Creating self-portraits – embracing the weird!

 

It’s taken a long time to get around to writing this particular blog – not only because the summer has been a wonderful whirlwind of family time and exciting photographic opportunities, but because organising my thoughts on this has been a long time coming.

Last year I finally resolved to deal with my own fear of being photographed.  It is frankly ridiculous to be a portrait photographer and not be able to stand to look at a photo of yourself.  How on earth could I help those I photograph to feel comfortable, to understand that I’ll take care of them, that they will look great and that previous bad experiences in front of the lens must be put to one side and forgotten – when my own gut instinct was to run a mile from any camera pointed my way.  My excuses were feeling hollow even as I said them “I’m just not photogenic” “I always make a weird face” – excuses I’d heard so many times from my portrait subjects and which I routinely acknowledged then laid aside.

My rational, business minded self also knows that people buy people as much as they buy services, and I’ve blogged about the importance of connecting with potential customers through your profile photo and your About Me section. You see, it’s not that I don’t believe all of this, it’s simply that I know how hard it can be!  The wonderful Hannah Couzens so kindly did my headshots last year and they are lovely – honestly she did wonders with my immobile face and it’s tendency to look murderous even when the actual thoughts behind the eyes are much more banal.  It was a great experience to be photographed by Hannah and the images are great but a year on I could feel the old fear surfacing again and so I figured I needed another ‘shot in the arm’ so to speak – it was time to create my own self portraits!

I had a free couple of hours so I planned for 3 different looks going from pretty banal to more daring on the grounds that if the banal went badly then I could bail on the more daring!  I wanted something with expression, something with character even though I know that leads to a less pretty result – expression tends to give me more wrinkles, smaller eyes, more ‘weirdness’ all together but honestly it’s who I am and it’s about more than just a pretty picture, it’s about embracing the weird!

So here they are – 3 shots – all quite different but all very much me.  Don’t get me wrong, the idea of putting this out there still worries me – and before anyone asks (that means you Dad!) it’s a strapless top!  However, I’m a good photographer and while these are most definitely not ‘straight out of camera’ I think that makes a difference and sharing them is perhaps a little step along the road to accepting my face as it is (in it’s mid-thirties, with some wear and tear, feeling a bit of neglect but probably typical).  I don’t look like a model, but a good photograph doesn’t require you to look like Kate Moss.

 

Epilogue

A few weeks after I made these photos, and a week before writing this blog I did my first ever training on working with the media – I had to do a video interview.  This did not go well!  I cringed at the sight of my miserable face on the screen, hated the camera angle with a passion and frankly wished the ground would swallow me up as my colleagues and trainers watched the film back.  So – still work to do on self acceptance, but baby steps perhaps!

 

 

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Review – Beautiful Saal Digital Gallery Print wall art

I’m always looking for great quality and excellent value print products that I can offer to my family and portrait photography clients. The price is important because I aim to make photography affordable for a wide range of people and I see the final print on the wall as being the end point – so it needs to be cost effective in order to keep the price low, cover my costs and make a modest profit. That said, I will not sell people ‘cheap’ nasty products; they need to do justice to the photographs, have longevity and give that wow factor that ensures my clients feel they’ve got something special.

Saal Digital, based in Germany have been my go-to lab since last year when I was sent a free portfolio book in exchange for a review. Since then I’ve had canvases, aluminium prints and paper prints from them and all have been great! The colours are always spot on (against my colour calibrated monitor and soft proofing process) and I’ve been impressed by both their colour and black and white prints. So I was excited when they offered me the chance to try something new in exchange for another review.

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Until now I’ve steered clear of acrylic mounted prints. They tend to be highly reflective and that causes problems with stray window light and ceiling light bouncing off the surface and causing areas of the image to be be obscured by glare. The acrylic also tends to be quite thick and I don’t like the feel of looking through the thick resin to the image below, I like more direct contact with the image such as what you get with an aluminium print or a canvas. However, I do like the modern feel of acrylic prints and they are practical; easy to clean and easy to hang on the wall. So I decided to try the new gallery print from Saal. It combines an aluminium backing and an acrylic front and importantly a matte finish is available. Now, I’ve had matte finish acrylic before and still found it to be disappointingly reflective, so my hopes here were not high!
I am totally thrilled with the product! It looks really special. It has the most amazing velvety finish without glare and doesn’t look at all like cheap plastic. The image is beautifully crisp and the colours are both accurate and gorgeous, soft and rich with a really high class look that is perfect for my studio shot of my boy and his Grandad. There’s a tactile quality to the gallery print that you can’t really appreciate from the pictures but I’ll be interested to see the reactions of those I show it to in the flesh as my personal inclination is to turn it over and over in my hands and not want to let it go!

