{The Portrait Diaries} Day 17: Thank you for the music

Everyone has something that they love to do, right? A hobby, passion or past time that they find themselves completely lost in doing. For me, perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s photography. I could never get tired of it.

For the subject of today’s portrait it’s music. Making music to be specific. I can’t play an instrument but I know for sure that I couldn’t live without music. Listening to music is something we can easily take for granted. There’s a song for every mood, for every taste and for every emotion. Music can be shared with people or enjoyed just as much alone. It lifts us up, comforts us and reflects our daily lives. Can you even begin to imagine your life without music? I suspect that when someone can create music, they must have an even deeper connection to music.

I know that much is true for harpist Alex Thomas, who was featured earlier in The Portrait Diaries (here). This portrait of Alex is from a different shoot, where I photographed behind-the-scenes of a music video he was featuring in as a guest musician with the fantastic band A Lily. Check them out as the music is so so beautiful! It was an amazing day that maybe I’ll share more of later but this is one of my favourites. I love the calm but concentrated expression on Alex’s face. He is lost in his element.

What’s your passion? Share in the comments section below.

Thanks for reading,

Lauren xx

{The Portrait Diaries} Day 16: When in Rome…

Day 16:

So I lied a little.This post has nothing to do with Rome and everything to do with Texas!

As they say, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” so in Texas what should we do? Well, ‘The Texas Two-step’ to be specific. This particular style of dancing is like a mix of classic, ballroom & country dancing and it’s sooo much fun!!

Okay, so I’m going to be completely honest with you… two stepping didn’t come all that naturally to me.  However, I can successfully step on two other people’s feet if that counts? No, I didn’t think so!

The experience won me over none the less and here’s why:

I love doing things I’ve never done before, especially the things that make me feel a little bit scared and excited at the same time. Those times that you’re a little bit terrified but don’t want to stop because you’re having too much fun!

There’s no better time to try such things than when you’re already surrounded by the unfamiliar. So when my fiance & I found ourselves in Austin, Texas, I was so excited that my dear friend & amazing host Rebecca wanted to take us two-stepping! I used to indulge in a little country line dancing when I was younger, but walking into the venue ‘Broken Spoke‘ I knew it was the real deal when I saw men in cowboy hats and heard their Southern drawl.  We had some giggles attempting to join in but it was just as much fun to watch and take in the atmosphere of the dance hall.

Traditionally it is a man-woman dance but these days it can be man-woman, man-man or woman-woman dancing. People swap partners, mingling & dancing with who ever is free to dance.

The basic etiquette is that if you don’t really know what you are doing you stick to the outside. That’s where you would’ve found me then!  If you’re a pro or really going for it you will generally be in the middle.   Traditionally, the men set the pace and stride of the dance, gracefully leading their partner through the steps.

While as we didn’t know the steps we were a little less graceful, but today’s photograph is of the ever so gracious Rebecca who knew her way round the dance floor like it was the back of her hand. Her lovely dance partner I did not catch the name of but suffice to say he was a total gent! It is Rebecca we have to thank for an amazing experience in Texas that left us wanting to come back for more.

If you ever get the chance to do some country dancing, definitely give it a go!  Even better if it’s in Texas! Maybe watch everyone else until you get some of the moves down but don’t be scared, live a little and hit that dance floor.

Texas we heart you! Yee Haw!

Lauren xxx

“It’s the heart afraid of breaking that never learns to dance. It is the dream afraid of waking that never takes the chance. It is the one who won’t be taken who cannot seem to give. And the soul afraid of dying that never learns to live.”  Bette Midler 

{The Portrait Diaries} Day 14: To smile or not to smile

Day 14

To smile or not to smile? That is the question.

Well as a general rule of life I definitely choose to smile, always. If you start the day with a smile you start as you mean to go on and it has a positive influence on your day and on the people you come into contact with who will hopefully smile back at you and so it goes on. Spread a little happiness and all that!

When it comes to photography it is a bit more complicated.

When someone takes a photo of us don’t we automatically smile? Most of us do. I love capturing people smiling or laughing naturally but I’m not a big fan of forced smiles. They don’t feel good or look good so they don’t bring out the best in people. When I photograph people on their own, generally I try to make them laugh or just by talking to them can get natural shots.

Sometimes I like to show a different side to them, a more serious side. Looking through my images recently I’ve realised I quite like photographs where the subject isn’t smiling. Our focus doesn’t go straight to their smile and gives us a little longer to take in the rest of the photograph.

What do you think? Do you always smile in photographs?

