Emily McGonigle Photography: My First Studio Experience

Jumpsuit--Thrifted. Jeffrey Campbell Litas--Poshmark. HMUA: Ashley Jean Stevens.
Jumpsuit–Thrifted. Jeffrey Campbell Litas–Poshmark. HMUA: Ashley Jean Stevens.

When Emily first approached me about her Senior Model Project, I was expecting something very…senior-esque. You know, the lying-down-on-my-stomach-with-my-feet-crossed-in-the-middle-of-a-field-with-a-sundress-on type picture? Where I’m holding a twig and I have to look at it like it’s possibly the greatest twig that has ever graced my vision, and that somehow in the crevices of its bark I can see my future and all the fortunes that lie ahead of me as I venture into the unknown forest that is the rest of my life? Those pictures? If you know me, you know that what I just described is so incredibly opposite of who I am as a person. But that’s the greatest thing about Emily: she understood that.

Shooting with Emily didn’t make me feel like a dandelion child, waiting to be framed in cherry and hung by the staircase. Shooting with Emily made me feel like a woman: a woman who showed growth, maturity, independence, and preparedness for what would come to battle me in the future. And that says so much more about what I stand for as an individual than all the twigs in Tennessee.

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Another huge perk not only of working with a photographer so skilled and perceptive as Emily but also just working in a studio in general is how controlled all the conditions were. So often when I’m working outside, the light won’t be right for the type of shots we want, I’ll get a glare, it will be too hot, etc. In a studio, however, we were in complete control of how everything looked; Emily blended both natural and studio lighting to eliminate any resemblance of a yearbook picture from my shots (goodbyyyyyee LifeTouch!).

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But, like, let’s get real for a second. There were some things with which I was a bit uncomfortable–for instance, I was there alone. I had no social crutch; it was simply me, Emily, Ashley (our makeup and hair artist) and Jamie (our videographer). I honestly felt a bit of self-inflicted pressure, since the focus was primarily on me for these hours, to be some dazzling star of sorts. For a good while, I felt awkward and self-conscious. Luckily, when I get nervous around people I don’t know, I get really funny (apparently).

Anyway, these feelings of insecurity dissipated as I realized I was simply surrounded by young women who were doing what they loved, and felt just as much pressure as I did to perform well. We became fast friends.

Jamie Morales, our videographer from L.A.
Jamie Morales, our videographer from L.A.
Ashley, our Nashville-based hair and makeup artist.
Ashley Jean Stevens, our Nashville-based hair and makeup artist.
The back of Emily's head. That's the thing with having only one photographer--BTS shots don't exactly capture everyone. You'll see more of her in the video.
The back of Emily’s head. That’s the thing with having only one photographer–BTS shots don’t exactly capture everyone. You’ll see more of her in Jamie’s video.

As far as the actual modeling goes, I wouldn’t call it easy nor difficult…I would say that it’s something that takes continual practice not only for you to become good at it, but for you to become comfortable with it. I’m still working with both aspects of that. Modeling isn’t really a passion of mine, but body appreciation is. I think becoming comfortable with performing in front of a camera plays a big role in boosting self esteem.

Speaking of body appreciation, now I want to share my favorite thing about working with Emily and the rest of the team.

Over this past summer and into this year, I have pretty much sized up to a Medium. I know that this fact doesn’t exactly seem like a big deal to most people, but for me it is. For three years, I could never come to terms with being anything but a size Small. I refused to try on any clothing that was a size below or a size above: the former because I loathed the feeling of being too big to get into a piece of clothing and the latter because I feared fitting into a size larger than what was labeled “Small” by clothing companies. Dumb, right? Well, everything about body-shaming, body insecurity, and “socially accepted body types” is dumb. I was just following a bandwagon, albeit somewhat extreme.

I had been feeling happy at my progress towards a healthier and self-appreciative version of myself, but also a bit unsure about my body and how it would look in the pictures that Emily took. But I can assure you, from the moment I stepped onto the studio floor to the moment that I publish this post, I felt beautiful, confident, and proud of myself and my body. These conditions are similar to ones in which a “real” model would work–it seems all to easy to compare myself to photos of others in similar conditions. That thought, however, never really crossed my mind. I think the atmosphere that Emily, Ashley, and Jamie created for me played a huge part in that.

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I notice things in these photographs. I notice my thighs, my scarred arms, my recently larger midsection. It would be easy to feel insecure about these qualities that I would have before perceived as ugly, but now I view them as victories. They serve as reminders of the fact that I am human and I struggled with something and I worked hard to beat it and I won. Such a journey may not be obviously showcased to a stranger’s eye, but to me my story is so incredibly prevalent in these photographs that I can’t help but smile when I see them.

To me, the photographs that Emily took signify growth, maturity, independence, and preparedness for what would come to battle me in the future. And, as I stated at the beginning of this post, what more could I want in a senior portrait?

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Be sure to check out Emily’s photography business here. For students in the class of 2017, you can learn more about her Senior Model program and apply through her website.

Hair/Makeup: Ashley Jean Stevens

Videography: Jamie Morales

Thanks to everyone for all the work they put into this shot, and especially Emily for inviting me to come along for the ride. I love my pictures and had a blast with the whole team.

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Much love,




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