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subframe hanging system

 

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Gallery print in profile

 

The sub-frame hanging system on the rear is the same as others from Saal and will make hanging it a breeze and even on larger prints (this one is 20x30cm) it will be really secure on a picture nail. As always Saal delivered swiftly and in perfect condition so there’s not much more to say on that front. The gallery print is a combination of an acrylic front panel and an aluminium rear panel so it feels robust without being too heavy and the edges feel a bit less sharp than a straight aluminium print.

All in all I’m much more impressed with this product than I thought I would be.  It is a bit more expensive than my current canvas and aluminium offerings but I think I’m going to try a matte finish straight acrylic now as well and compare that to this to see what difference, if any, that extra aluminium layer is making.  I’m definitely going to add this as a new option for clients in the new few weeks as for the right image I think it looks and feels superb.

 

Sian

http://www.siantphoto.com  @siantphoto

 

Campaign for better profile pics – vital not vanity!

I was talking to a friend a few weeks ago about why it is that people prefer to have a less than flattering selfie as their social media profile picture, rather than paying quite a modest amount for a decent professional one.  ‘They don’t want to seem vain” she told me, “those posh pictures are just for show-offs”.  Aside from my initial bristly reaction (my own profile pic is a professional one and I love it!) I then got to thinking about this a bit more.  I can understand the view, but I think it’s a rather outdated and short-sighted one.  I’ve always thought it a little odd when people have a lot of professional shots of themselves on the walls at home, but I think this says more about me and the fact I definitely don’t want to see my own face all over my walls, than it does about them.

In the internet age, our online persona has probably become the main way most of us engage with new people.  Whether it’s your business page on Facebook, your online dating profile on Tinder, your professional profile on LinkedIn or your personal blog – most of us are looking to make an impression of some sort in the digital world. While the content you post and how well you promote it are key to success online, human beings are inherently a visual species and we want to see who it is we are engaging with.  There’s something untrustworthy feeling about those profiles without profile pictures, or whose profile pictures are something abstract like a cat or a tree.  We find ourselves asking why the person is hiding, is there something they’re not telling us?

So having a profile picture of yourself is a good start for sure.  However, it’s a competitive digital world, so that picture needs to ‘stop the scroll’. We all  do it, scrolling through Facebook or Instagram, passing by most of what we are shown.  If you want people to notice you online, your picture has to make them stop scrolling and look.

Ok so I’ve maybe sold you on the profile picture thing, but you hate having your photo taken right? So much easier to do a selfie, you can keep trying until you get one you like and no-one will laugh at you right? (well as long as you’re not taking that selfie on Westminster Bridge when your iPhone falls off the selfie stick into the Thames – then people will laugh for sure!).  So, I grabbed my friend Lucy, famous selfie taker, local celebrity and distinctly not impressed at the idea of me taking her photo – perfect!

So – we started with Lucy taking a selfie in the studio – Here it is.

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Then without changing Lucy’s clothing, makeup or hair we worked on some headshots – here’s the one Lucy chose.

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Full disclosure – this image has been processed in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. The colours have been balanced, the contrast boosted and I’ve evened out Lucy’s skin tone and faded some lines but not removed them.  I have not changed the shape of her face in any way!  Getting this image was about careful lighting, choice of lens and focal point, depth of field and positioning of the head and body – oh and having a laugh at the same time!

Lucy is my friend, but even so I know this wasn’t the most comfortable of experiences for her and it was crucial to keep the mood light and fun in order to get a picture that shows who she is – a fun, lively, mischievous and professional personal trainer (www.sun-fit.co.uk).

