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?
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.
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!
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
Personal photography project on cars and their owners
I have finally published a project about cars and their owners that I started some 3 years ago!
To be honest I doubt it will ever be truly finished, but you’ve got to release these things at some point otherwise they will never see the light of day.
‘The beauty of the beast’ combines my deep love of details and of the beauty in everyday things, and my joy in connecting with and photographing people – really it’s been such a thrill to work on. My only regret is that I don’t know who all the featured vehicles belong to, having gathered the images at local and national car shows. So if one of these is yours please get in touch!
It’s much more common in the US than it is in the UK to send a personal Christmas card to friends and family. In fact it’s something of a US institution for families to don their Christmas sweaters for a professionally shot Christmas portrait to adorn their family card. Here in the UK we’re naturally less forward (or more lazy!?) about these things so it’s unusual to receive a non shop bought card. As photographers, and particularly as working professionals I feel we should put in the effort to create our own card, but unless you’ve got a particularly photogenic and willing family (will is rather lacking in our house) perhaps not a family portrait one!
I love doing my card. It’s a chance to get creative but also a great way to market my work to existing and potential clients while also giving them the gift of something pretty. This year I was inspired by the Nutcracker and combined a technique I’ve used before with mirrors and directional lights, along with a borrowed pair of ballet shoes to create the design I eventually had printed on A5 size, fine art cards.
The fun thing about this shoot is that I actually created a whole bunch of images, so I had plenty to choose from and use for various purposes. I chose this one for the printed card because I wanted something different to the normal Christmassy looking things so that my card would stand out among the huge number that most individuals and business will receive. I wanted something with plenty of texture (I used a burnt paper texture overlay in Photoshop to enhance the patina on the shoes) and something with a vintage feel as this is a look I go for a lot in my work.
However, while this works brilliantly for a paper card, I also used another variant with montage techniques and my favourite crumpled tin foil for Instagram as I wanted something more jolly and bright there and I really love the twinkly bokeh this effect creates.
This third version I’m less sure about but I think there’s something here for the future.It’s a little too space age for what I wanted this time around but I’ll hang on to it for the future as I do like the effect.
Of course you’ve always got the option to sell your card design to make a few extra pennies, but I tried this last year and the profits were minimal so I’d rather keep my designs exclusive to me and make people feel their special to receive.
So Merry Christmas to all of you, I wish you a wonderful 2017!
Regular readers will know that I’m a huge fan of Hannah Couzens, portrait photographer extraordinaire. I went on her Basics of Studio Lighting course earlier in the year and had a great time as well as learning a lot of lighting stuff that I’ve been using ever since. So this next level course was a great way to follow up on that with some more complex lighting techniques as well as learning more about working with and posing models and some very useful tips on portrait retouching.
Hannah ran two classes on back to back days in November and luckily for me the one I was on was all ladies and one of them was also on the previous course with me, so there was a great feeling of cohortiness (yes I’m making up words now) and the atmosphere was relaxed but the participants were also highly motivated and asking lots of useful questions – just what you want in a small group course like this (there were 4 of us in case you were wondering).
We started the day with corporate headshots of our male model. This is a really practical thing to have up your sleeve as there’s money to be made with corporate headshots if you’re good at it – so I’ll definitely be looking for some opportunities to practice this. Hannah builds up all the lighting set ups from one light first and then adding lights in and all the while we talking about the posing, how to get a friendlier looking image and coping with common challenges like double chins, glasses and scowling finance directors. Probably my top tip from this section was about separating the dark suit from a dark background with a back/hair/rim light.
Next up was a more fitness style set up, also with our male model. This started off simple, building up to 3 lights plus a back light with a gel and a smoke machine. Great fun and, while this is not a set up I can easily replicate on location or in my tiny studio, the posing in particular will be really helpful. Again, fitness style portraits are a growth area and posing them right is tricky. You want edgy for fitness shots so the lighting needs to be really precise.
After lunch we met Lucy our professional fashion and beauty model for the afternoon. We began with a Q&A session during which Lucy talked about her experiences working with different photographers, including a few horror stories about over re-touching, overstepping boundaries and uncomfortable situations. In particular it was interesting to hear that even professional models like Lucy appreciate some direction and encouragement that they’re giving you what you want in terms of looks and poses. Given this, I now feel a bit more confident giving direction as I was always worried about coming across as too bossy during shoots, whether with models or regular people – I’m a lot less worried about that now and I think I’m getting better images as a result.
Shooting Lucy for a soft and pretty look as well as a more classic beauty shot was an absolute pleasure. We had a lot of fun playing with both the lights and the poses and I particularly enjoyed some shots lit for black and white as this is a big part of my work. I’m getting myself a second speedlight for Christmas so that I can give some of these a go in the new year!
As with the previous course, Hannah really packed in the content so there wasn’t as much time on the retouching section as was intended (I think!) as we were having too much fun shooting. To be honest I think my brain was both fried and buzzing at this time so any more would probably not have gone in well. Hannah covered frequency separation retouching for skin, which I’ve since been reading more about and having this basic grounding has been useful in exploring the technique further. For more on this I went to my Kelby One video training subscription and Kristina Sherk – definitely worth getting the free trial to access her course High End Portrait Retouching for a more detailed look at retouching. But honestly I wouldn’t have known where to start without Hannah’s introduction.
