Photography for confidence building – beyond ‘boudoir’ towards true character portraits

A photograph of yourself that you love, is a rare treasure.  Once you have that treasure, it can be life-raft to cling to in times of self-doubt.  It can be an anchor when you feel unsure of who you are, what your purpose is or why you matter.  It can be shared to show others that you are more than what you may seem, or held close as a reminder of what is possible.

Sian T.

I started photography for me.  To fulfil my drive to create and make the images I saw in my head, a reality.  For years it was all about me.  Very few people even saw the pictures I made and that was fine.  As social media took off, a few people saw the images I made of my family and asked me to make some for them and so Sian T. Photography began.  Initially, I was concerned that the monetisation of my passion would kill it.  That I’d no longer be creating, but instead delivering someone else’s requirements.

But then something began to happen, and it has totally changed how I see my role as photographer, and it’s the reason I continue and the reason I feel so privileged.

What happened was this – I began to talk to the people who came to me for photos. Not just about what they wanted (the styles, dates, locations etc.) but about why they wanted them. To talk more deeply about what these photos and the experience of being photographed meant to them. To hear their stories and see their perspectives. Of course not everyone wants to open up like that, and that’s fine (I’m not a naturally nosey person) but a few do. The stories I have heard and the emotional reactions I have seen are what have made me realise that there is so much more to being a photographer than clicking the shutter and making a competent picture. Of course, this can be a big responsibility too, people place their trust in a photographer and there is potential to make a great impact.

I have never liked having my photograph taken, so I was quite apprehensive about a photo shoot. After the shoot I did start having a few reservations… no makeup, hair dragged back , me in a tri suit, (me in a swim hat!!), body on show, no pre shoot styling.. I was beginning to panic! But soon after, Sian sent through some images, I was absolutely flabbergasted….I loved them…they were images of me in my comfort zone. People who have seen the photos have been incredibly complementary and I have felt empowered my the whole experience.

Diane Kidd – Ferguson

Funny that Diane’s perception was of no styling – I was actually incredibly careful to style the shoot in terms of colour, shapes etc – but who wears a full face of makeup to swim!

Impact comes in so many forms that for a while I didn’t recognise it for what it was. But I wanted to share just one example because it is one I’ve heard quite a lot in the last year and one that I feel works in quite a counter-intuitive way. This impact is for people (mainly women) who have undergone significant change in their lives that has resulted in a lack of confidence. Confidence in their appearance, in their worth as human beings, in their ability to cope with life’s challenges, in their career or choices – confidence is more than just feeling good about how you look right? The reasons for this drop in confidence are many and various – bereavement, relationship breakdowns, redundancy, illnesses (mental and physical) and a whole host of other things. How a person sees themselves can be affected negatively by so many things, and stepping in front of a camera to confront that seems like an odd thing to do.

Getting in front of a camera after my husband Jeremy died was almost unthinkable for me! The day he died I completely lost myself. My confidence, my self-esteem, my very being… all shattered. I started writing my book, Always With You, in my second year of mourning and when it came to publishing it I needed a new author photo. So nearly 2 years after Jeremy died, I faced the camera with apprehension. But I had nothing to worry about. With Sian’s guidance, support, love, friendship and talent I not only got through the session but had fun, gained confidence and began to open my heart to new beginnings. It was a huge turning point in my journey. For this, I will always be grateful.

Shalini Bhalla-Lucas – author
Shalini’s author photo shows both strength and vulnerability and includes the symbols of hindu widowhood – white clothing and hair pinned back. Her wedding ring is a poignant reminder of her loss and yet there is something hopeful in the expression.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not a therapist and I certainly wouldn’t recommend this as a cure all. When you’re suffering badly, you need to get proper professional help. However, a number of people have reached out to me for photographs and it’s only afterwards that they tell me how they were feeling and what a difference the experience and the photographs have made to them.

So whether they initially came because they needed a photograph for work, or online dating, because they really wanted photographs of their kids and I insisted on a least a few with them in too, or because I persuaded them it would be fun, the key is a really positive experience that’s about celebrating how you look, remembering who you are and expressing what makes you special.

