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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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!

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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!

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?

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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.

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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

 

The autumn dream shoot -not what I planned, but not to worry!

I don’t normally blog about particular shoots I do, because I try and keep my blogs useful and the internet is full of pretty pictures afterall.  However, firstly I’m just so pleased with how this came out, and secondly it is kind of useful to talk about what happened.

This shoot was LONG in the planning.  I’d had an idea to do something around autumn in the forest, something that used a fashion look with a sort of Shakespearian twist.  I’d identified some great autumn colour in local woodlands, gone on extensive recces, planned the whole thing shot by shot, got my models lined up and…..

Well of course it rained! This is the UK in November afterall.  As my models were lined up and ready to go, and they are busy people and getting another day would have been virtually impossible – I had to make ‘lemonade’ so to speak, and move the whole thing indoors.

Now I don’t have a studio.  I have the box room at home that is full of cupboards, musical instruments and bookcases and which most of the time is the room I use to dry laundry in.  It’s just about 2 metres wide, but really it’s 1.3 metres wide because of the furniture on the walls.  Despite this my lovely husband has fitted a rail at one end so I can hang a back cloth and the walls are white and there’s a nice big window that lets in plenty of light.

Of course I couldn’t shoot the planned shots, many of which relied heavily on wide aspects taking in the landscape and picking up the colours. Making the models look small against the wide wilderness, a sense of getting lost and finding something unexpected.  Instead I decided to pick up on another idea I’ve been playing with, traditional portraits with aspects of fantasy.  I had to keep the images quite tight due to the space restrictions and the fact that my backdrop was neither wide enough nor long enough (it’s just a bit of brown velvet fabric I originally bought for doing still life).  However, that meant I could focus more on implementing some of the lighting and posing tips from my last class with Hannah Couzens and on getting the technique just right.

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I’m really pleased with how these images came out, they are a lot more intimate than the shots I originally planned, and my mother and daughter models love the connection they capture by being shot in such close quarters.  It really helps when you have beautiful friends you can call on to model and next year I reckon we’ll try again for the outdoor shots with the story I had planned, but maybe earlier in October when the weather might hold for us!

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Thank you so much Nic and Annabelle and Juliette who once again shone with the flower crowns.

www.siantphoto.com

 

Workshop review – Introduction to studio lighting with Hannah Couzens

I’ve been looking for a class on portraits for quite a while and was drawing a blank (with the exception of creepy looking ‘glamour’ workshops – ew!) until I came across this workshop.  I think this was the inaugural course which was great for me because it provided an opportunity to talk to Hannah beforehand about what I was looking for and how it all might work.  In essence, I was after something around lighting and the different options in terms of lighting effects and equipment.  This came about following my first real studio style shoot for One Three Seven and the fantastic experience of working with professional stylists and models.  I got the bug really badly but recognised my images were very evenly lit (necessary for the photos showcasing the hair colours and cuts) but not necessarily very interestingly lit (see examples below)

The workshop day started with the five students meeting at Hannah’s studio in St Albans. It’s a beautiful studio, the walls are covered in Hannah’s lovely work, very inspiring.  We spent the morning listening and taking notes (while drinking tea!) as Hannah explained the basics of how light works.  We covered the impact of close and far away light sources, of the size of the light source and of hard and soft light.  There’s a lot of physics involved in all this but Hannah was very careful to keep it to what we really needed to know, with helpful analogies and practical examples to help us. Towards the end of the morning we got into the 5 standard portrait lighting patterns and their impact on the shadows falling on the subject’s face – we were getting to the really interesting bit!

Lunch wasn’t provided but that meant a great opportunity to stretch the legs in St Albans which has no shortage of eateries and after a lovely two course lunch with fellow workshopper Lucy, I was fuelled and ready for the afternoon session.

The afternoon was all practical.  With the aid of lovely model Natasha (patience of a saint and a look I just absolutely loved!) Hannah showed us how to set up a single light for each of the lighting patterns and how to modify the looks by adding light with a reflector.  Each set up was demonstrated and photographed with the images appearing on screen for us all to review.  In between shots Hannah answered our questions about focal length, modifiers, posing and a host of other random things.  It was a really lively and engaged group and, while that did mean running a bit behind schedule, Hannah was always gracious and never hurried.  After the demos we got our own opportunity to set up the light to replicate the patterns (great fun!)  and just that little bit of practical really helped the stuff stick in my brain.  My favourite shots from the afternoon are below.  Not perfect examples of the lighting techniques but definitely an improvement in terms of lighting interest.

It was an unusual workshop in so far as I didn’t come away with that many shots, but that really wasn’t the purpose of the exercise.  If you want to just shoot a model then you’re better off hiring a model and studio and doing it yourself.  However, if you want to learn about studio lighting, watch a pro in action and get a bit of practice setting up the light to get different effects then this is definitely the workshop for you.  One of the great things about the day was that Hannah is really not obsessed with what light you’re using so it’s possible to implement what you’ve learnt regardless of what light you’ve got or want to buy.  Studio flash heads are used for demonstration but as only a single one is used for each demo, it can be replicated with a constant light or a speedlight (albeit with a bit more guess work!). Set-ups with multiple lights were demonstrated and Hannah did cover the different modifiers and their suitability for various light uses; key lights, hair lights, spotlights etc. but this was all non-essential and there was no pressure to have a whole bunch of lights to be successful.

The day ended with a series of videos on using just one studio head and a universal umbrella to light ten different subjects. I must say, by this point my brain was saturated so I was really glad that Hannah provided links to these videos to watch at home later as I don’t think I could take much more in.

All in all this was an extremely useful and enjoyable day and also one of the most inspirational workshops I’ve ever done.  I learnt a surprising amount and am now on a mission to make use of what I’ve learnt in my portrait work. As soon as I got home I was anxious to start trying it all out with my on-site model Isaac and I could instantly see an improvement in the impact of the images (see below).  Following the workshop Hannah kindly answered a couple of questions I had about gear and the follow up materials including the videos were dispatched really quickly.  Hannah is also really active and responsive on social media so it’ll be really easy to stay in touch and follow her work.

 

Introduction to studio lighting – Inspirational stuff!

Aspect Star Rating (out of 5*)
Ease of booking ****
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Personalisation and 1:1 attention ***
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Cost *** £250
Image review and feedback ***
Post-event feedback and follow-up ****