Once again Hannah hit it out of the park with this course, such a relaxed but energetic atmosphere and jam packed with content and some excellent opportunities to practice and get great images. I made some friends too so that’s a bonus! Hannah is genuinely supportive as well and there’s a great sense of being part of a club. She’s always happy to answer questions both during the course and afterwards and she shares a lot of really useful lighting techniques online for free – she’s just a really nice person which counts for a lot in my book. It’s not a cheap course but it’s a full-on day and a very small group so you get a lot for your money and I think if you’re looking to take your portrait photography to the next level, maybe start charging or start charging more, this course is a good investment in your photographic future.
Lighting, posing and retouching with Hannah Couzens – News you can use!
Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about how to vamp up the traditional children’s portrait and create something unique that’s fun for the kids but also fun to shoot. I spotted that a local florist had posted some snaps of flower crowns she was making for a wedding and decided to create something around these beautiful pieces. Luckily for me, the lovely florist Juliette was up for doing the crowns for me free of charge in exchange for access to the images and so all that remained was to style the rest of the shoot around them.
I began by creating a mood board, gathering ideas about colours and locations as well as the overall feel I wanted. I’m fortunate to live within spitting distance of the Surrey Hills so finding a lovely open space with good light and plenty of green was straightforward and I’ve used this particular spot before for family shoots and love the graphical nature of the dead tree. It’s great for kids because its a very short level walk from the car park and the tree makes a fun climbing frame for use even when we’re not shooting.
My wonderful models are the children of my local friends and I owe their parents much of the success of this shoot because they did an amazing job of sorting the girls out with outfits that met what I was after. I wanted two different looks from the shoot, one more of a rock chick look with denim and black, as a contrast to the softness of the flowers and to reflect the personalities of these girls – who are not really girly girls at all.
And then one more dreamy but not too ‘bridal’ looking, to make a sort of modern take on a sixties/seventies look, flower power and the summer of love.
The important thing here was to make sure the girls were having fun! The whole shoot took around 90 minutes and we had plenty of breaks for them to just hang out while we were doing wardrobe changes and sorting out gear. Any longer than that and I think they would have got fed up. As it was we got a great selection of beautiful images and a really good mix of serious and smiley faces which is something I want from every shoot.
You can never be sure how kids will respond to this kind of modelling and I really think that the key is never to push for a shot that just isn’t happening – the more you push the more they will push back – it’s just what kids do. You have to go with the flow and take advantage when a good shot presents itself. Some direction helps but you have to take what they give you and it can be golden. The shot above centre is a case in point. The only instruction I gave her was put your hand on the log and look at me – that foot point we can only think comes from watching a lot of Strictly Come Dancing!
When working with kids I also find that having a lot of gear is a problem – they seem to react negatively to having lights or even reflectors in their face. So all these images were shot on moderately high iso with only the available light. Fortunately this is an area with really good even light and it was an overcast day so shadows were minimised. However, this did mean they took longer than usual to process, as more sharpening and smoothing was needed due to the higher iso and the need to shoot fairly wide to get enough light in. However, it’s worth it to get the shots with happy mini-models in natural daylight.
A massive thank you to my mini-models and their two Mums (and one Grandma) who were just wonderful on the shoot. A shout out too to Juliette Phipps who did the flowers and who I hope to work with again soon – you can find her work at https://www.facebook.com/FlowersByJuliette
It’s been quite a while since I wrote my original Top 3 Photography podcasts blog and I’ve discovered some great new shows so I thought I’d share them with you all today. I love a good podcast when driving or when pottering around the house and I’ve learnt a huge amount, about both the technical and artistic aspects of photography through podcasts. However, there are so many out there which ones should you choose? Here are my current recommendations
Now at episode 111 and linked to the ever-so-useful Petapixel photography news site, this is a really fun podcast about whatever’s new in the photography world that week. It covers new gear and software as well as a whole lot of other news content including ethical issues, copyright and silly season stories about photographers around the world. Sharky is a sports photographer in the main so we also get to hear about what he’s been up to on the sidelines at football games (that’s American football for you Brits) and every week he introduces someone from the world of photography as part of his intro – this is really useful if you’re looking for people to follow on Instagram!
Fairly short and sweet, the shows usually contain a number of different stories with plenty of Sharky’s dry sense of humour thrown in. I just love the fact he calls it like he sees it and so much of what he says is grounded in grown-up, family man thinking with plenty of pragmatism and a realistic view of what’s sensible for the average photographer. Sharky is also really active on social media so follow what he’s up to on Instagram.
Good podcasts that have just one guest per episode are hard to come by, but I love TWIP Family in which mom and photographer Jenny Stein talks to guests whose work is primarily around family and child photography. The conversation ranges from discussions about their artistic vision and the meaning of their images, to practical business matters. I’ve found the business aspects particularly useful over the past few months as I’ve been launching and developing my own photography business. It’s not the same as taking a class in that there’s not a lot of detailed information to be had, but learning about the different approaches to a successful photography business is really helpful in plotting your own course. I still think you’d get a lot out of the podcast if you’re not in business, but some episodes more than others.
Part of The Improve Photography Network, Photo Taco is the only place you can get “photo tips you can learn in the time it takes to eat a taco–or perhaps a burrito” – I love that tag line! I’ve only just started listening to this one, initially because Sharky James was a guest in a mammoth episode they did on sports photography – but so far I’m enjoying it. The tips themselves range from the sort of Q&A style session with Sharky, to information on features of digital imaging software, to a really basic explanation of what the numbers and letters on lenses mean. It’s usually short (that’s kinda the point) so even if you think you know all about the topic, it’s worth a listen as more than likely you’ll pick up a nugget or two.
This week’s images are of East Wittering in Sussex – one of my favourite weekend photo destinations and hopefully where I’ll be heading tomorrow – if the rain ever stops!