Siân T. Blog - Tog Tales
Building Confidence Through Photography: Beyond Boudoir Towards True Character Portraits
19th September 2019 (republished)
"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."
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
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
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!