Next we posted both the images on Facebook and asked people which they preferred – and that’s probably how you came to be reading this blog – so now you know!  Universally people preferred the professional shot.  I have a theory that this is because they don’t see having a beautiful picture as vain, they just see a beautiful picture which they enjoy!


 

You can see more of my portrait and headshot work over at my website at www.siantphoto.com or follow me on Instagram or Facebook @siantphoto.

 

PS – just to prove this wasn’t a one off, here’s another of Lucy’s selfies

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And my shot a few minutes before

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50 Faces goes on display this June 2017 “cue fanfare for baring my soul!”

If you’ve followed me for a while, you might already know about my long-running portrait project 50 Faces.  For those who don’t know – here’s a quick summary of what it’s all about.

Back in spring of 2014, I decided I wanted to learn more about portrait photography – that I might actually want to be a portrait photographer – but I wasn’t sure.  Up until this point my serious photography had been focused on the sport that my husband and I were deep into – rock climbing.  I’d started photographing climbing for the record of what we’d acheived, and had taken many successful images of the landscapes in which we climbed and the routes we took from top to bottom.  Increasingly though I was finding it more interesting to focus on what I now know are called ‘environmental portraits’ of the climbers, to try and capture the feeling of climbing through their expressions and their body positions.

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Capturing images for 50 Faces during my time working in Oman

 

I decided that the best way to find out whether I should pursue portraiture as a creative avenue, was to simply do more of it.  To hone my skills in portraiture by simply getting a lot of practice and deciding what worked and what didn’t, what I liked and what I didn’t.  I didn’t want it to be totally random though and I decided quite early on (after a number of people I photographed asked me what I planned to do with the images) that I wanted this to be a project and potentially an exhibition so I made them all black and white and all square format – limitation being the father of creativity afterall!

Fast forward to today and the project is finally complete.  In the intervening years I have met and photographed a lot of interesting people! Many of these people I already knew, quite a number I did not. Many surfaced as volunteer subjects with whom I’ve since become friends.  I took my project to various places I travelled to, including my time spent working in Oman but I also focused on those close to home.  What I’ve realised is that I have definitely changed, developed and found a style as a portrait photographer – and I adore it!  I love the challenge, the interaction with the subject, the planning to get the perfect shot and even the failure when something just didn’t quite work.  I love the look on a person’s face when they see their image and they love it, and the sometimes quizzical reactions of those who see something they didn’t quite expect.  I love the collaboration of making something that truly reflects the person, whether at just that moment in time or with deeper meaning and connection with their personality, their life, their loves.  More than anything I love the creativity, the multitude of ways that a person can be represented in a photograph and the sheer variety even within the self-imposed limitations of the black and white, square image.

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Good friends and complete strangers alike helped me throughout the project – here, my friend Alan poses atop his balcony in Oxford, UK

 

Technically, all that progress (along with a lot of additional training which I would never have known I needed without this project to help me realise what I didn’t know) has led to me launching Sian T. Photography and moving forward with my photography knowing that the path I’d glimpsed back in 2014 was indeed the right one.

I’ll be writing more about 50 Faces over the coming weeks and will eventually share the whole project – for now just know that the exhibition (entitled Face to Face and in collaboration with two other amazing artists) opens on 13th June 2017 at Cranleigh Arts Centre, Surrey, UK.  I’m both excited and terrified about the whole thing. This is 3 years of my work out there to be judged, but more than that it’s the story of my photographic life over those 3 years and how it’s made me who I am today.

Your customers are buying ‘you’ – using lifestyle photography to build your brand

 

I’ve recently had the pleasure of working with a number of local small business entrepreneurs and I’ve come to realise just how much this new breed of business owners, can benefit from sharing their lives as well as their products online.  The rise of social media marketing as an accessible, free way for new businesses to reach their customers is well documented, as are the many an various reasons why some businesses are more successful than others.  Jasmine Star has a lot of great content on this over on her blog, so I won’t repeat it here, except to say that using social media successfully to build a brand and attract loyal customers takes a lot of work!

One the key things I noticed about those I’ve recently worked with, is that they share a lot online and it’s not always directly related to their products.  They do share products, great pictures showing the lovely things they offer, but they also share their lifestyle – and that’s where great photography comes in.  I think this comes down to a couple of things.  Firstly – we are more likely to buy something we need from someone we identify with, someone who we feel ‘gets us’ and who we trust to provide the product we need.  If there’s a choice between a faceless organisation with whom we feel no connection, and someone we know and trust – all other things being equal we’ll go with the person we know.