Lauren xxx

{The Portrait Diaries} Day 13: “Hello? This is the right side of your brain speaking!”

Day 13

Well it’s a horrible, wet & miserable day where I am! I hope it’s sunnier wherever you are!

Over lunch I was thinking about all the school children who will be having playtime indoors today! Some will be bored and absolutely hate it while others will relish these days.

Last summer, I taught photography at an amazing sports & arts summer camp in Pennsylvania. Some days there would be a sudden down pour so the kids would stay under the shelter of the art barn rather than move onto their next activity. As the majority of them loved art, they didn’t mind as it was a chance to get on with the current work of art they were creating or think up the next project they could work on.

These kids were affectionately known as “indoor kids,” an assumption, though not always entirely true, that anyone who loves art is not a big fan of physical activities or being outside. For the most part I found the kids would just find what they love and stick to it, which is not a bad idea really, though of course they were always encouraged to try new things.

Though I loved the outdoors I think I definitely grew up going through phases of being an indoor kid. Can I blame that on the unpredictable British weather? Maybe, but I don’t think I’d have it any other way. I used to love it when it rained and we weren’t allowed to go outside at playtimes. I loved art and doing anything creative so being stuck indoors was never a problem for me, it was a blessing.

At camp there were so many activities the children could do. There was no technology allowed so they couldn’t opt for playing their Nintendo or Xbox instead. I imagine this is one of the top reasons parents send their kids to camp, so they can really embrace this lifestyle for the duration of their stay. Kids have so much technology thrown at them in these modern times that they can forget the joy of simply creating something.

It is sad to think that some people never really get the chance or allow themselves the chance to be creative. Whenever some one tells me they can’t draw/paint or whatever else, I say…”Can’t or won’t?” Did you get on a bike and straight away know how to ride it? No. It’s about finding something that you enjoy and pursuing it. Over time the skills will come!

That creative part of your brain can influence so many other skills and aspects of who you are. If you try you never know what you might be capable of. More importantly, from being creative you learn to make mistakes and to try again, to problem solve and be innovative. If you can be willing to do things wrong you treble your chances of doing something amazingly right!

For these reasons among many others, it was such a privelege to be at camp and to be in the art department. To see children get really into something, to discover a new talent and to embrace their own creativity. I often wonder what amazing people they will one day grow up to be.

“Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun.” — Mary Lou Cook

{The Portrait Diaries} Day 12: If you go down to the woods today…

Day 12

When I was four, I completely believed I could fly, was convinced there was a monster living in my wardrobe and that I could talk to trees!

At four, the world is full of opportunity & adventure and that’s just in the garden. Go to the woods and the possibilities are endless. Now the world is full of opportunity & adventure even when you’re not four but we start to let that feeling go astray as we get older and lose the magic of childhood.

Photographing children is amazing fun not only because a little part of you gets to be a child again but you can witness them getting totally lost in their own imaginations. My 4 year old nephew openly declares, “MY IMAGINATION IS MASSIVE” while making solar systems out of blu-tac and sending psychic messages to Santa.

Eventually children become conditioned to pulling a big cheesy grin or silly faces when a camera is pointed at them.

My biggest effort/challenge then when photographing children is to create as many moments as possible where you can get them to forget they are being photographed and if this works, BINGO! One all access pass into their magical mystical wonderland.

Lauren xx

{The Portrait Diaries} Day 11: I feel it in my fingers

….I feel it in my toes. Yes I really did just quote a Wet Wet Wet song but stay with me for a second.

The song goes on “Love is all around me and so the feeling grows.” Well today I’m feeling the love.  It’s an absolutely beautiful day here in Kent and later this afternoon I am honoured to be attending a blessing service for a friend who recently got married. With that in mind, I chose a wedding themed portrait today.

At weddings you’re surrounded by the friends and family of two people who want to declare their love for each other. It is something really wonderful to see and be a part of because love is all around!

If this was a L’oreal advert I would now say, “Here’s the science bit.”

Yesterday I talked a bit about context and the struggle to know when and how much of the location or background to show to add meaning to a photo. Another vitally important context to capture is relational. Weddings give you lots of opportunities to capture special moments between loved ones. The photographer’s job then is to see those moments coming and be ready to capture them in a way that shows the special bond between loved ones.

Here the beautiful bride Jessica was showing her wedding ring to her grandmother. A tender & proud moment between generations.

Lauren xx

{The Portrait Diaries} Day 10: Location, location, location.

