I’ve never been the person that feels comfortable around the camera but it wasn’t necessarily because of my lack of confidence. I always associated being photographed in the same way as closely getting to know someone and be confident to be truly yourself. It’s like looking at those candid photos of someone laughing and being unaware of the camera’s presence and the feeling you get as if someone just opened themselves up to you. These have always been my favourite types of shots because of how raw and honest they are, whilst also immediately making you want to know more about the subject in the picture. What were thinking when this photo was taken? What were they laughing at? Who was in the room with them?
I, on the other hand, find it extremely challenging to let new people in and take a long time to get comfortable with showing “the real me”. With this in mind, my photos always end up looking awkward and staged because this is just how I feel most of the time when I’m photographed. So far, my partner is the only person that makes me feel comfortable around the camera, primarily because he’s the closest person to me and knows me the best. Although, he isn’t photographer, sometimes those accidental captured images look so beautiful and raw that it makes me wonder, how would a professional photographer exhibit that? If I were to push my limits and let myself go completely, what would be the angles and possibilities the photographers decide to take?
Before the Shoot
Eventually, my curiosity took over and I booked the first available spot for a photo shoot. I also immediately asked my partner if he could come along with me, primarily as a source of comfort but also to make sure I was able to let loose and open up in front of the camera.
The shoot was only a couple of days away, which I was happy about because knowing me, the longer I wait, the more I overthink. I always need to plan everything in advance, making sure I have a plan A and B (and the rest of the alphabet in case all else fails). With a photo shoot, it’s something I couldn’t really prepare for because I felt like each experience is so personalised and different for everyone. So I decided to do something that I’ve been trying to do more recently – simply go with the flow. This attitude immediately changed my state of anxiety into something more positive like excitement and anticipation.
In terms of preparing for the shoot, I followed the same laid-back mindset. I didn’t end up buying any new clothes because I didn’t really have the time, nor did I want to buy something and then never wear it again. I just picked outfits that made me feel good about myself but also represent my everyday style. I was really curious to see how the stylists would put together something I style myself every day, and see my regular clothes from a new angle. With the theme of the shoot, I wanted something natural and minimalistic but I also decided to leave my options open for any inspiration that might come along throughout the shoot.
Day of the Shoot
Meeting the Team + Makeup and Hair
As soon as I arrived, I was greeted by the creative team: Michaela (the photographer) and Jess (the makeup artist). After some chit chat, it was finally the moment of sitting in THE makeup chair and let me tell you, it was exactly like I imagined it to be. I felt like a Hollywood star sipping on some bubbles while having my naturally wavy hair made into beautiful big bouncy curls. In terms of makeup, we went for something natural with glowy skin and bronzy eyes, which is how I mostly wear my makeup anyway. We ended up adding some false lashes though, just to make my eyes popped on camera.
I must admit though, on the inside my excitement was beginning to turn into anxiety again with my mind spiraling into its constant overthinking state. I like to be in control of everything, which made it challenging for me to put all of my trust and rely on people I barely knew. So instead of panicking, I decided to distract myself by first talking to Jess about our shared passion for makeup. She was giving me recommendations and tips and I was asking her questions what it’s like working in the makeup industry, which was really helpful in calming my nerves. My partner was also around, chatting to me and the rest of the crew, making the atmosphere feel more relaxed and chill.
As soon as my hair and makeup were done, Michaela and I began going through the outfits I brought. She was asking me about my style and my vision behind the shoot and I was immediately attracted to her laid-back and cool personality, making it less challenging for me to open up to her.
Most of my outfits were quite neutral toned, giving us some room to play around with different props and backgrounds. To start off, we went for something that I was already wearing – black jeans, a pair of Vans and a nice flowy blouse. We decided to start shooting by the big window, which was my favourite spot in the whole studio. Although being excited, as soon as the camera was pointed at me, I froze and began to panic, not knowing what to do. Michaela was really supportive and decided to put me in the chair first and sit opposite me with her camera, while showing me a variation of poses. I felt like it was a lot easier to be sitting down as I didn’t have to worry as much about legs and arms looking weird, but also being a good starting point to get more comfortable around the camera.
I was beginning to open up to Michaela more and more whilst we were shooting, we were asking each other questions and talking about our backgrounds and hobbies. The more we talked, the more I enjoyed her company and felt free to be myself.
