When glamour photographer Chamonix Thurston-Rattue was struggling with self-esteem issues in high school, she would imagine herself years far ahead, at the age of her beloved grandmother, looking back to her doubts. She then realized that this perspective of age instilled a knowing confidence. Thurston-Rattue wishes to unveil this beauty of confidence in the women she photographs. She views it as her job to help their unique personalities reveal themselves, regardless of self-doubt or fears. Emphasizing the beauty and character through their confidence.
Thurston-Rattue is based in Seattle and her personal projects have been garnering much attention (check out my post about her “101 Years of Beauty” project). She is also launching a new project entitled “Did You Know She was Beautiful?” and will publish a hardcover of the portraits featured in 101 Years. The confidence of Chamonix and the vibe her captures have showcase confidence in every element.
Someone who has seen the downside and has got back up, Chamonix makes sure that her creations instigate faith and confidence in the million others who view it. Not just a photographer Chamonix is an imparter of confidence, beauty, and character.
In this interview, Thurston-Rattue talks about how she got her start in glamour photography, explains her post-processing workflow, and reveals why there is beauty at any age.
You’re a Seattle based boutique studio photographer, specializing in glamour portraiture. Why this genre of photography? How did you get your start?
When I was growing up I wanted to be a fashion designer, an international diplomat, a women’s counselor, an author, and a painter, among many other things. When I look back at my life so far, all twenty-four years of it, all the signs point to what I’m doing now. I am a woman’s portrait photographer and every day I get to play dress-up, help women feel good about themselves, share their stories and create beautiful artwork. I fell into photography by a happy accident and I spent my first year as a wedding photographer. When it occurred to me that I could specialize in photographing women I knew instantly that it was my calling.
Your work tends to highlight the beauty of everyday women through naturalistic setups and lighting. How do you plan your shoots? Does the subject’s personality factor into how you design your shoot?
I love including my clients in the planning process – it’s the only way to ensure I create something they love. I ask them what their dream photo shoot would be. I have them tell me which pictures in my portfolio jump out at them and we talk about what they like/don’t like about themselves. I also make sure we are both clear on WHY they are being photographed. This conversation always gives me a clear direction of what they want me to create for them. So yes, each shoot revolves heavily around each woman’s personality.
Your “101 Years of Beauty” portrait series is a wonderful idea. Could you explain why you wanted to do this project? What was your aim?
I am very close to my grandma. She’s been my role model for most of my life, and I’ve always thought her hands were very beautiful. When I was struggling with self-esteem issues in high school I would imagine how I would feel when I was my grandma’s age, looking back at my current situation. It gave me some perspective and made it easier for me to see the beauty in myself. I also started to appreciate the beauty of character & confidence that comes with age. Plus, like I said, I love her hands and that made me realize that there is a physical beauty that comes with age as well; sure it’s different than the fresh smooth beauty of youth but it’s beautiful nonetheless. I started my “101 Years of Beauty” project to help women overcome their fear of aging by showing them how each year of life brings with it new layers of beauty.
I recently blogged about your “Four Generations” portrait. I thought it was heartwarming to see a family fortunate enough to have each other after so many years. Could you talk about that experience? How did you find them?
I met Marisa, the youngest of the four generations, at a women’s networking event in downtown Seattle. I told her about my project and I was so excited when she told me that her great-grandmother was 101. The next morning we booked their shoot and one month later they were in my studio, cuddling up on the couches with teacups, shortbread cookies and fuzzy blankets, telling stories, and laughing. It really was heartwarming and inspiring to see them all together, especially at the end of the shoot when we recorded video footage of them reflecting on their lives.
They also seemed like wonderful people and were very comfortable in front of camera. What is your approach to working with subjects/models? How do you let them open up?
I think the best way to help people feel comfortable is the be 100% real yourself. I wear my heart on my sleeve, it’s how I’ve always been. I’m always challenging myself to share more and reveal more flaws, fears, and dreams on my blog and in person. The more I share, the more comfortable people seem to feel around me. I think I make it easy for people to feel like they know me, and people are always more comfortable around people they know, right?
You include before & afters on your website. You do a wonderful job of emphasizing each person’s unique beauty. What photographic techniques do you find useful to achieve this? Any particular lighting set-ups? Poses? General philosophy?
I shoot in a basement studio with normal house windows (nothing fancy — although I do dream of having a space with floor to ceiling windows). I cover the windows with sheer white curtains to soften the light. I turn off ALL indoor lights so the only light source is the sunshine from outside. For backgrounds and reflectors I use painted polystyrene boards (the type used for home insulation). At the moment I’m also starting to explore into the realm of fabric backgrounds, just starting simply with bedsheets. And that’s it. I try and keep it simple. As far as posing goes, I’ve got a whole book of poses to draw from, but for me, it’s never about trying to accomplish a certain pose. My focus is on helping the woman into positions that are as comfortable and flattering for her as possible. Poses also convey attitude so that’s another thing I keep in mind when coming up with appropriate ones to fit each woman and her personality.
Your post-processing also seems very respectful to the original beauty of each person. What are your essential steps to enhance an image during editing?
I divide my editing into three steps: culling, retouching, and finishing effects. During the cull I’m really on the lookout for a connection with the camera — those pictures that make you feel like she’s looking right at you. I retouch all my pictures in the same way. I always smooth skin with the Portraiture plugin, desaturate colours and increase contrast. I also like to sharpen and brighten hair, eyes and lips. After that, it’s time to play with effects like color tones, textures and borders. I play in AlienSkin Exposure 4. This final stage is fun because it’s all about the mood of the image and it’s here when each woman’s shoot starts to feel unique.
Glamour portraiture is a popular genre of photography, very competitive. What makes your work stand apart?
I’m always improving my photography and business skills but my priority is making sure each woman leaves my studio feeling beautiful and appreciated. I care so much about what I’m doing and I put so much energy into it — I think people can see that and they like the personal touch that my business has. As far as competition goes, I don’t have any. There are more than enough women in this world for us portrait photographers to share. I couldn’t even photograph all the women in my hometown if I tried – not enough hours in the day! Besides, in my experience, working with other photographers, rather than competing with them, has only boosted my business (and happiness).
Any advice to others looking to get into glamour photography?
It’s easy to get distracted by the pretty clothes, cool sets and funky poses. Remember that this is not fashion photography where the model is more or less a clothes mannequin. This is an intimate form of portraiture. Prioritize her feelings, make a connection with her and capture HER beauty. Do that and your images will be more personal, powerful, and profitable.