50 Faces goes on display this June 2017 “cue fanfare for baring my soul!”

If you’ve followed me for a while, you might already know about my long-running portrait project 50 Faces.  For those who don’t know – here’s a quick summary of what it’s all about.

Back in spring of 2014, I decided I wanted to learn more about portrait photography – that I might actually want to be a portrait photographer – but I wasn’t sure.  Up until this point my serious photography had been focused on the sport that my husband and I were deep into – rock climbing.  I’d started photographing climbing for the record of what we’d acheived, and had taken many successful images of the landscapes in which we climbed and the routes we took from top to bottom.  Increasingly though I was finding it more interesting to focus on what I now know are called ‘environmental portraits’ of the climbers, to try and capture the feeling of climbing through their expressions and their body positions.

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Capturing images for 50 Faces during my time working in Oman

 

I decided that the best way to find out whether I should pursue portraiture as a creative avenue, was to simply do more of it.  To hone my skills in portraiture by simply getting a lot of practice and deciding what worked and what didn’t, what I liked and what I didn’t.  I didn’t want it to be totally random though and I decided quite early on (after a number of people I photographed asked me what I planned to do with the images) that I wanted this to be a project and potentially an exhibition so I made them all black and white and all square format – limitation being the father of creativity afterall!

Fast forward to today and the project is finally complete.  In the intervening years I have met and photographed a lot of interesting people! Many of these people I already knew, quite a number I did not. Many surfaced as volunteer subjects with whom I’ve since become friends.  I took my project to various places I travelled to, including my time spent working in Oman but I also focused on those close to home.  What I’ve realised is that I have definitely changed, developed and found a style as a portrait photographer – and I adore it!  I love the challenge, the interaction with the subject, the planning to get the perfect shot and even the failure when something just didn’t quite work.  I love the look on a person’s face when they see their image and they love it, and the sometimes quizzical reactions of those who see something they didn’t quite expect.  I love the collaboration of making something that truly reflects the person, whether at just that moment in time or with deeper meaning and connection with their personality, their life, their loves.  More than anything I love the creativity, the multitude of ways that a person can be represented in a photograph and the sheer variety even within the self-imposed limitations of the black and white, square image.

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Good friends and complete strangers alike helped me throughout the project – here, my friend Alan poses atop his balcony in Oxford, UK

 

Technically, all that progress (along with a lot of additional training which I would never have known I needed without this project to help me realise what I didn’t know) has led to me launching Sian T. Photography and moving forward with my photography knowing that the path I’d glimpsed back in 2014 was indeed the right one.

I’ll be writing more about 50 Faces over the coming weeks and will eventually share the whole project – for now just know that the exhibition (entitled Face to Face and in collaboration with two other amazing artists) opens on 13th June 2017 at Cranleigh Arts Centre, Surrey, UK.  I’m both excited and terrified about the whole thing. This is 3 years of my work out there to be judged, but more than that it’s the story of my photographic life over those 3 years and how it’s made me who I am today.

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Review – Lighting, posing and retouching with Hannah Couzens

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.

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Corporate headshot with separation lighting from the back

 

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.

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Fitness style shot set up – lights included!

 

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.

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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!

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My new posing and retouching skills at work here – although it’s pretty easy to make it look awesome with a great model like Lucy!

 

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.

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One of my favourite shots from the day – lots of fun in post processing!

 

 

 

Lighting, posing and retouching with Hannah Couzens – News you can use!

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 ***

 

Carolina Panthers Training Camp 2016

In August 2016 my family and I headed across the Atlantic to Spartanburg, South Carolina to see the Carolina Panthers training camp – oh and to get some great images at the same time!

Click below for my favourite images and reflections on the training camp experience

 

Photographing the Carolina Panthers