Sya, can you tell us a bit about yourself, your journey as a photographer and how did you move specifically towards fashion photography? Hi all! I’m from the Netherlands and moved to London five and a half years ago to do my Masters in Fashion Photography at London College of Fashion. Since then I fell in love with the city and the endless opportunities. My art adventure really started when I was 18, in the last year of my A-levels; I traveled four hours each Saturday for a preliminary course at the Art Academy in Utrecht (NL). I was hooked on photography, but wanted to explore all areas. I continued doing the fulltime course in documentary photography and during those four years my work shifted more and more towards fashion. I love having control over the whole process, which can be a bit of a challenge on the documentary side.
After my Masters I found a job at a high-end retouching studio here in London. This turned me into a professional retoucher and video colourist. Both skills are proving very helpful in my journey as a photographer. Now, four years later, I’m very excited to share that I will be focusing on my own company from now on and offer all these services through SYAPHOTOGRAPHY.
How has photography influenced/changed you as a person and what do you love most about being a photographer? I love meeting new people, telling stories and sharing my opinions on hot topics in society. This is where the documentary side kicks in. All our college projects were meant to have a concept that you wanted to share. My photography projects have taken me to places and allowed me to meet people I never normally would I’ve photographed Burlesque dancers, Poledancers, strippers, victims of sexual harassment and even asbestos removers. I walked around in male dominated nightclubs, gentleman societies and have been on several gorgeous locations, all in the name of photography. It has broadened my horizon and my understanding of different cultures and social groups. How amazing is it that you can tell these stories but still control the process? There is that perfect fine line between fashion and documentary photography.
How do you keep productive and retain your creative edge? Who or what are your greatest influences or inspirations? Redbull! No joking. Although that does keep me going sometimes, not liking coffee can be a real problem! But otherwise I can get lost on the Internet, browsing through Instagram, Pinterest and saving down images that I love. This is how new ideas start. Whenever I get fed up of the screen I sit down with one of my many photo books, each one of them an influence and inspiration. My collection ranges from great documentary photographers, such as Larry Fink and Juliana Beasley, to Helmut Newton, David Bailey, Guy Bourdin and the current big fashion names like Tim Walker, Miles Aldridge and Nick Knight. Oh and lets not forget Steven Meisel, I love his controversial work where he juxtaposes fashion and politics/social standards. Right up my street!
Fashion photography comes with a lot of stress, how do you handle it? What projects do you find to be the most challenging? I usually find the production process the most stressful, but that should be taken over by a producer at some point! For now I still do it all myself. Projects where the team isn’t quite feeling it, things don’t go exactly as planned (in a bad way), those are definitely the most challenging.
What from your point of view makes a great fashion photograph? How do you choose which images you ultimately provide to your clients? It’s a combination of all factors (model/hair/make–up/styling) and of course the lighting. For me it will always be the lighting that will make or break a great photograph, fashion or not. Great images, in my opinion, show the photographers ability to bring all elements together, from the initial idea, to production and creating the right mood in post-production.
I usually make a selection straight away after a shoot, when it’s still fresh and certain images pop out. Then I let it rest for a few days before going through it again and start playing around with different looks in post.
You are going about conducting a photo shoot, could you take us through the typical planning process for your images? I start with an idea and a mood-board, send this out to a team and from there on the ball starts rolling. Then we set a date, a location and most importantly we find the perfect model for the brief. I always make sure I have a checklist for all my equipment and a call-sheet for the whole team to avoid any unnecessary Usually the week before the shoot (when we have everything pinned down) I start planning each individual shot for location / outfit / pose etc, including references. This saves stress on the day itself!
What is going through your mind when you are on set behind the camera? It ranges from ‘oh my god I love this, this looks amazing’ to ‘ohno, this is not working, something has to change..!’. I also tend to stress a lot about lack of time! But in the end it always works out, I tend to react quickly to time stress and stick to the plan. And with help from the team and improvising on the day, we do make it work!
From your experience, have your most successful shots come from perfect planning or accidents? Any experience to share? It is a combination of the two. All aspects can be perfectly planned, but then it has to work on set itself. People need to get along, the vibe needs to be good and the model has to be comfortable and so on. All my work is very styled and well thought out, but I try to let this go on set, go with the flow and let accidents happen.
