The Unfiltered Aesthetic Explained with Real Stock Images

The unfiltered aesthetic is in. Visual storytelling is made better with real moments, raw emotions, and messy homes in stock images. Explore this trend and shop these images in this article.

Gone are the days of heavily edited, overly staged, overly curated Instagram feeds. Gen Z’ers (and some Millennials) are abandoning the look that Instagram became synonymous with—the “carefully staged, color-corrected, glossy-looking aesthetic“—in favor of a more unfiltered, messier aesthetic to visual imagery. In this survey, an overwhelming 90% of Millennials say that brand authenticity is important, This demographic prefers the “real and organic” over the “perfect and packaged.”

Shop the Unfiltered Aesthetic Stock Image Collection

The Unfiltered Aesthetic Explained with Real Stock Images — Shop the Unfiltered Aesthetic Stock Image Collection

And if you’re looking for some tips on creating and sharing unfiltered, real imagery, read on to learn how. Here’s what to expect in this new era of imagery on the ‘gram. 

The Evolution of the Instagram Aesthetic 

“As Instagram has grown to more than 1 billion monthly users, it has ushered in a very particular look: bright walls, artfully arranged lattes, and avocado toast, and Millennial-pink everything,” writes Taylor Lorenz in her piece for The Atlantic titled “The Instagram Aesthetic Is Over.” “Photos that play into these trends perform so well on Instagram that the look became synonymous with the platform itself, then seeped into the broader world.” 

The Unfiltered Aesthetic Explained with Real Stock Images — The Evolution of the Instagram AestheticReal moments are trending. Capture them as they happen. Image by Natalia Lebedinskaia. Explore The Unfiltered Aesthetic Collection.

Today, we’re seeing a very divisive shift away from the feeds of old. Gen Z creators don’t care about capturing the best light or staging a scene—they’re posting directly from their phones in real-time. These Instagram users are candid, vulnerable, and real and their photos reflect that. 

The Rise of Realness in Visual Imagery

“Much of this emerging trend is driven by social media fatigue and the pressures multiple generations (especially Gen Z and Millennials) feel about living up to ideals that are artificial and inauthentic,” Edelman reports

The Unfiltered Aesthetic Explained with Real Stock Images — The Rise of Realness in Visual ImageryReal imagery is the moments in between, not perfectly curated images. Image by Lupe Rodriguez. Explore The Unfiltered Aesthetic Collection.

Realness, authenticity, transparency—these are all words to describe this counterculture movement away from the look that Instagram has come to be defined by. More than ever, consumers are demanding honesty and integrity from the brands and people they follow, so much so that “69 percent of Instagram users will unfollow someone over the promotion of an unrealistic or misrepresented lifestyle.” (Source: Edelman).

8 Trends to Capture Realness in Visual Imagery

While it’s true that there is no one specific formula for what to share on Instagram, we’re certain about one thing: today’s consumers and Instagram users are savvy and increasingly demanding (for good reason!) visual media that reflects and represents them, their values, and their beliefs. 

Here are a few ways this is being visually represented in stock and in marketing campaigns that you use stock imagery in: 

Trend #1: Minimal Editing

Forget harsh edits, over-saturation, and prescribed compensation. Now, images are all about looking like they’ve been barely touched. (Some are even calling this the No Edit-Edit.)

The Unfiltered Aesthetic Explained with Real Stock Images — Minimal Editing TrendUse minimal editing to have maximum impact on your images. Image by Marian Fil. Explore The Unfiltered Aesthetic Collection.

Trend #2: Create Candid Moments

With candid images, you’re inviting the viewer to see an intimate moment they might not otherwise find. So how can you create a sense of intimacy in your images?

Make use of shadows, flash, and obscured foregrounds to help draw the viewer in. Explore these additional tips on creating authentic images.

Trend #3: Not Your Typical Portrait

Staging a shoot for the ‘gram? No longer. Today’s portraits highlight a more casual approach, one that feels more akin to photojournalism than Walmart portraiture. It doesn’t matter what or who your subject is. The goal is to capture those in-between moments and a sense of dynamism in your subject.

The Unfiltered Aesthetic Explained with Real Stock Images — Not Your Typical Portrait TrendInstead of a typical portrait, capture your subjects in motion- photojournalistic style. Image by theshots.co. Explore The Unfiltered Aesthetic Collection.

Trend #4: Inclusivity and Diversity 

Consumers are demanding better representation in visual media. As stock photographers, consider all the ways that diversity and inclusion look like: age, ethnicity, race, ability, body, gender, and more. By defying stereotypes and avoiding tropes, imagery can be a powerful tool in showing people as they are rather than how others have defined them. 

Explore these additional articles on capturing diversity and inclusivity in imagery: 

Our Commitment to Diversity and InclusivenessDiscover the Importance of Diversity in StockVisualizing Diversity in Advertising Around the World

Trend #5: Behind the Scenes at Work

Whether it’s a portrait of a chef in the kitchen, two colleagues in an office, or a taxi driver and their passenger, when you capture a behind-the-scenes perspective, the viewer is imagining themselves there.

As photographers, question what you might actually see in that scene. What does their work actually look like? What would they do next? When you provide a story to an image, it comes across in images as genuine and honest rather than staged and fake. And that helps to build connections and trust in the exchange between viewer and image.

The Unfiltered Aesthetic Explained with Real Stock Images — Behind the Scenes at Work TrendCapture people engaged in their passion, and the details of their environment. Image by Natalia Lebedinskaia. Explore The Unfiltered Aesthetic Collection.

Trend #6: Emotional Images

Images that are action-oriented, emotive, and dynamic tend to feel more genuine. We live in a busy, fast-paced world but we’re also not immune to the fact that this comes at a cost. There’s a whole range of emotions to capture to show the reality of our everyday lives: genuine joy, anger, disappointment, determination, frustration, love, pain, loss, happiness, or fear. 

The Unfiltered Aesthetic Explained with Real Stock Images — Emotional Images TrendNot every image needs to show happiness. Depict real emotions instead. Image by Lightfield Studios. Explore The Unfiltered Aesthetic Collection.

Trend #7: No Disingenuous Props

We don’t need to see any more images that are trying to sell a story we know isn’t true. Put down the Pendelton and HBC blankets, and instead, focus on the small details of a scene that make sense for that image, such as proper equipment and gear when showing a subject hiking outdoors.

The Unfiltered Aesthetic Explained with Real Stock Images — No Disingenuous Props TrendNot every image needs to be hip and trendy. Show real moments. Image by Zivica Kerkez. Explore The Unfiltered Aesthetic Collection.

Trend #8: Sustainability 

Consumers are more conscious than ever, and they’re holding brands accountable. This applies to many areas, including sustainability. Consider how you can swap out eco-harmful props for more mindful ones. Try refillable water bottles in place of disposable ones, reusable travel mugs instead of paper cups, or bamboo cutlery for takeout meals rather than plastic ones. 

By capturing and sharing images that are real and that reflect a broader narrative about our everyday lives and the world in which we live, we can help make communities like Instagram a safer, more inclusive, diverse, welcome space for all. Explore our full collection of “unfiltered” images here

Cover image by Ollyy.

Check out more articles here:

Creating a One-of-a-Kind Portfolio: Color Branding for PhotographersOctober Fresh: New Content We LoveRespectfully Document Disabilities in the Workplace Through Photography10 Visual Trends for Depicting Eco-Friendly HomesRepresenting Hispanic and Latinx People and Culture in Imagery

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