All The Pictures I Made This Year That Didn’t Feel Good Enough For Instagram

“I have learned, that the moon does not need to be full for us to love it. That we are not tragedies stranded here beneath it.”

I first heard these words whilst listening to Buddy Wakefield’s ”We Were Emergencies” poem, and they’ve lodged themselves in my heart ever since. 

Another year gone, another “crescent moon” year, which yes, has held plenty of beautiful moments - but still, feels more like a year that’s been spent living between the spaces on the page, than living in the story itself. You know what I mean?

I think of all the times I’ve been too busy to finish listening to the end of the song after I’ve parked up, I think of the girl who used to drop all her work, and run to the tops of the hills when it looked like the world was in for a good sunset that day. I miss my cat desperately, and dream of him often, but my current apartment has a no-pets policy, so getting another companion isn’t an option right now. 

All the little things which add up to a half lived life, sometimes they get me down. But sometimes, I remember those words - that the moon doesn’t have to be full for us to love it. I take a little moment, remember that a half-lived year isn’t a half-lived life, and carry on.

Anyway ;) … Here’s how I made this photo!

Guess what I got for Christmas? Hint - it wasn’t designer bags or fancy shoes this year… 

I got a GENERATOR!

Yep, a handy portable generator so I can finally plug stuff in outside on shoots! I’ve wanted to attempt a concept like this for a long time, but never found a powerful enough battery-run light to light up the forest. This worked like a charm! 

My lovely friend Jordan is on lighting duty - I had him shine the light in a variety of places to make sure I didn’t miss any sneaky moonlit highlights/shadows.

The hardest part of this image was creating the moon itself. I tried editing in a few “real” stock moons to begin with, but nothing quite looked right. Eventually, I resorted to distorting the light we brought along itself (using liquify/iWarp) until I had a nice (ish) moon (ish) shape. Surprisingly, it actually worked much better than I’d hoped!

Here’s the before/after. I loved doing this shoot, as soon as the woods started to get dark, and the light shone on the ground, I knew I would love this photo. It’s lovely to get that feeling of excitement looking at the LCD screen on the back of your camera - it’s been a while since I’ve been itching to get home to edit, too!

The Story Behind The Picture.

As well as having a personal-life “crescent moon” year, I’ve also had a real block creatively. I’ve dreamt up as many concepts as ever, but bringing them to life has been more of a struggle the last 12 months. More often than not, I would come home from a shoot and feel frustrated, editing for hours, endlessly trying to make my concept “work”. Usually, I’d end up leaving said photo in the pile of other “never minds” in a random folder on my desktop…

I’ve felt like my reasons for these photos not reaching the bar I’ve set vary. Sometimes, it was that good old Instagram pressure of needing your photo to feel as “likeworthy” as the last, sometimes it was because I felt my work had stagnated in a mess of overused ballgowns and predictable concepts. Sometimes the inspiration behind the concept was too important to get wrong - I’ve included one of these examples in this set, which I’ll talk more about underneath the photo.

So, most people do a Top 9 this time of year, so instead, here’s my Bottom 9! 

Here are my least favourite nine pictures that I made this year, which I didn’t feel happy enough with to share online. 

What I Liked: The concept!

Why It Doesn’t Work: The roots were from a stock photo, and don’t blend into the environment well enough.

Ironically, this was actually inspired by all my failed ideas! This shoot started off on the wrong foot. I went into the woods and cracked a lightbulb (safely) into a bag, but unfortunately took a LOT more glass off than I wanted to… I used a glue-gun to glue on some dried flowers I’d been keeping on my desk, and took myself to the fields nearby to see if I could make this idea come to life. I wasn’t entirely happy with how my little lightbulb flower looked, but thought I’d roll with it. 

After editing all the elements together, I decided that the roots were the weakest part of this picture - and that I’d have had more luck choosing a location which had roots there to begin with. Onto the “Never mind” pile it went! 

What I Liked: That this was topical portrait, and therefore important to talk about on social media.

Why It Doesn’t Work: The lack of usable wall space resulted in a lot of cloning, and the red paint was harder to edit on than I imagined.

