On Tuesday morning I woke up to the carefully uttered words by my boyfriend “hey, I know it's annoying to wake up so early.. but something's going on with your Insta account, you've gotten a thousand new followers since last night”.
I jumped out of bed because I immediately had a hunch what was going on, my entry for the weekends hashtag project might have gotten featured, yippieee! I rushed to my phone, hair standing up straight and drool still on my cheeks. And yes, there it was, me and Luna the cat on the front page of Instagrams own 226 million follower account!
For those of you who might not be familiar with the #WHP, it's a weekly hashtag with a designated theme that Instagram announces every Friday. All the images submitted over the weekend with the hashtag are eligible to get featured on their account the following week.
I felt on top of the world that day, and quite proud that the effort I had put into making that picture had paid off in such a wonderful way. Because, to tell you the truth, and in name of transparency, the image didn't come without some painful moments.
On Sunday my plan for the #whpmadewithlove project was to take a picture with me and my long scarf that I was knitting. My first composition that I took outside didn't work out as I had planned, so I gave it another go inside in our apartment but it still didn't excite me.
I sat down on the couch and had a mini breakdown, buried my face in the pillows and made pathetic whimpers of frustration, feeling sick of myself and my apparent sucky creativity.
But, thankfully my boyfriend encouraged me to give it one more go, and so I gathered up all the patience I could and tried out one more angle I had on the same concept. I ended taking a total of 104 photos that day (!?!), and posted one of the last shots of the day, where everything finally came together in a satisfying way.
So, while it probably won't come as a surprise, perseverance really is your best friend in any creative endeavor. But, I also have a few concrete strategies that I've used to improve my photos. So here's a little list of creative tips that I've gathered from years of studying choreography, dramaturgy, composition and visual storytelling.
1. Pick a concrete starting point
It's easy to get seduced by the idea for your image or creative outcome. You can spend hours on Pinterest daydreaming about the gorgeous images you will take, only to get disappointed when they don't turn out as you had imagined.
Instead, try picking an actual material starting point that allows you to start building up your idea around something concrete. Choose an object, a place, a texture, a material, anything physical that fascinates you and build up your concept around it. It's ok to have an abstract idea, but you need to find the right medium to work and realize it with. By choosing one thing as your starting point your creativity will get limitations and a situation to solve, which provides a much better basis than having to start out from zero.
2. Re-use a concept that works
If you find a concept that works, it's totally fine to re-use it! Chances are you will be able to take the same idea further the next time you do it and refine it in the process. Usually it doesn't turn out exactly as we hope the first time anyways, so why not give it another go? Use the stuff that works as a starting point and then change one parameter, change the angle, the dress, the colors, the location, the mood. That way you won't be repeating yourself in a negative kind of way but building up your knowledge and unique style.
3. Work with what you have
Try to look around you and see the potential in things that are already there. This can be everything from seeing the potential as a prop in your old ballet shoes, or noticing that wonderful texture of a brick wall just around the corner from where you live that you could use as a backdrop for a portrait. Notice shapes, light, shadows, colors, objects and things that catch your eyes. You don't need fancy things to create an interesting composition, but you do need to focus on the details and ask how to make the most out of what you've got. It's not about what resources you have, but how resourceful you can get.
4. Learn to let go
Not every idea or everything you make will be great and that's part of the process. Learn to let go of your darling ideas, sometimes you just need to move on instead of trying to force it. You can become so attached to the idea that it's difficult to separate that from the actual outcome. It's good to be persistent and stubborn, but sometimes you just have to move on to the next thing instead of pushing it.
5. Reframe it
Sometimes changing the angle can be the deal breaker. Move the camera around and really try to listen to what this particular picture and idea is asking for.
6. Give reality a twist
Twisting reality by adding an element that doesn't belong in there can give a composition that edge and out of the ordinary effect that will make someone stop and look twice at your image. For the #whpmadewithlove image I added the huge ball of yarn to create a sort of distortion of reality. Play around with the proportions and authentic size of things. Stack things, organize them in rows, put something really close to the camera, the possibilities are endless.
7. The details matter
Every little thing matters, it's after all the details that make up the bigger picture. Look at an image the same way you would when if you would write a story or compose a song or a dance, every word, every note, every movement counts, there is nothing superfluous. The same goes for images, be very attentive to the details and don't underestimate the power of the little things.
(Psst a little update. After getting featured on Instagram the first time, three weeks later I got featured again. So (ahem), not to sound too cocky, but if you still weren't sure about these tips, maybe that will encourage you to give them a try.)