hashtag authentic book summary

Book Summary: Hashtag Authentic by Sara Tasker

The Book in Three Sentences

Hashtag Authentic is about building an online audience. The book teaches you the secrets of visual storytelling, as well as the creative side of photography. Although most of the lessons are about Instagram, anyone who’s part of a creative endeavor can learn a lot from this book.

Hashtag Authentic Summary

This book is about Sara Tasker’s journey on Instagram after having a baby. She started taking a picture a day using her iPhone. At first, her goal was to post daily and attract 1,000 followers in a year, but in a month, she acquired 40,000. Soon, she started a blog, went to events, got a six-figure salary, taught online courses, started a podcast, appeared in magazines, and was invited to a BBC Radio program.


Our Visual Culture

Sara’s grandfather used to take pictures and print them. He’d then write the date and place on the back. Nowadays we do something similar with our phones. The difference is we’re not intentional with most pictures we take.

The Democracy of Digital Photography

The digital age has revolutionized photography. It’s easier than ever to share your pictures because the internet gives everyone a voice. In a way, your pictures tell a story and that story has value.

Start with What You Have

Don’t buy anything. Buying expensive equipment doesn’t replace work. Start now with whatever you have instead: a smartphone, point-and-shoot, or a DSLR. Taking pictures is about telling a story.

Finding Inspiration in Your Everyday Life

We usually save taking pictures for special occasions. Shoot special things instead, such as anything you don’t want to forget. If you take pictures of your everyday life, you’re capturing small moments that have meaning. By taking these photographs, you’re meditating and showing gratitude.

A Visual Time Capsule

Photographs have the ability to take us back in time. We tend to remember the important days, but the small details of everyday life have their own importance. Taking pictures of those details is about being present.

Moments, Not Things

A picture tells a story and a picture can make you feel things. Shoot moments instead of things, especially on Instagram where you don’t have context.

Every Picture Tells a Story

Despite what some people might say, pictures don’t need words attached to them to tell a story. Viewers are able to access a lot of information from a picture in seconds. The best pictures are those that convey a story.

Finding Your Style

This means discovering your personality, likes and dislikes, and your voice. Knowing your style and not deviating from that path is a skill. In terms of photography, you can like different styles, but your has to be cohesive. Stick to one and devote to it fully. Take inspiration from everything you live and return the favor by creating something using your own style.

Finding Your Niche

Don’t try to please too many people at once. If you do, you might end up being bland and unremarkable. Like by too many, loved by no one.

Do Something Worth Photographing

Bake a cake, take a walk, buy flowers, and build a puppet with your kids.

If you feel vulnerable by trying something unusual in public, remember that:

  1. You might regret not taking the picture.
  2. You’re guessing what other people will think.
  3. Being hostile towards the unfamiliar means you’re insecure.

Making Pictures

Composition Is Key

First, you need to find the pictures you want to take. Then you need to make the screen reflect what you see. Composition is an art and one of the most essential aspects of photography.

Composing for Instagram

Most people devoted to Instagram use the smartphone app. Small details might be missed and horizontal or landscape images don’t work well on the social network.

The Simple Secrets of Composition

Composition is about the building blocks of an image and how the image’s elements are rearranged. Reduce distractions, and carefully choose the angles and the elements that make up the scene.