This was a politically motivated portrait, which I really wanted to share. The day before the election, I felt quite annoyed at myself for not being more open politically online. It’s so important that anyone with an audience should use their voice wisely, and as a person I really enjoy politics as a topic (despite it grinding my sense of humanity down to the size of a pea), I enjoy hearing people’s different ideas and methods of tackling the world’s problems, it’s interesting hearing why some agree and some disagree. I’m NOT into shit-flinging, though. As soon as someone stereotypes another person with any view different to theirs as a “bad” person, I’m out. There has been so much nastiness surrounding UK & US politics especially over the years, so little patience for the complexity of all the issues, and to be honest, it made me feel incredibly nervous to join the conversation.

But, anyway - back to the day before the election! I felt I wanted to throw my opinion into the ring. It’s so important to vote, and figure out who your life experience and views align with. For me, that is Labour. Of the two main parties, I align with their policies more. The Green Party would have been a wonderful party to vote for, but since my constituency was a marginal seat, it was important to cast my vote for either Labour or Conservative. 

I did a few online “Who should you vote for?” quizzes to make sure my opinions still aligned with Labour, I did more research into the controversial aspects of the party that there were concerns about, and I read both manifestos and weighed up the pros and cons of both leaders. 

I ended up posting this image on my Instagram stories and my Facebook. Had it turned out technically better as an image, I would have felt confident posting it on my Instagram main feed, but I struggled with the paint aspect so much in the edit. 

I drove around for about an hour trying to find a good wall that wasn’t next to a road (so my tripod didn’t get squished), but there weren’t any light coloured ones. Shooting on a darker coloured wall meant editing the red paint on looked mostly unrealistic. I wanted it the shade of red to be as close to the Labour shade as possible, and I really struggled to get there! So, that’s why this sort-of ended up in the Never-mind pile. 

BUT I really do want to start being a little more topical in my concepts, and for that, I’m proud of this one.

What I Liked: The Concept (again)

Why It Doesn’t Work: The location choice didn’t look as good as I’d hoped, changing the stones to rainbow colours also didn’t look as realistic as it did in my practice edits.

Ahh, you know that feeling of BURSTING with ideas, but not being able to make them work? I’ve just spent the last hour typing about it, so hopefully you recognise that right now ;) This was another photo based around my struggle of bringing these concepts to life, and ironically, this didn’t work either! 

James & I visited Malham Cove as the scenery for this shot. Two photographer friends of ours came along to help (Hi James & Merika!), but it felt like everything was against me for this concept! After carrying the easel up the HUNDREDS of uphill stone stairs, the sun was in a bad position for me, the wind was blowing the dress between my legs, and my hair straight into my face, it was just a 10/10 terrible experience (minus the company!)

I went home and tried to work with the images I had, but I just couldn’t warm to it. The concept I liked, but the visuals to represent the concept had morphed so many times before I got to this, that if didn’t feel like the same concept I’d originally been excited about. 

After spending about three hours colouring the stones in, I eventually decided to chuck it. I might re-attempt this concept another day in another style, we shall see!

What I Liked: The location/wisteria! I adore the stuff!

Why It Doesn’t Work: No pizzazz :(

Ahh, I love wisteria so much! For the last three years I’ve either missed the blooming season due to busyness with wedding bookings, or not been able to find accessible locations to shoot with it, so I was SO EXCITED when I came across this wall of purple!

Unfortunately, though I like this picture, it just feels “meh” to me… I don’t feel like it tells a story, I don’t get lost in the image, I feel like I’ve relied to heavily on a pretty dress and pretty flowers. So, it lives in the Nevermind Pile. 

What I Liked: The first picture is my favourite of my Bottom 9, I love the colours and the tones, the dress and the poppies, of course!

Why It Doesn’t Work: The composition doesn’t gel as well with my usual style, it looks more “fashion” portrait (which is totally ok) but I don’t think it would sit well on my feed (le sigh!). 

Poppies are my other photo-favourite season, and I made sure I wouldn’t miss them this year! These two images of poppies I also like, but didn’t love enough to share. Again, I think I got so wrapped up in the idea of poppy fields being so beautiful that I didn’t put enough thought into a concept. Never mind. Maybe next year?

What I Liked: The concept!

Why It Doesn’t Work: The first picture I think I look like an evil gremlin, the second just doesn’t do the concept justice.

