SHOOT THE BREEZE: Carolyn Röhm
Shoot The Breeze is an idea I'm taking for a walk, whereby I have conversations with my headshot subjects about the portrait photography experience. It's so important to have great photos to represent you in the digital sphere but the process can be a tricky one for some. I hope these conversations resonate with readers, encouraging you to embrace who you are and feel confident having your photo taken.
First up is CAROLYN RÖHM. Her IG bio reads "Woman, mother, sister, wife, friend, analyst, world champ, author, offbeat, passionate, outspoken, entrepreneur." Carolyn came to me needing photographs for the social media platform favoured by professionals all over the world: LinkedIn, and for her web presence in general. She's an experienced credit risk consultant and trainer, and is the co-founder and CEO of Scores4All, a pioneering venture aimed at transforming credit risk assessment.
Basically, she's REALLY good at helping you work out if your clients are going to pay you on time! Obviously, it's far more technical than that (and you can read more about it in layman's terms here). Most of my clients pay me on time (phew, thanks guys) and income fluctuations come with the joy (oh God) of being self-employed so I had to look up what credit risk management was. This is just one of the fun things about being a curious person and an artist, engaging with people in the "professional" world via portrait photography.
What's obvious from Carolyn's portraits and conversation is that she brings vibrance, intelligence and humour to everything she does and she's the perfect person to kick off the first instalment of Shoot the Breeze. If you're nervous about updating your headshot and portrait portfolio, let our conversation comfort and inspire you.
AB: So! I mean, there are so many different ways to start this conversation but I suppose the first place is: what sort of photographs were you wanting when you came to the studio the first time I took your pic, back in 2022?
CR: that seems like such a simple question… and yet 😂
I needed a headshot for my book (that was about to be published). I wanted photos that were real; genuine and authentic, not plastic and definitely not contrived. I had checked out your work before and loved the fact that you capture the essence of your subjects. And mostly I was hoping you could do the same for me.
And, as it turns out, you absolutely can, and you did!
You managed to put me at ease so quickly; and turned the entire photoshoot (which I was fully expecting to be quite an ordeal) into such a fun experience. In my opinion that’s a rare talent.
What were you expecting when I first arrived? Had I told you I needed a headshot for my book and that I loathed having my photo taken?
AB: Haha you sure had. But the thing is, Carolyn, nearly everyone says that.
I was expecting a big personality (which I can handle because SNAP). I got pink hair, bright clothes, and someone ready to play. In fact one of my fave pics of you from that shoot is a very early one [above] in your pink pashmina, sort of curled up on the seat and looking sassy. From that point on, I forgot you’d said you didn’t like having your photo taken. Seemed like you’d changed your mind… . And here we are, three shoots later (thanks bringing in Dieter for a Portrait Project shoot, I loved it).
Personally, I’m getting better at feeling comfortable in front of a camera but I still feel some resistance sometimes. I have to get my actor headshots updated this year and, truth be told, I’ve been putting it off. I have to time it when my make-up artist friend is free and also when my roots have been touched up. Reasons or excuses…? I often wonder why people don’t like having their picture taken. I have a cluster of theories. But you’ve said to me you actually LIKE it now. Is that correct? What’s that about?
CR: well, maybe LIKE is a bit strong. But I certainly don’t hate it. Also, to be clear, it’s only with you that I’m ok with my photo being taken. Rationally I know I need photos, and I know you’re going to deliver incredible images and make it SUPER fun and easy. Also, I forget that you have a camera in your hands, which, considering that it’s quite a sizeable piece of equipment, is hilarious.
Also, as I’ve gotten older I’ve become more comfortable being me. And a side effect of being more comfortable with being me is that I’m more comfortable with having my photo taken. Thank god there are some advantages to getting older!
What’s it like being such a great photographer and getting your own photo taken; that must be a bit wild?
AB: it can be a bit weird, because now it’s me “in the hot seat”. But I just run a commentary in my head with all the direction and advice I give my clients (breathe, relax your hands, BREATHE, it’s okay to be seen, don’t blink just yet, breathe).
Editing my own photos is always a really positive experience too. Self-acceptance settles in. I’ve experimented with more gritty edits in the past and that was really interesting - I didn’t look like one of those horrible “ageing” filters you can use on social media, it was an enhancement of the things beauty filters minimise: texture, shadows.
