Join me on a personal portrait challenge.
I am going to attempt to take a (creative) self-portrait every week for a full year, this is a big challenge for me in both coming up with creative ideas and sticking to a plan! I am sharing the images here with you in the hope that I will be kept on course.
Week One - Back in Lockdown!
Last year I created a standard copy of The Girl With The Pearl Earring, but I have been wanting to update it to reflect the Covid-19 pandemic. So this is what I came up with.
Here in England we are once again in lockdown, so this portrait was back to the basics and keeping things simple.
For those who want to know, this was lit with one strobe in a medium softbox, 45 degrees up on camera left and feathered across in front of me. I have an app on my phone which I use to control my camera, you would think this would make it easier to take a self portrait because I can see what my camera is seeing without the faff of having to run back and forth. I set the timer to give myself time to hide the phone (aka throw it on the floor) and then try very hard not to laugh at myself as I perfect 'the look', it is surprisingly difficult to make your eyes look like you are looking at someone (when there is no-one there) as otherwise they end up looking a bit empty and bored.
Feel free to give me ideas for any of the next 51 portraits!
Week Two - Into The Woods
We have been having some fantastic misty mornings, and I wanted to try and create a story with this weeks portrait, so I went down to one of my favourite woods to play.
I am still a little girl who loves dressing up at heart, so this was so much fun! And freezing! January is not the best time of year to be prancing around outside in a ball gown and no shoes, who would have thought hey? I was slightly worried as we were forecast rain, so I dragged my very patient Mum along with me to stand guard over my camera with an umbrella, but we managed to get the shot safely before the heavens opened. She also was very useful to have around, as I could give her my phone to hold rather than throwing it out of shot and into the mud :D
I have some fabulous (and quite probably mad) ideas for the next few, so keep an eye out for them!
Week Three - Ophelia
I did say some of my ideas were crazy! I have been wanting to create a portrait inspired by John Everett Millais' painting of Ophelia for a long time now. We have been having a lot of rain recently, so when I saw a likely stream on one of my walks I took a photo of it to use as the base. Then on the day I had planned to take the photo of myself in the water it snowed! No chance I was laying down in ice! So I set up a paddling pool in the kitchen, camera on a tripod, dressed myself up and got wet.
Let me know what you think!
Week Four - An Island
It is hard to find what I want to say about this image. I have started this post several times and deleted it, unsure of how I feel. But perhaps the photo can do my speaking for me and what you hear will depend on who you are and what you are feeling at the time you view it.
Lockdown continues here, stretching on like the rain and the floods, grey and empty. But winter will always roll into spring, so chin up guys, and let's chase what little blue sky we may see.
Week Five - The Fading Flower
I still had some of the flowers left over from my Ophelia photograph, although they are starting to die, so this week I thought it would be fun to incorporate them. I wanted to go for a darker, moodier, feeling while being inspired by Rembrandt and Vermeer. So this is what I ended up with, an area in my kitchen transformed into a painting, or the closest I can get it in a single day.
Week Six - Bedtime at the Gerbil House
When my sister got some baby gerbils I thought 'they will be fun to photograph', so I did, in my nieces dolls house! Photographing them was fun, but editing them all into one final image was less fun, I think I ended up with 25 layers to this image before I was done.
Don't worry, we didn't actually take the poor things outside, it is far too cold for that!
Week Seven - In hope of Spring
I was trying to create an image that could be a still from a film, the daydreaming girl in soft evening light, who is she thinking of and is there someone just out of shot? Providing you with enough of a story without telling you everything. I did have to use the timer on my camera for this one as regency dresses don't come with pockets, so I couldn't use my phone as a remote, I didn't want to throw it in the mud to get it out of shot and it was very muddy!
Fun side note, I am wearing welly boots :D and the back of my dress isn't done up as I didn't have someone with me to do up the buttons.
Week Eight - Two Souls
I am not sure I believe the saying that eyes are the window to the soul, but eyes are incredibly interesting! Here I photographed my mother and myself, isn't it funny how when you look at an image like this, you can't help looking for the similarities and differences.
