Portraiture | Sophie & The Birds

My daughter Sophie is a daily inspiration to me, her maturity, creativeness, gentle nature, kindness, affection, understanding and empathy towards the world we live in, the list could go on and as corny as it may sound I feel truly blessed every day. She is my muse and the reason I chose her for the heart of these images.


Sophie – Birds – Nature – Earthy – Woods – Trees – Fine Art – Composite – Warm – Brown – Green – Cream – Red – Muted Colours – Angel –  Gentle – Connection – Innocence

I’m always referring back to the work of Brooke Shaden, and before I began the planning for this image I was stuck. I had a bare skeleton of an idea that I was going to photograph Sophie and I wanted a connection with birds but I didn’t know how to approach it. After a couple of days trying to force an idea out of my head I grabbed Brooke’s book when I was leaving the house and whilst sat waiting in the car for my daughter I recapped the inspiration sections.

If you find yourself uninspired, never see it as a flaw. We all go through down periods where inspiration does not flow very naturally. That does not mean that it will never flow again; it simply means that a change is coming in how you view inspiration, and that is always a good thing. If you feel uninspired, try something new: find a new technique to test out, or challenge a friend to create an image with you.

Brooke Shaden

I needed to break my routine, I wasn’t going to be able to come up with something new if I’m sat at home staring at my computer screen waiting for the Epiphany to arrive. What I did know was that I was going to include birds and Sophie so this was my starting point. It would also mean approaching a new technique, photographing a bird outside to then composite it into an image with Sophie which will be taken in the studio. Two different lighting situations that would need to work together.



Nikon D850

Sigma 50mm & Nikon 70-200 2.8

Manfrotto Tripod


Bird Food




Nikon D850 & Sigma 50mm – I chose this lens because it’s fantastically sharp and I wanted to get the best possible quality image of the bird.

In the second image on the view finder you can see the red areas, I was manually focusing with an aperture of F10 using the focus peaking option, with this it highlights all the areas that will be in focus. I did it this way because I wanted to make sure that if a bird was flying to the table then I would be able to get some images of it in flight.

The grand complexity of my vague plan was to basically stake out my bird table until I got a good photo of a bird. With that I was going to composite it into an image with Sophie. A grey dove was what I was hoping for, there was one that I had seen visit my garden on the odd occasion and this was what I pictured Soph holding because grey / white doves have a ‘angelic reputation’.

Full of positivity I crumbled a few slices of Hovis onto the bird table, went and made myself a bowl of coffee and took perch on my chair in stealth mode ready to capture the hoards of birds that were going to land on the bird table.

… not quite how the day went.

After nearly 4 hours I was freezing, uncomfortable, had only used 5 images on my SD card and not even drank my coffee because every time I moved an inch the birds that were showing interest in landing on the bird table and creeping closer on the branches would fly away!

I decided to have a go at compositing one of these birds into an image that I’d previously taken of Sophie… just to challenge my editing skills more but good practise nonetheless.

Soph bird PRINT (sml)

This wasn’t a quick edit, overall I’ve spent a couple of weeks working with it, changing the colour of her dress and the tones, hue/saturation layers as well as dodge & burn and adding texture to get the bird to blend in with the rest of the image.

There is something about it that I actually really like, but there are annoyances as well. I like the way Soph is sitting, her gentle but intense gaze, her hair tumbling down to one side, but I don’t like the position of her right arm because it looks like it comes from the hair and it makes your eye follow that line down the centre of the image.



I referred back to the posing workshops that I attended as this was covered in Sue Bryce’s workshop in London, and Lara Jades at the NEC Photography Show. Triangles within posing were referred to in both workshops, I have drawn triangles on these images by Lara Jade to demonstrate:

Triangle Posing


It is flattering, creates shape and interest in the pose if you create a triangle or diamond with the body. You need to be conscious of where the hands are because that is where the eye will be drawn to. If hands are near the face there is a connection with the face, if they are on the waist it will enhance that area, if they are pointing out the frame that is where they eye will go. So hand and arm placement is important and I feel this is what lets this image of Sophie down and something that I overlooked on the shoot. Although, there is still a triangle created with her left arm there’s still an issue with the bird which I can’t put my finger on, I think it’s the shadows on Sophie’s hand so will need to try to rectify that. I tried to edit this to resemble an old painting as well as taking inspiration from this image by Paul Alpakin.



