Some photographers have skills that blow us away. Embedding emotions into images sets some photographers apart, so I knew instantly I had to share Tianna Williams’ work with our readers.
Tianna was interested in taking photographs, so she walked into a branch of a big electrical chain store here in the UK, and was sold a Nikon D3200. The store assistant recommended the kit lens to start with, but she bought the 50 mm f/1.8. Feeling overwhelmed by the camera’s controls, she turned to the wealth of free information on YouTube.
The birth of her first child inspired her photography; she was determined to record her daughter’s life as she grew. This, plus working as a midwife in the National Health Service here in the UK, steered her in the direction of maternity photography. Her professional knowledge enabled her to form a special relationship with her clients. Consequently, she had a unique selling point for her services, a real connection with her subjects that many photographers cannot achieve. Her empathy and cheerful kindness are evident in her skilled work.
For a short while, she’s dabbled in photographing jewelry. She says it was fun, recognizing the precision required in capturing such detail. However, it was her connection with people that drove her photographic ambition.
Although still primarily a maternity photographer, her portraiture is diversifying, so she’s increasingly capturing non-maternity portraits of women too. Given the negative publicity of the issues that some female models have had with a very small minority of male photographers, it is understandable why women can feel most comfortable being photographed by other women.
Tianna says that she doesn’t now have a lot of time for other photography, and she recognizes that’s not necessarily a good thing for personal growth. Nevertheless, she is determined to find time to collaborate with the hair and makeup artist she now works closely with.
She feels blessed with her studio, which she calls luxurious. Her main space is long enough for her to shoot full length at 70 mm, using the Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8. The building includes her office that doubles up as a viewing room, a hair and makeup/dressing room, which also stores a lot of props.
I have so much fabric! I often go to my local fabric stores and get a real feel for the materials. They must be used to me now. I once got strange looks when I’d be waving lengths of various materials up and down to see how they moved in the air! I tend to purchase a material called chiffon; it’s light, airy, and perfect for photo shoots. You can steam it very well too. I regularly buy 4-5 meter lengths, which seems quite a lot, but it really works so beautifully.
Tianna recently bought some canvas material, which she used on maternity sessions. She loves the textures, as well as how it holds their shape. She also buys dresses and items in bigger sizes from online stores to suit her maternity customers.
What’s striking about Tianna’s work is how she chooses fabrics and colors to work with different skin tones. She grew up in Birmingham, a wonderfully multicultural city in the UK, where she still lives and works. I asked her whether that diversity helped her to successfully photograph such a fabulous wide range of people. She feels that it does, but she hastened to add that it should not be considered a hindrance to others who are not so fortunate.
Tianna has a knack for matching fabrics to people, finding something that suits them, but she always gives the client the final choice.
I find, darker skin tones work so beautifully well with strong, bold, and rich colors.
Tianna told me that many colors have powerful and important meanings culturally. Many of her clients are black. Being proud of their heritage, they ask her how she can help them convey that, which, she says, is a huge honor. Nevertheless, she says making her clients feel comfortable, and respecting their uniqueness, are essential.
I don’t know everything about all the incredible backgrounds people have. But doing my best to understand and be culturally competent, as well as respectful, means they are comfortable with me.
Being a woman of color also engenders trust, as inevitably, she has understood from shared experiences. Many of her clients want to include their cultural background in their sessions, so she actively encourages it. Her clients have seen her portfolio, so doing that doesn’t seem at all like tokenism or taking advantage of their heritage, but a genuine desire to support the client. Besides, it was very apparent from talking with her that Tianna is shooting for her clients, and her work is not about bolstering her portfolio. Trust and respect are fundamental to her work.
She is aware of cultural appropriation, although she has never had a client that has asked for something that would not be associated with them. However, she has thought about it and told me she would find it challenging if they did because people come from many varied walks of life, and their background isn’t always obvious.
Before the shoot, Tianna consults clients, asking about their ideas. She finds that meeting them in person is the best way to achieve this, although that isn’t always possible. Moreover, a lot of her clients travel a long way to see her, so it means resorting to telephone conversations and emails. Her clients have usually read about her and seen her portfolio before they meet. Consequently, there is already a connection and realistic expectations.
Tianna told me that learning lighting has always topped her skills priority lists. This has paid off. What's most important to her is creating images that the subjects will love. Furthermore, people must feel properly represented in their photographs. Correct lighting is a big part of that and a lot of thought goes into it.
Her usual (but not only) technique is to feather the lighting, using the edge of the modifier to get the best of the soft light. In editing, she keeps warmer tones to ensure darker skin tones glow. She avoids dulling skin tones, which can result in a gray-looking result.
Tianna shoots excellent baby photos too. Her styling is simple, concentrating on the beautiful baby and not paraphernalia.
I always say to parents that their baby is the boss. I give them the choices of colors that they like — no more than two or three — and I set expectations about poses. But it doesn’t always go to plan! The hardest sessions are typically when a baby is struggling either with feeding, wind, or a growth spurt. A fussy baby and stressed-out parents make it harder.
If the baby isn’t happy, Tianna encourages the parents to bring the child back another week. She even sometimes asks parents to take their child to a healthcare professional, her nursing background and midwifery training coming into play.
Creatively, she is considering more images including a baby’s cultural heritage. She told me about a wonderful session that incorporated the mother’s bridal veil into the images.
It was just beautiful, not only because of the photograph but the cultural element for the baby too. When she is older, what she will have is an incredible image of her time as a baby and the importance of who she is, all in one.
Tianna is a member of UK Black Female Photographers (UKBFTOG) The group was founded by Jemella Binns (Mellz), out of a need to connect with other black female photographers across the UK. She and others felt that, at events and trade shows, they were and continue to be underrepresented.
The work done by the group and many members led to collaborations and sponsorships from Nikon and One Vision Imaging. Speaking engagements and job opportunities resulted. One of the biggest events was the We Are Here Exhibition in September 2020, which was put together in just six weeks. It was a huge success, leading to more opportunities across the country.
Images used with permission of Tianna Williams.