  1. Straight Lines: Pay attention to the lines that are naturally around you. Line up your camera so that those lines are straight. Use grid lines if you need help. Lines work well because they’re pleasing and draw attention.
  2. Symmetry: Symmetry stands out. It’s visually appealing and the human mind naturally looks for patterns.
  3. Negative Space: This is the empty space around your subject. The subject is the positive space. Negative space doesn’t have to be white or empty, just simple, giving the eyes a place to rest. A shot with negative space feels like a moment of pause, especially when most Instagram photos are full of details.
  4. A Pop of Red: By adding some red to a muted image, you can make your shot much more attractive. By adding an unnatural detail to a natural scene, you create an extra layer of resonance.
  5. A Fresh Perspective: Experiment with different levels and angles. Don’t be predictable and engage your audience in new ways.
  6. Don’t Mind the Mess: Embrace chaos, be playful and casual. Little imperfections go a long way when it comes to captivating your audience. Those imperfections are the ones that tell a rich, human story.
  7. Rule of Thirds: The rule of thirds divides your image into nine exact segments. The most important elements of your scenes should be aligned with the lines or intersections that divide those segments. This is called the rule of thirds.
  8. Follow Your Subject’s Gaze: If you take a picture of a person and they’re looking in one direction, leave some negative space there. This avoids generating frustration in the viewer who thinks they’re missing part of the scene.
  9. Backgrounds: Use printed vinyl backgrounds. By using them, you allow the subject to shine and you remove distractions.
  10. Balance and Tension: This makes things captivating, though it takes trial and error to achieve.
  11. Natural Framing: Nature or architecture can provide a frame. It also provides context for a story you might want to share.
  12. See What I See: There are specific shots that try to replicate the view of the photographer. This brings people into your world. It adds journalistic-like qualities to your pictures.

Chasing Light

Light is essential in photography. Artificial light is different than natural light. Artificial light can be used under the right circumstances, but natural light is the best.

  • Wait for daylight: Whenever possible, wait for daylight.
  • Optimize for light: Maximize the light when shooting indoors. Remove everything that blocks the light, the blinds, and use white surfaces to reflect natural light. Use mirrors.
  • Paint with shadows: the absence of light is almost as important as the light itself. Interesting shadows and patterns can improve a shot.
  • Breakable the rules: shoot into the light, underexpose, overexpose.

Exposure controls how light or dark the scene is before you hit the shutter. The shutter is represented with a slider on your camera app.

What Grabs the Eye

Composition, visual storytelling, great light, subject, and mood. They all make an image stand out. Yet there’s something more that catches people’s attention, especially on Instagram: appeal to people’s curiosity. This can be a fun challenge.

Some of the qualities include:

  • Icon-like (this is when the picture has symbolic qualities)
  • Color
  • Surprise
  • Fine detail
  • The impossible
  • Cuteness
  • Multiples
  • Negative Space

Photos vs Reality

Sometimes you look at a picture and it looks perfect. What you don’t know is what was happening out of the shot or what it took for that picture to happen.

Being Seen

Using Instagram is being exposed to criticism, but you should still appear in your own pictures.

  • The invisible narrator: Don’t forget to include yourself in the memories you’re taking. You’ll regret it later.
  • Connecting with people: People’s faces get more views and likes. Seeing faces is important for making connections.
  • Owning our own image: Being proud of who you are and what you look like can be empowering. 

For self-portraits, you can use a self-timer and a tripod.

Getting the Most Out of Your Phone Camera 

Everyone should know how to use their phone camera well.

These are the recommended settings: Flash should be turned off by default, and grid lines should be turned on. Finally, no built-in presets should be activated.

Other tips include:

  • Quick access: This should be part of your muscle memory.
  • Manual controls: Don’t use auto modes. Set your focus and exposure.
  • Exposure & focus lock: Tap and hold over the focal point for a second to trigger AE/AF Lock.
  • Burst mode: To enable burst mode or rapid-fire mode, hold down the on-screen shutter while taking a picture. For kids, pets, wildlife, and self-portraits.
  • HDR: It means “high dynamic range”. HDR is used for shooting in a high-contrast environment.
  • RAW: RAW files are unprocessed pictures that give you more control when editing them. File sizes are much bigger though.
  • Shutter release: You can take a burst, and use a second device as a Bluetooth remote.
  • Manual apps: Several third-party apps are available.

Getting Off Auto Mode on Your DSLR

The learning curve from point-and-shoot to DSLR is steep, so the author uses some tips.

  • Pick a lense, then use it for a year or two.
  • Shutter speed, aperture, and ISO (Image Sensor Sensitivity).
  • Shoot on Live View Mode: this allows you to preview the picture before taking it.
  • Adjust to match the auto values: take a picture on auto mode and see what the camera sets to by default. Then, switch to manual mode and make adjustments as you go.
  • Try AV mode.
  • Edit on your phone.

Editing on Your Phone

This is quick, easy, fun, and you get to see the picture in the same way most people will see it, on their phones.

