If you dread your photo shoot, you are not alone.

worryPeople often ask me if I find corporate head shots boring. The answer is, absolutely not. With social media, and the common need for that one professional shot, everyone needs a photo of themselves for something. But not everyone is excited about having it taken.  I understand my subjects’ nervousness, and appreciate why they have it. What I love most about my work is putting people at ease, creating a relaxing, pleasant experience for them out of something they may have been dreading, and most of all, showing them the results. Watching the relief and joy come through in their expressions makes my day.  Today, I would like to share some portraits I made in the last couple of months, as well as some things my subjects had to say.

Mag Gardner is modest and unpretentious. And a super sweet lady. She called me to book and I had to stifle a giggle as I listened to her talk herself into making the appointment. Mag says in her own words: “Yes. I definitely felt apprehensive. Petrified is a better word! You made me feel so very comfortable — I was ready for the dentist experience and instead I got a salon experience.”. Here are two great shots from our session. You are most welcome, Mag! It was an absolute pleasure.


Mag Gardner

Sue Moore is a confident professional, with an immediately trust-inducing way about her. I could chat with her forever! She called me one afternoon to inquire about a session, and asked a lot of questions. She was very concerned about her nervousness interfering with our achieving a professional, yet relaxed portrait, suitable for a therapist’s image. She literally talked herself into an appointment that week, saying “Come on Sue. Just get this over with.” I think  we did just fine. Thank you Sue, for being such a lively subject!


Sue Moore

Amber Wilcox came  to my studio for her head shot, and she was such a pleasure to work with. So warm, friendly and open. At the same time, she was very self conscious about “not being photogenic” (I hear that all the time) and generally nervous about the whole process. I was determined to capture her wonderful entergy and warm personality in spite of her apprehesion. In the end, we got great stuff! In Amber’s own words: “From the moment we met, I knew I had found the right photographer. You are knowledgeable and professional, yet there is a warmth in our communication that allowed me to relax. I was so nervous, and the pictures were amazing! ” I loved working with you Amber!


Amber Wilcox

So, if you are one of these people who is procrastinating because you are nervous… Let’s just do it! I promise you are in good hands.


Simple, beautiful, real.

Helen lives in an assisted living retirement community where she is well taken care of. Her son Doug called me to book a session in celebration of her 100th birthday. What an honour to make this portrait for her and her family. Her son’s original idea was to take his mother out for the afternoon, so I could photograph her in the park or in front of their original family home, which is now occupied by new owners. He also mentioned that she tires easily and that her eyes are very sensitive to bright light and camera flash.

Sometimes my clients come to me with well intentioned ideas about how a photo shoot should happen, and the plan often involves a scenic outdoor location like a park, garden or waterfall.  In most cases I find that keeping it simple is better because a portrait is about the person, not the background. Keeping my subjects as comfortable as possible in every case makes for a great shoot, and images that reflect their true characters.  In Helen’s case, as I explained to her son Doug, this is of particular concern because she is fragile. Instead of taking our session outdoors or setting up studio lighting, I came to her home with only my camera and a selection of lenses. I knew the best thing I could do was to keep her as comfortable as possible, and to use nothing but the existing light and my own creative eye. These three photos were taken in the dining room as Helen was relaxing with friends after lunch. The light was great and I was able to capture some candid expressions. Afterwards, we headed up to Helen’s apartment, where we placed Helen in a comfortable chair by the window in her bedroom. The single image below is portrait that came of it. Thank you, Doug and Helen for a wonderful experience.



Helen in her home holding a portrait of her late husband


Beautiful, delicate things

Tonilee designs custom bras for women who have issues finding standard bras that fit. Often her clients are larger breasted women, and the standard bras available for them are heavy, thick and… lets face it… downright unsexy! To the contrary, Tonilee’s designs are beautiful, decorative and quite delicate, and this is what she aimed to reflect through the photos we would make. In our phone consultation, we decided that the best way to reflect the quality of her work was to photograph the tools and materials rather than just the finished bras. I had quite a clear idea of what I wanted the photos to reflect, but I prefer to keep my creative vision strong, and my plan loose, especially when I am working with another artist to reflect their vision through my own.

So we booked a date, and Tonilee arrived at my studio with piles of lovely things. I was so excited! Here are three of the images I shot.  I used natural window light on white paper, and a lot of short focus to emphasize depth and texture of  so many simple and very beautiful objects.


