I'll be honest my hair isn't always defined. Some days it's a big ball of frizz and I've learned to love it either way. That said, I do have my method down for when I want definition and here's a few things which work best for me...
My hair lacks definition if it's dry (like most curls) and for best results I'll apply any and all leave-ins whilst in the shower. I've tried applying on dry or damp hair but I always end up having to re-wet sections to really see definition. My hair is low porosity too so the water gives my hair moisture and the heat from the shower actually allows it to penetrate instead of just rolling right off. Product then also has a chance to absorb and as my hair is wet I don't have to use a lot.
My hair doesn't stay curly on in it's own and is naturally frizz-prone so I'll always rely on leave-ins. I tend to start with a leave-in conditioner like KeraCare Natural Textures Leave-In Conditioner (£5.75/240ml) or Shea Moisture Raw Shea Butter Extra-Moisture Detangler (£10.99/236ml). Both are pretty similar in terms of results so I usually rely on one or the other and once applied that's when I go in with a defining product. Not all defining products are made equal so if you've found one you absolutely love stick with it. I've found these types of products can be hit and miss - many giving me crunchy or limp strands with the definition only lasting a day. As a result for months I rejected these types of products altogether and just used a moisturiser but I have settled on a few favourites. I love Bumble and Bumble Bb Curl Defining Creme (£23.50/250ml) most as it doesn't weigh down my hair. It's pricey but as I apply wet I don't use a huge amount and I can usually get away with just rewetting my hair the next day to reactivate the product if needed. Shea Moisture Coconut & Hibiscus Curling Gel Soufflé (£10.99/340ml) is another favourite as the definition lasts but this can make the hair a little sticky if you use too much.
Scrunching, smoothing and finger coiling
I'm really lazy with my hair so most days I simply apply the product and smooth or scrunch into the hair. I very rarely use combs or brushes so I tend to work in the product or rake through with my fingers. I see the best results when working in really small sections so I'll start at the back and slowly work my way up. When I've got more time (and patience) I'll coil tiny sections around my finger to make my hair more spring-y.
Air drying or diffusing
My hair and blowdryers don't seem to get a long so I prefer to airdry which means on wash days I tend to run around with wet mop of curls and a microfibre towel draped over my shoulders. Not ideal I know, so if airdrying isn't an option I'll reach for my blowdryer and use with a diffuser. Diffusers gently dry curls without disturbing the pattern too much and using these on cool or low heat will limit damage.
Piling all my hair into a loose ponytail on top of my head (like a pineapple) is the only thing I do to help my curls last past the first day. I try to make sure my hair has dried fully first (otherwise my hair can look a little like a mushroom when I untie it the next day) and I'll use a Invisibobble (£4.75) or similar as these don't leave a noticeable dent in the hair. Sometimes I'll use a satin scarf but mostly I sleep on a satin pillowcase to stop my hair drying out. The next day my hair usually just needs a little shake and it's as good as the day before and I can usually do this for a couple of days before needing to start the process again.
Photography - Mike Burchardt | @burchardtlens