  • Bright & clear: The screen has to be clean, and the brightness setting should be apt. Don’t use night mode or anything that might affect how pictures look.
  • Start with the fixes: Fix what needs to be fixed, then move to other tweaks.
  • Pay attention to white balance: The “temperature” of your light should be as natural as possible before applying filters.
  • Don’t overdo it: In photography, there’s such a thing as too much. Dial down on certain presets when possible.
  • Don’t underdo it either: Don’t see editing your picture as “cheating”. Post-production is part of modern photography.
  • Find your favorite presets: You know what kind of results to expect when you use the presets you like.
  • Add your filter last: This gives you predictable and reliable results.

These are some of the apps the author recommends to edit photos on your phone:

  • VSCO – Free (Android + iOS)
  • Color Story – Free (Android + iOS)
  • Photoshop Lightroom (Android + iOS)
  • Snapseed – Free (Android + iOS)
  • Touch Retouch (Android + iOS)

A Steady Flow of Inspiration

Introduce projects for moments when inspiration abandons you.

  • The Power of Projects: Commit to taking a photo a day for a year, this is also called a 365 project. Other projects include recreating scenes from movies, recipes from books, self-portraits, and so on.
  • Variations On a Theme: If something works well and resonates with people, you can turn it into a series.
  • Gradual Change: Tell a story through slow changes. For example, a look outside a window over time, a baby growing over time, and more.
  • Humor: Some of the best Instagram accounts are parody images or packed with photos that make you laugh.
  • WHP: This is also called the “weekend hashtag project”. The theme is announced by Saturday morning.

Archiving Your Life

It Doesn’t Have to Be Disneyland

What you often remember from childhood aren’t ostentatious trips somewhere, but the small details of everyday life.

Craft & Making

When there’s nothing worth photographing, make something yourself. Taking the picture is the goal, but the journey (making something) should be the reward too. Don’t forget to share the work in progress when making something for a photography. Make sure to capture the mess of the midway point. Document the moments when things go wrong. Consider sharing several pictures over time and repeating the process with variables.

To get your hands in the shot, switch the phone to self-timer, hit the shutter button, bite the phone, and put your hands in the frame. As an alternative, you can use a boom arm, gorilla tripod, or a more traditional tripod.

Food & Ingredients

Food is personal. It’s surrounded by history, social rules, rituals, and constructs. Sharing food can be vulnerable and intimate. When sharing pictures of food consider:

  • Share the story: Include details such as handwritten recipes.
  • Presentation counts: People who see the pictures only rely on the visual elements.
  • The wider scene: Apart from the plate, pay attention to its surroundings.

Road Trips & Travel

Great pictures of your travels transport people to your adventures. To capture your travels:

  • Capture small details that contrast with your everyday life.
  • Give your adventure a beginning, middle, and end.
  • Avoid cliches.
  • Put your own spin on familiar scenes
  • Don’t tell everyone on the internet that your house is empty.
  • People aren’t props.

Weather & Seasons

  • Capture the signs of nature’s cycles.
  • Shoot the extremes.
  • Look indoors.
  • Capture nature’s best.
  • Create a mood.

Occasions & Celebrations

  • Look for the details.
  • Photograph instead of hoarding
  • Record what you’re likely to forget.
  • Mark rituals and traditions.
  • Document the people.
  • Connect and share.

Making a Home

  • Find the small things.
  • Share the mess: There’s magic to the unorganized nature of your domestic life.
  • Style and play: Play around your house.

Beauty & Dressing Up

  • Capture outfits in a whole range of ways.
  • Add hats.
  • Show accessories in context.
  • Wear something that reflects the mood or atmosphere you’re trying to capture.
  • Don’t always stay static.
  • Have fun with costumes and fancy dress.

Family & Pets

  • Remember the mundane.
  • Capture a range of expressions.
  • Pets are family too, and a popular feature on social media.
  • Be mindful whenever you share images of other people online.

Landscape & Nature

  • Capture the scale of a landscape.
  • Pay special attention to your angles and lines.
  • Consider the orientation of your photo.
  • Aim to tell a story with your landscapes.
  • Capture small details of nature around you.