Here is what Tonilee had to say about her experience:

I was so stressed before this shoot!

I had no plan.

I felt so disorganized coming to Melanie with a pile of bras in various stages of construction, some rolls of lace, and odd pieces of hardware and drafting tools off my table. The end result amazes me, and what a relief!  The photos look so well thought out.  I think this is so funny, because Melanie just started shooting as I placed a bunch of stuff on the table.  No arranging, no fussing.  It went so quickly.  I was so nervous when I arrived at the studio but once we got started, every minute was more and more exciting as Melanie showed me sneak peaks on her camera display.  I was delighted… thrilled actually. And the photos are exactly what I’d envisioned, without even having to explain what I had in mind.  She captured the exact essence of what my business is all about, and what makes it unique.  I can’t wait to do another shoot!


Portrait of Tonilee by Melanie Gillis

Tonilee is the designer and owner of Bliss Bras in Hamilton.

You can view her current web site here, and stay tuned to see more of our  images posted there.

Tonilee and I will be getting together again soon to shoot her awesome underthings on real women.

I can’t wait!

Feeling Naked.

As a true portrait photographer, I must successfully bring out something real in my subjects. There is far more to this than an understanding of lighting, camera angles and settings. A big part of it is simply this: never forget what it is like to have the camera pointed at you. Lindsay Winchester, a photography student at Humber, is completing a placement with me as part of her course work, and one of her assignments is to make a portrait of the photographer supervising her placement. What a brilliant project – such an interesting play on power and vulnerability.

We did two set ups, and this first shot is from the beginning of our session. What I see in this photo, (and to me what makes this such a great assignment) is vulnerability. Lindsay and I both felt it in very different ways. As a 20 year old college student, she was self-concious shooting an experienced photographer. I was used to directing her, and with the roles reversed, I was restless and nervous, so my expressions and body language were somewhat stagnant and guarded. Lindsay asked me what poses I normally use to bring out people’s personalities. I had to think about this for a moment as I pictured myself in a session.

Here is what I told her.

I do not use poses. I use the natural body language of my subjects, and I use conversation. In order to engage and relax a person enough to be herself, you must help her forget the camera is there between the two of you. This is the greatest challenge.

As Lindsay continued to shoot and to give me smiles and positive feedback, I was able to relax and trust her. This next image is our favourite shot from the session. I like the light and her use of negative space. And most of all, I like the nuance she captured in my expression. It is always interesting for me to look at a photograph of myself taken by another photographer, because I can always see in it my reaction to that moment.  Here I see the sensitivity and vulnerability I must never forget in my own subjects, and the connection they eventually feel with me as they start to relax. Thank you Lindsay for a great experience and for this sensitive portrait.

Portrait #2 of Melanie Gillis by Lindsay Winchester

Introverts are great subjects too!



This week I did a literary portrait for Gail Gallant. Gail arrived at my studio on Wednesday feeling a little flustered and nervous about the session.  I could tell she was shy, guarded, and stressed about having her photo taken. We ended up having a great time though. She is a beautiful, expressive subject. She just needed casual upbeat conversation to feel more relaxed so she could forget about the camera on her and focus on our interactions.To me, the most important thing about making a good portrait is reading my subjects’ moods and personalities, and working with what they bring me.  Here is what Gail had to say about her experience:

“I’ve never liked having my picture taken. I prefer to be behind the camera, and being a fiction writer who spends a lot of time inside her own head, I tend to shy away from that sort of attention. When my literary agent told me I had to do this, it brought out my worst fears. I was worried the photo would capture something negative, that I would look tired or stressed or aging or self-conscious or timid or fake. I booked the session with Melanie, because something about her work caught my eye. During the session, she made me forget all about what I didn’t want to look like, or thought I should try to look like. Instead, she got me to trust in myself, with no second-guessing, and that is a quite a gift!”

~~ Gail Gallant

This portrait by Melanie Gillis was created to accompany Gail Gallant’s latest book, “Apparition”, scheduled for publication this coming September.

Portraits on the Beach in January – how sweet!

We are just back from Tamarindo, Costa Rica where we spent a luxurious week with fantastic people and did an amazing wedding. I don’t normally shoot weddings, but this was exceptional. Twenty fun people barefoot on the beach at sunset, and a week in tropical paradise. Val and Sam, You are awesome and your friends helped make our week. Thank you to everyone!

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