Week Nine - A Negative Space
Now this is quite a personal image, I have been considering whether I should take it or not for a while. But we can use photography to tell stories and to raise awareness or open up conversations on certain topics.
This is what my periods are like at the moment. Laying on the bathroom floor for between 3 and 6 hours in agony. Regularly throwing up from the pain so there is no point taking pain killers as they don't stay down. Too scared to move as I will randomly faint, even just from kneeling up to be sick, and worried that I will get into trouble if I call into work to say that I can't come in. (Not so much at my current job as my manager is very understanding, but I was pulled up in a disciplinary at a previous job for having too many days off sick)
The doctor had prescribed me medicine that helps, but only if I take it before I get to this stage, which doesn't happen if I wake up in the middle of the night and barely make it to the bathroom before throwing up because I came on early, it also just masks the problem instead of curing it.
The problem here is that we have been taught as girls to accept whatever our bodies do as normal, to suffer in silence because nobody (men) needs to know about our pain. But this is not normal and I cannot be the only one suffering through the pain, washing my face and getting dressed, to go into work unable to think straight from the pain or because I have taken so many pain killers just to be able to stand up. All because we are expected to just carry on as if nothing was wrong.
I don't want to just hide the pain, I want to know why my body hates me, and I can't do that without more open conversations.
Week Ten - Dreaming of Spring
Something slightly more light hearted for you this week, a little dream of the spring blossoms that are just starting to flower.
Once again I am using my phone to control my camera, camera was on a tripod above me and phone ended up on the floor nearby. Obviously I have edited the tripod feet and my phone out as they didn't quite fit into the feel of the image :D
Lit with light from my living room window and flowers placed in my hair by my ever helpful mother.
Week Eleven - Inspired by Vermeer
This week I thought I would revisit Vermeer's paintings for inspiration, as I love the way he uses light from the windows to illuminate his subject. I also love the colour tones in his paintings and the way he quite often is depicting very ordinary moments.
So I set up in the spare bedroom as it gets the best light in the mornings and recreated his painting The Letter using things I have around the house.
Once again I am controlling the camera with an app on my phone, luckily this time I could just hide the phone behind the letter so didn't need to throw it out of sight!
Week Twelve - If you go down to the woods...
This week I was challenged to take a photograph using a slow shutter speed, so I decided to have a play with light painting. These are the same woods as I used in week two, although a lot less inviting when you are there alone in the middle of the night!
I don't have any fancy light painting equipment, I just set my camera up on a tripod and focused it on a certain spot (carefully counting how many steps away that spot was!). Then I used my phone to trigger the camera before going to my spot in the trees. I had a small torch that I had slipped inside an empty water bottle and waved that infront of me to draw the 'ghost' and then blinked on and off while walking around. Then I ran back to the camera and told it to stop. This particular photo was an exposure of 2 minutes!
Light painting is very fun, but I think I need a moonless night, as the moon was really bright behind the trees.
Week Thirteen - Creating a Splash
Just as last week needed a very long exposure, so this week I went to the other extreem with an incredibly quick shutter speed. Capturing a water fairy in just 1/1000th of a second! :D
Water thrown across my garden for the wings, milk thrown at myself for the dress, which is 'only' a collection of about 10 different shots all layered up in photoshop. And lastly a lovely little woodland pool as the perfect setting for a fairy princess to dance in the sunlight.
Week Fourteen - Trapped inside waiting...
Over lockdown I, like many, have taken to gardening. I have planted what seeds I could indoors and am now just waiting for it to be safe to plant them out. We are getting lots of nice sunny days but it still goes below freezing overnight, so my seedlings are patiently waiting until they can grow outside. While I am patiently waiting for when I can be with my friends again.
Week Fifteen - A Sliver of Light
This week was the first week I could photograph clients after lockdown had eased, yay! I had just finished a newborn photoshoot and decided to use the studio for this weeks photograph while I had it set up. So I quickly got changed and picked a couple of flowers from my garden. I had thought to light these brightly so that they were all light and hopeful (the backdrop is actually white!) but got distracted by the way the sunlight was filtering through from the front door in the hallway. It produced a much more dramatic light which I found more fitting.