Even though the image with Sophie and the blackbird was just going to be an experiment because I hadn’t photographed Sophie specifically for this composite, the more I played with it the more I became attached to it. I wanted it to look more like an old painting that’s why I added texture and grain and used the muted colour palette. I think it still needs a few tweaks, but I’ve ordered a print in lustre but also in Giclee paper which is cotton rag, a very textured paper to see what it looks like before I finish the edit.


Following some advice from my bird loving course leader karen 😀 I went and bought dried mealworms, fatballs and sunflower seeds yesterday afternoon ready for a new approach today because they obviously weren’t too fussed on Hovis crumbs yesterday.


I decided to opt for a further back position as well, perhaps I was too close yesterday which was scaring them away and for this I set my camera up on the tripod with the 70 – 200mm 2.8 lens.

This was more successful today, there wasn’t loads of landings but I had a few blackbirds, crows … and a robin! No dove yet though, but perseverance is the key and apparently it takes a few weeks for the word to get around on the bird street that there is food being laid out for them. Also as soon as I started pressing the shutter as they were flying to the table they were deciding mid-flight to not land, so it might take them a little while to get used to the sound of my shutter and that it’s not something that’s going to harm them.


I set up the same as yesterday with the same food, same position and camera set up. There was a little robin that was really hesitant at first but then seemed to get used to the sound of my shutter……..and eventually it posed for me… and smiled!!

Smiling Robin

I was made up with this image and knew that it was my winner for that day. Now I could move on to planning how to photograph Sophie to fit with this bird.


The weird part of this which I still haven’t got me head around was that I could envisage Soph holding this robin in a dark woodland scene holding onto some delicate branches. I then went on the hunt for some branches that I could use, I didn’t find anything in my garden that suited, or in the garden centre and in defeat I called into LIDL to grab some food and they had exactly what I was looking for!! They even looked like my drawing!! My jaw dropped when I seen them and I must have looked like I’d seen a ghost if anyone was in the store when I was stood there eyes bulging. Anyway, I bought as many as I could carry, not really knowing how many I’d need, it’s better to have too many than too little.

Before I brought Soph in I made sure the scene was set up and that my lighting was as close to the natural light the robin was photographed in.


Compositing a daylight image with a studio image and make it look convincing. Using the catchlight in the Robins eye as a reference I moved my studio strobe around until I created the same catchlight in the dolls eyes.

Baby catchlight

Once I was happy with the light I brought Soph in, the difficult part was getting her hand in a position that would align with how the bird was standing, it was actually quite awkward and there wasn’t many variations we could come up with.

I chose this one for the composite:


I struggled with the shadows under the Blackbird on the previous image with Sophie so I decided to make a fake bird that she could hold in the position where the robin was going to be and then I could steal the shadows so that it looked more realistic.

I fashioned this together in the space of a few minutes, it didn’t need to look pretty it just needed to serve a purpose.


hello pretty bird!


Turned out there isn’t actually many shadows cast with this lighting set up but I took what I could and used that.


After many hours of making adjustments using curves, hue/saturation, textured layers, dodge & burn this was the result:

Sophie Robin FINAL

Sophie Robin FINAL-2.jpg

I really like this image, I prefer it to the Blackbird one for technical reasons, I photographed Sophie with careful consideration to how the robin was lit and therefore they have matched really well and I was able to create the shadows better.

Although I prefer the Robin image for the technical details I am quite drawn to the Blackbird image, her gaze is somewhat hypnotising and draws me in.

