THE TCC BLOG: photography, creativity and navigating life as an entrepreneur in the 21st century.

Being Truly Yourself is Freedom

“Truly believe from the bottom of your heart and you can make change happen…..
everyone of us must be the very best of ourselves”

– Caroline Casey

Self belief is one of the most powerful tools we can have, and it’s one of the characteristics most of us battle with.

At sometime in our lives, we ask ourselves who we are, and what we want to be. So often we are limited by what we believe others think our destination is, or by the labels we place on ourselves. Judgment, preconception and assumption all come so naturally to us.

Evolutionarily, it makes sense that our behaviour is governed by pattern. When faced with a situation similar to one we have experienced before, we reference our past experience. This is a fine principle when it comes to learning that fire is hot, but when it comes to what you can and cannot do, and what other people may or may not be thinking, this way of reacting is incredibly limiting.

There is freedom to being mindful, referencing only your present experience, without judgment, preconception or assumption. So much more is possible when we aren’t assuming the world is saying no.

That doesn’t mean that we won’t make mistakes, but admitting failure, learning from those mistakes and asking for help when we need it, is a key aspect to being truly self confident. Understanding and appreciating your gifts and your limitations, harnessing all the pieces of all of you and believing in your own convictions, will give you the power to make whatever change and meet whatever challenge you want.

I made a choice seven years ago to change the course of my career from neuroscientist to photographer. While science and art have always been passions of mine, I had set course as a career scientist early on. My photography business had been going for some time alongside, but to make such a change as to move to a full time career as a photographer, after attaining a science PhD and working through a couple of post doctoral fellowships, seemed impossible. I was defined as a ‘scientist’, how could I be anything else? This is what the world knew me as, what it expected of me.

If I put down these assumptions and judgments and asked myself who I was and what I wanted to be now, would the answer be different? As it turned out, despite feeling I had no confidence at all, I had enough self-belief to challenge my preconceptions and make the steps for change. I was not only surprised by my own capabilities but by the support and encouragement of those around me who knew me best – the very ones I worried I would be letting down. I do of course have a long way to go, but I embrace being a life long learner, and I can see the power of cultivating self-belief and what that enables me to achieve.

In a moving TED talk by Caroline Casey, she describes her own unique experience with these concepts. It’s well worth making a cup of tea and listening to her story.

If you put aside the assumptions and judgements you make about yourself, do you find yourself with more possibilities?

If you put aside assumptions and judgement, what are you called to do?

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8 Steps To Growing Your Instagram Following

Instagram is an incredible asset for photographers and a great place to share your work with the world. This post is designed to help you boost your presence on Instagram and cultivate a strong, meaningful following.

Aerial photo of mountains and rivers with the text '8 steps to growing your instagram following'

The key to all social media is consistency – one post a day is better than none for a week and five in one day. Seeing your photos frequently will help people make a connection with you, which in turn will make them more likely to share your work with their own audience.

Image by Natalie Martin

In the small space above your images you get to define who you are and what you’re about. Don’t waste it with vague or generic phrases that you think people will find inspiring or catchy. Really hone in on your niche and your passions and then link to your strongest online asset, whether that’s your website, your Facebook page or your Etsy store. If one link is really not enough, use Linktree to give yourself a menu of links to the most important pages or sites you want to share.

Image by Ria Mishaal FRPS

Grabbing attention for one image is great, but encouraging people to follow you comes down to the rest of your feed. Consistency is key, particularly if you’re trying to attract clients and followers to a specific genre or niche. Choosing a tone or palette to use throughout your images can really grab attention.

You can choose to use light, airy images or dark, moody ones to add that consistency, or maybe if you love black and white photography, run your whole feed in black and white. Choosing a palette that suits your brand can also help, so each image has that palette and those tones within it.

While it’s tempting to ‘like’ as many photos as possible in the hope people will follow you back won’t lead to anything meaningful in the long run. ‘Likes for likes’ is an empty way to promote yourself. Having 500 followers who genuinely love what you do is way more powerful than 5000 followers who ‘liked you back’ out of courtesy but never check your feed. Search for terms you find interesting and engage with the people whose work you like, give feedback and praise and follow those who you really want to follow. That way you build up an authentic following of like-minded people who value what you do.

Image by Natalie Martin

You can use up to thirty hashtags on each post and the evidence shows that the posts that make use of all? most? hashtags will get the most engagement. You can use sites like Webstagram to see which hashtags currently have the most interactions and pick the ones that work with your brand. You can also create your own hashtag and encourage your followers to interact with your content by using your hashtags on their posts.

As with other social media platforms, reaching out to others for collaborations and joint posts or projects is a fantastic way to give your following a boost. You can increase your following and get your work seen by like-minded audiences who are more likely to follow you with such projects. For example: 1) work on a styled shoot with a makeup artist or stylist with a strong following, who will tag you in the final images; 2) work on a personal photography project with a second photographer where the final images are shared on both profiles.

