The Importance of Taking a Stand

The other day I found myself in an awkward position. I was witness to a group of people reacting to a photo of an unsuspecting person online. They were commenting on how this person looked and I was uncomfortable with it. It was out of context for the forum it had been posted in and I’m never happy when there’s a lot of focus on how someone looks. I firmly believe everyone deserves respect and shouldn’t be objectified.

It started off quite mildly in comparison to how many recent conversations of objectification of people in the media have been, especially those relating to a certain presidential candidate. So at first, I was uncomfortable, but decided not to say anything. Then it got worse, with a photo posted of the unsuspecting person in their swimsuit and more responses about how “hot” they were, how they (the people commenting) were single & interested and lots of tagging other people to come have a look.

Surprisingly, the person being treated this way was a man and the majority of people commenting were female.

I’m fully aware that the #notallmen and “men get objectified too” cries from privileged males is a form of deflection and denial when women speak up about how they are treated. Women are sexualised from an early age, treated like objects and every woman has been verbally or physically abused by a man in her lifetime. It’s absolutely not ok and no amount of shouts of “us too” makes up for how women are treated. It’s a horrible problem with how society views and demeans women and it has to stop.

But I am also uncomfortable with women acting as though it’s somehow permissible to treat men this way too. I think equality means everyone deserves respect and women behaving in this manner damages the movement towards a society where people treat each other better.

So I spoke up. And it went like this…

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I was appalled. The replies from the women were the same kinds of things you hear from men to justify their absurd behaviour. They had taken a photo without consent, posted it for comment without the man’s knowledge and defended themselves by saying it was a compliment. They even went as far as to call me, and the other people who had politely voiced our concern, “boring”. I couldn’t believe it. I had expected better.

Interestingly, the original photo poster (in grey) was at least aware her first reply (where she called me “boring”) was more than a bit inappropriate. It actually read like this:

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“If he didn’t want his photo taken by a drooling woman (or many), he should have worn a panda suit.”

Just take a moment and switch the pronouns:

“If she didn’t want her photo taken by a drooling man (or many), she should have worn a panda suit.”

Sound familiar? Slut shaming and victim blaming are the phrases that come to mind.  For me, it’s not ok to treat anyone this way and we need to speak up more about it. Women are far more often the target of this kind of abuse but that doesn’t make it OK to treat men this way either. If we behave that way it somehow makes it acceptable for others to. We need to step up and ask for better.

It can feel lonely when you take a stand. I don’t like conflict and tend to avoid it but when things are so obviously wrong, I recognise the need to use my voice. Our voices have power. So do our actions. We make decisions every day about how we want to behave, what we will stay silent about and what we will allow to continue.

When I started my photography journey I was painfully aware of how easy it is to turn people in to objects and the pressure to make people “look good”was enormous. Unattainable beauty standards have shaped what the majority of people find attractive and we’re taught to look for certain physical traits from an early age. As photographers we’re asked to edit people to make them thinner, smooth their skin and get rid of flaws, add cleavage, add toned muscles and even make them taller.

This was something that made me uncomfortable about this industry. Please don’t misunderstand me, I love photography but I think we have a responsibility to help change the way people see beauty and to move away from the idea that there is one standard form of beauty or attractiveness to aspire to.

My #RealGirlsRealBeauty project is something I started last year with this very aim. To encourage people to recognise that their own beauty lies in something much more important than physical appearance, but in who they are and what they love and makes them happy.



Real Girls, Real Beauty Press WR

Even though taking a stand can be lonely at times, I will keep doing it, whether it means speaking up when something I disagree with is happening, asking questions that people sometimes find difficult or reaching people through my mission-driven photography projects.

And as for being “boring”? My good friend Katy recently reminded me that “Standing up against injustice is never boring.”

Why I Love This Shot – Real Beauty

Fourth in my “Why I Love This Shot” series is one from my first Real Girls, Real Beauty project shoots. Lovely Hannah was my first ever model for this project and it’s a been an exciting journey since then with another 6 models photographed (two #RealGirls and four #RealWomen), two more #RealGirls due to have their shoots late next month and at least another five #RealWomen preparing to schedule theirs.

The #RealGirlsRealBeauty project is really important to me. Empowering girls and women to see their beauty in who they are and not just what they look like is vital. Especially in this industry where we’re taught to pose people to “look better” and we’re expected to edit out “flaws”. Recently, the project has evolved and I’m excited to update you all on the changes very soon.