I think the two images could work together if hung side by side, the colours compliment each other as well as their differences, but I feel the blackbird one should be hung separately. I’m quite interested to get this printed and once hung see how others interpret it that aren’t actually connected to Sophie. Does it only draw me in because it’s my daughter? I can see so much in that image, I see my little girl when she was a tiny with short curly hair and glued to my every move, I see her now as she is, a beautiful soul who amazing me everyday with her thoughts and achievements and then I see her in the future, growing into a woman … and oh my goodness I’m flooded with emotion. Is this why I’m drawn to it so much? On the other hand my husband isn’t keen on it, whether it’s because he always prefers modern to vintage styles he prefers the image with the Robin, says it’s more like the Sophie he knows and he prefers the style of the image and colours, interestingly it’s going to read differently depending on the viewer. When comparing the two images, the semiotics are very different, Sophie with the blackbird could be referred to as quite an intense portrait and your gaze is taken straight to her eyes even though she is holding a bird, her eyes are gripping. Whereas Sophie with the Robin is a much more relaxed portrait, and you aren’t drawn to one particular area, instead I feel that your gaze moves around, she’s looking at the robin and your eyes follow her gaze to it and then round the image back to her eyes.

After I created these images I came across work by Gemmy Woud-Binnendijk in an article online (https://mymodernmet.com/gemmy-woud-binnendijk-fine-art-photography/) Photographer Shoots Exquisite Portraits to Look Exactly Like Old Masters’ Oil Paintings.


This stunning image was a re-creation of Meisje_met_de_parelGirl with a Pearl Earring (1665) by Johannes Vermeer.

The model has done a great job to mirror the expression and the posture of the model including clothing and the lighting is near perfect, the catch lights in the eyes are at a 45 degree angle to the left showing the position and direction of the light.



I really love these images, although in the first one with the crow I do think that it’s obvious that it’s a composite because the shadows under the crow don’t match the shadows on the girl. In the second one with the red breasted bird it is a much more convincing image, perhaps these were stuffed birds or perhaps the photographer made a better job of the composite. Which would compare similarly with my experience, in the image with Sophie with the blackbird I don’t think the composite looks as ‘real’ as the one with her and the robin. Overall the photographer has re-created some stunning versions of old masters paintings and within these paintings, although intricate in scenes, the models gaze is interrogating and strong.

This has been an interesting project for me, when creating composites I’m always so focused on the smallest technical details, lighting, composition, depth of field etc but this has revealed that if it’s a portrait then the gaze has the ultimate importance.

Portraits tell stories; they are interpretations of their sitters, visual narratives for which we assume sitters and painters are, in varying degrees, responsible. In that sense they are representations of both the sitter’s and painter’s representation. Additionally, since art history has been going on for a long time, they come to us framed with interpretations, representations, and self representations of art historians. The stories that constitute the physiognomic species are woven of four different strands of commentary:

a) On the sitter’s social, political and/or professional status, and on his or her character, personality, ‘inner being’, moral quality and state of mind (mood and emotion (‘gliaffetti’);

b) On the painters characterisation and the means by which he produces it;

c) On the sitters pose and the appearance as the medium of characterisation;

d) On the archival data that provide the information used to confirm or fill out interpretations of a), b) and c) – historical information (or speculation) about the lives, behaviour and practises of sitters and painters.

(Berger 2000)

Jan_Six_-_Rembrandt (1)


The shrewd, worldly-wise look in his eye-he was thirty six at the time-makes him seem much older than his years. His attitude is unaffected, as free and natural as possible. He has just come in from the street and, entering his friend’s studio, is taking off his gloves and cape. Thus Rembrandt observed him, and thus revealed his innermost being.

Berger (2000)

This physiognomic narrative has been constructed using the information described in a), b), c) and d). And as detailed as this is, it’s just an educated opinion on the narrative.

Duczman’s portraits remind me greatly of paintings from Rembrandt, each similar in the rich earthy tones, lighting and use of accessories to help create a narrative.

Fascinated with the theory behind the power of the gaze I researched further into the work of Rembrandt.