I. Spent. Hours. On. These.

No joke. I re-edited both of them four/fives times, stared at them for hours, sent them to my friends and asked them to tell me with their fresh eyes, what I simply couldn’t see that wasn’t making them work. There is just something “off” about both of these images. I love the concept and will try to re-shoot next year, as it’s about a topic which I think needs to be talked about more in the photo community - but not with either of these photos. Never mind ;)

What I Liked: The. Location. Is. Amazing.

Why It Doesn’t Work: There isn’t enough “wow” to the image, not enough motion, no storytelling.

I found photos of this incredible abandoned cottage in a nearby village in Jan 2018, and made it my mission to hunt it down and find the location. I asked the locals, I took every road I could think of in the village it purportedly existed in, I zoomed in on Google Earth looking for buildings which looked like they didn’t have a roof. I searched for landmarks in the photos in real life, to try and figure out which hill they might have been facing. To no avail. Eventually, I simply looked at the website the pictures were posted from, and found there were GPS co-ordinates right in front of my eyes the entire time. 

Le sigh!

Anyway - some of you might recognise this dress! I shot with it in my recent castle photo on the staircase. I think the reason I never ended up sharing this shoot was because 

1) It’s landscape orientation - and Instagram makes landscape shots look crappy (yep)

2) It doesn’t do the dress justice

3) I just don’t “wow” at it. I want to, but I just don’t. So in the Nevermind Pile it lives.


So there we go! I do hope you’ve enjoyed looking at all the pictures I wasn’t happy with this year - I hope it reminds you, dear reader, that even girls who can create tremendous, towering moons out of little thin lightsabers, are also capable of creating total flops of photographs. I hope you are reassured that everyone has an inner critic, and that no one has quite figured out how to quieten it’s sharp tongued voice just yet. I hope it makes you feel less lonely when you next create a “Nevermind” picture, and I hope you keep being inspired by concepts that grab your imagination nonetheless. I know I will :-)

Happy New Year, everyone! 

Rosie x


Searching For Validation

Hola everybody! Welcome to my shiny new blog… as it turns out, the photo quality on my dusty old blog was pretty horrific. So here I am, high res and ready to go!

MAKING THE IMAGE

I’ve decided to document how I make each picture alongside the meaning. Here’s the crafty part for “Searching For Validation”.

Coming up with ideas has always been the easiest part of a photo for me - making it into reality is much harder! Once I had the idea of crawling into my phone to search for some instagram validation (see “The Inspiration, below), I knew I needed something “giant phone” size to hold/crawl into in the image in real life. Having something that represents the object you want to blow up in post is REALLY useful. Not only will shadows match up, but it will make your posing look 100x more natural. 

It took me twenty minutes of pacing around my apartment and holding different things up in the mirror in order for it to click - the mirror was the perfect size!

My lovely James kindly unscrewed the actual mirror itself from the frame, and I was all set. 

Unfortunately (or, fortunately) the day I had set aside to shoot this concept had forecast high winds. Extreme weather seems to schedule itself alongside any free day I’ve ever had in the history of all my self portraits, so this was nothing new to me. But, alas, after my recent beating of my self esteem, I didn’t fancy exposing myself to a road of cars in a floaty dress in high winds. So I waited until the next day.

Step 1) Wake up

Step 2) Check Weather App

Step 3) Throw phone at wall

Blue skies, goddamit. Those who know me know I loathe blue skies and sunny days - I find it the most challenging weather to shoot in. It’s fantastic for weddings and pretty (normal) insta pics, but for my conceptual work, nothing but grey, overcast skies is acceptable. I was so excited to shoot this concept though, that I decided - “what the hell?” One of the things I’ve missed about shooting personal work is being able to roll with whatever circumstances I wake up with, so I thought I’d dive in and just see what happened.

I decided to wait until the sun was setting, around 2.30pm, to shoot. I had some time in the afternoon to kill, so I packed some prints up, and saw some bent, unusable cardboard in my packaging stash. Rather than chuck it, I wondered if I could make it into some instagram likes - I got my scissors out, and got chopping. 

After initially struggling with 0’s and 6’s (why did I think they’d ever be easy?!), I decided I wanted to paint the numbers etc white. I didn’t have any white paint in my craft cupboard, but hey presto, Rimmel to the Rescue!

