My 5-Step Process for Making Creative Photographs

Disappearing into the libraryPeople often ask me where my ideas for creative Instagram pictures come from – a question that I haven’t been able to answer fully.  I’ve always had an interest in the world of imagination – mainly through stories and art.  I drew a lot as a child and have written a number of unpublished children’s novels so making stuff up comes quite naturally now (I’m still a terrible liar though). But if you ask me to put my finger on where that spark catches, who knows? Much of it is subconscious – a sheet slowly unfolding until I see the final picture, but I do follow a rough process. I’ve shared the steps I generally take here:

Choosing My Own Path

My number one driver. My best ideas have mostly come when I’ve followed my instincts even if others have said that my designs probably won’t work.  At the inspiration stage, I stand completely back from all platform considerations such as feed and audience and think about what I’d really like to make. I have zero strategy when it comes to my photography because I want the experience to be playful rather than a means by which to gain followers and influence.

Let the Sparks Fly

Broccoli Hair

What do I love? What stirs me up – for good or for bad? How do I feel? I let these influences shape my creativity.  Often I can’t quite see the connections that have inspired my pictures until afterwards. For instance my broccoli hair photo not only came from finding out that my hairdresser had left the salon and The Hobbit book cover, but also from a growing interest in veganism and a liking for autumnal greens.  I also have a thing for colourful stripes and play that out in re-occurring rainbow motifs and bookshelf shots.

Gentle prompts are great too. Instagram’s Weekend Hashtag Challenge (#WHP) is one of my favourites as it makes me see the world in a different way.

Drafting It Out

Rough FacepaintingOnce I’ve hit on an idea, I’ll try to manifest it.  Often my first attempts don’t work out and that’s fine. I’ll either let them brew for a while longer or if I’m fairly close, I’ll try out a few more versions.  At this stage, I work fast because of time constraints.  If it’s not working then I’ll park it and trust that a solution will come later.  Here’s my rough attempt of my face painting photo – wrong in so many ways but enough to tell me that the crazy thought had wings.

Sometimes I get frustrated if stuff isn’t coming together but I’ve learnt to let this go pretty quickly by reminding myself that it’s just an art project. If something wants to get made, it will happen eventually.

Focusing On The Details

I begin to refine once I have a workable canvas. I don’t post that often because I like my images to be as well-made as possible and also because I don’t want to overload my family.  As an amateur with basic equipment (a Google Pixel 2 phone and VSCO editing software), I have to work hard to get the fundamental structure right. That usually means harnessing the most effective light, lining up angles properly and placing models/props in the best positions.

I add details to enhance the layers in this last phase too. The R on the teacup was a last-minute decision to make the surface more interesting.

A teacup pouring rainbow booksEditing

The edits sprinkle the final bit of magic on the photo. I’m a colour fiend so I generally turn up the brightness, contrast and add a dab of saturation. I use VSCO most of the time and am relying less and less on presets. Occasionally I use Photoshop to make something but find I’m veering towards using perspective and props to achieve unusual effects.

Overall it takes me from around an hour to five hours to complete a photograph depending on the level of complexity and I fit this around my working day.  Content creation has become my main hobby – something I never planned to do – but I see it as an alternative to drawing or painting and if it makes others happy too then that’s a real bonus.

Book Review: A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit

Processed with VSCO with l4 presetI enjoy getting lost, literally and metaphorically. I love that sensation of disorientation followed by discovery,  a frightening freedom. Sometimes, on a family day out, we’ll follow unmarked lanes and see where we end up. I also lose a lot of things – keys, tickets, shoes – much to the irritation of my nearest and dearest so was very keen to read A Field Guide to Getting Lost, a collection of essays about loss, losing and being lost.

There are nine meditations in total, inspired by a quote from Meno, one of Plato’s dialogues “How will you go about finding that thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you?” If you just had to read this several times, you’re not alone! It’s a thought-twister, but as you join Solnit in her contemplations, you begin to get a sense of what she’s searching for.  Only by surrendering to uncertainty, do we find out new ways of being.

This is my first encounter with Solnit’s writing and I was unprepared for the sheer amount of recollections, ideas and information that she covers in a small distance.  Four of the essays are titled The Blue of Distance for “Light at the blue end of the spectrum does not travel the whole distance to us.” It is “the light that gets lost”, but the subjects in each essay are diverse – touching on art history, captivity narratives, country and western music, cartography.  In the fourth, there is a fascinating piece about the post-war artist Yves Klein, famous for his exploration of the void.  After reading this, I suddenly remembered how I’d been struck dumb by one of his blue monochromes as a teenager.  I experienced these flashes of insight many times while reading Solnit’s essays. She has a knack for linking moments and facts so that they set off chain reactions that continue beyond the page – taking you into new territories.

But don’t expect sharp clarity here. This is a beautiful, often tragic landscape of meanderings, dreams and musings.  It’s not for one sitting, rather a series of short, intense immersions – a loose invitation to living a curious and expansive life.  As Solnit writes –  “Adulthood is made up of a prudent anticipation and a philosophical memory that make you navigate more slowly and steadily. But fear of making mistakes can itself become a huge mistake, one that prevents you from living, for life is risky and anything less is loss.”