Image by David F Cooke FRPS EFIAP

If you’re serious about growing your following organically, you can make your life easier by using analytics to evaluate which times of day or types of post work best for you. Tools like Iconosquare help you to evaluate which of your hashtags are gaining the most interaction and which times of day are the best and worst times for engagement with your audience. From this information, you can ensure you’re posting in a smart way, really honing in on the content that is serving you, and finding ways to improve on what actually works for you and your audience.

Image by Sarah Zipell

Let’s face it, we all lead busy lives and often don’t have the time to write and put up three posts a day at consistent times, which is necessary to build a great following. This is where scheduling comes into its own. Apps like Planoly or Later allow you to upload images, write your captions and add hashtags in advance.

The real beauty of apps like Planoly is that they 
allow you to plan the look of your feed. This is because you can upload many images and reorder them to design the look and feel of the overview of your feed. It is great to consider your posts in blocks of 3 (a line in your thumbnail feed) and also in blocks of 9, as that will dominate the view on a smart phone screen.

As previously mentioned, choosing a tone for your images will help give your feed consistency, but what if you would like to post colour as well as black and white images, or you have a variety of subjects to share? Here is where designing your feed will pay off.

Design a pattern to follow, for example posting a quote or a personal picture so that it falls within the middle of a row, and then follow it again every sixth image, so you will have a reoccurring pattern.

Or alternate details and portraits, or portraits and landscapes, and blend colour tones or follow a theme within a block of three – all candle-lit or all autumnal. It will take time to figure this out but the results can be stunning.

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The art of conversation

Every month I read a book to expand my understanding, to help me develop. The pages I have leafed through in these last weeks have been concerned with the nature of interactions, conversations and personal preconceptions, namely Fierce Conversations and Leadership and Self Deception. These texts are well worth a read and a ponder….

One message rose above the rest, because of its simplicity and great consequence. Conversation and relationship are synonymous.

I had always acknowledged that my great relationships yield wonderful conversations. I had not consciously acknowledged though that, in reality, the relationship is the conversation and the conversation is the relationship, not a cause and consequence, but one and the same. Every single conversation has the potential to instigate significant connection and the capability of creating change, but that doesn’t mean every conversation will – the nature and potential of the conversation is, of course, dependent on you and me.

Reflecting on this idea, I was struck how words can be used without choice, carelessly, almost outside of ‘conversation’, and how there really is a great art in speaking and listening, which is taken for granted. There is value in the way we converse and how receptive we are to those we speak with. I realised that paying greater attention to each and every conversation I have, from the girl next to me on the train to conversations with my husband, could really change my outlook and life in profound ways.

I strive to be authentic and generous in my character. I believe strongly in the power of being honest in who you are. I could see, as I read these books, the value and gift we each have in actively and honestly listening to others, without agenda or preconception. As I paid more attention to my inner dialogue, I realised that often I hear a filtered internal translation of what was being said, distorted by my own thoughts. So I have begun to learn to listen more openly, to give of my heart and spirit in the act of listening and speaking honestly…developing my own art of conversation.

Listening is an act of love
The power of open and honest conversation is beautifully demonstrated in the archives of the American independent non-profit organization StoryCorps. Their mission is to “provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives”. To this end they have collected tens of thousands of people in conversation. Their old tag line ‘Listening is an act of love’ is vividly poignant. BBC radio and the British Library have embarked upon a UK counterpart called The Listening Project “capturing the nation in conversation to build a unique picture of our lives today and preserve it for future generations”. It is a beautifully powerful endeavour. If you are interested, you can listen online – get started with the presenter Fi Glover’s favourites.

Don’t hang up…or log off
In listening to these conversations I was reminded of a quirkier but equally fascinating study of conversation I heard back in 2011:Don’t Log Off. Alan Dein makes conversations with different people all over the world, talking about their lives and thoughts late at night via Facebook and Skype. Whatever medium we converse in, the conversation matters.

So I challenge myself to make every conversation I have more genuine. I challenge myself to ask questions I have not asked before and to listen with love and really hear the words and meaning, unfiltered, and share my own thoughts with honesty. Will you join me?

What great conversations have you had or wish you could have?

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Floral Photography Workshop Writeup

Autumn 2018: Barnsley House, Cotswolds

The atmosphere in the gardens at Barnsley House is almost meditative. Calming and expanding, the perfect place to open the mind and learn. There could be no better place to hold a two-day photography course.

Image by Ria Mishaal

This autumn, The Creativity Collective ran our foundation Floral Photography Workshop at Barnsley House aimed at those who have an appreciation for flowers and those who work as florists. This was a class of 6 students, allowing individual attention. In the past, we have had a whole range of attendees from those who just love to make floral displays and want to capture their work, to those who have been in business as florists for many years and who want to photograph their work with a particular vision for their marketing. Most of our students own dSLR cameras but have very little experience with how to use them and find manuals and technical articles online a little impenetrable.

