A couple of months ago, a client and friend let me know that one of the photos I had taken of her and her daughter had gained a ‘highly commended’ in the Carers UK photography competition. I don’t enter many competitions because I’m not good with the idea of ‘better versus worse’ in photography, but I’d agreed to this one because it’s such a good cause and my friend is so passionate about showing people that caring for her 25 year old daughter is not what they might at first think.
The news that we were highly commended was of course very welcome and I’m really glad that they felt my images communicated the tenderness and the sense of fun that I looked to show. However, it got me to thinking about why I love this kind of image so much. To be honest they often don’t sell to clients who prefer a more standard ‘everyone smile’ shot. But the clients that do enjoy them, REALLY love them.
For me, and for these people (whom I love dearly for their enjoyment of these images) it’s about more that what you see; it’s about the feeling. It’s about a photograph that captures a relationship, a shared moment, or the simple everyday interactions. It’s about remembering the emotion of the moment; what was said between two people, what they were looking at; about a physical or emotional connection. That is why I love these gentle photographs and why after every shoot, these are the ones I find myself looking at again and again.
I love Halloween!!! I love Halloween parties, Halloween costumes, Halloween decorations and even Halloween food. Last Halloween I wanted to create some spooky images to celebrate my favourite holiday so I reached out online to look for some like-minded people to work with.
The result is one of my favourite pieces of work EVER! Working with makeup artist Decaln Scammell (now my partner in crime over at The Powdered Lens) model Kat Hastings and fellow photographer Hester Barnes we had so much fun both in the studio and out in the local woods (getting some brilliant reactions from the dog-walkers naturally!).
Afterwards I contacted my old friend, author James Nuttall and he wrote a beautifully creepy short story to accompany the images and Lilith was born to the world. You can see her story in full at the link below!
After a HUGE amount of deliberation and some soul searching, I recently launched a creative portrait package. The deliberation was down to the fact that the Surrey Hills is not exactly a hot market for portraits that go way beyond headshots. This isn’t London, or Brighton and while people here love their family photography and the business photography market is booming – I’m not sure they will be bashing the door down to get ‘interesting’ in the studio.
BUT – in the end I figured there was no harm in launching something – kind of a ‘if you build it they will come’ sort of thing. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes, but the early signs are promising.
What I wanted to share with you here is the shoot that started me off thinking about all this. I wanted to try something big, something really creative and something collaborative. At Halloween last year I got my first taste of this kind of thing with the Lilith shoot (check out this shoot over at my Spark page) and honestly I had such an amazing time I wanted to do it all over again! I have always loved dressing up, both in the glamorous evening wear sense and in the fancy dress sense (that’s costume for my American readers) but I love the piecing together of an outfit, the concept, the finding of unique pieces and the creating a look almost as much as I love wearing the things!
I’d been trying to persuade my friend Chantal to model for me for a couple of years but she wasn’t really having it until I presented her with this particular idea which would only work the way I wanted with a model that looked just like her (honestly it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as good without her golden skin and black hair – it just wouldn’t!). Having convinced her I set about gathering others to help with the set, the styling and the makeup and the result is what you see here – Violet and Gold!
The key thing here is that Chantal isn’t a professional model, so making the experience of being part of this a positive and fun one was critical for me. No-one was getting paid so we had to enjoy ourselves as well as make some really great images. This is what makes me think that anyone can ‘model’ for something like this and the experience of being the star for a few hours is something that more people should have. No matter how confident (or not!) you are in front of the camera, I know we can have a great time and you can look great. If you’re not the kind of person who enjoys the sight of their own face – you can be someone else for a day! It’s amazing how when you step into a character the inhibitions are broken down and you can behave however you want because that’s what the character needs. I totally get why people get into the whole reenactment or live action role play scene – dress up and lark about as someone else for a while – what better escapism could there be!
So – enjoy Violet & Gold, I’ve put a few images below but do head over and check out the full shoot with details of everyone involved plus behind the scenes images and background info over on My Spark and if you fancy giving something mad and creative a try get in touch!
For the full Violet & Gold experience check out the project HERE
As we’ve started to see the sunshine a little bit for the past couple of days, I’ve been thinking about how to inject a bit of fun and a bit of style for a different sort of kids portrait. I love natural kids portraits, particularly when they are busy as play and don’t even notice they’re being captured – it’s great and makes for timeless images that parents and grandparents always love.
But what if you’ve done a shoot like that recently? Maybe you had it done professionally or maybe you’ve mastered taking these photos yourself – what then? What could you do that would be a bit different, would be fun for the kids and get that all important gift for Granny or update for the family album? Maybe the natural look just isn’t for you and you’re after something more stylised, something indoors or just something that reflects your quirky personality.
Here are three ideas for unusual photo shoots – based on some things I’ve done with both clients and my own family and friends. The results might be a bit ‘marmite’ but if you like them – you’ll love them!
Flower crowns – I’m lucky to have a local florist who’s a dab hand at these and they are always so popular with little girls. Whether outdoors or in the studio they are a great way to add just a little bit of style when paired with pretty dresses or sassy street clothes. They can be whimsical or more rock ‘n’ roll and colours can be matched across groups to give a bit of cohesion in a diverse group.
Dressing up – celebrate what your kids are into by going for a full blown character shoot. Whether they want to be a princess, a pirate or a superhero there is tons of fun to be had both indoors and in the studio with costume, props and pretending!
Rocking it out! This shoot with my Dad and my boy really got me thinking about the possibilities for showcasing hobbies in your photographs. In this case we had musical instruments, but it would work really well with sports equipment too!
If any of these appeal to you for your next family photo session, or perhaps you’ve got your own wild and wacky idea please do get in touch – I can’t wait to hear from you!
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.
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!
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.
Then without changing Lucy’s clothing, makeup or hair we worked on some headshots – here’s the one Lucy chose.
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!
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.
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.
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.