4 Steps for How to Make a Creative Photo Diary

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If you are a visual learner like me, seeing images and written words reinforces your memory, and enhances your learning. Concepts, ideas, and experiences associated with images, colors, and action, stay longer in our memory, help us savour the moment, and relive the events more clearly.

Spring is in sight, the days are getting longer and lighter, let’s go out and make the most of the season and make some new memories. Here’s a fun personal photography project for you: write a creative diary in pictures!

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A diary or a journal is a record of your day to day life and experiences. Entries report both mundane and unusual goings-on, your emotions, thoughts and feelings, your actions and reactions, including opinions that may even be outside your immediate experience. Diaries and journals tend to be written in a chronological sequence.

Let’s apply this definition to a photo diary and see how well you can record a point in your life using pictures alone. The challenge is whether you can piece together a coherent and complete story, just by looking at the pictures alone.

Here are four basic components of  a creative photo diary. When making yours, feel free to be as exhaustive as you like. In this example, I will show photos under each component and hope that you will try and piece together the entire story. That way we can gauge just how strongly and effectively the photos alone were able to recount the narrative.

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#1 Set the context – lay out the plan

Think of this like a prologue or an introduction in a book. Include photos of the locality and vary the angles; wide scenes, close ups, details, panoramas. Don’t forget to take photos of preparation, getting ready for the trip, or some action en-route to the destination.

Set the mood. If it’s a gloomy and rainy day, take pictures of the rain or the storm clouds. If it’s a sunny day, snap photos of the sun, flare, and silhouettes included. Keep your eyes peeled and look around you. What do you see on the way to your destination? Any interesting sights? Anything out of the ordinary? Anything special or alluring? Anything new that you have never seen before? Or perhaps it has always been there but you just never bothered to look close enough until now.

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#2 Have an opening chapter – a beginning

You have reached your destination and thus the narrative begins its ascent. So far you have only given glimpses of your main character, clues to the destination, snippets to the story. Now you are ready to introduce your characters and show more of their personalities. Make them shine and take center stage.

Vary your images by employing different angles; close up, far and wide, bird’s eye view, worm’s eye view. How about an inquisitive and questioning view? Be creative about it and think outside the box. There are many ways of presenting a person’s character like emphasizing color, favourite objects, unique accessories, action, identifying marks, etc., other than the ubiquitous frontal portrait. The obvious isn’t always the most interesting.

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What happened when you reached your destination? Did the plans change? Were there distractions or unforeseen events that led you to switch gears, or take a different route? Or did you head straight on to what you wanted to do? Were there any curious twists to the plan, or some surprises – nice ones or otherwise?

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#3 Inject some action or drama

It may be that nothing happens that is spectacular or which causes emotional upheaval. That doesn’t mean you can’t create something dramatic or notable. You can focus on particular emotions, or something pretty mundane, and make a choice to celebrate life’s simple pleasures. If on the other hand there was plenty of action, choose a few main actions shots of defining moments from the day, especially those that elicited the most impressive reaction, or the quietest but most precious twinkle of an eye.

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Adopt a photojournalistic stance, and record what happens without thinking too much about meaning or composition. Photograph what catches your eye, or that which you get drawn to instinctively. Trust your eyes to lead you to interesting contrasts and juxtapositions – light and shade, silence and noise, darkness and light. Aim to capture and savour every highlight. Don’t rush, but linger and indulge in the moment. The more you focus on something, no matter how small, the bigger its effects on you will be. Find an experience in the simplest of things; you are writing a story. Writers emphasize, exaggerate, infer, and aim for a climax. Don’t be afraid to do the same with your pictures. Be pro-active and creative.

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#4 Start the closing chapter

In a book, this part is usually referred to as falling action. It comes after all the excitement and drama happen. It’s like a letting out a big sigh and things start to gather at a much slower pace. Prepare your audience for the conclusion, and end of the story. Unlike the conclusion in a book where the plot is usually unravelled, this part could plainly be writing the last paragraph to the entry of your diary for the day. It could be as simple as taking your shoes off after a long and tiring walk, drinking a well deserved cup of tea after a day full of challenges, or the sun slowly setting or the moon rising.

Remember the purpose of a diary is to record, preferably in detail, what transpired during your day; the running of events, emotions, actions, thoughts, ideas, changes, differences, transformations. So many elements to capture in a few photos. But perhaps in and amongst all the snapshots from the day, there could be one photo that somehow encapsulates how you may be feeling at the end. Use that photo to close your diary entry, and end your story.

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Have you attempted a creative photo diary in the past? If not, I hope you try it one of these days and enjoy the experience. What do you think is the story in this example above? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Lily Sawyer is a wedding and portrait photographer based in London. Her absolute favourite past time is going on "mummy" dates with her kids and husband. Other than that, as a homebody, she is content curled up on the sofa, hot chocolate in hand, watching films with her family whenever she has a free weekend. Check out her work on www.lilysawyer.com Follow her on her fave social media platform Instagram.

  • I’ve tried to do a one day photo diary in the past but things have no always worked as planned. I’m the photographer in the family but I’m also the trip planner. What ends up happening is that I’m the one making sure we get to the airport on time, drop the car off in long-term parking, getting the boarding passes, etc. Then as the destination, I have to herd everyone toward baggage claim, rental car pickup, hotel checkin. I miss many opportunities and I am exhausted at the end of the day. I get more images when we travel by car but still miss many because I’m the one doing the driving. Whew!

  • Lily Sawyer

    Khurt you deserve an award! You do too much! Make time in your diary for yourself or delegate other jobs for one day while you focus on photography!

  • This is definitely inspiring! It’s been a while since I planned a photo diary post, but I am a day-trip shutterbug. Thanks for the great ideas for bringing a little more intention in to it.

    Likely By Sea

  • Lily Sawyer

    Thanks Cynthia. Yes definitely some intention is the way to go. As the saying goes, if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there! I have found that having some kind of a plan or a purpose in anything really helps! All the best!

  • Amelia Mello

    I actually started a private blog, 2 years ago, to record important things in my life through photography. And I’ve been neglecting it. My last post was 6 months ago. Now I understand that I was actually trying to make a “Photo Diary”. Your post just gave me a whole different perspective on it. I now actually have a focus, a defined purpose. I’m going back to my blog. Thanks a lot for this post. It’s so inspiring!

  • Karen

    What a great idea. As I age I find visual aids are fabulous for memory. I am excitingly awaiting the arrival of a new camera in the post so to have a new idea to fly with is wonderful. Thakyou

  • Lily Sawyer

    Thanks Karen. How exciting! Do share your images here when you get your shiny camera!

  • Lily Sawyer

    I’m so happy to read this Amelia, thank you! Link us up with your blog when you write a new post! Exciting!

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