Week Sixteen - In Nature
This week I went chasing the last light of a sunset, and just for fun, wore one of the dresses I have available for my clients to wear in their maternity photoshoots. I was half expecting a wolf to appear as I walked through the woods! :D
Week Seventeen - Fabric
So for this week I was given the task to incorporate some fabric and after a quick google search for some inspiration I decided to attempt creating a heart with silk. This image looks nothing like the photo I took inspiration from! Throwing silk and photographing it at the same time is hard! Half of the photos I took have it landing on my head, or I missed the timing and it has already fallen to the floor. Nevertheless I persisted, and with a little photoshop magic, I have created a cute self portrait.
Week Eighteen - No Inspiration!
This week I had no inspiration at all, also I was busy, so I ran out of time. Which meant that on Sunday morning I had to just quickly take a walk and grab a basic portrait.
Although it is beautiful and green, all the plants are growing fast, maybe I will come back here in a month or so as the plants will probably be as tall as me by then!
Week Nineteen - Something Red
This week I got out the dress from week sixteen, but gave it a spin in the studio. (Literally I tried spinning, but this dress has so much fabric that didn't go well!) So I decided to go for something a bit more myserious and this is what I got.
Week Twenty - Golden Goddess
Oh this one was fun! Someone suggested I do a portrait using Rembrandt lighting (this just about qualifies, but very softly) and I had this crown of stars I wanted to use, so what else is there to do but become a Goddess?!
I made the dress from a length of silk chiffon that I have on hand for maternity photo shoots and that is my real halo, honest.
Week Twenty-one - Nature Bathing
Oh my, it is so nice to be able to get out and get lost in nature sometimes. It helps clear and soothe my mind, so I can shake off any stress or worries I may have. This beautiful Rhododendrum is at Harcourt Arboretum near Oxford, it has the most perfect branch for sitting on, so you can soak in the beauty around you, or read a good book.
Week Twenty-two - Just chilling
So this week I had a really grand idea, but you know how it is, the house needed tidying, our meadow of a lawn needed cutting and my sister asked me to take her little one for a day, all while going to work. When I said I had no time for this weeks photo someone suggested I should just let it go, missing a week wouldn't be that bad would it?
But inspiration struck for a quicker shoot, well, it was quicker until I realised I had to hand draw the snowflake and mountains!
(And yes, I actually own an Elsa dress! :D )
Week Twenty-three - Sweet Daydreams
A somewhat decrepit shepherds hut that is being swallowed by nature, seemed like the perfect location for a photoshoot this week.
Week Twenty-Four - Macro
This week I was given the task of using macro photography, so I/my camera got up close and personal with one of the flowers from the chives growing in my garden (did you know the flowers are edible too?). They generally look like little pompoms, it isn't until you get really close that you see it is actually lots of little flower heads.
Week Twenty-Five - Just Breathe
Life can get very busy, we are always finding things to fill our time, and this can lead to a lot of stress and worry. So it is important to take time out to stop and breathe, even better if you take yourself out into a quiet spot of nature, as this gives your mind a chance to re-set. Also helps somewhat if it is a nice golden summer evening like this one was!
Week Twenty-Six - Black and white
This week I found the most beautiful area full of wild flowers, however the theme I was given was black and white, so you will just have to imagine the blue cornflowers in my hair! (In case you are wondering where I am getting the themes for each week, I found a wonderful website called 52frames.com and I am following along with their themes.)
I know I could have touched up the bags under my eyes, but they are real life. It is time we stopped completely with unrealistic images of airbrushed plastic looking models and fall in love with our perfect imperfections.
Week Twenty-Seven - Paper boats and Pirates!
Outdoor play and endless imagination pretty much sums up a goodly portion of my childhood. So when I was looking after one of my nephews on a hot summers day I figured some good old paper boats would be the perfect excuse for a trip down to the stream. Although it was hot and sunny the water was freezing cold, our feet went numb pretty quick! So we went and ate cake.
