Once upon a time it was only professional models who could claim to really know what it was like to strike a pose at the business end of a fashion photographer's lens, but anyone perusing the portfolios of many studios nowadays can't help but notice the rather more glamourous packages which are on offer amid the usual family portraits or wedding snaps.
Vanity isn't the only reason increasing numbers of people are having professionally-styled portrait photographs done, however. Some may wish to capture a happy moment in time of themselves or their children; for others, it is a much needed pick-me-up in times of adversity.
We meet some of those who have had their confidence boosted by the new Picture Me makeover photography company run by Style Academy modelling boss, Tracey Hall.
'My kidney disease led to weight gain, but this made me feel fab'
Karen Murphy lives in Hillsborough with her show Pug dogs, two Bengali cats and six "moggies". The Lisburn-born business and marketing graduate, an executive with the NI Livestock & Meat Commission, lost her 79-year-old mother, Ellen, to multiple myeloma last September, 14 years after her father, David, died suddenly at 60, following a routine operation. An only child, Karen suffers from polycystic kidney disease, a condition which leads to weight gain and will eventually require a transplant. She decided to have her Picture Me portrait done after losing weight ahead of her 40th birthday last December. She says:
I was doing some spinning exercise classes and facing the big 4-0, and someone at the gym suggested getting my picture done for it. I'd put on weight with my kidney disease – basically my kidneys are failing and they're huge because they are covered in cysts.
I used to ride horses but I couldn't take the chance of falling, so I started going to the gym. I'd lost a stone and-a-half when I got my pictures done and I've lost more since – I'm just under 12 stone now.
My kidney problem is genetic. I don't have cute little ones like kidney beans – they're massive. They can grow up to three kilos. I said to my trainer, 'Imagine how light I'd be if I didn't have these!'. I've to take medication for the high blood pressure it causes and iron shots for the anaemia. The biggest symptom is fatigue. I still dabble in horses but can't do what I used to, as I'll be hitting the transplant list soon.
I inherited the disease from my father. He didn't know he had it – we only found out after his autopsy. He would have been on dialysis within a year, but he died from a complication in his bowel after a routine operation when he was only 60. I'm like him in a lot of ways and he gave me this – thanks, Dad!
I'm a complete tomboy, always surrounded by animals, and Picture Me was a chance to get all dolled up and pampered. I did a bit of modelling in my early 20s after getting dumped by the love of my life. I'd done a course with the Northern Ireland School of Modelling and learned how to walk gracefully, and getting up on the catwalk helped cheer me up when I was heartbroken. It just made me feel better, as did Picture Me. I'm disastrous when it comes to men.
I've been very unlucky in love and by this stage, I don't care. These days all you get is leftovers – as my friend Ross says: fat, bald, in their 40s and wearing football shirts. I still like what I had in my early 20s: tall, dark and handsome. Having hit this age I've given up, although I'm off to Cyprus this week and I'll be keeping an eye out!
The Picture Me shots have given me a bit of confidence. The make-up was awesome. The foundation is sprayed on, like a spray tan, so it goes on really evenly. I like the glamorous Forties and Fifties look, with dark eyes and red lips, so I had some like that done; then some more casual ones. They're all in a little portfolio that's included in the price.
Darren Kidd, the photographer, can Photoshop any flaws in the photos – I said, 'Go ahead if there's anything really bad', but there wasn't anything huge. I use lots of lotions and potions and my skin's quite good, except for lines around my eyes when I smile. I can see why Victoria Beckham scowls so much!
I really enjoyed the whole thing. There's a stylist provided, and someone from Toni & Guy, and a make-up artist. I brought my own clothes but Tracey had lots of accessories – and nice nibbles! My friend Angela was so impressed she's having hers done too – she has just lost nine-and-a-half stone.
It's really nice to have professional pictures taken. It made me feel great. Have you seen them? Not too shabby for the big 4-0!"