Images by Ria Mishaal

The conference room at Barnsley house overlooks the countryside; squirrels played outside the window as we worked. It is the perfect space for an open, exploratory and discursive atmosphere, as we sat around a central table with three setups around the edge of the room for practical work.

The content over the two days is delivered with discussion of key technical principles followed by practical application, giving the opportunity to learn first hand and ask all the questions needed to grow in these skills. Every student gets a 150 page fully illustrated course book so there is no need to take detailed notes and they can just concentrate on learning practically.

Images by David Cooke

We began by discussing the practical advantages and disadvantages of different types of cameras including camera phones, and working out where all the relevant settings were and how to change them on each one of our cameras. When everyone felt familiar with their camera, we dived into exploring manual camera settings and how they affect your image. We explored in detail the quantity, quality and direction of light and how to create an inexpensive home studio setup to manipulate available light to photograph your work. To illustrate this, we photographed a display in a light and airy style and in a dark and moody Dutch Masters’ style using the same available light.

Images by Ria Mishaal

On day two, we explored composition and styling and the consideration of working with light outside. Then the students were invited to put together all the principles they had learnt and devise a mini-shoot both inside on one of the setups and outside in the beautiful gardens of Barnsley House. We had invited the students to bring their own floral displays to photograph, so that they could use some of what they capture for their portfolios, but we also supplied some displays for those who didn’t bring work or didn’t feel experienced enough to do so. To conclude our learning experience, we explored live editing in Lightroom and Photoshop of some of the students’ work taken that day, to show what is easy and possible to make the images sing.

Images by Ria Mishaal

On both days, we broke for lunch and wandered over to The Potager for a two-course lunch. We sat around one table to continue our conversation. A real bonus to in-person courses is the people you meet and the friendships you make. The conversation over lunch bounced from photography to floristry and many tips and stories were shared. Our hope is that, in this way, our courses will help to build and support a positive community.

The beautiful course book the attendees receive contains all the technical information they need, illustrated examples and 18 activities for them to advance their floral photography and continue to grow in their skill. They all get membership to a private Facebook group to share their work and ask questions as they practice, and there is a portfolio review available within 3 months of the course.

Image by Ria Mishaal

We are very much looking forward to run the next course scheduled for 27th-28th March 2019 for a maximum of 8 attendees. Will you join us in the beautiful spring gardens of Barnsley House? Book your place here.

We are proud to share some of the students work that they did on they course:

Images by Jessica Burling

Images by Gabriella Shemtov

Images by Emma Norton

What Students have to say about the TCC Floral Photography Workshop:


This course more than met my expectations! I loved being able to shoot in real situations and I learnt so much. Things I knew before finally made sense!


Sarah (Sarah Guild Floral Design)

Thank you so much for a wonderful day – the course met my hopes and aspirations and more! Ria explained everything so well. There’s been so much work, effort and passion to create this course and it shows!


Portia (Flowers By Passion)

This course was really fantastic, I was really impressed with how much ground we covered in such a short space of time. Ria was so patient and clear with her technical explanations. She touched on so many different aspects of photography – my mind is buzzing! The book is absolutely an absolutely amazing resource!


Erin (Flowers By Passion)

It was a really enjoyable day. I feel I have learnt a lot and I can’t wait to go away and start practicing the techniques. Ria was really generous with her knowledge and also gave us a lot of creative ideas too in terms of backdrops and styling. I highly recommend this course!


Claudia (Just Joey On The Moon)

This is so much more than a photography workshop! Not just all the technical learning but I loved the creative styling, set up and composition work. An all round masterclass. It went beyond my expectations and is so much more than as advertised. That BOOK is amazing, what an amazing addition. Ria’s generosity of knowledge, her inspiring technical skills and her all round creative brilliance allowed me to produce images I was really proud of!


The Creativity Collective provides inspiring, interactive photography education for those who want to develop creativity in their work. It was co-founded by Ria Mishaal, an established and experienced full time portrait and wedding photographer, and David Cooke, an internationally accredited visual art photographer with over 30 years experience in adult education. Learn more about them here.

Do join our supportive and positive TCC Community learning group. There we will do regular challenges to improve photographic skills and creative thinking.

Please subscribe here to receive a regular round-up of our most popular photography and creativity tips direct to your inbox. You will also get news of our new courses and products and special offers.

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Our Story

TCC was co-founded to provide inspiring, interactive photography education for those who want to develop creativity in their work. To this end, this blog aims to create a community resource for photography enthusiasts and professionals. Today, I wanted to share a little more about the who and the why behind TCC.