I have many shots that I love from this particular shoot. Partly because I could see Hannah becoming more and more comfortable with the camera, me and most importantly, herself. We did a range of poses, with her favourite book, her teddy that she’s had all her life, her violin and her piano – all things she loves about herself and her life. I could pick a number to share with you but I chose this one. I chose it because it’s a moment when we were being silly and showing off her wonderful sense of humour. A moment where she relaxed completely and giggled. Showing her #RealBeauty with a smile and plenty of sparkle.

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#RealGirlsRealBeauty in the Press

Well, in an exciting start to 2016, I received an email from Heather Greenaway at the Sunday Mail late in the day on Monday last week. She’d been visiting my website and my #RealGirlsRealBeauty project and wanted to know it would be possible to run a feature on it.

Naturally I said yes.

Some lovely emails, phone conversations and late messages to the girls and Heather resulted in this piece in Sunday’s paper.

What a great start to the New Year!  I can’t wait for the shoots I’ve got lined up and to meet my next #RealBeauties!

Book your session and be part of the project!xx

Real Girls, Real Beauty Press WR

Real Girls, Real Beauty: A new photography project

A few years ago I was on the subway in Glasgow and spotted a young teenager on her way to school.  She must have been about 14 but looked years older.  Full face of make-up, hair straightened with extensions in, false eyelashes and perfect nails.  This seems to be the norm but that was the first time I’d really thought about how much effort had gone in to getting ready for school.

A few months ago I overheard a conversation where a girl, aged 13, was planning her next eyebrow wax appointment.  This seemingly simple task had been complicated with a swimming block at school PE.  You can’t go in chlorine the day after a wax… but fear not, a solution was at hand.  Her appointment would time perfectly with a party in three week’s time.  She was getting her hair done so her mum was writing a note to excuse her from class.  She wouldn’t be swimming the next day anyway.  Problem solved.

How on Earth did this happen?  Why at 13 years old is it more important to have your hair done than to learn to swim?  When did this become acceptable to parents?   I often think that there’s no way I would survive school now.  Not with that kind of pressure to look good every morning. I barely started wearing make-up in secondary and didn’t have straighteners.  As for hair extensions?  They’re for weddings and Christmas party nights… no?

At the Grand Canyon with my other half

Selfies are so much more than showing off your holiday destination.

And then there are selfies. And not selfies as I think of them.  Not “look where we are, aren’t you jealous” holiday snap selfies.  Children, girls especially, at 10 years old (and younger) feeling the pressure to spend their time putting on make-up and taking pouting pictures of themselves in attempt to get as many social media likes as they can. Some are even so instasavvy that they know what time of day is best for posting said photos to get the biggest response.

The peer pressure is enormous. And it seems to be amplifying the feelings of self-hatred and low self-esteem in children and teenagers.  From a very young age they are aware of body image and body shaming to a degree that none of us had to think about.  The images we had on TV and in magazines were bad enough, they have the constant barrage of the internet and all the joys that social media brings with very little time to switch off and get away from it all.

2015-05-01-010-Mei-Photography-Hannah-Paton-Real-Beauty-Portraits WRLast month, I was given the opportunity to work with a family member who, at 12 years old, often feels the pressure to take selfies like the ones mentioned earlier. We were keen to show her a different way to see beauty and find the beauty within herself so we planned a shoot that involved her talents and strengths. She’s funny, intelligent, caring, thoughtful and her wonderfully curious mind means she asks a lot of great questions. She’s also a talented musician, playing both violin and piano and working towards her exams.

We had a great afternoon. She was asked to wear something simple and comfortable and to have her favourite items ready as props.  Things that were important to her like her instruments, favourite books and childhood toy. We did some posed shots and some natural ones, candid captures of her enjoying her hobbies and interests. I showed her some images where the subjects weren’t trying to look beautiful but simply were beautiful because they were happy and doing the things they loved.

Blog Collage 1During the shoot we spoke a little about what she thought about the pressure and how it made her feel unsure of herself. About how she saw being different as both a good and a bad thing. About how she felt like boys were far more confident than any of the girls she knew.

It’s so important for us to think carefully about the messages and lessons we are teaching young people.  Girls in particular struggle with self image and we often forget that by telling them they’re pretty and beautiful before telling them they’re clever or hard working or kind that we’re reinforcing the idea that the former are more important than the latter.  Add to that things like the “thigh gap challenge” or the “bellybutton challenge” taking over social media, both designed to shame people in to starving themselves in attempt to be thinner and somehow more socially acceptable, and you’ve got a recipe for even more generations of girls who see their self-worth in what they look like instead of who they are.  And it seems to be starting at a much younger age.Blog Collage 2

I’ve been thinking about this for a long time and as a photographer, I’m keenly aware of how people tend to look for their flaws and seek out what’s wrong with any photograph they are in. It’s never sat well with me.  I’ve felt uncomfortable with the concept of dictating what is beautiful and being asked to pose people accordingly or edit out apparent imperfections.  Of course, it’s my job to make people feel beautiful but instead of using makeovers and photoshop, I find myself looking for ways to make my clients feel more comfortable and happy so they would feel more confident with their natural shots.

