ended up in their camera roll in the past week.”
Because that’s the thing about the photo dump, despite it being nearly the antithesis of what Instagram has become, it’s not as spontaneous and unedited as users may hope their dumps appear.
“It’s the same thing where you see the ‘no-edit edit’ that was trending for so long. The photo dump is a natural extension of the no-edit edit trend where, with the no-edit edits, people are taking photos and then they’re editing them within a place to look like they haven’t edited them, but it gives it a little bit more of a lightly filmy, grainy look,” explains Loren.
“Think of them as a mood board for someone’s life. You’re thinking ‘what do these photos say about me?’ It could be casual photos of like a bag on a table or sushi or things like that, but they are very curated because they’re basically choosing about 10 photos to represent their lifestyle.”
We’ll likely never be able to go back to the truly carefree days of the ‘gram, most of us will always be a bit self-conscious of what we post. But when it comes to Instagram specifically, our relationship with the app could be changing for the better.
“I’m definitely thinking about what [the photo dumps] represent,” admits Langella. “I want people to see the things that I thought were worth taking a picture, but I’m definitely not editing the exposure or blurring out a zit like I used to! Photo dumps truly are my generation’s Facebook albums: they represent a certain moment in time. It’s nice to look back on them.”
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