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 ****
Pre-event communications *****
Personalisation and 1:1 attention ***
Information and Learning *****
Approachability *****
Location *****
Cost *** £250
Image review and feedback ***
Post-event feedback and follow-up ****