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

Objectivity – a lesson learning.

I have recently met a most wonderful photographer by the name of Emily Fairweather. She specialises in rustic Children’s portraits – natural, outdoors, a little ethereal at times, simple and always, gorgeous. You can check out Emily’s images here: http://www.emilyfairweatherphotography.co.uk/

She contacted me to see if I would be interested in doing some work with her, which of course I was/am. Having chatted, I recently went and helped her out with going through her images from a few weddings she has been doing, and getting them down from too many to just about enough! As with all digital photographers I suspect, she overshoots. I do that too, because I would hate to think that the shot I wanted most was not actually the shot I got and of course, shooting digital means you can do what you like – take as many or as few photographs as you want. The problem of course comes when you have to go through them and delete all the rubbish ones and find the ones you love, because sometimes there are simply too many good ones, but no one wants the same/similar photo twice.

When I do this for myself I can’t look at the images from a wedding until a few days later or I run the risk of deleting the lot! I have to give it just enough time for the adrenaline of the day to settle before I actually dare look at them, and even then, I am uber critical of them at first, but from a very subjective point of view.

Having helped Emily with hers, I have notice that actually when I look at my own images now, I am starting to look at them in a much more objective way, almost as if through someone else’s eyes; the eyes of the person in them, or the people or person who I am doing them for. So, for example, when I went through and rejected some recent studio shots, I thought mostly about what sort of photo Sarah would like to see of herself, then I thought about what makes the photo a good photo and then about what I thought I could do to make that photo better – not necessarily for all the photos individually. It was a big change as before I had found myself mostly thinking about whether it was an image I would like and that represented me as a photographer, as well as whether it was an image they would like. I am not sure I am explaining this terribly well, but I what I think I am trying to say is that there are many different reasons for keeping a photo or deleting a photo, but that the sole reason cannot be simply whether I like it or not. It has to be more than that, and that is why being objective and not always following your heart is one of the hardest and yet most valuable things to be able to do.

I really felt that having done this exercise for someone else, I am beginning to learn to not be so overly critical of myself, which is a very valuable lesson to learn. I have in other instances learnt not to take so many photos as well, whilst shooting next to someone shooting film, and that in itself has been an invaluable experience.

Claire Tom Wedding lores jpgs (10 of 251)The great thing about getting to know other photographers so much better is the amount of knowledge sharing you can do. All the people I have met recently have been incredibly kind, helpful, and communicative, not to mention, totally up for collaborating. I do really believe in the power of collaboration and that as there are so many photographers out there vying for business it is essential that we start to communicate and we begin to think about the prices we charge, so that we don’t undercut anyone else. Obviously there are different levels of pricing, but it really is essential that we become more aware of our impact on ourselves and those around us!
Tyntesfield lores (55 of 62)So, I am loving my new found friends with similar interests. In the last few months I have met and got to know a lovely group of photographers, who I think would all get on really well. I think it will be one of my missions to get us all together, even if it is simply to chat about fstops, the beauty of film, wedding traumas, memory cards and exposure settings – all over a drink or two. Well – it would be rude not to!

Love and fstops to you all, – mine’s a 1.8 barman!

Christina

Blow up

blow up pster

I don’t know if any of you remember the film Blow up… I didn’t see it the first time around as I am actually not quite that old, but in my mid-twenties my then partner and I bought a poster of the film. It was a photo of a woman that was completely pixelated so you could only just make out what it was. The colours were black and cream, red and blue and it was in fact a Polish design with Polish writing on it. The British posters were of the photographer and the woman, nothing quite as gorgeous as this…  I remember when I first saw it and loving it. Just this morning I was thinking about the effect of this poster and how after we bought it, I converted a couple of images of my partner into pixelated images, using the same effect, for a birthday present. So, since I sadly had to leave it behind when we split (14 or so years ago), I decided to get another one… so I bought it this morning!!! I am now very excited for it’s imminent arrival.

At the time of buying the first one I was working in reprographics and was surrounded by beautiful photography, extremely talented Photoshop workers, designers, illustrators and retouchers and I had never thought about becoming a photographer, but something about this poster really resonated with me. It was a few years later that I sat down and finally watched the film. It was all about a mod photographer who takes a series of photographs of a mysterious beauty in a London park and finds something rather suspicious going on as he develops the film. It is incredibly 60’s, a little avant garde at least for the time, I think, and is an absolute joy to watch. It was nominated for a couple of Oscars and won a number of other awards I believe.

I am not hugely into old films, but there was definitely something about this one that lit the fire of passion in me for photography. It took many years for it to develop, but this film, along with working in reprographics and publishing were definitely key to me finding my dream. I often wish it had happened sooner, but I would not be the photographer I am today, if that was the case, so I really can’t complain.

I recently did a shoot for Chrissie. She wanted photos done for a profile picture as well as photos for her reinvention, her rejunevation, her coming to terms with an ageing body and ageing face, and learning to embrace that, whilst also in the midsts of menopause. I was immensely honoured that she chose me to accompany her on this journey.

