Instagram on Steroids: How wanderlust became the definitive aesthetic of 2017



You might have seen the above photo. It's been all over the internet: medium, a hipster's favourite social blog, use it; numerous travel blogs are using it; even Canon is using it to advertise. Easy to see why – it's a lovely composition, featuring spectacular scenery, with parallel lines framing a photogenic subject, a neutral colour palette accented by a red backpack, shot at the end of golden hour. Roberto Nickson took the photo, and interestingly, despite it being viewed 7.5 million times, and downloaded by 70,000 people, Roberto hasn't been paid by anyone for it – even those using it to sell their services. Scandal? Not at all. Roberto uploaded to the free stock image site Unsplash.

Founded in 2013 by entrepreneur Mikael Cho, Unsplash has revolutionised the world of stock photography. Since its inception, the photographic community has been arguing over whether it's ethical that the photographer isn't paid for their work. That discussion will continue to rage as long as the site remains popular, and we'll sidestep it entirely here.

What has become clear, is that Unsplash has unwittingly created a homogenised photography style for blogs and small news outlets. As picture editors' budgets shrink, and blogs constantly require free imagery, Unsplash's popularity has skyrocketed. As its popularity has increased, so has its curators' particular aesthetic – what I call 'instagram on steroids'.

Even if you've not seen the above image, you'll have no doubt read articles accompanied by other images from Unsplash. Have a scan through its images here, and see if you recognise a theme.

Landscapes with filter-like colour palettes...


And many, many top-down views of macbooks and typewriters.


Put it all together, and you get the defining aesthetic of 2017: Wanderlust. Its mantra? "Adventure across the globe. Share your stories on social media. Working remotely. Drink tasty beverages."

"Adventure across the globe. Share your stories on social media. Working remotely. Drink tasty beverages"

No surprise then, that this visual trend is also seen across other stock photography and video sites, demonstrated by this recent Shutterstock's 2017 creative trends report.

But if this is the defining aesthetic of 2017, how should creators respond? Our responsibility is to avoid the temptation to produce derivative work – purely to appeal to the latest trend – while pushing the boundaries of those trends, to ensure work doesn't become stale and tired.