Belle Bébés asks… Sarah Thomas

Whether you are a parent wanting beautiful pictures of their children, an amateur photographer looking to learn more about portrait photography or somebody who just likes to read an interesting interview accompanied by pretty pictures, these posts are for you…

The interview

Introduction:
Hi, my name is Sarah and I run Sarah J. Thomas Photography. I am a specialist baby, child and family photographer. It is my aim to offer a totally custom photographic experience for families. For me it’s all about a quality product and quality of service. I feel that families are looking for a fun experience rather than the cookie cutter approach and the hard sell so readily experienced with high street chains. Working primarily with natural light, I aim to capture those moments and expressions so easily forgotten with the passing of time.

Location:
Cardiff, South Wales (UK)

When and how did you fall in love with photography?
I have always loved to draw and paint so when I was given my first camera as a child it was just a natural extension of my passion. I still feel this way today – a camera is merely a tool allowing you to capture a moment or feeling.

Have you had any formal training?
I studied a degree in Graphic Design with a specialism in Photography back in the early 90’s. I very much learnt in the ‘old school’ with film and darkroom techniques. Photography has changed so much in the last 10 years with the introduction on digital technology. I am a firm believer that the traditional skills I gained all those years ago have helped me get it right in the camera first time without having to resort to too much digital manipulation.

Sarah-Thomas

How would you describe your photography style?
Graphic design still has a great influence on my photographic style. I am a lover of strong lines and composition along with bold colours. I like my images to make a statement and be a little different.

What inspires your work?
My children. As I have watched them grow and develop over the years, I have become to truly value the images I have been able to capture of them. It is my aim to be able to do the same for my customers.

When did you first start out in portraiture photography?
I decided not to follow photography upon graduating university, instead opting for a ‘proper’ job. Photography continued to be a hobby but it took me almost 20 years to realise my true heart lay with my camera – it’s what I was always meant to do. The skills I have developed over the years (and those gained from being a Mother) and, dare I say my maturity have been invaluable in running my business. It’s not all about photography. You have to wear many hats… business, accountancy, marketing, customer service, time management.

Where in the UK are you based and how far would you travel for a shoot?
I’m based in a small Victorian seaside town on the outskirts of Cardiff called Penarth. I cover all of South Wales although I have done sessions throughout the UK.

Sarah-Thomas

How many portrait sessions do you shoot per year?
I tend to only take one or two sessions per week. Unlike some high street chains it’s not about bums on seats for me. I have developed a business, which is designed around building relationships, drawing out personalities and offering a unique experience – this demands time and I always want to make sure I can offer a consistent quality of service to my customers.

Could you please share some details of a shoot you particularly enjoyed capturing?
I get pictures in my head, I can visualise them, what I want to create. This can be frustrating at the time as the eye doesn’t work in the same way as the camera. I wanted to create a set of images that evoked childhood. I wanted to express the feeling you get after a long day in the sun when you can still feel the heat on your skin as the sun goes down. So I headed down to a beautiful meadow not far from where I live in the late afternoon with a bunch of girls and some beautiful dresses which had been donated by the fantastic Bread and Jam. We made dens, they ran, they twirled and we all had fun. One of my Facebook followers descried the pictures by saying, “I love how the photos remind me of childhood, all giddy”. You can’t believe how happy that made me feel as that is exactly the reaction I wanted to achieve!

What would be your idea of a dream portraiture shoot?
Well I think I’ve just described it! Putting it simply, one which is natural, kids playing and having fun.

What is your favourite age to photograph and why?
I never tire of photographing newborns. Being able to capture all of those beautiful details, the sparkly eyes, downy skin and the sleepy essence of a newborn baby never fails to get me excited. It’s such a magical time and a real privilege to be invited into my customer’s homes to share such a special moment in those hectic first few weeks. Although newborns are great, there’s nothing better than interacting with an older child on a session. We sing, dance, tell jokes, explore – it’s so much fun!