What is your favorite light source, and why do you choose it? The sun! Its gorgeous, it’s high up, natural and you can tweak it as much as you like with reflectors and other equipment or props.
Tell us why is having makeup artist, stylist or other professional creatives essential to a photographer? Do you have a support staff and what areas do they handle? Because you can’t do it all by yourself! Its amazing to get input from other like-minded creatives and its even better when everyone is in it with the same goal: to create something beautiful. I try to have an assistant on set, but as not everything is paid this does not always work out. One of my friends is a videographer and shoots awesome behind the scenes for me (www.jashasensio.com) and I work with a dream-team make-up artist (www.mizziemakeup.com) and hairstylist (http://kierantudor.co.uk) who are always happy to help me out on set too! In case something is beyond my skills I will get someone involved who can help me out.
What are you looking for in a fashion model? What is an X factor for you? Definitely personality. It might seem strange, but I find it very important that he/she is comfortable, happy to be there and easy to work with. This all translates to the camera.
What would be your tips/advice to models looking to expand their portfolio? Test! If you are already with an agency you will probably get send out to a lot of tests already. If not, contact starting photographers and students; everyone needs to expand their portfolio, so why not with you.
You bring a very high production value to your work. What is your retouching/production philosophy? In your opinion, is it fair to alter reality by adjusting images in post-production? What do you think it delivers in the final image? I am convinced it’s a must these days. Not in a sense that everyone has to have perfect skin and the perfect size, people don’t realize that postproduction is about much more. I create a mood in my images with grading and a great variety of colours that usually aren’t achievable in the real world. Of course I correct for things that weren’t quite right on set, but this is 30 minutes of clean up, after that I spend about 3 hours creating a pleasing visual. Believe me that there is no image unretouched these days, and yes sometimes ‘you wouldn’t say so’, but that’s the art! It is our job to create enhanced realism and I like to believe that the experience, time and effort that goes into this, separates my work from filtered Instagram snaps.
What are common photographer mistakes you encounter that make your retouching work more time- and effort-consuming? If you’d like to create a composition of several images, to either get everything in focus or to get multiple people looking good in one shot, it’s very handy if you lock off your camera. Combining images that are shot from different angles can be a bit of a challenge.
Do you feel Photoshop has created a skewed perception of the ideal body image? Yes it definitely has, although there are actually people out there that look utterly amazing, according to the current beauty ideal, without help from Photoshop. But to be honest, does anyone still think people really look like that? Get off your pink cloud and get out into the real world! And please educate your children on the use of Photoshop and tell them they are already perfect just the way they are.
Any cool projects that you’re working on or have coming up that you don’t mind sharing with us? My business is going full time in July, so that’s my biggest project at the moment! Another cool ‘behind the scenes’ project is that I’m revisiting old series and giving them a new look. There’s some stuff I shot before the social media hype that definitely needs to be seen! (Remember the Poledancers?!)
What are your thoughts around social media? What role does it play in your photography business? It is an annoying love/hate relationship. It sucks up all your time, but it’s great to be able to share your images easily and have such a big reach. When I started photography the only way of sharing was through my website, a blog or a real life exhibition; now there are too many options to keep track off. It a great promotion tool but sometimes a bit overwhelming. I do love that I’m able to engage with other people and specifically other creatives. It brings inspiration and opportunities for collaborations!
Where can our readers keep up with your work and get connected with you? Yes please, get in touch! www.sya.nl
A common misconception about photographers is that we…? Like to work for free ‘for our portfolio’. We don’t, we like to eat too!
One thing that bugs you about humans is that…? We are a big herd of sheep that follow each other around, either positive or negative, and we waste a lot of our time on hate and jealousy. Not that I’m constantly happy, but life is only short, so please, let go of whatever makes you feel bad and stick to the things that make you smile.
What superpower you wish you had and why? Being able to clone myself would be great – so much to do and see, so little time!
Please tell one surprising fact about yourself. I am a romantic and also love to shoot weddings!