Cameras are a fact of professional life. At every networking function I go to in my work as a writer and editor, there’s a photographer waiting to take a snap. And even for a show-off like me, the sight of the camera sparks dread. I’m a word person after all, not a picture person. But the world runs on pictures, and pictures help shape how people see you, and how you see yourself.
I was recently nominated and won a Waterford Women In Business Award, and the awards committee asked me to supply a picture for the awards brochure. But I didn’t have a picture that made the grade. That was a wake-up call for me, and I decided that once the new year rolled around, I would arrange for a professional headshot, so I wouldn’t be caught unawares again. I also felt it would help me make a splash on social media.
I knew Bara Alich from my women’s network, and I knew she had done the headshot for my friend Orla Shanaghy’s book. Bara specialises in women’s portrait photography, and I knew her to be a person of integrity, with a strong visual sense. So not long after the New Year bells chimed, I took the plunge and contacted Bara to arrange my headshot.
To get the ball rolling, I visited Bara’s warm, light-filled studio on the outskirts of Waterford City. I trailed a suitcase of clothes behind me. Bara had asked me to bring five outfits. I wasn’t sure if even owned five suitable outfits. Thankfully, Bara said I could mix and match. I felt a little unnerving, knowing that a stranger was going to be looking at my clothes and judging which ones were suitable.
But over a cup of fragrant cardamom tea and mouth-melting Arabic biscuits, my fears soon melted away. My clothes and jewellery passed the test, and Bara told me that the makeup artist would give me a natural look – no fear of me looking like a panda. I looked through previous headshots Bara had taken, and this gave me inspiration for how I wanted to look.
Bara was very thorough in her approach. She asked me lots of questions about how I wanted to wear my hair and makeup. I had wash and go hair, and makeup rarely touched my face. But Bara uses the services of a makeup artist to make sure the camera captures people at their best. Again, Bara understood my fears and assured me that the makeup artist would give me a natural look.
There was one important question Bara asked. What was the purpose of my photograph. I hadn’t thought much beyond social medial liked. But I realised that, having celebrated a significant birthday, I wanted a photograph that reflected how I saw myself: my skills, my experience, my capabilities.
A week later, I got my suitcase ready again, with the clothes we had chosen and a fine chain to complement the clothes. Bara suggested that I bring the award that I had won, so I packed it carefully among the layers of clothes. The shoot began with the makeup. The makeup artist worked with precision and skill, and was so full of chat that I barely felt the time go by. When I looked in the mirror, I saw a glamorous woman with big eyes and defined cheekbones. And that woman was me.
Now it was time for me to become modelesque and pose for the camera, a notion that set my stomach a-flutter and turned my legs to concrete. But Bara gave me some tips for how to hold my body, so I could strike a great pose. Bara set me against a neutral backdrop, so I would be the central focus of the photoshoot.
Two hours seemed like a long time to take photographs, but with the changes of clothes and the changes of pose, the time flew by. We took a break and enjoyed some healthy snacks, washed down with more cardamom tea. Photoshoots are surprisingly hungry work. I left feeling confident and happy that I had done justice to myself during the shoot.
A few days later, it was time for the Big Reveal. I visited Bara’s studio again, and she displayed 20 of my finest photos on a TV screen. It was a feast of gorgeous images. I marvelled at the butterfly transformation that was taking place before my eyes. Out of those 20, I picked the three photos that spoke loudest to me. With these photos, Bara had helped me achieve my mission. These pictures represented my best self, and matched the potential I saw inside myself. Here was a picture which would allow me to show my best self to the world.