Thoughts of a professional photographer

Today more than ever, photography holds a special place in our lives thanks to (but not the sole reason!) smartphones with high-tech features and cameras with incredible quality.

“All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.” This is what Susan Sontag wrote in one of her masterpieces, “On Photography”.

How could we not agree with such a precise and delicate description of what photography and its main purpose are?

This is where professional photographers come in. Photographers are art makers: they can freeze a moment and make it last forever, make you feel comfortable in front of a camera even if you’re too shy. Their biggest superpower though, is bringing up hidden emotions through light, shadows and little details.

Since photography is regarded in such high esteem, I decided to dedicate a big portion of our blog to experts who live and breathe photography.

Our first guest isGuy Milnes, a professional photographer working in London and Cardiff. He enjoys family oriented photo shootings but he is quite active in the niche of online dating photography.

If you’re interested in Guy’s services, you are going to find all the information at the bottom of the page.

Growing-up, I’ve always owned a film camera and have seen the value in taking photographs for memories. It was when I worked in a residential care centre for children with special needs that I bought a pro-spec DSLR. I used to take photos of the children to document their achievements and pass them on to their parents. They said they were so good that I should charge for them. Of course, I didn’t, but it planted a seed in my mind that stayed with me. So, when I left, I set up a website, photographed a friend’s wedding and started to build up a business from there. The learning curve was huge but I’m now about where I want to be.

Simply by talking in a relaxed and friendly manner and focussing on them (pun definitely intended!). Using humour is remarkably effective and puts even the tensest subject at ease. Good eye contact is important, so it’s good to remember not to be hidden behind the camera all the time.

Most people who come to me for photographs say that they’re not comfortable being photographed, so I put little emphasis on the camera and more on finding out about them. I tell them roughly where and how to stand and then talk to them about their work, dating experiences or whatever comes to mind. Then, occasionally I’ll raise the camera and take a sequence of photos. That way, the result is a set of portraits that more truly reflect the person and their personality.

“ There are moments during a photo session where my ‘arty’ side comes out. I took this of Steffi in the upstairs room of a café in Bristol early in the shoot. The high windows provided light from above, so I asked her to look up and snapped this happy shot. Black and white gives it a ‘classic’, timeless look.”

Selfies serve a purpose, and it was only a matter of time before their potential as an art form was realised. People were taking selfies before the term was coined and prior to digital. I can remember having a film camera and turning it round on myself and a friend to get us both in the photo, but never did this on myself alone. Social media’s emphasis on image is largely responsible for that.

On dating sites, I think good selfies are important for many reasons. Some people may not have anyone around to take their photo and they can also experiment and try out different things until they take some that work on their profile. Phones make this much easier now with the front facing camera.

So, selfies are a fact of life that are here to stay and the fact that they are being recognised as an art form is a good thing. Over time, it should go a long way to raising overall quality and make people want to do better. Let’s make the Internet a more aesthetically pleasing place!

However… I do strongly object to selfies taken in the mirror, particularly if the flash is in shot too!!

Here’s what makes a great photo (the technical aspects are a given): Emotion and connection with the viewer (often through intense eye contact.)

“I love black and white photography as well as vibrant colour but wouldn’t advise putting a black and white photo as your first on your profile. For a photo like this I’d make an exception. The eye-contact that Alison gives the camera is beautiful as well as her relaxed expression and look of self-assurance. We took this under a bridge, so unusually I used flash too, but in this case, it really brings out her features. I included the graffiti in the back purposefully to add further interest.”

Searching online for the ‘Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize entries’ reveals a vast array of different photographic styles and genres. Some are professional studio portraits, others are seemingly amateur snap shots (with the focus slightly off or the shadows too harsh).

Subject wise, there is the standard head shot, the downright bizarre and, also the tragic and sad. Some are reportage, taken of a natural moment whilst others are very posed. But, the common theme running through them all is the connection that those that see them will feel. It might be the melancholic look in the subject’s eyes (eye contact really does go such a long way), the doll they’re holding or the plastic bag on their head (yes, there really is one of those!)… Every single one is thought provoking and emotive and tells a story. So, the ability to connect and inspire thought and discussion — that’s what makes a great photo. But great photos are rare…

Good photos on dating sites involve similar elements. There needs to be something about the subject that draws you in — makes you want to know more. Whether it’s a selfie or a portrait taken by a professional, you need to feel a connection with that person, and the portrait photograph is the only chance to make that all-important first impression.

The word ‘photography’ literally means ‘drawing with light’ and in a photograph, light is everything. Personally, I prefer natural daylight or directional window light. Doorways work remarkably well too. Flash is also an option to give a different look, although this can drown out the shadows. If used, I prefer to bounce it rather than use it direct.

“ This full-length portrait clearly shows the time of year. I introduced a little fill-flash to offset the glare from the sun behind Rachel. The somewhat catalogue style pose was purely hers.”