However, the shots that involved me standing up were the most challenging for me as it involved more creativity and diversity with different poses. With my body still being quite stiff on camera, we decided to put some hip-hop Spotify playlist on and everyone in the studio including myself, began to dance and move around. The dancing and the moving really allowed me to completely let go and have fun. I was playing with my hair, acting silly and laughing without worrying too much about how it would look on camera.
The moment I stopped caring about the camera, was the moment I began to see this photo shoot as something really fun but also intimate at the same time. Intimate because the boundary of the camera is no longer there and a special bond begins to form between the subject and the photographer. At one point, it truly felt like it was just Michaela and I in the room, having a conversation and trying to create something beautiful and unique together.
Throughout the shoot, we were drawing inspiration from anything around us, pulling pieces together as we went and I was glad that I left my options open. Half-way through the shoot, while I was wearing a white top and a skirt, Michaela saw my red jacket on the couch and the sunglasses my partner was wearing and decided to throw them together. That uncertainty and spontaneity throughout the shoot was exactly the reason to why it was so fun and memorable but also something completely new to me.
I was also incredibly surprised at the feeling of confidence and empowerment I felt not only during the shoot but also its continuous presence with me today. It’s okay to admit that we all sometimes have our ups and down, the days where we love each other and the days where we purposely search for flaws in the mirror. On most days, I would generally describe myself as someone who is fairly comfortable in my own skin and doesn’t necessarily seek validation from others, yet I can’t deny that being called beautiful didn’t feel great. During my shoot, it was so powerful and empowering to hear Michaela shouting that I looked stunning and I was doing really well or that pose made me look so amazing. You don’t always need someone trying to convince you of your worth but rather have them strengthen your confidence and encourage your already existing self-love.
The viewing was a few weeks after my shoot and generally involved me looking at hundreds of unedited pictures that Michaela had selected and pick my top favourites. Even though the photo shoot itself was really fun and empowering, I was still extremely anxious to see my final photos. What if I didn’t like how I looked? What if all the extra confidence I just gained would immediately disappear the moment I saw my face on the big screen? What if I no longer liked myself?
As the days were passing, I tried my best turning this anxiety into excitement. I mean I had so much fun during the shoot, it’s only fair to be excited over the final product. I imagined the viewing being the most intimate part of this whole experience, seeing the photos for the first time and seeing myself in a completely different light.
As I arrived, I was introduced to the Creative Producer Alana, who I would be doing my viewing with. Alana inviting and cheery personality made my nerves calm a bit as I followed her inside the viewing room. As the lights were dimmed, I was presented with a slideshow of over a hundred of my pictures. Seeing my photos for the first time and on a much larger scale than my accustomed iPhone screen, replaced my anxiety with excitement. I was so used to looking at my photos on my iPhone privately and away from everyone, while making sure I immediately deleted anything I didn’t like before showing it to other people. However, as the slideshow kept going, there were photos where I looked so different and beautiful. The whole process was almost like a rollercoaster, going from feeling anxious and awkward to feeling on top of the world.
We then began seeing the images in sections, deciding which ones to keep and which ones I didn’t like as much. This was my favourite part as I could get rid of anything that I didn’t like and made me feel awkward, immediately turning this experience into something much more exciting and fun. I no longer felt uncomfortable or weird, as I had already seen all the images on the slideshow and it was up to me to decide what I liked and what I didn’t like. Alana was also very helpful with sharing with me what photos I should keep just in case I wanted to put them towards a modelling portfolio. We decided to keep some headshots, full body, natural light photos and more editorial photos to have a bit of everything. I also made sure I had at least one photo for each outfit I wore, just to have some variety. At the end, we watched the slideshow once again with all the ten images I’d selected to make sure I was happy with them. Alana had given me a brochure with tips on how to apply in case I was interested in pursuing modelling in the future, which honestly made me think “why the hell not?” I mean, I never really considered modelling prior to this shoot but after enjoying it so much, I realised nothing was stopping me and it’s not like I had anything to lose.
The confidence was quite literally boosting out of me as I left the studio, like I could do anything in the world. Having a photo shoot may not seem like a big deal to some people, but having this reconnection with myself and my body, completely transformed the way I now see myself. Being photographed and then seeing your photos on the big screen was definitely out of my comfort zone but it also made me feel like a boss lady that is not afraid to take risks and pursue anything she wants. And I like this woman now and would very much like her to permanently stay with me and see what else she could achieve in the future.