Rembrandt’s textural agency: A shared perspective in visual art and science


This interdisciplinary paper hypothesizes that Rembrandt developed new painterly techniques — novel to the early modern period — in order to engage and direct the gaze of the observer. Though these methods were not based on scientific evidence at the time, we show that they nonetheless are consistent with a contemporary understanding of human vision. Here we propose that artists in the late ‘early modern’ period developed the technique of textural agency — involving selective variation in image detail — to guide the observer’s eye and thereby influence the viewing experience. The paper begins by establishing the well-known use of textural agency among modern portrait artists, before considering the possibility that Rembrandt developed these techniques in his late portraits in reaction to his Italian contemporaries. A final section brings the argument full circle, with the presentation of laboratory evidence that Rembrandt’s techniques indeed guide the modern viewer’s eye in the way we propose.

(DiPaola, S., Riebe, C., & Enns, J. (2010). Rembrandt’s textural agency: A shared perspective in visual art and science. Leonardo 43(2), 145-151)

This journal looks at the work of Rembrandt, his techniques and how they changed throughout his career and discusses possible reasons for this happening. It details how the human eye processes information regarding colour and shape and the connection between our mind and how this knowledge has been used by artists who exploit it in their work. In the work associated with the 20th century, the painters brush strokes were done in such a way to direct your gaze.

Screenshot 2019-05-28 at 11.46.03


John Howard Sanden, a well known portrait artist, describes his intent:

‘the increased textural and color detail rendered in the sitter’s left eye and eyebrow are intended to move the viewer’s gaze to these locations, thus helping to draw attention to the intelligent, yet playful personality characteristics of the sitter’


This article goes into great detail of human vision and experiments of the texture-gaze hypothesis. Although a bit further than I wanted to delve, it revisits the point which consistently states how using artistic techniques the artist has the tools to emphasize certain character traits of the sitter. In paintings this was done with the angle, colour and intensity of the brush strokes, in Photography this can be done with a wide aperture lens, focusing on the eyes for example while everything else falls out of focus gradually, thus creating an intended focal point for the viewer. In post-production the ‘centre of focus’ can be enhanced more, using Photoshop tools such as dodge & burn, contrast, curves layers etc.

Sophie Bird 20x16 PRINT sml

When creating the portraits of Sophie my narrative was based around her and birds, I wanted to create a connection between them and show their innocence and gentle nature. This initial idea has led me down a meandering path of discovery, looking at the theory behind the gaze but also at the emotional impact within portraiture. They are more than a mere digital capture and have developed their own stories depending on the eyes that view them.




Berger, H. (2000). Fictions of the pose. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, p.87.

Berger, H. (2000). Fictions of the pose. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, p.88.

DiPaola, S., Riebe, C., & Enns, J. (2010). Rembrandt’s textural agency: A shared perspective in visual art and science. Leonardo 43(2), 145-151.


Photographer Shoots Exquisite Portraits to Look Exactly Like Old Masters’ Oil Paintings



Forest Babies

I met Katherine last year when I was photographing her friends wedding and I had no idea at the time she was already 3 months pregnant with twins.

Here she is looking rather fabulous on the morning of the wedding….


Fast forward a few months we are planning the shoot for her twins which were due in March. The last time I photographed a set of twins it was over a year ago so I was really looking forward to coming up with something special for them.

Requested Theme – Forest / Woodland



I did a little recap on how to photograph twins first, after I did my newborn training course with Kelly Brown which didn’t include twin posing I was able to purchase an add on course which is available on her website:



I have most of her online courses and they are a really good reference point to refer back to the day before a shoot. Especially if I’ve been doing weddings for a few weeks or commercial shoots and there’s been a break since my last newborn.





These images are by Maggie Robinson – Dinky Feet Photography. Like most of the forest images on Pinterest they are both composites, the baby has been added to the digital backdrop.

For this image I didn’t want to do a composite, I wanted to have the scene already set up in the studio like these below from Kelly Brown. Again, I love the simplicity in her set ups, muted earthy tones, natural props that don’t distract from the baby but add interest and draw your eye towards the baby.