Whimsy & Magic

  • Start simple: experiment with props and mirrors.
  • Play with forced perspective: move objects so that they appear bigger or smaller than they already are.
  • Look into the world of digital manipulation.
  • Shop around for inspiration.
  • Credit where it’s due.

Sharing Your World

A Personal Exhibition

Your Instagram gallery is an exhibition of your life.

You’re not behind: it’s not a competition or a race.

Listen to your audience

Post your best

Embrace the public learning curve

Let go of the fear of judgment

Continue to evolve

Plan Your Gallery

Here’s how to plan a gallery that draws people in:

  • Use an app.
  • Patterns: For example, alternate between light and dark images, creating a checkerboard effect on your feed.
  • Save up: Save similar images and post them over time.
  • Have fun.
  • Post when you feel like it.


This is the short text you write below the image you share. See this is a way to connect with people.

Add value: ideas, inspiring thoughts, recipes, a song, and travel recommendations.


Encourage replies.

Instagram Stories

These can be an intimate way to communicate and the people that follow you feel like they know you and you’re their friend. Content lasts 24 hours. Consider your audience, and what to share, there are polls and questions. Talking in front of the camera is also a possibility if you feel comfortable.

There’s also Instagram Live.

Success On Your Own Terms

How do you grow your audience? You don’t need a large audience to make things happen. Don’t get too hung up on numbers.

Likes and Comments: To build relationships, and establish a community, you should look for comments, not likes. If your comments are increasing, that means you’re on the right track.

Followers (and Unfollowers): In order to judge popularity, people look at their number of followers. A small, engaged community can be more valuable than a larger, unfocused, scattered one.

Your right people: Why do you want a big following? Do you want to quit your day job? Do you want to become an influencer? Or do you want to connect with others?

Finding Your People

  • Hashtags: Use around ten hashtags. Mix popular ones with less popular ones.
  • Explore: Use this section of the app to discover other people’s channels and learn from them.
  • Suggested accounts: This is a source of new visitors to your page.
  • Algorithms: It’s your job to craft content that flourishes in an algorithm eco-system whether you like it or not.

So how do you turn members of the community into followers:

  • Share little and often reply to comments and DMs as much as possible
  • Return the favor.
  • Make it meaningful. Write personal and genuine comments.
  • Get out of your bubble.
  • Make it timely.
  • Don’t overdo it.

Success Beyond Instagram

Instagram shouldn’t be the destination but a step towards something bigger.

You need a mailing list, this gives you the means to maintain connections with people regardless of what happens to Instagram.

Tell people about new blog posts or share meaningful things.

Stay authentic and connected to your passion

The Real Recipe for Success:

  1. Post brilliant content.
  2. Engage (be social).
  3. Be persistently curious.
  4. Accept there’s no magic wand. There are no shortcuts.

Safety & Sanity

  • Set a timer: don’t binge. Make your use of social media intentional.
  • Make use of safety measures: report inappropriate content and spam.
  • Curate your explore page: use the “show fewer posts like this button”.
  • Be wise to photoshop.
  • Be wary of unqualified professionals.
  • Know when you’re being sold to.
  • Unfollow accounts that make you feel bad.

Five things to do right now to make your account safer.

  1. Turn on the “hide offensive comments” option.
  2. Turn on two-factor authentication
  3. For your bio, use a different email address than the one you registered your account with.
  4. Keep your email address and phone numbers up to date.
  5. Delete all the third-party apps you’ve given permission to and don’t recognize.

Don’t seek validation online. Appreciate images for what they are and learn not to care how other people might feel about the online version of you.

Remember that none of it is real. Instagram is just a social network and it’s not indicative of what’s happening in real life.

Ten commandments for a healthy relationship with social media

  1. Share, don’t brag.
  2. Spend more time on other people’s pages than your own.
  3. Be human.
  4. Mix it up.
  5. Serve others.
  6. Create what makes you light up.
  7. Follow your enthusiasm.
  8. Stay playful and curious.
  9. Take responsibility for your own boundaries.
  10. Don’t compare yourself with others.

Further Reading

If you liked this summary of Hashtag Authentic, you might also like:

Scroll to Top