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CreativeLive Photo Challenge: Make A Mess

CreativeLive Photo Challenge: Make a Mess

Let’s face it. Many of us photographers are control freaks. In our images we control the light, the frame, the pose, the subjects in the frame, and more. We like our control and order. I certainly know I do. This control can hold us back from letting go, making mistakes and just creating!

For this challenge, you must abandon control and order. Go make a mess! Cover your subject in flour and make them dance. Play with glycerine, water, paint, feathers, anything! Just be sure to create beautiful chaos!

When ‘making a mess’ photographers have already convinced themselves to let go of the ‘typical’ and therefore are often open to more creative solutions in these shoots. Furthermore, potential clients perceive these shoots as fun-loving and able to create daring images.

Inspiration and Tips:

There are a lot of ways to make a mess… and I’ve probably done them all! I’ve covered nude models in flour, spattered a model’s face in paint, dripped molasses down a girl’s arms, thrown colored powders across a room, and much more. I’ve created messes that would make you cringe, but resulting images that make you gasp! Here are a few creative ways to make a mess in your shoot.

Good ways to make a beautiful mess:

  • Paint
  • Molasses
  • Water
  • Milk
  • Smoke Bombs
  • Glitter
  • Shredded paper
  • Flour
  • Plaster
  • Feathers
  • Baby oil

And much more!

Other Artists for Inspiration

Credit: Photo by Ian Crawford

Credit: Photo by Ian Crawford


Some artists have actually developed key elements of their style around creating a mess — throwing paint, covering subjects in glitter and more. Iain Crawford, for example, is best known for his images that make a mess (his “kinetic series”) paint frozen mid-air, models caught impacted by powder, and much more.

Credit: Photo by Aurora Crowley

Credit: Photo by Aurora Crowley

Aurora Crowley’s paint with light images often involve covering models in glitter from head to to (see “Karma” series). If you want to see some inspirational photographers that have created a STUNNING mess, check out the ones below.

Iain Crawford:
Aurora Crowley:

Have more inspiration to add? Absolutely feel free to add other links and artists you admire in the comments section so we can all share and be inspired!

My Solution


CreativeLive - Make a Mess Challenge - Model with Holi Powder - Photographed by Lindsay Adler
For this creative photo challenge, I wanted to create a photograph that was visually arresting — to include several elements that would draw the viewer’s eye. I decided to utilize color, movement, and interesting subject matter as a way to create a compelling image. I began with the concept of how I would make a mess and decided to use colorful Holi powder and have it thrown on my subject to create this same energetic and beautiful mess.

Holi is a Hindu spring festival where people celebrate (in part) by throwing and covering one another in rich and colorful powders. I have long seen photographs from this event and been absolutely inspired by the abstract and energetic mix of movement, color and joy.

Lindsay Adler holding bowl of Holi Powder for CreativeLive's Make a Mess Photo Challenge
When I create images, I try to use color with purpose. Color can control the mood of the image or direct the eye in the frame. For this shoot I decided to shoot red-on-red-on-red. In fact, I’ve done a personal project exploring the many ways I can photograph this color that has become such an important signature of my style and brand.

Red is such a powerful color. It is bold and demands attention. Once I made my creative decisions, it was time to put together the pieces of the shoot!

To add even more energy to the shoot, I wanted to have my subject dancing or jumping into the powder. I didn’t want her static and passive being ‘hit’ by the powder, but instead jumping as if confronting the powder head on. The image would not be soft and subtle, but instead powerful and energetic. Because of this, I decided I wanted to cast a ballerina as my subject. Thankfully, one of the employee’s at CreativeLIVE has a daughter who is a stunning professional ballerina, and agreed to be part of my very very messy plans!

