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  I drew a lot as a child and have written a number of unpublished children’s novels so making stuff up comes quite naturally now (I’m still a terrible liar though).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.

Getting Featured on the Instagram Weekend Hashtag Project (#WHP)

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**Hooray! Four months after this post was first published, I was featured again for #WHPdailylife **

Last week, the wonderful and hugely exciting happened – my photo of a book tree was featured on Instagram after I entered the #whp🌲 challenge.  Since then, nearly 600K people have seen my hallway which is mind-boggling!  My personal account has also received a boost. I’ve gained over 2000 followers since the photo was posted and have had lovely comments from all over the world. I am so grateful for each and every one especially after taking such a creative leap this year.

But the real reason I’ve written this post is to shed some light on the challenge itself so that others can join in and have a chance of being featured too.

The Weekend Hashtag Project (#WHP) is announced by Instagram on Fridays (late GMT) so first of all, you need to follow their main account.  Each week, they set a new prompt with an accompanying photo or video as an example of what they’re looking for.  The rules do change for time to time so keep checking, but here are the guidelines from last week:

PROJECT RULES: Please add the #WHPoddlysatisfying hashtag only to photos and videos shared over this weekend and only submit your own visuals to the project. If you include music in your video submissions, please only use music to which you own the rights. Any tagged photo or video shared over the weekend is eligible to be featured next week.

You then have the weekend to post material which matches the theme.  After this time, Instagram then selects up to 6 entries to be featured. If you’re new to the WHP, I recommend looking back over past features to get a feel for the successful content. Creative shots often get picked, but so do other styles – and captions count too.  Account size doesn’t make a difference – I had just over 2500 followers when I was chosen so tiny by Instagram standards.

I think my biggest piece of advice for the WHP is to have fun with it. Use it to view the world in a fresh way. Anything goes so be playful and free – find your voice. This was my 9th attempt so it’s worth persisting.

As always, if you have any questions about the challenge, get in contact with me via the comments or the contact page.