Family flatlay fun and fairytales with Danielle Dean

Meet your Mentor Danielle Dean

Danielle Dean from @sienna.and.i is a pro at turning linen into sofas and cardboard boxes into almost anything. I have literally followed Danielle from the onset. I have watched her creativity grow and blossom, as well as her daughter Sienna. Her magical and creative scenes invite us into her imagination and Sienna’s dreams, the little princess of napping. Danielle is so generous with her time and tips too, we were lucky enough to catch up with her as she mentors us through building your own scene.

Q&A with Danielle

Hey Danielle! Thanks for joining us for our Creatively Squared challenge during conceptual month. We are absolutely thrilled to have you mentor the community. Can you tell us a bit about yourself, your background and how you came to be creating such amazing imagery?

I’m Danielle Dean a 37 year old Content Creator. I live, the North East of England with my partner Ryan and my daughter Sienna (2yrs) who is my not only my daughter, but also my muse and colleague. Well she sometimes allows me to take her photograph so I can add fairy wings to it

I was four months into my maternity leave when I started sharing photos of Sienna on Instagram, purely for friends and family, at the time I only had 33 followers and my account was private . As so many of use do in our early days of motherhood, we reach out for connection. So, I started to follow lots of motherhood accounts and creative accounts, seeing their beautiful images pop up on my feed and hearing their stories of motherhood, made me so compelled to start sharing my own journey.  Being a stay at home Mam and having a partner that’s works away can make for a lovely life. So it was amazing connecting with other mam’s all around the world. 

As my account grew I started to get more creative with my photos I moved away from the regular lifestyle and motherhood images and began creating creative shots, with Sienna still as my main subject. My account then exploded. I think when you really find your own voice and you become confident in your own style that’s when people start to really connect with you.

You share some amazingly beautiful and clever images on Instagram. Can you tell us about your creative process, how do you come up with ideas for what to share next on your Instagram account?

When it comes to creating content I have a 7-step process for working on my creativity, which includes things like having a creative constraint, so a theme, topic or word, I use that to inspire my photo. Another step is to brainstorm my ideas, stretch them out. I also now have a catalogue of old images (my feed) that I can look back through for more inspiration.

Who or what inspires you the most to create your magical images?

A lot of my inspiration comes from Sienna. I love watching her play and often ideas will come from the things she says and how she plays, especially when something sparks joy for her.. I love to use a lot of nostalgia in my photos too. I like to create images that evoke memories from my childhood. And finally I love incorporating the season into my photos. As autumn is around the corner, soon I’ll be planning how to incorporate all the leaves and fairy lights. 

This challenge is all about building a story using everyday props, something you are very clever at doing. What are your three top tips for others wanting to create a story using everyday items?

Thank you! I love using props, I think having a physical item you can touch and study can really help with generating ideas. My top three tips for using everyday items is:

  1. Plan your photos. Sketch out what you want your photo to look like. Hunt around your home looking your items that you could use. 

  2. Let your props tell a story. Look for items that will add etc detail to your photo, and tell more of the story. If you have a cosy autumn scene, think about adding a mug of hot chocolate with a silver spoon, place it beside an open book with a pair of glasses resting on it, and get out all your cosy blankets to add textures. 

  3. Think is shapes and colours.Some of my favourite photos to create are ‘scenes from above’, that’s where I use the floor as my canvas and create everything with everyday items. Everything in your becomes a prop, kitchen cupboards, the bedding cupboard and toys, you name it. Not too long ago created a bicycle for Sienna and myself. For Sienna I used upside down woven baskets her wheels, whilst I had hoola hoops. Once you have an image in your head of what you’re creating, its then just a case of finding those items.

Do you have any hacks, tricks or tools which you build your scenes?

Follow the steps above and when you’re creating your photo, make sure you’re viewing it on your phone or camera as you go. Set your camera up, and then keep checking to see if you’ve got the items in the right place. It really helps with the composition.

What equipment do you use?