Let’s be clear, I’m not talking about the very popular ‘boudoir’ photo sessions that are run by studios and promise to make you look like a sex siren with soft lighting and exotic lingerie and props. I have nothing against these, if that’s what you want then go for it! They look like great fun and many of the studios offer exceptional quality images. The thing is that sexy is not all that we are. Sure it’s part of it, but certainly for me it’s far from the whole story. I’m personally not comfortable with shoots like this because I feel photos like that wouldn’t be of me. I might be in them, but I doubt anyone would recognise that as me. I’m not a demure sex goddess lounging about in silk knickers – I’m a hard working mum with a mile long to do list and I’m lucky if my hair is vaguely in the shape it’s supposed to be! Plus on a practical level few of us could share a photo like that online and not raise a few eyebrows at least!

My portrait sessions are about stories. They showcase who a person is by showing what’s important to them as well as how they look. Yes they will look amazing, we take care with makeup, hair and clothes choices but always staying true to the personality of the individual. We build stories that reflect your life, interests, dreams and desires and we have fun creating them. The experience is light hearted, caring, and supportive and the process of building a session like this is itself a creative, collaborative thing. Of course I will always ensure you’re lit in a flattering way and that you’re positioned to make the most of what you have. But, you won’t get images from me that are ‘photoshopped’ to make you look like someone else – how would that be helpful? It’s like saying – “look at how you should/could look’ and that would be depressing, not uplifting.

I don’t expect confidence at the outset and I don’t expect you to walk out feeling like a screen god or goddess (though you might!). What I do expect is that we’ll make pictures you can be proud of, and that you (and others) will recognise as truly, uniquely you. We all have hang-ups and things that we would like to change, but a who you are and how you look is a reflection of the journey you have been on, and you made it here – by hook or by crook and that is worth celebrating!

Want to know more?
Head over to Sian T. Photo to see a whole range of images and find out about booking

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Doing good with Photography and having a great time!

When I first started doing photography for other people I didn’t charge – instead I asked them to make a donation to my favourite charity – Unicef.  This was great in most cases and so many of my clients were happy to make generous donations which was great!  However, as time went on and the expenses of running a photography business materialised (website, equipment, insurance blah blah) I wasn’t able to continue in this vein so a new approach was needed.

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I wanted to continue to give back to charity because it feels so good to do that, and like many people I’m not really in a position (yet!) to make large cash charity donations on a regular basis.  So I started donating family photography sessions to various good local causes – everything from school fetes, to tombolas, to raffles and full scale charity auctions.  The way I look at it is this – even if the person who wins the session doesn’t need it/want it they and many others will have donated money the to charity for their ticket and that is a good thing.  In addition the person who wins might end up having spent a couple of pounds and got something they otherwise couldn’t afford to do – so that’s a good thing too.  I always include a few branded images in these sessions so that people can (if nothing else and they cannot or don’t want to buy prints and things) share their session on Facebook and what not – so win win really!

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Don’t get me wrong, there are sound business reasons for this approach too.  It helps get my name out there and people sharing photos on Facebook with my logo on is great advertising.  These are local charities so there are lots of people there who are potential clients and I’ve also picked up a few business clients from things like this, plus opportunities to get involved with other local events.  Some winners even buy a print or some digital images from their shoot so that covers a little of the cost of doing this – but it’s the charity that really benefits and that’s why I love doing it.

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I wanted to share some of the images from a recent family shoot that was the result of a charity auction at a local school in aid of Born Free Foundation– one of my favourite locally based charities.  I had such a wonderful time with this great family, they made a generous donation to the charity and were so welcoming to me at their shoot. I had a brilliant time both on the day and afterwards processing the images and I love how they came out despite it being quite a grey day.

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A huge thank you to these guys and to all the families who’ve made donations to various charities for their photo shoots over the last few years – I’m so looking forward to more of these in the coming spring and summer months!

See more of my family photography or make an enquiry over at www.siantphoto.com

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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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