All my dating shoots I do outdoors. I don’t like the staid atmosphere of a studio. When I take portraits in my town, the first location I choose to start is Caerphilly Castle. The directional light under the portcullis in the entrance is quite superb and a fantastic way to start a shoot.

The way a scene is lit a scene can totally change the look of the photograph. Think of the dark and shadowy look of horror films and contrast it with the soft and bright look of a romance. Now imagine how they would look lit the other way round. That’s how important lighting is.

“A strong head and shoulders shot of Mab: Arms folded doesn’t usually suggest friendliness, but it works to compliment his distant look here. Taken using directional light in the entrance to Caerphilly Castle.”

Yes, absolutely… Dating apps these days are very much ‘Swipe left or right’ and instant judgements, so your ‘hero’ photo is the first impression and most important. However, most people also read the profile text — especially after matching — so this needs to be interesting too.

Many people I speak to say they came across my site almost by accident. They weren’t

aware that professional online dating photography was a thing and hiring someone had never occurred to them until they saw my photos.

Others weren’t happy with what that had of themselves and looked into pro-photographers that could show them off in their best light.

Generally, I chat through what people are looking for either on the phone or at the start of the shoot. Most of them have never hired a photographer before and do need guidance. They realise that I’m the professional and are happy to be led by me. Hearing a bit about their backstory definitely helps me determine how to approach the shoot.

I do want people to look how they normally look though. I don’t want a photographer’s interpretation of them — they need to stand how they normally stand (or close to it if they have poor posture) and wear clothes similar to what they are known for wearing.

Top tip: Don’t dress in a suit if you’re a biker into punk rock… Your online matches will be unlikely to work out!

“Sitting works well, especially for men. I caught Tim here in mid-laugh and he presents as a really friendly and down to earth person. Who could not swipe this photo right?”

There are two main things:

Firstly, meeting people and finding out about them. A theme running through this is all about connection and I love to find out about the individual. I’ve worked with shy 20 something heavy metal fans, business people and 70 year old widows and all manner of people in-between.

Then there’s the moment I bring up their photos on my computer for the first time. I get excited when I view their photos for the first time and start to edit. It’s only by bringing them up on a big screen do I realise what I’ve got and how the session worked out.

Definitely choosing photos from years ago. Remember that the end goal is usually to have someone meet you (and fall in love!), so do ensure that your chosen photos look like you.

We all get attached to the image of our younger selves but resist the temptation to do it! Many prospective daters hold on to photos from years ago and have unrealistic expectations that people will overlook this on meeting. They probably won’t!

I give tips for taking and using good portrait shots on my website, but these are my top 3…

Look approachable: Be happy and choose photos that scream out for people to ‘swipe right’.

“This was my favourite candidate for Sera’s main profile photo. In it she looks friendly, approachable and very attractive (which she was, by the way!).”

Avoid poor quality and low-light selfies: There are so many of these on dating apps, so stand apart from the crowd and do something different.

Use a good variety of photos: Include your best head shot first as your main pic, then a full length, one doing an activity you enjoy and even a selfie (the above tip excepted) if you like it! Show your character and that you can have fun. But don’t put up all extreme close-ups showing just your face, as people will think you have something to hide!

Make them laugh. Send yourself up a bit. Build rapport and that all-important connection. When the subject relaxes, their personality will shine through!

“ Smiling naturally didn’t come easily for Andre. The composition in this one isn’t how I would normally have done it, however, he laughed as we were chatting, so I quickly raised my camera to take it. The way I work to create a relaxed shoot and rapport means I often must be quick to take the more pleasing expressions.”

I certainly hope so, and not just because it’s potential business for photographers’ like myself. Most online dating profile photos are very mediocre. Pro ‘togs’ know how to capture people at their best and should work with you in a relaxed and confident manner to provide photos that are visually striking and a cut above the rest.

In reality, with the continuing appeal of the quick and easy selfie, it’s debatable whether it will become very popular — but more popular, YES!!

“A nice, vibrant environmental portrait of Heather on a cold winter’s morning. The colours all work really well together. Although she seems almost secondary to the castle, it’s a good memorable candidate for her fourth or fifth photo, with plenty of interest.”

Online dating photography was the part of my work that was least affected. I can do this on a one to one and very discretely and socially distanced. Apart from during the total lockdowns, I could work as needed and my dating work probably increased in line with the popularity of dating apps whilst people were trapped indoors — bored!

My wedding photography work was hugely impacted, with weddings being rescheduled up to 4 times in some cases and some cancelled. I also saw an increase in short wedding photography being requested for those just wanting the ceremony covered. Many are getting married as soon as they can and having their reception in less restricted times.

To reach out to Guy for his professional photography services, visit his website (click here if you’re interested in Online Dating Photography, email him at guymilnes@gmail.comor call 07947 613070.

Thank to you Guy once again for being our first interviewee and sharing your thoughts with us.

Originally published at



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