Creative portrait series – exploring Conwy

The signs were good from the start. It’s always an indication of something positive when an individual takes their fledgling career seriously enough to care about their public image. I’m not shallow enough to join the crowd of people who believe that image is ‘everything’, but it certainly does carry a lot of weight toward how you (or your business) is perceived. I’m always impressed when somebody considers this from the outset rather than 5 years down the line.

Catherine McNamara emailed me after coming across my photography online. She asked if we could chat about shooting a series of contemporary editorial portraits and headshots to help promote her work. So, never being one to turn down a visit to a coffee shop, I obliged.

Pre-portrait ‘getting to know you’ chat

The pre-portrait ‘getting to know you’ chat is always a huge priority for me. Before choosing to say “yes” to a particular project it’s important that I understand your motivations, aspirations and expectations.

Catherine choosing books from a shelf in an old bookshop

The Old Bookshop – editorial portrait of Catherine McNamara in the characterful Lewis Bookshop, Llandudno

I ask myself these questions on every occasion:

  1. Can I technically fulfill the brief of the project? I know my strengths and my weaknesses. I’ve had a lot of success photographing people – I love that whole dynamic of meeting and working with someone new, especially in differing environments. But if you ask me to shoot 5000 electrical components for an industry catalogue I’ll be asleep before lunchtime…
  2. Is communication between myself and my new aquaintance easy & clear? Crossed wires happen within even the best of relationships. However, if I find myself permanently confused with the conversation – or if what I’m saying clearly isn’t landing – it’ll be much better if we find different people to work with and avoid a lot of frustration all round. Like it or not, personality plays a big part in how well a photo project turns out, and how enjoyable the process is.
  3. Do I actually want to take this work on, or would another photographer be better suited? Over the years I’ve learned that if the proposed shoot is not something I’m personally engaged with then I risk not doing my best work. In that case I’d much rather pass you on to someone else than just take the money and get the job out of the way as quickly as possible (like I’ve known some photographers do). That’s not my style.

So, that’s the kind of chat I had with Catherine, and I made my mind up very quickly that her ideas all sounded ‘up my street’.

Making use of window light in Lewis Bookshop, Llandudno to create a natural portrait.

Making use of window light in Lewis Bookshop, Llandudno to create an atmospheric natural portrait.

The hyper creative personality

When I asked Catherine what she did and what the photos were for I discovered that, like me, she was something of a hyper creative personality. This becomes quite clear if you visit her blog, which offers personal reflections on her creative aspirations as a writer, actor, director, singer & designer! To some photographers that might seem a bit overwhelming and broad in scope, but not me. I often have the same effect on others when I tell them I’m a professional photographer, singer-songwriter, music producer & writer! Multi-disciplined creativity is what keeps me fresh. My previous design agency career sitting behind a desk managing a creative team was killing me. I need variation. So, I totally ‘got’ Catherine’s need for multiple overlapping focuses. This is what made the project so appealing.

Location, light & losing your locks

We decided that the images had to have a large degree of variation. Not multiple personalities, but multiple facets of the same personality. So, we decided to shoot over multiple days and in different places. This made different looks easier to achieve and kept us fresh. Catherine even changed her hair part way through – shaving half of it off! I could be wrong, but I think the fact I’m somewhat follicly challenged was part of the inspiration for this fashionable move…

Headshot of actor & writer Catherine McNamara

Studio headshot for writer & actor Catherine McNamara

The light is always different on different days, too. The shots just feel different because the atmosphere isn’t the same – the whole mood and vibe changes. So, working on different days helped us that way, too.

Different places, different approaches – exploring Llandudno, Llanfairfechan & Old Colwyn

We even chose different approaches. We started off just ‘winging it’ – grabbing a camera, and wandering around the streets of Llandudno looking for somewhere interesting and inspiring. Next we negotiated with a couple of local business owners to borrow their premises for a couple of hours and planned looks and scenes with more intention. We visited Lewis Bookshop in Madoc Street, Llandudno and The Beach Pavilion Cafe in Llanfairfechan.

Montage of four location portraits in Llandudno, Conwy, North Wales

Location portrait shots from our wanderings around Llandudno

Lastly we hired studio space at Laundry Studios in Old Colwyn and shot some headshots and a series of fashion mag style portraits.

I always enjoy working with other creative personalities. The problem isn’t coming up with ideas, it’s more about knowing exactly which ones to run with and then focusing those ideas into being powerful final images that suit the intended purpose.

I think we did ok.