Chrissie July 2013 Colour BW LORES (15 of 132)We spent 4 hours together, walking, talking and taking photographs. It was a very valuable experience for me, and for her, but what it has made me understand more experientially is that there is something so incredibly strong about women in general, the way we have to go through all these hormonal changes at various times of our lives, whether it be the teens or the pregnancy or the menopause and how we simply just have to get on with it – transitioning from one woman to the next woman we are going to be. It is not easy, but we do it. I have also realised that the joy that I have felt taking these photographs of Chrissie, and more importantly, the time I have spent with her, showing her the photographs, and seeing her grow from someone who could hardly look at them at first, into someone who shows absolutely acceptance of who she is, and not just acceptance but ‘love’ for who she is, who she is becoming and how she is transforming herself, was the greatest gift anyone could actually ever have given me, whilst looking at photographs I had taken and enables me to know, truly know, that what I am doing, and where I am, is where I want to be.

Chrissie July 2013 Colour BW LORES (89 of 132)This is what Chrissie wrote on her FB status:
– just a recommend for all my menopausal or post menopausal friends – if you are feeling a bit crappy about how you look, sagging in places you didn’t know could sag, and wondering how to inhabit this ageing (gracefully or otherwise) body, then this is a tonic for the soul. A photoshoot with Christina.’ –

If I ever needed a reason to be where I am now, this would be it. I love being a tonic for the soul and if there are any peri, meno or post menopausal women out there who would like some help coming to terms with where they are and who they are and who they are becoming through going on a photoshoot with me, I would be only too pleased to help where I can!

Love and Chocolate (possibly the only cure :o) to all!

Christina

Lyme Bay Bridal Shoot

French Lieutenant’s woman meets gone with the wind meets…

A few weeks ago I managed to get Abby back in her wedding dress. I say I managed – it was not exactly a hardship and I think she might even bite my hand off to do the same again. Justin Orwin and I decided we wanted to have some fun and shoot some bridal portraits by the sea and luckily Abby was a willing victim. Abby Shoot Portrait BW lores (48 of 48)Justin Orwin is an experienced wedding photographer who I did an introductory workshop with at Clavelshay Barn not long ago. I went on the workshop to find out really how much or how little I already knew, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. I decided to challenge myself all day and shot in manual focus as well as On Manual. I learnt a lot and you can read all about that in one of my previous posts! However, I digress (as usual).

So – A wednesday evening, at Lyme Regis, Monmouth Bay, and the weather was very kind to us! The light was utterly stunning and the backdrop was quite magnificent.

Abby Shoot Portrait BW lores (21 of 48)Justin had a very definite idea of what he wanted to achieve, whereas although I had an idea, I wanted to just see where it would go and simply let the evening, the dress and Abby guide me. That is something I found quite interesting. I think it is very much my style of photography. I don’t think that at the moment I am a ‘Director’… I have no problem asking someone to sit down or stand up or throw her head back laughing, but these are not things I plan… I actually like to see what the environment gives me before I know where to go with the shots.I didn’t find directing Abby difficult, but I also didn’t do it as much as Justin, preferring the candid shots that I got of her, for that very same reason. It is also the difference between shooting film and digital.Abby Shoot Portrait BW lores (10 of 48)

Justin was shooting film, and I was shooting digital. So, I was much more able to take snap away, whilst he had to be much more concentrated, waiting, to get that perfect shot. I like the idea of shooting film, but I would never want to do a whole wedding on film only. I have the utmost respect for photographers like Justin who only used to do wedding photographs shooting film – I cannot imagine ever having the courage to do that myself. I love the differences between us. I find it fascinating!

Abby Shoot Col lores (128 of 150)Another thing I found quite interesting was that when I got home, I realised that I had spent an awful lot of time  on the full image – which is different to the way I normally shoot. I am normally much more concerned with portraiture and headshots. Yet, the dress for me, trailing along the sand, or the shapes that the dress was making, suddenly became really important to me. I also found that the images I really liked were the full body, colour images – probably because of the light, the blue of the sea and the dark blue of the cliffs, the white of the dress, the bluey white of the sand and the stones and the overall soft pink light that blanketed every shot giving it a warm glow… I really love these images. That is not to say that the portraits aren’t also my favourites, but they were found later in post processing as I cropped in on some of the images. During the evening itself I concentrated much more on full body shots and the dress. I find it fascinating how I notice these little things about myself and about my photography. How changes occur all the time.

Abby Shoot Portrait BW lores (17 of 48)I shot mainly using my Canon 50mm. This was unusual as I would normally like to use my 18-200mm for safety but actually I really loved just using the 50mm. I changed towards the end to my Tamron 90mm which is a superb portrait lens for very little money. I love that lens and I was delighted with the results. The 50mm is a 1.8 and the Tamron is 2.4 (I think) – so both lens let in a lot of light, and creates a beautifully shallow depth of field. I love how the backgrounds are just blurred out, helping to fix on the subject itself.
I am currently scouting for more models – I have a few up my sleeve and just have to get them together and get them out there! I even bought a couple of wedding dresses – cheap ones that were being sold off – so that we have some should they be needed. I cannot wait to see who is going to get in them!

Abby Shoot Col lores (44 of 150)I have grand ideas about doing a wedding fashion shoot with 3+ models on the beach… I also have a vision of something a bit more edgy, a bit supermodel avant garde alternative! I will definitely need to get my Director’s head on for that, but I think I will be OK – putting the vision into action will be a huge challenge, but I can see it before me… surely that is half the battle won already!

I have to say a huge thank you to Abby for being a star and of course a mega thanks to Justin for suggesting we go play on the beach with wedding dresses and models, in the first place! I hope there will be many more play dates in the future! You can see Justin’s photographs and read more about him here… http://www.justinorwin.co.uk/ – and if anyone is reading this and fancies getting into their wedding dress again and having some amazing images created, then please feel free to contact me for a quote.  xx

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