Armed with an empty mirror frame and some still-sticky pieces of cardboard, I set off in my van to the moors. The sunlight was pretty intimidating, not a cloud in the sky, and 75% of me was pretty sure this picture would be another on the fail-pile. Nevertheless, I persevered.

Here are two outtakes from the shoot. 

In Picture 1 you can see I’ve thrown the likes around in the air, I didn’t really know what I was going to do with them, so I tried a bit of everything. 

In picture 2 I shot the photo I would use of my phone. I wasn’t sure which angle I’d need, so photographed it a bunch of different ways to cover my back. 

TECHNICAL TIP

I made sure to bump up my F-stop to f5 when I shot my iPhone. Shooting “giant” things at a low aperture has been my downfall in previous shoots. When you blow them up in post, they often look blurry and don’t fit the scene properly, and give off a “fake” look. Shooting with a higher F-stop means that more of the phone will be in focus, and therefore fit better in the picture when I edit it in. Pro tip ;)

BACK TO THE SHOOT

I also photographed each picture of the phone from the same angle with my thumb in a different place - to make sure I had the entire phone available if I needed it to stitch it together!

I want to interrupt this story to remind you guys that it was 2.c outside, I was stood in a bog, wearing a little dress and absolutely f*cking freezing! I don’t think I have any photos where you can see my feet and I’m wearing shoes - a little Rosie niche I suppose. Either way, it took me about an hour to be able to feel my feet again after this! A lady walking her dog looked at me like I was mad, but it’s all part of the fun. I should do a blog post on how to shoot in public one of these days!

Anyway - here’s the before/after of the shot!

I hope you guys have enjoyed reading the “making of” - if you’d like to read the inspiration behind this image, keep scrolling!

Searching for Validation - The Inspiration Behind The Image

Hello, my name is Rosie. I’ve been taking self portraits since I was sixteen - I’m now twenty nine. I feel like they’re part of my DNA. 

I used to love taking self portraits for so many reasons - they filled an empty hole in my life that I could have filled with distractions - love stories, a gym obsession, self hatred of my body shape, spending money on clothes, eating Dominos pizza, grief, depression. 

You name it - I could have filled that hole with it. 

Self portraits have been therapy to me - a way of taking all the struggles and joys I’ve experienced throughout my life, and putting the lessons into physical pictures that I could relate to, and share with other people going through the same thing. Self portraits taught me how to enjoy my own company, how my shadow by itself wasn’t a lonely thing when there was a shadow of a tripod and a backpack.

Self portraits taught me to accept the way I look - being critical of the way we look is universal (rather sadly). I remember picking up a DSLR camera and thinking “this will make me beautiful, like all the girls in the magazines” - and being confused when actually, I could now see all my spots in high definition -  in more terrifying detail than ever. But I persevered. I learned how lighting could make me look like an angel or a gremlin, how retouching could clone away anyone’s flaws - and maybe that’s why the girls in the magazines looked so beautiful. 

My self portraits, when shared with the online world, taught me that everyone else goes through all the same things that I do. That everyone has insecurities, just like I do. That I could actually make a difference to a total strangers’ life - just by uploading a silly little honest self portrait from my sixteen year old self’s bedroom. 

Over the years, the internet changed. I uploaded to Myspace, Xanga, Flickr, Livejournal. Then FaceBook was born, and I shared on there, too. Instagram happened - I didn’t join for the first two years of Insta Boom - I was quite content with my little FB family. 

Eventually, I joined the bandwagon, and for the first couple of years, it was a lovely sharing experience like all the others. 

I managed to pick up a few thousand followers from the 5 years I’d spent on Flickr, but nothing major in Instagram terms. I shared pictures of my cat, little quotes I liked, phone selfies and photos from nights out. Sometimes I got 50 likes, sometimes I got 75, it didn’t really bother me. This was my life, and if someone wanted to look in - then that was lovely. 

I started sharing my self portraits onto Instagram - and wow, people really liked them! My following grew, and my “likes” shot up. After a year or two, I had 20,000 followers and felt cherished as a person in the photography community. My business seemed separate to Instagram - I worked with great clients, had shot some famous bands and celebrities, I didn’t really post much of this, and that didn’t seem unusual. 