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Secondly, for many people, the desire to support and help local businesses, especially smaller, newer ones is strong.  Certainly here in Surrey there’s a big movement against big chain stores and in favour of supporting more niche, local businesses who provide different products, better quality or simply a better customer experience.  So telling people about who you are, what you do and what you offer that’s special can tap into this instinct to support and help.  Sharing how your customers’ support makes a difference to you, helps you grow, helps you improve or simply helps you put food on the table – can be a powerful motivator.

The kinds of imagery you need to achieve good results in this area is a little different to the standard corporate headshot. I’ve blogged before about how great imagery makes a massive difference to your business website (see here) and in many ways this is similar.  The images should reflect your brand, be excellent quality of course and communicate about who you are.  However, with these kinds of images we are looking for something else as well – we are looking for ‘soul’.  It’s a tricky thing to put your finger on, but essentially it’s honest, fun, sometimes quirky images that capture both the person and the business and draw people in by engaging with them on a human level – it’s about selling you and your story, much more than selling your product or service.

 

Many thanks to Juliette Phipps of Flowers By Juliette and Sally Hurman of Getting Stuff Done in Heels for allowing me to share some of the images from their recent shoots!

Check out my website at www.siantphoto.com and follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @siantphoto

 

A photo of you – a key part of valuing yourself

Why is it not ok to want a great photo of yourself?

A few months ago a friend asked me if I’d take some photographs of her husband and son with the family dog.  The dog was elderly and she wanted some great photographs to remember him when he was gone.  Naturally I asked if she wanted to be in the photos as well, “oh no” she said “no-one wants a picture of me”.  She was slightly joking, but the underlying sentiment here has been one I’ve heard several times since from both men and women and it’s starting to worry me.

The implication is one that touches on a lack of valuing yourself, and in more ways than simply thinking you’re not attractive enough to warrant photographing.  Looks is part of it, but it’s not the whole story in my view.  This sense of “I’m not worth it” rolls up a whole bunch of negative emotions.  From feeling that no-one wants a photo of us, through feeling no -one cares for or values us, right the way to no-one wants to remember us.  Why are we so keen to want a photograph to remember the family pet, yet we don’t want to remember ourselves as we are now, when we look back in years to come?

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I had this image of myself done by Hannah Couzens, a photographer I really admire. Yes it was a bit nerve wracking, but I love this result!

There are a multiplicity of factors at play here I’m sure, and so I won’t try and enumerate them all, I’m not a psychiatrist!  However, I reckon there’s also a dose of Britishness here.  It’s just not British to post a great picture of yourself that says “Hey! This is me and I look great! I’m proud of who I am”. Instead we post the ratty selfie, the badly lit, unflattering angle snapshot that says “I’m not trying very hard and yes this is a bad picture but I’m no oil painting anyway”.  Frankly this is sad!

Everyone should have at least one great picture of themselves, as they look right now (so no your wedding picture from 10 years ago is not good enough!) and getting that picture done properly is as much part of taking time out for yourself as getting your nails done or your hair cut. It’s about celebrating yourself, owning how you look, and being proud of it.

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This is my most current pic of me – I try and get people I trust to take good images I can use on my social media – I will not be posting anything that does not make me look as good as I possibly can! Thanks Hannah Carey!

 

 

Ironically when I came to do the shoot with the kid, husband and dog, the husband quite quickly asked “can we get one of all of us?” totally blowing my friend’s excuse out of the water and showing that yes, people really do want a photo of us!

 

See my photography at http://www.siantphoto.com and follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @SianTPhoto

 

Top tips for better smartphone photos of your family this spring!

I was so honoured to be asked to write this special spring blog as guest blogger for Muddy Surrey, the Surrey branch of lifestyle blog Muddy Stilettos.  I love the Muddy way of doing things, gorgeous things for the busy, fashion conscious but not obsessed woman (or man!)

Check out the blog, and the rest of their content at

Sian’s Guest Blog for Muddy Surrey

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