'The make-up was so dramatic I didn't recognise myself'
Budding singer/songwriter Emma Horan (15) lives at home in Lurgan with dad David, a businessman, and mum Gillian, a former swimming champion who works part-time in Tesco. Her older brother Philip (23) and sister Susanna (20) live abroad. Gillian arranged for Emma, a Lurgan College student, to have her Picture Me portraits done for her 15th birthday last year. She says:
I think mum is reliving her youth and her arty side a little through me. She loves all the glamour too! She's brilliant – she pushes me and supports me all the way. We're like twins, but I think the artistic thing comes from my dad and his side of the family.
I really want to be a singer/songwriter but I'm also very interested in fashion. The two go hand-in-hand quite often these days anyway. I love Beyonce, who's a fashion icon in her own right, and Cara Delevingne – she's fab.
Posing for the Picture Me shots was like a performance in itself. I had my en-pointe ballet shoes with me and a black net dress. The make-up was so dramatic and detailed I didn't recognise myself afterwards!
I loved the shoot; the team is brilliant and I'd recommend it to anyone."
'Ellie would love to be a model when she grows up'
Little Ellie O'Neill from Magherafelt enjoyed her Picture Me experience so much, she had her portrait done three times. The 10-year-old lives with her mum Martina (41), a single mother who devotes her time to taking Ellie to castings and Irish dancing classes. Martina says:
Ellie has done a wee bit of modelling work, like the Lidl garden ad, and she can't get enough of having her picture taken! It's great for her confidence. She was always winning bonny baby competitions – she always shone through and she's so photogenic.
She always looks absolutely stunning in her photos and she's very easy to work with. The photographer just points the camera at her and away she goes, posing. She's a real natural.
I don't know where she gets it from – definitely not from me! I'm a bit like a manager-cum-taxi driver for her but I enjoy it. It keeps me busy. She gets all excited going into the castings and she's not a bit shy. She was born that way; I'm so proud of her.
She wants to be a model when she's older, and an Irish dancing instructor too. I'd love to see her achieve all her dreams and maybe star in something like Riverdance in the future.
She was on Gotta Dance on Sky Uncut in 2012 – she did her Irish dancing in front of Ashley and Kimberley from the Pussycat Dolls and got two gold stars, and she was on the final of Britain Does Variety too on the Showcase Channel.
She enjoyed the Picture Me experience just as much. Tracey and the team are brilliant with the children and treat them like young stars from the minute they walk in, and they have great fun with the photographer. They're not plastered in make-up – maybe just a wee bit of lip gloss. It's all very tasteful and the results are lovely and natural."
The expert making dreams come true ...
Tracey Hall (46) is director the Style Academy modelling agency in Belfast. She says:
"We initiated Picture Me four years ago as we are persistently receiving enquiries from members of the public about portfolio shoots. Hence we decided to offer the 'model experience' and the ultimate prize of a beautiful set of professional prints, in a branded portfolio, of the individual looking their absolute best, using all the tricks of the modelling trade.
"We have photographed both sexes to date, from the ages of two to 70 and almost all are complete novices. From birthday presents to a celebration of beating cancer, there are many reasons why we have found people want to take part in Picture Me.
"Each client is madeover twice with two very different looks. They have their hair styled and make-up applied professionally, by a top session stylist from Toni & Guy and one of our leading make-up artists, respectively. Their clothing is styled and accessorised from the vast wardrobe at Style Academy by one of our stylists and they are directed in front of the camera by myself.
"In recent times, the demand for children to be photographed has greatly increased and in response, we launched 'mini models' last year! This is an express photoshoot where children from two to 12 are dressed in two outfits, given props and directed in front of the camera.
"Basically, they get to experience a mini professional model shoot and simultaneously we have been delighted to discover some incredible junior talent, whom we've then signed to the agency."
The next Picture Me session is being held on Monday, August 4. For further information, visit www.styleacademy.com and www.facebook.com/pages/The-Style-Academy, email: email@example.com or tel: 028 9024 4343