The Latest Instagram Photo Trend Actually Makes Sense

woman laying by the pool

Seven out of my ten most liked Instagram posts feature me waist-up or closer. If you believe social media is best when it establishes genuine human connection, it’s no surprise close-range portraits have reigned supreme for so long. The closer up the photo, the more it mimics physical proximity, the more intimate it feels, the more likes it gets — at least in my experience.

That’s why I was surprised when I started noticing a new trend in not-quite-selfies: the long shot. I’ve been seeing more and more photos in my feed that feature someone at a distance — sometimes so far that I can barely discern who they are.

At first, these images gave me only brief pause — Why would this person choose such a blurry/grainy photo? — before I’d continue down my feed of usual selfies and shamelessly-posed shots. But soon, they became a pattern I couldn’t ignore, and I’ve been trying to figure out why.

My current theory? Long shots are an authenticity play.

If you buy into Instagram being a tool for connection, you’d agree that authenticity is an important component of the big picture. Implied in that understanding is the idea that an “authentic” social media presence is one that is natural, honest and effortless. But of course, we all know the most popular plays at effortlessness are usually a facade. Take the perfect candid, for example. In a social media context, it creates the impression that taking flattering pictures easily flows into the rhythm of the poster’s daily life. But more often than not, candids are “plandids,” as Amelia called them last summer, and the subject only pretends to be genuinely laughing or walking or completely mesmerized by something occurring stage left despite having just requested a picture be taken seconds prior. Still, it’s effective; perhaps the veneer of realness is all we require.

At first, the long shot seemed the antithesis of Instagram-bait — what with a person’s features being all but undetectable — but perhaps it’s the logical next iteration of false candor. The allure of the long shot is that it makes you wonder if the photo was even requested to be taken at all. I mean, would you have a hard time believing that this photo was taken by a paparazzi?

How about this one?

Is being captured unposed, in motion and disengaged, peak effortlessness? The appeal speaks to the voyeur that could be lurking within us all. Take this new GQ editorial of Tyler, the Creator as evidence; photographer Matthieu Venot takes an eerie, stalker-esque approach to capturing his subject. Another example lies in Parisian production company Kinoproby’s pseudo-off guard video series that are seemingly filmed on an outdated security camera (examples here and here).

I’m sure some long shots truly are candid, but it tickles me to think that through attempting to achieve novel levels of authenticity, this trend takes us to a new dimension of posturing. Imagining the time it takes for a subject to gain the distance necessary for a proper long shot makes the few seconds of preparation needed for a plandid seem a lot less artificial. But to be clear as crystal, I’m not passing judgement; you’ll see a long shot on my feed in no time, thanks to the patient friends who take my pics.

Feature photo by John Rawlings/Condé Nast via Getty Images.

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