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.

creative portrait

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!

_MG_1641-Edit
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!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

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!

Advertisements

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.

 

_MG_7489-Edit

 

_MG_6799-Edit

_MG_6910-Edit
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!

_MG_5567

_MG_2703-Edit

 

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!

_MG_9121-Edit-Edit-2-2_MG_9153-Edit_MG_9161-Edit-Edit-2

 

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

Thinking about family photos this spring? Here’s what you need to know!

There’s just the tiniest hint of spring in the air today – it’s still blummin’ freezing but at least the sun is shining!  I’m really looking forward to being able to take photos of families outdoors again now it’s warming up.  I know that some photographers are hardy souls that carry on regardless of the bitter winds and soggy trails, but I took a decision last year not to shoot littlies outdoors after the first week of November – it’s miserable for smalls who can’t stay warm regardless of the number of layers, and the red and runny noses are not what I’d want in my family pictures!

So now the sun is shining and I thought I’d share a few tips on preparing for and getting the most from your family photo shoot. Whether you’re shooting with me or any photographer, or if you’re shooting it all yourself (kudos!) here are just a few thoughts based on my experience that you might find useful.

1.Who do you choose?

Choosing your family photographer is a bit like choosing your family hairdresser.  You need someone you can trust, someone who understands your style, someone that can work with your kids and someone that you feel relaxed around.  Anyone who has had hairdresser issues in the past can attest to the nightmare that is a bad cut or colour, and I meet a lot of people who say they will never book a photographer again after a bad photo session.

To find the right photographer for you, start by getting a good idea of the sort of photos you want.  It sounds obvious, but I meet a lot of people every year who haven’t really thought about this, and I can’t say when I meet them whether I’m the photographer they need.  Photographers have lots of different styles and we all have different strengths, so always check out the work on websites and social media and see if it looks like the sort of thing you like.  I would always expect a photographer to ask you about the sort of images you’re after when you first contact them, and I know that I and many others will occasionally recommend an alternative local photographer when the request is out of our wheelhouse – so don’t be offended by that! It’s a bit like asking a bike mechanic to fix your car – they may be able to do it but they might not be the best person for the job!

_mg_1983

A personal recommendation from a friend or family member is a great place to start, but don’t just rely on that to get photos that you like.  If your friend likes bold black and white studio portraits, and you prefer soft pastels outdoors, you may be disappointed if you go with their recommended photographer.  That said, a recommendation is based not just on the photos, but also on the experience of the photo shoot. If you’re seeking recommendations always ask how the photographer was to work with, how they got on with the kids, how they managed the shoot and how they were to communicate with both before and after the shoot.  Facebook and Google are a good source of reviews and I always try and post some of the reviews I get to my Facebook Business Page so that people can easily find them.

Review1

2. How much should you pay?

Photographers charge a huge range of prices for family sessions; anything from less than £100 to over £5000 can be found with a quick Google search.  What complicates things further is that we all structure our pricing differently. Some photographers will always sell you a package up front that includes a shoot and some prints, others do digital only, some don’t charge at all for the shoot but charge more for prints afterwards.  Some photographers have mini-sessions available which means a short, less expensive shoot, while others always take 3 or more hours for a shoot.

This makes it really important to have an idea of what you want at the start, and to ensure you’re comparing apples with apples when comparing the prices of different photographers.  See how much time you’re getting, how many images you’re guaranteed to see after the shoot, what digital or prints are included or what they cost to buy.  It’s likely that a less expensive photographer may be less experienced (so you might want to ask about that) although it doesn’t mean they are any less good!  If their print products are cheaper that’s probably because they are using a cheaper supplier – again they could be right up your street but I would recommend seeing some examples before you make a final decision.

_MG_1062
Don’t worry, be happy!

On average, my family photo people spend between £150 and £500 with me – depending on what digital images, prints or wall products they go for – so that’s quite a range and quite a lot of options!

Side note – A lot of people ask me why family photographers are so expensive and the short answer is that there’s a lot going on behind the scenes!  I charge £65 for a family session of around 1 hour, but when I get home after the shoot there is at least another hour of sifting through the images (they are not all gems unfortunately!) and another hour of processing them on the computer.  Processing doesn’t mean ‘photoshopping’ – it means taking the basic image and making it shine through the use of colour, tone, contrast and sharpness.  A photographer’s style is a combination of how they compose, light and shoot the image and how they process it afterwards.  So if I were to give my clients the images straight out of the camera, they won’t look like they are expecting!  So whether it’s a digital file or a print there is still a cost to me in terms of time if not in terms of buying an actual printed product (and those are not cheap – especially frames!).

3.  How can you make sure it goes well?

A little preparation goes a long way!  Before every family shoot I send my clients a dressing guide.  It’s a very short and simple guide that just gives hints and suggestions for getting great images.  For me, it’s not about getting everyone in matching outfits, it’s about colours that work together, giving yourself some options, and having a couple of props, such as favourite toys or books, that will both entertain the kids and capture their love of that thing.  I prefer to avoid characters on kids clothing because it makes images look dated later, and I always advise women to go for their normal makeup look rather than going bigger for the sake of the photographs – I just think it looks more natural especially if you’re being photographed out in the woods with the dog!  I love accessories too – hats, sunglasses and the like – plus these things can help distract the kids!

_MG_0633-Edit

I also tell Mums, Dads and Grandparents that the most important thing is that they focus on looking good themselves – I will sort out the kids!  It’s really a shame when you get that great shot of the kids, but Mum is frowning or Grandad is looking off into space.  Photographers that work with kids (and dogs!) a lot, will have loads of tricks for getting smiles and facial expressions, so leave that to us and you can just focus on looking great yourself!

Perhaps most importantly try and relax. I know it’s hard, you’re paying for a session and you really want that great shot of all the kids smiling and looking the right way and with just the right amount of teeth.  But unfortunately the more you try and force it, the more kids tend to rebel and the less chance you have of a great shot.  I really don’t believe you need to have everyone looking straight at the camera and smiling for a great picture you can hang on the wall.  What’s more important is the connection and interaction between and that’s what I look for and aim to capture.

Building a rapport with kids is a key part of my job when I’m photographing families.  I need to make sure they are comfortable with me and the camera, and that they can have fun during the shoot.  It takes a little while for most kids, and a little longer for some, and that’s why my shoots are at least 45 minutes long.  The best shots are inevitably taken once the kids are virtually forgotten about the camera and are focusing on having fun!

Tindall-Peake 190817-10

If you have any questions about family photography, do drop me a line by email sian@siantphoto.com

You can see more of my family photography work over at www.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!

 

 

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.

20170716_161726-01

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!

20170716_161807-01
subframe hanging system

 

20170716_161801-01
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.

IMG-20170703-WA0001

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

Bushnall 030717-3-Edit

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

20170703_185812.jpg

 

And my shot a few minutes before

Bushnall 030717-30-Edit
Enter a caption

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?

E38B1595
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.

IMG-20170206-WA0017
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