Stripping it bare, taking it back, making it work.

The power that comes from knowing when something isn’t working, stopping, breathing, changing it, and making it work.

This week my blog is all about what happens when something isn’t going the way I want it to, and what I have to do to make it work – in my photography life… though the lesson is well learnt everywhere else too!

Last week I had a friend of mine’s wife come in for a shoot. We had met for about an hour the week before, just to get to know each other. I immediately felt incredibly comfortable with her and actually felt like I had known her for years. I really value meeting people before a shoot, as I totally believe that the way I photograph people and perhaps women in particular, is about getting to know them first. I very often meet my clients in advance of the shoot so that we can chat over coffee about what they might like, what their reservations are and what sort of things inspire them. I often send them away with a Pinterest link – if they don’t have one already – and ask them to start building a mood board or inspiration board and to share it with me, so that I will have an idea of who they are and what they like, before we get into the studio.

This particular lady (Kate) opted for a make-over so it was really important to get the mood board going. There were some amazing photos on there, very colourful, lots of crazy make-up and hair, women with long, gorgeous dreads, punks etc, and her creative and artistic side really shone through the choice of these pics, so by the time we got into the studio, both Michelle (from Bie Hair/makeover) and I were super excited. We knew we could go all out there both in terms of make-up and photography.

As Michelle started to apply the make-up (bright, crazy, pink, orange and green) it became apparent that we could go a little bit further, and the further we went, the more punky it got. Kate had the most amazing hair, which Michelle curled and then put up in a sort of fake Mohican. It looked incredible. Kate has quite a few piercings and tattoos as well as a totally unique style – it all went really well together. Then it was time for the shoot.

We started shooting – firstly with a few standard portrait shots. I always like to simply shoot and see what my lights are doing first, before moving them (and/or my subject) around to see what different effects I can get. I don’t tend to build the picture first, but instead, take lots of pictures and try lots of different things. I know some photographers work differently, placing their subjects, moving them slightly, waiting for the right shot before shooting. I am just not comfortable working this way, as I feel that the subject gets bored too easily and the energy of the room becomes less vibrant, less ‘energetic’.

What quickly became apparent to me was that even though the make-up looked awesome, it was making Kate look too harsh under the lights.

Kate is not harsh – she is soft, vibrant, open, friendly, calm, beautiful, womanly, funny and quirky, but somehow we had created a look that made her quite hard – almost impenetrable. For me that wasn’t Kate. I love this photo (left) as you know how I feel about the dark, but it is not really Kate and I wanted Kate to shine… I also think that we were not actually as comfortable with her in make-up as we thought we would be – I say we, because it really is a 2-way thing!

I asked her to take her hair down, and magically straight away, we both began to relax. The shots were definitely getting better and the result was that Kate was more ‘Kate’ (I now sound like that ad for hair colour – apologies). But still, it wasn’t quite right. That’s when I decided to turn it around 360. I asked Kate to go and remove the punk make-up whilst I breathed deeply for a few minutes, telling myself I was doing the right thing. I was right. This time, it really worked. The session completely changed from being something that seemed a little difficult – a little put on, affected even – to something that was easy, natural and fun. We both commented on how much more relaxing it became.

It was a bit of a milestone for me as I am not always good at knowing when to change something, even though it is not working, but thankfully I listened to my inner voice and realised that if we were going to get the shots we wanted, it was important to go back to the beginning, strip it all back and start again. I am so glad I did. I learnt a powerful lesson that day – in fact I learnt a few. The first is that if something is not working, change it. The other is that if we want to push the boundaries, we should do so half way through the session, when everyone is into it and have become relaxed and happy, not at the beginning when we are finding our feet. It has to be something that grows, not something that is forced. The third? – my intuition is usually right.

I am really grateful to Kate for being such an amazingly good sport, for being great company and for following my lead, without doubting me, throughout the whole thing. I have asked her to come and sit with me and go through the images with her artistic eye (not with a self-critical one) so that I can learn some more. Hopefully she will have a look at some of my other images too. I really value her opinion and I think a bit of positive criticism is really important when you are trying to grow as an artist (of any kind). I should just end by saying that Kate did love some of the images, even some of the beginning shots, but that we both preferred the natural ones, where she was simply Kate; with Kate’s essence shining through, and that of course is whole point of the Essence of Woman Project.

If you would like to know more about the Essence of Woman project you can find lots of information on my website by following the link. If you would like to chat with me about having a shoot, then feel free to give me a call on 07882 534 115 or email me christina@christina-dithmar-photography.co.uk. Thanks for reading! xx

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