One common misconception about creativity is that it costs a lot of money. I’ve found that we creatives like to put barriers up for ourselves. I can’t do this because it costs too much money, or I can’t do this because I need special equipment, etc. Truly, we put up and see barriers that do not exist. Instead, we should be tearing them down and finding creative solutions. For this reason, I decided to do this shoot with a single light (3x4ft softbox) and relatively inexpensive props. We bought a $15 red bodysuit, made the skirt out of less than $20 of red tulle, and less than $20 of holi powder (I’ve provided links below). All in all the shoot cost just around $50 to create (excluding cost of studio lights, background). To make the skirt, I tied a string around my subject’s waist while cutting long strips of tulle that we then tucked into the string. Instantly we had a beautiful skirt with movement!

For the setup I decided on a Savage paper seamless red background and a single Profoto D2 strobe (fast recycle time as well as options for very fast flash duration — PERFECT for freezing motion). I used a single 3x4ft Profoto Softbox to the right of the frame. I wanted to have the light to be even across the frame (why I picked a mid-sized Softbox) but also directional (placing it to the right) to emphasize textured in the scene.

Lindsay Adler photographing model jumping on read seamless powder with red Holi Powder - Creativelive Make a Mess Challenge

Model standing on read seamless paper lit by 3x4 Profoto Softbox - CreativeLive Make a Mess Challenge
When we were ready to shoot I had my subject Maddi jump in place, giving me a variety of different dance poses to choose from. We practiced a few times so I could find the right balance between her jumping and throwing her skirt. Once we had the general idea for a pose down, I asked two of my friends (and CreativeLIVE employees) to step in and throw the powder. I counted down and asked them to throw the powder just as Maddi started to jump (ideally meeting with her mid-air).

Model jumping on red seamless while assistants throw red Holi powder - Creativelive - Make a Mess Photo Challenge

Model jumping on red seamless while assistants throw red Holi powder - Creativelive - Make a Mess Photo Challenge - Photographed by Lindsay Adler
We got a couple of throws in before Maddi accidentally got a face full of powder, and I decided to use the frames we had already gotten and composite a couple of pieces together to get the perfect powder along with perfect leg placement and expression! She was SUCH a trooper — she had powder in her mouth and even up her nose, but she was still willing to push through to get the shot. In fact, she didn’t want to stop until I knew I had what I was looking for — what a GREAT quality to have in a model!

Now, let me tell you about this mess. WHAT a mess it was. I had warned the CL team to cover the computers and gear in the room, but I don’t think they were quite prepared! The fine powder was EVERYWHERE! It was on the floor, in our pants, in our hair, in our gear, AND in our teeth, everyone had bright red smiles. It took a couple of people a good hour to really clean the place up, and even then you could see it in some crevices. In the past I have actually used a cover for my camera as extra precaution. In this shot we set up a V-flat not to control the light, but instead to help prevent the powder from going too far beyond the set. I’ve tried setting up painters cloths and tarps before, but for the most part the powder goes where it wants!

In the end, it’s a massive mess but guess what…? I ADORE the image we created! It will definitely make it into my personal project, “Seeing Red”. I couldn’t be happier with the results.

I also have a video series on creating High Impact Images using similar techniques.

Lindsay Adler photographing model jumping on read seamless powder with red Holi Powder - Creativelive Make a Mess Challenge

Creative Team:

Model: @maddi_rayn Maddi Abeo. Corps Ballerina with Pacific Northwest Ballet.
Hair and Makeup: Nikoma @nikoma_and_co

Camera Settings:
Shutter speed: 1/200 second
Aperture: F/13
ISO: 250
Metering: Manual
Focal Length: 35mm

Props, Other:

Total Shoot Cost:
Approx: $50


Creativelive - Make a Mess Photography challenge lighting diagram


Join the Creativelive Photo Challenge

I’ve shared my resulting image, and now it is time to share yours! Each month I’ll personally be selecting winners to be featured by Creativelive. Be sure to enter as we’ll be giving away some amazing prizes including a Canon imagePROGRAF 1000 printer to one lucky grand prize winner!

Creativelive Photo Challenge 2017

If you’d like even more inspiration, check out my book “Creative 52” for more ideas to invigorate your photography portfolio! I can’t wait to see what you create! I hope I inspire you, because my photographic community is always inspiring me!

Enter the Challenge


Used during this shoot

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