There’s a horror for many women - really, truly, a horror - in seeing their face age. Midlife crises notwithstanding, the reliance on youth for a sense of self worth really hits home in our forties. I highly recommend getting out of the habit of using filters to smoothe your face (and even change its shape). I’m determined to confront change because wishing I looked younger is a denial of reality for start and it’s also just a shitty way to behave towards the body that gives you being.
Being is what I aim to photograph. It’s that “essence” you mentioned earlier. I grew up poring over my Nana’s LIFE magazine annuals so the power of photojournalism and black and white worked its magic on me from very early on and I prefer photographs that capture the spark of something, a new thought or even just a steady connected presence.
Haha, people who need “pics for LinkedIn” might say this is going a bit far - “I just need a photo for my About page!” but… .
What do you think makes for a great profile pic on that platform? What do you want your photo to say about you?
CR: I love that really gritty edge when it comes to editing. I remember our first shoot and you included a couple of images with a lovely gritty edge to them. They are some of my all time favs. I’ve always thought that once we’re past, I don’t know, our 30s?, our faces should tell the story of our lives. I have absolutely no issues with people knowing I’m a few months shy of 50. I look forward to being in my 80s and having you take my photos and giving them that amazing gritty edge, highlighting the shadows of wrinkles etc. Can’t wait! 😀.
The self worth, and the reliance on youth, or at least appearing young, you talk about is so real for so many. It’s so extrinsic. I wish more women would realise that they are enough, they are more than enough, exactly as they are. I suppose we’re conditioned to rely on the good opinions of others; and those others don’t always have our best interests at heart. But I’m wandering down a very different path, so I’ll pull myself back on track…
What makes for a great LinkedIn Profile Pic? I think that very much depends on the person in question. I’m delighted that we’re seeing far more authentic pics these days, that really tell us something about the person we’re looking at.
Personally, I think a LinkedIn profile pic (actually any profile pic) should convey the character of the person. Humans are (apparently) super good at judging at a glance, and so, our profile pics can (and I would argue, should) be used as a filter to attract the types of people we want to work with. That means our profile pics have a lot of heavy lifting to do - except when done well, it doesn’t feel like heavy lifting because it is so authentic.
As to what I want my photo to say about me; that I’m open, I don’t sit in a box, that I challenge the status quo, that what you see is what you get, that I’m unconventional.
You connect really well with your subjects, it’s how you get them to relax and trust that they’re in great hands. Are there any people you struggle to connect with, and therefore struggle to capture their authentic selves? Or perhaps a different take on the same theme - what is the most difficult part of portrait photography for you?
AB: sticking to a time limit haha! I don’t find portrait shoots hard, really but I do like to chat. Getting people in and getting them out, that firing squad approach, is impossible for me. And that’s fortunate because I’ve had a lot of conversations with people where they’ve had that experience and they’ve felt weird about it.
Often when I’ve had chats with people working for organisations where the photographer comes in and everyone files through, the speed of the shoot and the lack of connection has made for an uncomfortable time for some. People who’ve had that experience rarely like their photographs. Shooting teams is a great gig - I really enjoy going to their place of work and hanging for half or a whole day. People can come through when they’re ready. Individual shoots don’t need to take long but it’s so important to connect through conversation and some laughs. That ‘firing squad’ thing doesn’t quite go away sometimes but if people bounce out the door once we’re done, I know they will be looking forward to seeing their pics, rather than dreading it.
Having your photograph taken should be fun! It’s best when it’s creative, a kind of collaboration. When people start to suggest things, I know they’ve slipped into a comfortable place. Haha, now it’s my turn to go off-piste. So, getting back to your question: taking a pic of someone who, for whatever reason, has a problem with their appearance can be hard. For them, especially, and for me because I’m empathetic. But I think everyone looks great. I never believe people when they’re self-deprecating. It can be hard to watch someone struggle to let themselves be seen and appreciated.
People always look lovely when they’re enjoying themselves. That’s why I have an arsenal of things that I use to comfort people and encourage them to relax. Jokes can drop the drawbridge. In the “professional” world, credibility and trust-worthiness is so important and when you’re captured in an honest moment, that’s part of a magic profile pic. And if you’re engaged with me and enjoying yourself, that pretty much takes care of the rest.
Thanks for having this chat with me, Carolyn. It's been fun to reflect - and to look back at the photos we have created together. Here's to many more!
PS If this conversation has you wishing for a fun photoshoot, don't hesitate to check out my photography website here and to get in touch.