Sarah-Thomas

What difficulties, if any, have you come across with portrait photography and how do you cope with them?
The hardest thing is being able to adapt to different personality styles. Some children are confident and others not so much. There’s nothing worse than going in all guns blazing singing songs and bouncing about if they are going to run screaming for the hills. I always call my customers a few days before the session to ask more detailed questions about the child’s personality traits, favourite songs and interests etc. It’s good to be prepared.

What advice would you give to parents that want you to photograph their little ones?
Be patient. Don’t ask them to smile for the camera – it just looks false. Keep your camera close by and play with them. Make them forget the camera is even there. And when the time is right – click. You’ll get much more natural results this way.

What camera(s) do you use for your portraiture work?
I currently shoot with a Nikon D300.

And your favourite lenses?
My 24-70mm 2.8 has proved to be an excellent investment but I still go back to my 50mm 1.4 more often than not!

Do you use any lighting equipment?
Occasionally but I try not to but as I love the softness that natural light will offer, especially when shooting very little ones. It’s also less intrusive.

Sarah-Thomas

What advice would you give to wannabe portrait photographers?
Firstly, you’ve got to know your camera – inside and out. It has to feel like an extension of your arm. If you want to be a child photographer then you need to be quick, you need to know your settings and be 100% confident.

Secondly, it’s not all about technology and kit. Having a great camera doesn’t make you a great portrait photographer. You need to have people skills, lots of people skills.

Finally, research. Seek out inspiration from others. Have a look at styles & techniques but you need to ultimately find your own voice and style. Don’t be tempted to copycat – it’ll make you look stupid and you wont get any satisfaction.

What has been your proudest moment as a photographer?
This might sound evil but I love it when people cry when I show them their images. Every time this happens I feel so proud to be able to evoke these emotions in my customers.

Out of all the photographs you have ever taken, which is your favourite and why?
Goodness gracious me, that is SO hard! If I am forced to pick just one then it has to be a recent shot from a beach session. It was SO cold, the tide was coming in… fast and the girls were a bit fed up. Not ideal. Towards the end of the session, after taking lots of pictures of shivering girls there was a moment. The sun was setting and as my model gazed out to see a bunch of seagulls flew overhead. To me this image makes me think of summer.

Sarah-Thomas-Favourite

If you could capture anybody or anything on camera what would it be?
Such a hard question but I’d have to just say people. If there isn’t a person in the frame I am just not happy. That’s part of the wonderful thing about this job. I get to meet so many different people, capturing their uniqueness is priceless to me.

Just so we can find out a bit more about the person behind the lens, could you tell me 5 things you like that are completely unrelated to photography?
Photography does have a habit of engulfing your life but …

  • Music is a passion that has taken a back seat over the last few years but we are becoming re-acquainted.
  • I can think of nothing better than a day spent indulging in a good art gallery.
  • Chocolate … of course.
  • Camping with my boys.
  • Old movies – can’t beat a bit of Judy Garland!

And 5 things you dislike?

  • Sprouts
  • Coca Cola
  • Bats
  • Daddy-Long-Legs
  • But on a serious note … dishonesty. I just don’t understand the need to lie.

Sarah-Thomas

What are your aspirations for the future, in photography or otherwise?
If I carry on doing what I am doing then I will be totally satisfied. Long term … a little cottage by the sea but we are all allowed to dream, right?

 Heart Debs & Sarah

Photographer Details:
Sarah J. Thomas Photography website
Sarah J. Thomas Photography blog
Sarah J. Thomas Photography Facebook
Contact Sarah
Phone: (029) 21 25 25 01

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2 Responses to “Belle Bébés asks… Sarah Thomas”

  1. Wow….what a brilliant interview…..and the photography blew me away……she is a fabulous photographer ….you can see the emotion in every image ….I LOVE her work x

  2. Zoe says:

    I’ve long been an admirer of Sarah’s work – stunning images <3 xxx

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