Tip: use waxed paper next time so that they don't sink after just two short trips!
Week Twenty-Eight - Product Photography
When given the theme product photography, I did struggle for a while to come up with an idea as to how to make it a self portrait. Then I had a most grand and marvellous idea, I was in preperation for it when my brother messaged to say he would be dropping off his little ones for me to look after as he had an emergency. So I just had to grab a shot while taking out these fun old style curlers. This picture certainly makes me giggle :)
Week Twenty-Nine - Singing in the rain
This week wasn't to photograph a song, rather it was 'distortion' - shooting through something or in such a way as to distort the image. Well, I had a plastic sandwich bag over my camera lens to stop it getting wet, I was inside the umbrella and then there was the 'rain' (actually my mum spraying a hose at me) so I guess there are three things that could be distorting the portrait of me. And I had fun!
Week Thirty - Before the Party
This week was completely manic, as I was away on a trip with a youth group I am a mentor with. Non stop activities and games mixed with lots of sugar! So I had to make do and grab a shot in the quiet few minutes while everyone was getting changed, after some rather wet and muddy activities, ready for the final evening party.
Week Thirty-One - Line from a song
This week we were given the task to create an image that represents a line from a song. I found it terribly hard to pick just one line, as I love so many songs!
I was driving along listening to a selection of my favourite songs, which happen to be from musicals, when I heard the lyric 'Today, she is half forgotten' and I saw this image in my head of a woman blowing away into dust. So I made it!
Week Thirty-Two - Starlight and I
So this week was the perseid metior shower and unsurprisingly the theme was night time photography. Unfortunately for me it was cloudy for almost the entire week! But on the sunday night the clouds thinned out and I wandered down to the river with a torch and my umbrella. Several hours and hundreds of photos later I had this.
Week Thirty-Three - Texture
Oh this one was fun! As soon as I saw the theme for this week I thought of this, as I have seen other photographers do shoots with models covered in clay. I ordered a bag of clay powder used to make face masks, then on the morning went out and picked a bunch of flower weeds. I set up the backdrop and light in the kitchen and did a few test shots to make sure all of the settings were correct. Then I got my mum to help put the clay on me. Even though I had bought 1kg, that actually isn't very much! We barely had enough!
I then had to stay still and wait for it to dry and start cracking before taking the photo.
Week Thirty-Four - Nostalgia
Do you remember when you were younger and had the time to spend the whole day laying outside in the sun reading a good book? mmmm Days like that are few and far between now!
I am laying on a blanket made by my very talented mother, my camera is attached to a tripod that I have tied to a branch of the plum tree in our garden, and I am reading one of my most favourite books. :D
Week Thirty-Five - In My Garden
As we are winding down after summer, taking advantage of the sunny days for they are sure to fade away, I thought I would take a photo in my garden. Together with the plants I have successfully not killed off! The leaves creeping along the bottom are from the pumpkin plant, which I had to cut off several arms, as it just stretches out and takes over the whole place!
Week Thirty-Six - My Siblings...
... Well some of them, kind of. This is the gallery wall in my mums hallway, I did find it amusing that if I stood just so then the edge of the mirror gave me a crown/halo.
Week Thirty-Seven - Chiaroscuro
The transition of light to shadow. I transformed the living room into a studio (I actually do that a lot!) and went for a relatively straightforward portrait this week.
Lighting something to acheive a strong transition from light to dark can be quite harsh, so I used styling and posing to bring some softness back into this portrait.
Week Thirty-Eight - Good Morning Fish
Part of my daily routine is feeding my fish. This particular one is called King Louis and is very sociable, or maybe just hungry.... as he will swim up to greet me when I turn the lights on.
Week Thirty-Nine - Dreamscape
It is October, and for very many years I have read (and re-read) this series of books, as each one was released. So when the theme was given to create a dreamscape (or nightmare...) I instantly knew I wanted to incorporate this character as she is awesome!
It was a little bit tricky, luckily I had a photo of the moon from before when I was testing out a long lens.