When she’s working from her own studio she only uses natural light, she has a wall of windows that she blocks out what she doesn’t need and just has light falling across the baby.  This is my favourite way to photograph babies, unfortunately in my new studio there isn’t enough light from my patio doors so I have to now use a strobe.

Screenshot 2019-04-28 at 07.31.44


Nikon D850 & Nikon 35mm 1.4

Elinchrom D-lite RX one

Backdrop, props, accessories, handmade outfits.

When photographing a newborn sometimes it can take an hour or more before you even get chance to take one photograph because they need to feed so when you have two the chances are it can take even longer. So I always prepare the parents beforehand, a normal shoot can take 2-3 hours but a twins session can be 3-4, it’s important they know as much information beforehand so that they come prepared, enough nappies, milk etc if they are bottle fed. Isaac & Logan were breast fed and Katherine was a complete natural and tandem fed them, Isaac finished up pretty quickly but Logan fed for almost 2 hours. I used the time to get some photos of Isaac on his own and then as soon as Logan was ready it took about 20 minutes to get this shot of them both in the beds together.


In post production I was conscious of how I wanted it look, if I was going to display this at my Degree Show it needed to work alongside the others. So during the editing process I would have my other images open next to this one which I found really helped when balancing the tones so that they all worked together as a collection.

Harry Potter & Hermoine

Last year I photographed the Wedding of Gemma & Pat, they had already booked and half paid for another photographer when they found me and when I told them I was available they cancelled their photographer… I did feel bad on the other Photographer’s behalf but at the same time I was jumping with joy inside because they loved my work that much that they were prepared to lose money to have me…. A Photographers dream 😀 And to my joy they got pregnant pretty soon after the wedding and booked me for their newborn shoot… another happy dance! They are massive film fans and wanted to incorporate that into the shoot.

Requested Themes – Harry Potter



This is the reference board that I put together for a previous Harry Potter Shoot so I used this again because I couldn’t find any new images online since I made this. Except the one that I had made –

Baby Maisie-8-Edit


  • Needed to be different from my last Harry Potter image.
  • It also had to include their dog that they were bringing along to the shoot. (Never work with dogs or children they say hmmmm…. the challenge is on!!)



mabelI’ve never photographed a dog with a baby before so I my main priority was that it needed to be done in the safest way possible because dogs can be unpredictable. I had already met their dog Mabel at their wedding, she is probably one of the cutest and most well behaved dogs I’ve ever met but I still needed to be careful how I planned this.

I found some newborn photographs on Pinterest that included dogs, they all include the baby wrapped up safe with the dog alongside.



Nikon D850 & Sigma 50mm 1.4 Art

Elinchrom D-lite RX One

Backdrop & a selection of props, bear outfit and accessories


Little Matilda was a very hungry girl that day and fed constantly for the first 2 hours, so I kept myself occupied and let Mabel take centre stage and she was the best most well behaved model I’ve ever had! I had her posing in my little bed, in a root bowl, on an miniature vintage chair…. she was amazing!! Then when Matilda was successfully in a content milk coma I was able to position her in a wooden bowl all wrapped up safe, once she was in position Mabel was brought into the scene happily wearing the Harry Potter scarf. Once she was sat in the right place Gemma put the glasses on her which did keep slipping down because they had nothing to hold on to but after a couple of attempts I managed to get the shot of the day! I was so pleased that I wasn’t going to have to composite 2 images together, the only thing I did need to do in post production was remove the strobe reflection in Mabel’s glasses. The rest of the edit consisted of quick tidy up of skin, stray hairs etc, outfit colour change from blue to light brown, dodge & burn, hue & saturation, curves, contrast and painted vignette. This was edited to match the other images that I have created for competitions and my exhibition at the Degree Show because I want them all to compliment each other as a collection.

Mabel & Matilda-1.jpg

This has to be one of my favourite newborn images to date, I absolutely adore it, Mabel was a genius addition and I’m so glad they brought her along to join in. Harry Potter & Hermoine … best pals forever now. The sweetest thing was that Mabel kept on giving Matilda a tiny gentle lick on the head every now and then just to make sure she was ok. I can see these two are going to be joined at the hip as they grow up together.