Image by Ria Mishaal


I have been a full time fine art portrait and wedding photographer since 2011, and in that time, I have grown my business to a six-figure turnover and have been named as one of the top wedding photographers in the UK by Brides Online in 2017.

Before 2011, I had a university career in Neuroscience, where I developed a passion for well-structured teaching. I am passionate about authentic, uncomplicated communication, and I believe education should be accessible and supported.

I am largely self-taught as a photographer, gaining my knowledge from self study and workshops. My passion for photography started in my childhood and is founded in capturing my travels and the wild nature where I grew up in rural Hampshire. I have led many workshops for small groups of professionals, both for the Royal Photographic Society and other photography collectives, as well as under my own name. I am a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society.

My co-founder David is an accomplished Visual Art photographer. His images have won over thirty awards in International Salons and Exhibitions and have been accepted in over thirty countries. He is a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) specialising in Visual Art. He was a Trustee and member of the Council of the Royal Photographic Society (2012-2017) and Chair of the RPS Education Committee (2013-2015). He Chaired the RPS Digital Imaging Group (2011-2014) and was editor of the Group’s quarterly magazine, ‘DIGIT’ (2010-2014) as well at the RPS Visual Art Group magazine ‘Visual Art’ (2010-2016)

He is an experienced educator, with over 30 years experience. He was a senior academic at the OU for over 20 years, and was involved in the production and presentation of courses, both as a course team chair and as a writer. This has given him a deep and detailed understanding of adult education and teaching techniques for students in small groups and at a distance. Together we have the skills and passion to lead this collective and hope that it will become a valuable resource for you in your journey to accomplished and fulfilling image making.


For some years David and I have felt a genuine need for teaching resources in photography and the world that surrounds being a creative entrepreneur; resources that are well structured with thoughtful and well designed teaching material.

The world has become bite-sized and instant, and while there is an important and valuable place for that sort of content, we felt a lack of well-developed teaching with the appropriate support for growth.

We discussed our experience of being on both sides of photography education and wanted to work together to create courses that would provide education at a different level. We are both very passionate about effective and accessible teaching. Therefore, we have designed our courses to be supported by in-depth course books to allow continued development with the support of the community and portfolio reviews. We believe this is necessary to achieve real growth. Development of creativity takes time and we aim to nurture that.

As for this blog, being largely self-taught and now having worked as a full-time photographer for over 7 years, I am fully aware of the journey into this frontier. It is incredibly empowering to work for yourself but is a very different landscape to working for someone else. As a research scientist, I was self-motivated in my work, but the level of freedom and responsibility I have working for myself thrills and terrifies in equal measure at times. It suits me down to the ground, but it can be difficult at times and that is when we most need kind and genuine support from others who have or are going through the same thing.

It has been lonely and I have been to my fair share of workshops that were not as valuable as they could have been. During my time as an entrepreneur, I have also become a mother to a vibrant curious little girl with whom I have a deep connection. The deeply fulfilling and complex world of being a self employed parent also made me long for a resource and community that answered my questions. I have found some online communities less than supportive, and for that reason often not participated fully in the online world. I have also found some incredible friends and colleagues along my entrepreneurial journey and they have inspired me to step up and play my part in building a better community.

The first course we launched, ‘Floral Photography‘ is a foundation photography course for those who are visually driven and creative, who work as florists or have an appreciation and passion for flowers. We have run one and two day courses. Most of those who come along have bought dSLRs but have very limited experience of operating them and have been overwhelmed by seemingly impenetrable manuals and technical blog posts online. It has been enormously rewarding working in person with these people to enable them to become familiar with their cameras, no longer viewing them as problematic but instead as useful tools to express their creativity and capture their vision.

I write this blog for students who are beginning their journey. I am also writing to those, like me, who have been in the business for some time by answering questions and exploring topics that are relevant to expanding their creativity.

We both hope that our project will become an established community with valuable courses and daily posts answering questions and meeting the needs of readers. We already have a closed Facebook group for those who have attended our courses to share their work and ask questions, continuing their growth with the support of like-minded others. This is a place for kindness and education:two of the most important elements of a functioning society. In time, we hope to inspire you and champion our members work with competitions and publications.

To build this kind community, we need you. I hope that you are encouraged by our vision and that you’ll choose to join us:

Do join our supportive and positive TCC Community learning group. There we will do regular lessons to improve photographic skills and creative thinking.

Please subscribe here to receive a regular round-up of our most popular photography and creativity tips direct to your inbox. You will also get news of our new courses and products and special offers.

Follow us on Instagram for visual inspiration and community.

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The Creativity Collective’s blog is intended as a community resource exploring creativity, the art of photography and tools for happy and productive living.

It’s written by Ria Mishaal, a professional photographer fascinated by light, love and navigating life as an entrepreneur in the 21st century. Learn more about her and the rest of the TCC team here.

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Floral Photography Course: £95

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