(If you haven't yet read this series, go find The Assassins Blade by S.J.Maas)
Week Forty - A Portrait in White
Would you believe me if I said that this was a quickish shot done in the kitchen? Quickish because I had to set up two lights and I normally make do with one for simplicity sake. But the theme was to produce a high key image, one that looks and feels bright and pure. I think I just about managed it.
Week Forty-One - Low Key
Going for opposites, last week was all about lighting up the whole image, this week about producing something dark and moody. I had a most marvelous idea, but that failed most spectacularly, so I was left with this quick grab shot as time was running out!
Week Forty-Two - Wall
Funny story, this week the theme was to photograph a wall, even better one with an arch, so I had planned to visit a local ruined castle. But is was closed... and there I was, dress ready, wandering around in search fo r a suitable wall to use as a backdrop before the sun set. Luckily I found this walled off doorway and managed to set up my camera and wade through the stinging nettles to quickly take a photo as the day faded to dusk.
Week Forty-Three - Studio Magic
The theme was actually to take your photo using a phone, which I have done, but I had recently done a course on how to create these magical images in the studio that look like they were taken outside. So I did my best to create a little bit of that magic this week. I know I have a little bit of practice to do but it is not too shabby for a first try.
Week Forty-Four - What do you Fear?
For me, possibly not surprisingly for being a photographer, I fear losing my sight. Mostly because I love to read, yes I know I could listen to audio books, but there is something quite wonderful about the experience of reading a proper book.
Week Forty-Five - Just The Way You Are
No fancy studio lights or backgrounds. No special styling or make-up. No editing.
Just me, exactly as I am.
Week Forty-Six - Fill The Frame
These autumn leaves, such beautiful colours, but somewhat annoying :D because they fall into the garden from over the fence and drown my plants. If I am not quick to rake them up (most years I am not) then they cover up the grass and kill it off... maybe I should be better at that.
Week Forty-Seven - Inspired by Sujata Setia
Sujata, from But Natural Photography, has such a magical way of using light in her images. They evoke such warmth and are utterly beautiful. When we were asked to take this weeks photo using another photographer as inspiration I chose her. Not having any ducklings, kittens or lambs on hand, nor access to a rustic cottage or barn, I had to make do with a photo of myself in the ferns in the woods. I would absolutely love to photograph some grandparents with their grandbabies like she does.
Week Forty-Eight - The Pepper...
A most common object.
I was giggling to myself as I came up with this idea, and didn't stop even as I executed it. (At least I find me funny!) We were challenged to photograph a common object, now it would be somewhat rude to suggest that I am a common object, so how to manage a self portrait while staying within the theme?
I enjoy looking at paintings, especially older ones, and the women are often holding something; flowers, a book, etc. So I decided I would create a 'painterly portrait', but I didn't want to be holding something obvious that would fit, it was going to be a potato but I only had baby ones and they kind of blended in with the colour scheme.
And so we ended up with the pepper.
Week Forty-Nine - Strong in black and white
Week Fifty - In The Middle...
...Of the woods. 'Tis the week before Christmas and all through the town mist is misting... So off to the woods I went, santa hat on, and fully intentioned to do a serious, beautiful posed photo. But this one was too fun not to share.
Where does the path go? Who knows...
Week Fifty-One - A Ghost of Christmas Past
Oh I do come up with some crazy ideas! On Christmas morning, while opening my gifts, I looked at the wrapping paper and thought "I could make a dress with this, that would make a good photo". So (with a lot of help from my mother, including a few pin stabbings...) I/she made this Elizabethanish dress.
I had to set up the lights and get all the settings correct ahead of time, because once those sleeves went on I couldn't really move. I included the table cloth and decorations from around the candles from our Christmas dinner. The background room is from a manor house I visited earlier in the year and I finally got to composite into an image, with a little bit of snow thrown in for fun.
Week Fifty-Two - The Final Portrait!
I cannot believe I have managed to stay on track and take a self portrait every week this whole year! Especially during busy times at work or the christmas holidays.
But here we are, the final portrait, a mosaic of all the previous images, as we close out the year.
Will I do it again next year....