A Mastery of the Elements
In the early, heady days of photography, equipment was expensive and access to studio space prohibitive. It was only those rich enough who could afford to undertake it. Photography was staged, like a portrait. Outdoor lighting and conditions were hard to control and so, like Van Gogh, photographers clutched a handful of sunflowers and fled to the studio instead of trying to capture the whole field.
Studio photography is safe. Lighting is controlled, conditions constant, subjects silent.
Sarah Newman is one of an ever-growing group of portrait photographers who insists upon using natural light. Sarah admits that she never has to advertise, like all the best creatives, her work speaks for itself and so word of mouth is her best ally.
Her social media galleries are not light, bright, airy and white. In fact, far from being an endless conveyor belt of products against a stark white artificial light, they are a cornucopia of colour, light, shade, emotion, motion and moments.
“I work with clients who appreciate my style, there has to be a meeting of creative minds. I find myself drawn to people who are more than their product. The product is an expression of their creativity, their struggle and their story. I seek to paint their passion with light.
"Choosing to do that with natural light is not the easy choice, I know. But it is the most honest and faithful representation of a moment.”
When she first entered the arena of photography, Sarah, like many creatives, suffered from imposter syndrome. The nagging doubts which plague many an artist, but which drive an ambition for perfection, accuracy and art. “I was a woman in a man’s world. I wasn’t willing to compromise my style or vision to fit into someone else’s bubble.
“At times I felt judged for not using studio lights, critics inferred I lacked the skill to create the right mood or ambience for a scene. However, there is a great deal of skill involved in working with natural light.”
Having fought her demons, today Sarah says “I am one of my favourite photographers” without a hint of audacity or irony.
“I think it’s important to love what you do, and I can honestly say I love my studio, I love my work and I would like my photographs to be taken by me. My photography is an extension of my soul. I put my heart and soul into what I do.”
Sarah’s studio has warm, strong sunlight in the morning, soft, hazy light in the afternoon and a wash of gold in the evening. Dusk brings an altogether different mood, with candlelight playing wistfully in the breeze.
Working within these parameters, in all weathers, means that she is very much at the mercy of the elements. Yet, it is within these uncertainties, these fleeting moments of serendipity that Sarah has achieved a mastery of the elements.
As a flower turns its head towards the sun, Sarah will alter, adapt and rearrange the subject according to the mood of the moment. She works using LastoliteByManfrotto HaloCompact reflectors and diffusers to balance and bounce the light around her studio.
Doing this enables her to capture the way the hem of pretty dress catches the light or the shadow which is cast when the light is viewed from a different angle. Working like this, with the light she is given, brings a delightful juxtapose of light and dark to frame the subject.
Chiaroscuro. An Italian term which literally means ‘light-dark’. Used predominantly in the art world, the term chiaroscuro is used to typify work which plays with the relationship between light and shade. Sarah specialises in this art form, using it to highlight her subjects beautifully. It is this mastery, which has bequeathed Sarah some of her many prestigious clientele.
“I am a very spontaneous artist.” Sarah gushes.
“I work quickly. I will go to see a client about a product they want capturing, and on my way home I will be on the phone to a florist, or a furniture hire company. The image I want to create is already very clear in my mind’s eye. I work to create the right mood, lighting and scenario to showcase their items perfectly.”
It may be for this reason that Sarah’s clients are creative people themselves, many of them entrepreneurial women like her, who are passionate about their art.
“I like to use pink in my styling often. I favour subtle baby pink and warm rosy tones. These evoke a reassuring atmosphere and a restful mood.
“I am very fortunate, that because I am passionate about my work my clients are often drawn to my style. I don’t like to have too much staging, a floral meadow or a dramatic beach works well against a sunrise but an unlit studio in a rainstorm can still redeem itself with a momentary shaft of sunlight streaming through the windows.
“My art is like a dance, it cannot stand still, it must convey movement, motion and joie de vivre.”
In a dance there are moments of closeness and intimacy when the music is slow and there are dramatic moments of passion and fire. Art must reflect both, the intimate and the explosive, the silence and the noise.
“You are searching for moments. Photography is about capturing people as they truly are.” She says, her passion running away with her.
It is true, no one stands in a line and faces a wall and just smiles. Life and the love of life happens when we enjoy and express it together.
“I work hard to look natural” she states. It may sound like a contradiction, but Sarah collaborates with her clients on a far more intimate level than ‘look at the birdie!’.
She takes families for walks, captures them as they laugh, sing and dance around a daisy meadow. If life is for living, photography should surely capture us living life to the full.
Yet, here is the contradiction. Despite all of this, Sarah chooses to work regularly with Lastolite backgrounds.
“I bought a collapsible background from LastoliteByManfrotto. Their backgrounds were so rich, colourful and full of texture. There are times in studio photography where a whitewashed wall just doesn’t do justice to the image. I was looking for ways to show light against a more dramatic background - not all white.
“The wonderful thing about Lastolite's backgrounds is that they work well with natural light as well as studio lights and so sometimes that subtle hint of purple or faint tinge of green will just bring out a richer quality to the image than I could capture with light alone.
“Since I first bought the backdrops, I had clients and social media followers commenting on them and asking where to get them from, they were always so complimentary about the effects I was able to achieve with a simple background.”
To most professional photographers, equipment is key, and the vast majority are packing a whole arsenal of firepower. However, Sarah, is not most photographers. Her weapon of choice is a Sony A73 Mirrorless Body. She works almost exclusively with a single lens, a Sigma Art 24-105mm.
“I don’t feel like I need dozens of lenses and multiple camera body options, my kit is just so versatile. The equipment is a fraction of the skill, with my Sony as my workhorse I can work in any light and any condition to recreate the image in mind’s eye to create truly unique, evocative imagery.”
And she does. Sarah has worked with many well-known clients. Early Hours are a prestigious florist who provide high quality arrangements to some of the most exclusive addresses in London. Her unique artistic interpretation of an installation they provided to The Ivy, created a pre-Raphaelite, ethereal quality which crystallised a moment in time for eternity.
Sarah is currently working with Ellie, of Cupcake Creations, who creates truly breathtaking cakes. “We all think we know what cupcakes taste like, but I tasted these at an MTV launch party and was blown away. Usually, I find iced cupcakes can be too sickly sweet, but these had the perfect blend of sugar and salt to create the best cupcake I have ever tasted.
"We exchanged cards and I was delighted when she contacted me. Her story is so powerful, she has overcome so much and her celebration, her triumph is perfectly articulated with these cakes. I literally jumped at the chance to work with her.”
As you look at this gallery, you will not find more of the same Instagram-ready home-baked cupcakes, you will see tragedy and joy, poverty and passion, all conveyed with the use of natural daylight.
Sarah juggles high end professional photography with being a mother of three children, two of whom are teenagers. Her studio is a white-washed version of her living room, with battered floorboards. Like her studio, her art is pure, her message clear and her style inimitable.
She conveys this style with the simple use of light, energy, emotion and passion. Her use of Lastolite by Manfrotto backgrounds brings an extra element to her work. “I love the versatility of these backgrounds. A simple backdrop can transform a scene, taking a ballerina from my living room to a theatre, a bowl of fruit from a studio in Hertfordshire to a villa in ancient Pompeii. The only limitation
is my imagination.”
P J Deakin 2021©