Social Media

What Makes A Photo Dump A Photo Dump?

On Instagram, not every carousel post meets the bar of a casual photo dump.

by Kaitlyn Wylde
Young creative cartoonist is preparing her portfolio presentation and sketching her work in a digita...
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You may have noticed the cool kids are posting to their Instagram grids less frequently. And when they do, it’s usually multiple slides with a cohesive color scheme and early Tumblr vibes. There’s an out-of-focus selfie, a flat lay of a flat white, a street sign, and an over-flowing recycling bin filled with champagne bottles. These pictures make no sense together, and yet they most certainly establish a capital-m Mood. The caption reads: “dump.”

Per Gen Z, the difference between uploading a few different photos and mastering the photo dump aesthetic on Instagram is subtle, but specific. While a carousel of highlight reel images recapping a weekend trip or showing off different angles of an #OOTD might look like a photo dump to an untrained eye, Gen Z will tell you that a photo dump is the arch-nemesis of a best-shots slideshow.

“It’s pure vibe,” Taylor, 20, tells Bustle. “A photo dump is a collection of images that give people a sense of a mood, or feeling, more than a play-by-play of what you did,” she explains. A standard slideshow by contrast, Taylor says, “is less about vibe, and more about just not being able to choose which photo to post.”

Mastering the photo dump aesthetic involves an eye for scrapbooking and a light hand when it comes to editing. Here’s how to avoid carousel cringeiness.

How To Create A Photo Dump

Logistically, there’s no difference between a dump and an image carousel. To create a post with multiple photos, tap the plus sign in the upper right corner, tap “New post” and then tap the layered squares icon next to the camera icon above your photo roll. Tap the photos you want to include in the order you want them to be presented. Tap the photo a second time to de-select it if you need to. Tap “Next” to head to the editor page, where you can apply filters or edits to each photo individually. You can also long-press on a photo at this stage if you decide you want to delete it. Then tap “Next” again to caption and share your post.

As for how many pics to share at a time, Chloe, 20, suggests aiming for four. “You can post up to 10, if they’re all good photos, but I think the best dumps as smaller and carefully selected, so people pay attention to each one,” she says.

What Photos Go In A Photo Dump

Here’s where it gets more complicated. According to Chloe, you don’t want your photo dump to be all about you. “A good photo dump isn’t just pictures of yourself, but also your life and things you enjoy doing throughout a period of time,” she says. You can do one or two pictures of you, a few pictures of people you were with, places you went, things that caught your eye, meals you enjoyed, etc. “It helps if the pictures you choose look good together, because they have similar colors or give off the same vibe,” she adds.

Leaning into the photo dump aesthetic makes you a more keen observer, Chloe says. “Try to pay attention to the environment you’re in and the details you find pretty and pleasing, pay attention to color palettes, and the way things make you feel inside,” she says. Taking pics for a photo dump post nudges you to think beyond the obvious captures. Instead of a bunch of posed portraits or selfies where you’re all that’s in view, a dump paints a fuller picture.

Bartool, 24, says that on a deeper level, photo dumps are about finding beauty in your ordinary life, not just the big events. “There’s just something so pleasing and relatable about it — having a look into life from a different POV, it’s almost like a vlog,” she says. “Photo dumps can even be a random collection of pics in your camera roll that you think make a pretty good representation of your current thoughts and feelings,” she adds.

How To Edit A Photo Dump

According to Bartool, the key to an authentic dump is to avoid editing altogether. “The best photo dumps come from the raw and unfiltered pics you take throughout the day.” she says. “We all see edited pics every single day, and there’s something so fun and novel about a random pic of say, the sky, or a cup of coffee, or your cluttered desk — it’s a view into someones else’s life without all the glamor,” she adds.

While you can allow the photo dump aesthetic to inspire you to be more mindful of your surroundings and to take photos beyond the most obvious, Bartool says that part of what makes this trend so relatable and authentic is that the photos are not preplanned. “If you take specific pics and post them as dumps it doesn't really count, it’s meant to be chosen at random — pick four that stand out to you and reflect your mood at the time,” she says.

How To Caption A Photo Dump

“Don’t overthink it,” Taylor says. Part of the fun of a photo dump is that it’s a little mysterious. There’s no need to overdo it with a wordy caption, explaining everything in the photos; people don’t expect that kind of narration from the trend. An emoji, a quote, or a single-word caption will all suffice. “You can let people know what the photo dump is about, if you want — like ‘last week’ or ‘weekend trip’ or ‘birthday’ or ‘October’ — but there are no rules.”

Echoing that sentiment, Bartool says, “People don’t care about photo dump captions,” as unlike other trends where people write short stories in lieu of a caption. The photo dump aesthetic is just that: all about the visuals.

Photo Dump Aesthetic Ideas

By nature, a photo dump should be something you don’t put too much thought into, but if you’re just starting out, or not in the habit of documenting your life, here are some themes for good, dumpable content:

WFH: Snaps from working from home, including things like your empty coffee mug, your desk setup, your to-do list, and maybe a screenshot of a conversation with a coworker. (Shared with permission and for comedic effect, of course.)

Currently Reading: The books on your nightstand, your bookshelf organization game, a passage you underlined, or a shot of a nice book out in the world.

What’s For Lunch: A nice looking meal, the messy aftermath of a baking attempt, tablescapes, restaurants, groceries, a fine looking fruit.

Lighting: Pay attention to interesting lighting — a warm streak of afternoon sun hitting a disco ball, a pinking evening sky, a neon sunrise, direct sunlight showing off your eye color.

POV: Stay Home With Me: A messy bed, a neatly folded pile of laundry, a lady bug on the kitchen counter, rings from your tea mug.

Ambiance: Capture the vibe of where you are by looking for the things that make it memorable, like the art on the walls, cozy textiles, the signs, or interesting displays.