  • Photography equipment:

I use a Canon 200d or for my shots from above (as its a lighter camera) I use a Canon M10. I have a few tripods, my favourite is my Manfrotto tripod, highly recommend it!  I use my phone as a remote, I just use the Canon app for that. To get my shots from above I don’t use a jib crane, instead I have a fancy cardboard taped to the ceiling, I use command strips to attach it. I have a small reflector for when there isn’t much light. 

  • Editing equipment:

The majority of my work is all edited with apps. My 2 favourites are Lightroom and Photoshop mix. I have over the past few months been learning how to use Photoshop CC on my Mac /i recently bought a pen tablet, which is amazing! So my photos are 50/50 apps and Photoshop.

I have over time invested in my different bits of equipment, however don’t feel like you need to go and buy fancy equipment, I grew my account to tens of thousands with just my iPhone and a bunch of free apps. It’s not about what equipment you have, more so about how you use it. Mastering those apps makes all the difference.

What is your favourite image [or two!] that you have created? Can you tell us why it is special to you?

It’s so hard just choosing one, because I love so many of them. I think mainly because Sienna’s in nearly all of them. I do prefer my autumn and winter photos by far, that’s when I feel most inspired. But if i had to choose two, I’ll go for Sienna’s birthday photo, as its so fun and she looks so happy and it’s a photo I think she’ll love to look back on and love. Secondly, I’m going to choose my Butterfly teapot photo, because it was my third or forth edit with a whimsical surreal feel to it and it performed so well, I felt so proud of that photo, as I was trying something new and different and wasn’t sure if it would work out, but it helped me find my creative path. also, of those photos where fully edited with apps.

We can all relate to falling in and out of love with Instagram, how has your account evolved over time?

I can really relate to this. Looking back, 2018 was a year of rapid growth and engagement and it made Instagram feel amazing. Everyone was creating amazing content and everyone posted more and there was just an exciting vibe. But right now, as things have slowed down, it does feel different. A lot of my followers tell me that they feel disheartened when they create a photo and it doesn’t get the response they wanted. But I think It’s good to remember that this is affecting most of us, so you’re not alone out there, it’s the new norm.

A reason for this lower engagement and not getting the response we want, is largely due to the fact that Instagram fell into a sea of sameness. So images lookalike, inspo taken from here and there and before you know it, it’s all been done before. 

In my early days I was very much a lifestyle account, I shoot styled photos with Sienna which was working. But as time went on (and I was getting closer to my maternity leave ending) I realised if I wanted to make a go of it and go all in, I had to start producing content that no one else was. I downloaded all the apps and experimented for hours at an end. Because I knew I wasn’t going to have the time to take nice styled photos once I went back to work, so I thought, how I can snap a quick photo after I get in from work or on a weekend and transform it at night by editing it. As time went on, I leaned more into this creative style of editing. So I went from photos of Sienna napping with a teddy, to Sienna napping whilst riding a bicycle.

You are very open about having posting anxiety, something many of us can relate to. What words of advice would you give to those who are anxious about sharing their images?

Don’t take a long break from posting or your creative process. As I’m currently creating a course which teaches other women the skills and techniques needed to create, edit and curate post worthy content for social media, it means I’m not posting as often as I’d like. I’m not engaging in the creative process daily, I’m not picking up my camera I’m not editing, so it means when I do post, I feel a little out of sync and it can cause me to feel anxious.

There’s a great quote “We all have the creativity in our minds, but for it to consistently give great results it needs daily exercise” - Yousef A. Linge.

Make it a daily practice to sketch your ideas everyday, look for props, take photos as often as you can and then post as much as you can. When you’re in the process you’ll fall in love with it. I think dipping in and out can leave you feeling disconnected and stressing about whether anyone will like it. I think that leads to down a path worrying about the numbers, and that’s no good for anyone.


Danielle is the guest mentor for our August 19-25 creative challenge ‘Build your Scene’ and will be featuring her favourite entries and feedback on the @creativelysquared Instagram account. You can find Danielle at @sienna.and.i on Instagram. We invite you to join Danielle and the rest of the Creatively Squared community to build your own scene. Hit the button below for entry information and full resources.