Day 10

Compared with yesterday’s portrait which filled the frame, the subject in today’s image only fills about 1/3 of the photo.

Why? The location is important! Background can add interest to a photograph. The more and more photos I take the easier I find it to know what kind of location or background I like to use. It is not always easy to get the balance between the subject and their context right. You can always crop a photo afterwards but it’s not quite the same. That would also be a bad habit to get into so I try to avoid relying on cropping and to get better at thinking about these things in the moment, as I take the photograph.

In the past I can remember a few times where I’ve been really pleased about a shot but afterwards wishing I’d just stood back a bit or tried to get a bit more contextual background in a certain shot. I’m a huge perfectionist! While you can’t change the past you can definitely learn from it and I always strive to do that. I learnt a lot from this particular photo shoot because we tried many different locations and it pushed me to think about what worked and what I wanted to get into the shot. It was a shoot where I really came to appreciate that balance between subject and environment and felt I could create a portrait that had some real power and made for more interesting photos.

Lauren x

{The Portrait Diaries} Day 9: Rules were made to be broken

Day 9

I took this photo today. I was just testing the light before I set up the “proper” shot so I wasn’t thinking about composition,  angle or giving my subject any direction. He was mid sentence . My first reaction. I looked at my screen and laughed. I knew he wasn’t ready but that wasn’t important to the image, or was it?

When I uploaded the photos to my computer I decided I actually really like this photo. And so I have an experiment that I’d like you to try out. Are you ready?

Everything you know about photography. Forget it. Even just for a day, even just for a minute.

Next time you pick up your camera don’t consider what a “proper” portrait is supposed to be. Abandon the rules. Forget what you’ve heard someone else suggest as the perfect or even ideal settings for any given situation.  Even just for a day stop considering the rule of thirds and how to expose perfectly or compose your image to look pleasing to everyone else. See what happens. Even better show me what happens. E-mail it to me at lauren@laurenbythesea.com or post it on my Facebook page.

If you can do that, if you can forget what you are supposed to be doing, you might just create something a bit different, something a bit raw, something a bit special.

Because rules were made to be broken.

{The Portrait Diaries} Day 8: Who’s your muse?

Day 8

Wow. I’m actually quite surprised at where this portrait experiment has taken me so far.

I’m quite a thinker anyway, an over-thinker some might say, yet only 8 days into this challenge it feels like I wasn’t thinking at all before.

I’ve always enjoyed taking pictures of people over landscapes and scenery but posting these portraits has really started me thinking on a deeper level about what kind of portraits I delight over. I keep coming back to my portraits of musicians. Why did this not stand out to me before? I’m not sure, maybe as I’m not a musician myself it wasn’t that obvious. But the beauty of a portrait of a musician is seeing their passion coming alive right in front of your eyes. Musicians take it to another place , they go somewhere else, they connect to whoever or whatever their muse might be and it makes them shine.

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”- Howard Thurman

I’ve always had close friends who are musicians and I never really believed that to be intentional but now I’m starting to wonder whether it is a subconscious thing. I like the idea that we naturally surround ourselves with people that inspire us. It should be that way anyway. I feel really lucky and I am overwhelmed with gratitude at the people who I have had the chance to know and the opportunities I have had to capture people in the process of expressing themselves. In doing so they help me to express myself too.

To those people I thank you, from the bottom of my heart,  for doing what you do. Please keep doing it!

Lauren xxx

{The Portrait Diaries} Day 5: Read Between the Lines

Day 5.

From one musician to another. I’m not obsessed I promise (well only with photographing people doing what they love) I really wanted to pick this portrait for today’s post because I was browsing through the whole shoot a few days ago and this is the one that always jumps out at me. It’s from a shoot about 6 months ago with amazingly talented harpist Alexander Thomas. (@alexthomasmusic) This is probably my absolute favourite image from the shoot and you can see more here.

Although his face is sort of obstructed you can still see the emotion on his face through the harpstrings and it is seeing that and feeling that connection at the time I was taking the photo which is what makes me love photographing musicians. Alex hadn’t expected to necessarily play his harp on the shoot but just be photographed with it. A while into the shoot I asked him to play a little and wow, the sounds literally travelled on the wind and echoed all around us. I’ve never heard anything quite like it. It was heavenly and incredibly inspiring . So I suppose I’m realising that’s one of the biggest factors for me in my favourite portraits. What the person is doing or what you ask them to do can make or break an image. 5 days in and I’m already learning, I like it!

I’d love to hear what makes a great portrait for you. Get in touch or comment below.

Lauren xx