And so the Real Girls, Real Beauty project has been born.  It’s in an embryonic stage at the moment but I’m working with girls and women to help them see the real beauty in themselves and to celebrate it.  Showing that a photograph which captures their loves, strengths and talents is more beautiful than any photograph purely based on poses and make-up.  That we should encourage people, both women and men to have more confidence in who they are instead of purely what they look like.

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Watch this space for more exciting updates as I meet and photograph the wonderful people involved in the project.


Newborn Photography: The Dinwoodie Family

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At the start of May I had the incredible privilege of taking some lifestyle portraits for adorable newborn Callum and his lovely parents, Lynsey & Iain.  Since it was my first official newborn session, I was a little nervous but I needn’t have worried.  I could not have been luckier. Callum was a wee star and slept peacefully through the majority of the day before waking a little towards the end for some beautiful shots to camera.  It became clear early on in that he gets his talent in front of the lens from his parents.  Both were great, adding in ideas that they had in mind, finding gorgeous poses naturally and following direction easily. The light was great and the colours everyone dressed in just worked beautifully. Here are some of my favourite shots… x


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What’s Wrong with this Picture?

I was at a photo shoot the other week. Except this time I was on the other side of the lens.  I did it for two reasons.  To learn how another photographer directs their subject but more importantly to learn how it feels to be the subject.  It’s an important feeling to get used to and even just one shoot has helped me think more carefully about how to instill confidence in my clients.  A photo shoot can be a daunting thing.

For many though, the really daunting part is seeing the results.  We become hyper-critical and search each image for flaws and problems.  Things we don’t like and wish weren’t on the screen in front of us. Our insecurities displayed in high definition. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taken a photo and thought it beautifully captured the person in a fun and natural moment to find that they look at it and see a “double chin”, “bad skin”, “bags under their eyes”, “a crooked smile”, “a dimple that’s too deep”, “frizzy hair”, “fat rolls”, “chubby cheeks”, “a squint”, “a big nose”… it seems there is an endless list of flaws to find in a photo of ourselves. We are trained to look for and beat ourselves up about things we perceive as imperfections.

Image by Premier Photography

Image by Premier Photography

And I found myself doing it.  Analysing all the photos.  Quickly dismissing ones where I didn’t like my smile, my stomach, my hair.  Instantly looking for flaws and images where I could see things that I worry about every day.

As photographers, we’re taught to shoot from certain angles to make people look thinner or taller.  Shown how to make sure people don’t have double chins,  to make men look dominant and “masculine” and women look submissive and “feminine”.   We’re asked to erase “flaws” and smooth skin.  Make people look skinnier in post processing and get rid of wayward hairs.

Ten months in to my photography career and I’m finding that this doesn’t sit right with me. I can’t help but think about our bigger issue with the concept of “beauty” and what we’ll accept as attractive.  The photo above isn’t really me.  It is me with an hour’s worth of hair and make-up and some clever editing.  It looks good.  The photographer has done an excellent job and it’s fun to transform in to a magazine cover girl version of myself.  But it’s not me.  And images on magazines push young people to believing that this is beauty.  Beauty is so much more than a superficial image.  It’s your talents and thoughts, your hopes and dreams. It’s who you are and how you feel about yourself.

If I’m honest, I prefer this shot from a family portrait taken over a decade ago.

Image by Finelines Photography

Image by Finelines Photography

Yes, I’ve got my hair straightened and they’ve applied a sepia filter but that’s not why I love it.  I love this shot because it captures the moment when the photographer was trying to convince us to do “serious faces” and I failed.  As soon as you ask me to keep a straight face I’ll do the opposite.  I have done since I was a small child and I still laugh today. It’s a blessing and a curse. In this photo my mouth is so wide I look like I’m trying to eat my sister.  My eyes are almost closed and my hair is out of place.  But it’s natural.  It tells a story.  It’s me.

We need to change what we see when we look at photos of ourselves.  Change what we think.  Instead of asking “What’s wrong with this picture?” we should try asking “what’s right?”.  Life can be pretty tough when someone is being mean to you all the time.  Especially if that someone is you.