Know your style: an influencer's guide to aesthetic photos

There's an aesthetic to suit everyone, you just have to find yours. Social media influencer Steffi Marla tells us why cottagecore speaks to her.
A woman in a long dress and a sun hat looks to the left as she stands in a sunflower field.

Sometimes to truly find yourself, you have to go back to where you began. This was certainly the case for Steffi Marla. The German content creator has garnered more than 99.5K followers online for her romantic cottagecore imagery, inspired by her rural upbringing. Looking at her photos – self-portraits in countryside scenes which shift with the seasons, from autumnal forests to summer meadows – you wouldn't think for a moment she lived in busy Berlin.

"I grew up on a farm and moved to Berlin when I was 20," says Steffi, who is also a hair stylist and mother of two. Her journey with photography really began after the birth of her second child, when she began documenting family life. She initially felt unsure when posting her photographs on social media, but her images soon became popular. "I also found social media a great platform to meet other people, exchange ideas and try out new things. I was hooked," she enthuses.

An aesthetically-pleasing and consistent social media grid can help you grow your followers and establish your identity and brand, so how do you do it? Steffi shares her top tips and takes us through her process.

Identify your own aesthetic

A woman in a long pink dress sits to the side of a white blanket covered in flowers, food and drink for a picnic. They are in a small grassy glade against a large tree.

Steffi's imagery takes its cues from the natural environment. "I get inspiration from the seasons and the prevailing conditions," she says.

A white blanket lies in a patch of grass, covered in a bunch of flowers, an open book, a wide-brimmed hat, a selection of picnic food and two glasses of colourful fizzy drinks.

When she's looking for ideas, Steffi turns to Pinterest. "It's getting harder and harder to photograph new, interesting things, but I don't let that stop me," she says. "I do what I enjoy and that's the most important thing."

Put simply, your aesthetic is your style. Cottagecore is characterised by an idealised traditional rural lifestyle, dark academia is all about tweed blazers and old leather books, E-girl channels anime, while normcore favours elegant simplicity over standing out from the crowd. Though conventionally associated with fashion, your style goes beyond what you wear. If you're a content creator, it filters through to everything about your imagery – from locations to colour palette, quality of light, composition and the kit you choose to use to achieve the particular style. There are so many aesthetics to choose from that it's easy to be overwhelmed. "Think about what you enjoy, what you feel good about," Steffi suggests. "Don't listen to other people."

It was during the Covid-19 pandemic that Steffi found herself increasingly drawn back to nature and her countryside origins. "My family and I went to the countryside even more and I loved it," she says. "There is so much beauty right on our doorstep."

Cottagecore content starts with how Steffi presents herself in the frame – posing outdoors with a vintage bike, a wicker basket or a book in her hand, long hair tied loosely in a bow, flowing frocks and skirts in organic textiles.

"​​It took me a long time to find my current style," Steffi admits. "I started with urban photography but then the pictures became more romantic and flowers became a part of them. Nature came into play more and more, and at some point, I pushed myself into the picture."

If you're developing your aesthetic, printing your images can really help you to clarify and refine your look. There's nothing like making prints of your images, displaying and 'living with them' to reveal what works and what doesn't.

Let your aesthetic inspire every choice

A woman in a wicker hat sits on a picnic blanket and reads a book under a tree with purple flowers.

Steffi shoots JPEG format on her Canon EOS R before transferring the images to her smartphone. She edits her photographs in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom* where she has saved her own presets to maintain consistency. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and a Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM lens at 1/500 sec, f/4 and ISO 100. © Steffi Marla

A woman holds the sides of her blue dress as she walks under cherry blossom trees.

Colour is important to Steffi as it is a defining characteristic of any aesthetic. "Cherry trees, for example, are blossoming beautifully in the spring; I love dancing under them in a blue dress," she says. "And I make sure the colours always come from the same colour family. Fresh and pastel in spring, warm and muted in autumn." Taken on a Canon EOS 6D Mark II with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM lens at 1/640 sec, f/3.5 and ISO 100. © Steffi Marla

Colour is a key consideration for Steffi, who always tries to stay within one 'colour family' in her pictures. "Harmonious colours are very important to me," she explains. "I match my outfit to the surroundings. I ask myself, 'What colours will I have there?' In a green meadow, I like to dress in a matching colour or in a complementary colour. I photographed magnolias in a light purple dress which worked very well."

It's not just what you shoot that gives your images a distinctive aesthetic but how you shoot it. Steffi likes to pair her Canon EOS R with a Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM lens, via the Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R. "The photos look incredible, and I love the blurred background," she says. "When looking for beautiful places, I try to find a balanced frame. I often have the golden ratio in mind. To prepare, I think about where I'm going and what the conditions are. In a cramped space, I need a wider-angle lens with room to manoeuvre, such as the 50mm lens. If I have a lot of space, I take the 85mm."

Inspiration can strike at anytime, so Steffi recommends carrying accessories or props to play with on the spot and see what works best for your shot.

Stay consistent to grow your social media following

A woman holds a mushroom in her hand as she faces to the right while sitting on a fallen tree trunk in the forest.

For her followers, Steffi's escapist images are a salve in uncertain or stressful times. "It's important to look for time out, and to allow beautiful things to happen," she explains. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and a Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM lens at 1/160 sec, f/1.8 and ISO 100. © Steffi Marla

On a path with trees on both sides, a woman holds a bike's handlebars and she looks back and smiles at the camera.

Steffi tends to work solo, without an assistant. "I use a tripod on which I mount the Canon EOS R and release the shutter with my mobile phone on the Canon Camera Connect app," she says. "That way I can always see if I'm in the right position." Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and a Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM lens at 1/1600 sec, f/2.5 and ISO 100. © Steffi Marla

Even though Steffi's images vary with the time of year and settings, there are certain common elements she doesn't stray from. "The backdrop is very important, as are colours and light," she says. "Accessories are great. A hat, a book, a scarf, or a bunch of flowers can make a photo more interesting. I also like to take photos ideally without strangers."

This contributes to an atmosphere that is consistent throughout her feed. It's what attracts followers and keeps them coming back for more. "My followers also love this romantic and quiet life," she says. "Many have a longing for a little more peace and an ideal world. You can dream yourself into my pictures."

The appeal of social media is that it is conversational. Steffi doesn't simply broadcast. Even though she is juggling family life and a job, she makes a point of communicating with her followers, replying to those who leave comments on her posts. "I'm friendly and always try to be active," she says. "I post regularly and try to show something personal."

Be true to yourself

"I think subconsciously you're always evolving and probably can't avoid changing," says Steffi. "Personally, I find it exciting to see how my style changes over time."

That said, an evolution should be gradual. Once you have picked an aesthetic, your followers will come to you for it, so make sure whatever you go with truly resonates with your personality. "I love it when pictures or situations radiate harmony, especially when there is a balance of colours, proportions and light," says Steffi.

Every picture you share should be embedded in your aesthetic. It should be behind every photographic decision you make, influencing your location, composition and more. It is the philosophy that shapes your content, so whatever you go for, embrace it to the full.

Written by Rachel Segal Hamilton

*Adobe, Photoshop and Lightroom are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Adobe in the United States and/or other countries.

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