My Collection so far….

Baby Cedri-1Suzanne_Ross-Hughes_Newborn_April_2019_161813-1Mabel & Matilda-1












Three Little Bears

I was asked to do a newborn shoot for a previous client, I’d photographed their 1st child for his 1st Birthday last year. Every shoot that I do is bespoke to each client, I always try to make sure that I don’t repeat something that I’ve done before. My aim has always been to become known for my unique baby portraits and over the past year this has started to happen, clients are travelling from further away and are requesting a certain ‘theme’ when they book. This family travelled an hour and a half for their shoot so I wanted to create something special for them.

Requested Theme – Bears


I looked through Pinterest and found a couple of images but there wasn’t many to choose from… which is rare, usually every ‘theme’ has been done in so many ways it’s hard to come up with something new!

Screenshot 2019-04-27 at 08.47.18


Screenshot 2019-04-27 at 08.51.03


After not having much luck online I referred back to my Anne Geddes books, she has done many ‘Teddy’ themed images before which you can find online:





The teddy in the image above has featured in many of her images over the years, including in her recent book – Anne Geddes Small World



This huge book is an exquisite collection of her unique baby and child portraits from throughout her career.

“Geddes has followed her own vision every single step of the way.”

— The Huffington Post


Image taken by Suzanne Ross-Hughes of Anne Geddes Small World Book

Geddes features a ‘Three Little Bears’ image in her recent book, a set of twins is posed with her large bear that she’s featured in many images over the years. Throughout my research on the internet and books there appears to be evidence of babies with bears featured on shelves and lying with teddies so I needed to come up with something that didn’t include what’s been done before.


I came up with a few ideas and then decided on Goldilocks and the Three Bears but without Goldilocks, I wanted to include little beds and possibly porridge. There was many ways I could have gone with this but I needed to make the most of the props and accessories I already owned because of the timeframe I was given there wouldn’t have been adequate time to start making anything new.

My new studio is extremely small so when I am preparing for a session I set each little scene up, photograph it then put everything to one corner of the room ready to re-set up on the day.

Below is the Scenes plan that I printed out and used as a reference on the day:



Nikon D850 & Sigma 50mm 1.4 Art

Elinchrom D-lite RX One

Backdrop & a selection of props, bear outfit and accessories


The session went really well, even though he fed on and off for 3 hours I managed to utilise all the setups planned except one. I was so pleased that we managed to get the one of the baby in the little bed with the 2 teddies and the porridge as that was the focal screenshot-2019-04-27-at-10.43.28.pngimage for the session. Throughout my work there is always a link to Anne Geddes work, she definitely inspires me to create something new for every shoot. I can see a style developing in the newborn images I create, I love natural rich earthy tones and never go for anything too bright or colourful. Kelly Brown has been a continuous influence since I 8began my journey into newborn photography, she uses vintage props anything that has a bit of a story or history behind it and always uses natural muted tones. And then there is Paulina Duczman whose work I adore, her inspiration comes from her childhood and growing up with her family who owned an antique business so her home was always filled with vintage furniture and old paintings, and this has become her style of photography with her images resembling a Rembrandt painting.


Baby Cedri-1


This image was chosen by http://babyphotoawards.com and featured in their April Collection which I was over the moon about! I couldn’t wait to tell the family that they were now the proud owners of an Award Winning Image. After travelling so far to me for their session I’m so pleased it was one of their images that was selected. This is an International Competition and each month they select the winners from around the world and feature them on their website:




Screenshot 2019-04-27 at 10.57.26


This is definitely one of my favourite images that I’ve ever made, I love the natural earthy tones, the lighting which appears to be falling in perhaps from a window to the right of the baby and the props which help create a story of nurturing and caring similar to the work of Anne Geddes. I extremely pleased with the technical elements, the impact and the story within so for me this was definitely a winning image (even if it hadn’t won an award).