Why I love photographing women over 40.



I love photographing women over 40. They bring such beautiful energy to the process.

I instinctively know a lot about the psychology of photography.  This juicy TedX talk by a photographer and a psychologist really nailed some key issues we portrait photographers face.  I have lived it for over 2 decades as woman and as a professional photographer, primarily of women. Do you "Own it", "Pose", "Diminish" or "Avoid/Run" (in life, and in front of the camera)?   What a great observation by Peter Hurley!   I have worked with ALL of these types of clients over the last two decades.   Now I prefer to work with people who are really ready to "own it"....because my life is too short, and these are the people I can help most. If you are afraid to really see yourself, warts and all,  you will probably not like what I show you.  I am very good at getting to the heart of people, and exposing something deeper.
One of the reasons I now love photographing women over 40 is that they have come through the other side of this issue of self-acceptance. They are ready to own it.

I know what it feels  like to be 20-something with a warped self-image, always comparing myself and falling up short. It didn't help that I worked in the fashion photography business with gorgeous models on a daily basis.  At 5’6” and 120 lbs, I was always the shorter, fatter woman in the room by comparison.  

I have met so few women in their 20s who are truly comfortable in their own skins. Even many of my model friends back then were deeply insecure about how they looked....just like the Miss Universe in this TedX.....because imagine a life where every job you apply for (and you apply almost daily for jobs) involves sitting in a room of stunningly beautiful women...and sometimes the client just wants a redhead instead of a brunette...and it isn't really about you....but that isn't how it feels in the moment.  Most young women, if they are honest, find that "it's not about you" idea hard to understand. Thank goodness we can grow out of this stage.

Surprisingly (or maybe not), I find that women over 40  are so much more loving and accepting of themselves. They have bridged this "gap of self acceptance" Peter Hurley refers to. They bring confidence, not a mask, to the experience of being photographed because they WANT to see themselves as the world sees them, as I see them. They WANT that authenticity. They dislike the gimmicks, the excessive retouching, the excessive makeup....the "tricks" of the commercial fashion photography trade.  They want to look beautiful, yes, but they want to look REAL even more.

I love how so many women over 40 have baggage they are not ashamed to carry. I appreciate the way they show up and seem to say "This is my baggage. I am ok with it. But I'd prefer if you could just crop it out of the frame, or put it in the corner while we shoot" And we laugh knowingly....and get on with the work of making beautiful images.  They show up for themselves, as themselves.  I love that.

Of course, for women, a lot of this growth happens in our 30s.....I call it the transition decade.....the decade where we grow into our strength and power.  For some it happens earlier. For some it happens later.  Because none of this is really about age. All of this is about emotional growth and self acceptance.  And from that place, we find our real radiance....because it comes from within, not from some external source.  There can be no 'external validation' if we don't believe in the beauty within.  A pretty picture is meaningless if we feel ugly or unworthy.  So we may criticize the picture, but what we really don't love starts in a deeper place. (Unless it is just a bad picture...and of course we all have plenty of those...different issue...)

Anna says, "The larger the gap between who we think we are, and who we think we should be, the more likely well feel badly in front of the camera....the lens becomes an extension of our own harshest critic, ourselves"  I agree, and I wish I could help people close this gap, but I am afraid it is an inside job.  I can certainly help, because I have always tended to see the best in people.  I see radiant beings, even if they are covered in mud.  The uncovering takes time.  I know.  I have been there.  A good photograph can be a wonderful reflection of who we are, and where we are in our personal evolution.  Photography is not magic.  It is a collaboration between two people and when they are in sync, the results can look magical. When the subject and photographer are not in sync, someone, and possibly everyone,  will be unhappy.

Now I prefer to work with people who approach life and being photographed ready to 'own it'.  These people are in my tribe. A lot of people aren't really ready for this level of exposure. They want to look 'perfect', whatever that means.   So I tend not to work with those people, because I believe imperfection is what makes us awesome, and deeply beautiful.


PS: If you follow my blog or FB page, you know I have been photographing Malala Yousafzai for the last year more or less.  She is not over 40.  In fact, she is probably the most photographed 17 year old on earth.  And she is wonderfully comfortable in her own skin...more than most women at any age.  She brings her full self to every photograph.  She never runs, avoids, or hides.  She knows her value and her mission, which come from a deeper place than her image.  But then, you knew this post was never entirely about age, right?

