Pretty much since I first picked up a camera, the idea of the photo essay has intrigued me. The concept of telling a story from start to finish with just images and no, or very few, words, is both daunting and challenging and something I’ve been wanting to do more of for the last two years.
So, I’ve decided, among other things, that in 2015 I’m going to focus on creating more photo essays. I want to do a few different kinds – some food, some travel and some art. I think it will be an interesting project – mostly because I have no idea what I’m doing in this genre. Ha! It’s a more editorial style of photography than I usually do and I think there’s probably a little more planning and thought that has to go into than I usually put into photographing things.
So we shall see!
One of the things I’ve been doing over the Christmas break is looking for interesting ways to create and/or share essays on the blog or social media and I came across a neat app called Steller.
I’d never heard of Steller before but apparently it came out earlier this year and is an Editor’s Choice app in the Apple app store. I stumbled across it on twitter when somebody tweeted a story they’d created with it. I was intrigued so I checked it out and immediately wanted to create my first story.
There are some extremely talented people using the platform and browsing through their work got the creative juices flowing. So I decided to experiment and noodle around a bit using a few of the photos on my phone (which given that it’s only a month old, were pretty limited). This is what I came up with:
The interface is easy to use – you create your stories on your iPhone or iPad using photos and video from your camera roll, Instagram or Dropbox (and other photography apps that you might have installed. Each photo or video becomes a page in your story and you can choose from a variety of pre-made layouts for each page, giving you a lot of flexibility over the look of your finished piece. You can pinch and swipe to resize your images allowing you to zoom in and out in the layout. Pages can be moved around until you have everything in the order you want and you can create pages that are just text.
Each layout allows you to move text, change fonts, colours and font sizes. The options here are limited so I did find that all the stories have a similar aesthetic but, as a designer, I think they’re beautiful – simple, elegant and they ensure that the imagery is the focus of the stories. You could also create images with text in them outside of Steller, to fit your branding, but I didn’t see very many people doing that.
I put my story together in about 10 minutes – mostly as an experiment and with no real idea of what do with it or what the next steps were. The next step is to create a “collection” to add it to. I created a collection called Street Art, published it on the platform and then explored a bit and found people to follow using their “find friends” tool that let’s you search Instagram, Facebook and Twitter for people you already follow on those platforms. I managed to find a grand total of 30, many of whom hadn’t published a single story so I just focused on people who were actively using the app. And then I went to bed.
When I woke up the next morning, instead of making Instagram my first stop, I found myself drawn to Steller and decided to see if I could find other street art stories. And that’s where I figured out how to hashtag my story in its comments section. And as soon as I did that, I got an email from Steller’s editors that my story had been republished by them into one of their featured “collections” which means it appears in the feed of everyone who follows Steller. They also tweeted my story out on twitter. I have no idea if they do this with every story or beginner’s stories but, over the course of the next 12 hours, my story found itself “liked” 57 times and added to 11 collections besides my own. Not bad for somebody with a grand total of 6 followers and who really didn’t put a whole lot of thought or effort into her first story – if anything, it made me want to up my game!
Like most social platforms lately, there seems to be a trend to wanting to be followed rather than following (which bores the crap out of me, people… seriously… if we want to grow our creativity we need to expose ourselves to what other people are doing and stop being so wrapped up in making sure we follow 71% less people than follow us). But, people seem to be much more generous with likes and sharing on Steller than they are on Instagram.
The other thing I really liked is that the text you include in your stories is searchable in the app. So for instance I can search for “street art” and any story that mentions street art anywhere in its text will show up in the results. (you can also search by hashtag).
The other thing where this app kicks butt over IG is that you can embed links into your text. So for instance, say you create a story of a recipe on your blog – at the end of the story, you can insert a text page that includes a link to the recipe post on your blog, or your instgram account, or twitter account or all three.
I spent most of Sunday checking out people’s work on the app and was blown away with the creativity I found and that’s what I really love about the app. Food stories that include recipes like this sticky gingerbread loaf or roundups of food by city such as the essential drinking guide to Portland, DIY tutorials that are as stunning to look at as they are informative – like this smoky eye makeup tutorial, a photographer sharing her work with shelter dogs, travel stories like this snowy weekend in yellowstone, collections of artwork like this dreamy calendar collection.
Most stories are no more than 10-15 pages long so they’re short and sweet but, be warned, the image quality is amazing. You definitely will want to up your photography game here – which is not a bad thing!
If you’re looking for a fun way to get a little more creative in 2015 with your food photography, Steller might just do the trick!