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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Gentle family portraits – why I love them!

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.

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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.

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Visit me at www.siantphoto.com for more of my family photography work

It’s almost Halloween. Time for some spookiness!

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!

Lilith – The Girl That Looked Back

Extraordinary images with ‘ordinary’ people!

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.

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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!

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Image from Lilith – Halloween 2017

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!

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For the full Violet & Gold experience check out the project HERE

 

You can see more of my work over on www.siantphoto.com and check out my Instagram @siantphoto for tons more!

3 creative ideas for kids photo shoots this spring

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.

 

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flower crowns from Flowers By Juliette – Loxwood

 

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!

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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!

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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!

www.siantphoto.com

sian@siantphoto.com

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!

 

 

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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