13 comments:

  1. YES!!!! There is FREEDOM in our 40s!

    "I love how so many women over 40 have baggage they are not ashamed to carry." Amen to that, sister. Sharing this post. Beautifully said.

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  2. :) I love that you enjoyed this, Michelle...and in fact you picked out the best line in the whole thing. It is one of my guiding life principles: loving and owning your baggage....and being able to let go of shame at the same time. Thank you for sharing the message.

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  3. ooh I love this " Now I prefer to work with people who are really ready to "own it"....because my life is too short, and these are the people I can help most. That is me too - totally different work or is it? - being seen is the hardest thing I have done but oh so rewarding - thank you Tanya for sharing your insights (I feel this piece is not only about photography but also humanity). xx

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    1. Maria, you are right. This piece isn't only about photography. Even my photography is not only about photography. lol! I am in the process of being more seen myself. I used to take such pride in being an invisible photographer. Now I realize I have always had so much more to say....and it is time for me to start saying it.

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  4. Tanya, I absolutely love what you've written here and I can relate strongly to it. My younger self was timid and insecure. I was overly sensitive and easily intimidated. Fast forward twenty years... With motherhood and maturity, I have become a self-assured, confident woman. I am able to take charge with grace and demand my rights with dignity. It is truly liberating to grow into oneself and discover the gifts that needed time to take root and grow. Thank you for your insights!!

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    1. Lori, I felt the same way after I became a mom. Funny how that life changing event changes us as women, in ways you can only understand if you have taken that path. I never understood when I was younger, how women my mother's age thought their 40s and 50s were better than their 20s. Now I understand. Would I love my 20something body back? Sure. But I wouldn't trade my 40something mind for it.

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  5. this line really stood out for me: "i see radiant beings . . ." i am finally ready for professional photographs, and have begun looking for someone i'll feel comfortable working with. if one of them would just say those words to me - "i see radiant beings" - i'd know i had found my match. i love the way you describe what you do, tanya. i want the real me to shine through what is captured on film, and it's obvious you've achieved this with your own clients.

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    1. April, I am touched that those words resonated with you. I don't know that this is language many photographers use, but I hope this might be changing. I think it takes courage and strength to let ourselves be really seen by other people, but when you are ready for it, you don't want anything less.

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  6. I agree with April on this one, Tanya, as I too am finally ready for professional photos. My work is all about helping women discover, listen to and express who they are deep inside. I love that you view photography through the same holistic lens. You've raised the bar for the photographer I eventually find.

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    1. Cathy, this has been a process of evolution for me, over many years. I didn't start out knowing why I was a photographer, or even why I was good at it. Now, I think of photography as my art, as my tool for helping people see themselves as I see them, and shine brighter as a result. I get so many comments from people along these lines....so many people saying that some images really "feels" like them, or it is the best picture they have of themselves. They ask how I do it...and I can't really answer. It isn't about the technical stuff: fancy lenses, or lighting, or post production work....because that is not the essence of photography for me. The process is more intuitive for me. I see through exteriors, and surface images. I feel people first, and then I make pictures of them. It is about connections, not cameras. So while I know I am a good photographer, I cannot make amazing photos of everyone, because I do not honestly connect with everyone. But when I do, the magic happens.

      Find the person that you feel you really connect to. That is the hard part, and the important part. After that, the photos are easy.

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  7. I am very comfortable in my own skin, except for having grey hair. I am not ready for tgat yet, as I do not want to experience age duscrimation. One day I will be ready to go grey, but not yet. It would be wonderful if grey was related to wisdom of ageing.

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  8. Very nice post. There is a humbleness and dignity acquired during the aging process. You captured these qualities with your photos. Photos and words like these are what separates normal photographers from the truly artistic photographers. You are definitely an artist. Keep up the good work. Very inspiring.

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    1. Samuel, Thank you for your lovely comment. I am sorry I didn't see it sooner. I appreciate that you took the time to read this, and can also appreciate what I aim to capture in my photography.

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