On 17th June 2016, I started my second 365 Days Project - the first being in 2012, on Flickr. My boyfriend had passed away six weeks earlier, and I had lost all motivation in my life. I felt paralysed with grief, felt I had so much to share and say, but didn’t feel like I could say it in pretty pictures and selfies. I decided to completely bare my soul, to create a photo of how I felt every day for the entire year that followed. If anything, it would give me something to do every day, a purpose and a positive sense of achievement when the long, bony fingers of despair came to grab at my ankles, and pull me into the darkness.

To completely cut out the meaningful aspect of this story and keep it to the point (and more of an essay than a novel), during and after my 365, my Instagram exploded. Job offers came in faster than ever, my “likes” would get 16,000 per photo, everyone was cheering me on and it was a little bit nuts. You’d think this would be the height of awesome for any photographer, but actually, it made me panic.

After I finished my 365 Project, the pressure to keep posting regularly was immense. I desperately needed to go back to a normal life - loving my cat, shooting weddings, earning some coin to make up for the huge drop I took financially after I took the year off to do my 365. 

Uploading once a week became a struggle - I felt like in absence of quantity, I should upload quality work. Magical, whimsical photo-shoots once a fortnight became my thing. The engagement seemed to continue, but dropped when I shared normal “pretty” pictures. They might have been meaningful moments in my life, but they didn’t do as well as the ballgowns and conceptual work, so I stopped sharing them.

Time ticked on, and I started sharing less and less. Each photo had to be more amazing than the one before, 8000 likes meant “poor work” and I was too much of a perfectionist to post poor work. I became hyper-critical of every piece I created, the joy of creating began to get sucked away, and I had no idea how to fix it. So instead, I persevered - or at least, I tried to.

Fast forward to November 2018, and I started collaborating with brands and doing “sponsored” posts. I felt like this was hugely taboo at first - and I worried that my lovely crowd of supporters would turn on me. I worried they’d think I’d sold my soul. Working as a wedding photographer through the summer was great in terms of earning, but winter would dry up hugely - so when brands offered me £1000+ to create a photo for them, I felt like it would have been a mistake to say no. Some brands were fantastic, gave me complete creative control and allowed me to write my caption in the least cheesy way possible. Others were a little less sensitive to my content, and to those brands, I said “no, thank you.” I turned away around £8000 in brand-work over that time. 

Between Nov 2018 - April 2019, I created about 12 pieces of ad work. I loved them as pictures, and had a decent amount of savings to show for it, too! I had the backing of amazing brands, and I should have been so proud of myself. But I didn’t feel proud at all, my average Instagram likes had dropped by a couple of thousand, a few people had left negative comments about the fact I taken on sponsored work, and I felt like I had let people down. Bad figures meant brands might stop wanting to work with me, too - I felt totally hopeless.

As a result, I got even harder on myself with my personal work. It had to be x100 more meaningful, x100 more creative and get more likes than ever before. Because, of course, this is how I knew my image was good - if it was popular. It seems to silly to write down, now. It felt like I’d been a hiking hobbyist, and had somehow ended up with the goal of climbing Everest on a weekly basis. 

Every time I came to post, I’d get severe anxiety about doing so. I’d refresh manically, sometimes until 2am while James slept next to me, with his blissful 300 followers inside his phone. I longed for the days where I didn’t have a stadium of people to impress, where the numbers didn’t matter. I would fondly look back on the days I could hop out of bed without an idea or concept in mind, and come home with an accidental masterpiece (or a total failure, but a good story to tell about why it didn’t work) and mourn it - as an established photographer with 160k followers, I felt there was no longer room for mistakes, no longer a place for me to share work that wasn’t quite how I pictured it, that wasn’t quite perfect.

Anyway. Here I am tonight, feeling like I’ve had a massive therapy session with my laptop. I have no idea who will read this, if anyone will even make it to the end, and I am SO fine with that! I need to get away from all the numbers, from all the measurements and voices in my head telling me my work is not good enough, and that in turn, neither am I.

I am looking forward to sharing my thoughts on here, openly and honestly, for anyone who might feel disheartened the same way. I’m still going to post to Instagram (it’s my business after all!), but this will my the new home of my thoughts. One which currently has zero views, zero likes, zero comments. Inhale. Exhale. It is so peaceful, and so quiet. 


I feel like my search for validation is finally coming to an end. 

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