America’s Next Top Model would be nothing without Tyra Banks and smeyes. “You have to smile with your eyes,” says Tyra over and over again on her show. But what really does that mean?

Portrait photographer and IVY member Violetta Markelou knows all about about smeyes (or at least the idea behind them). She captures the very best images of people every single day. Violetta sat down with IVY Magazine to talk about her work in photography and how to prepare for a portrait. She’s also shared some of her amazing images.

Violetta is an IVY member (DC). Connect and collaborate with her here.

You take a lot of portraits. What do you think about when you’re capturing a portrait? How do you convey personality and depth in your subjects?

I have a saying. “If it’s not in the eyes, it’s nowhere.” This is something I tell the client/subject all the time.

It all has to do with what you want to communicate to your audience. Most people, no matter what the use of the photo is for, want to communicate a knowing, trust, and confidence within themselves in a beautiful light. And in many cases, that rests in what the eyes communicate.

I try my best to bring that out of them. In most cases I have to direct them. I’m not saying that they don’t know how to portray themselves that way, but in front of a camera, you need guidance. It’s all about the look in the eyes, body positioning, and lighting. It’s my job to take the hard guess-work out for them and make them look like the pro.

What advice do you give your clients to help them smile better, look brighter, and present their best selves for their portraits?

I always ask my clients to remember their audience. When they look at an image, what is it that intrigues you? I ask them to remember what feeling they want to convey and to say that in their eyes.

Having confidence is key. Being prepared for a good portrait with great makeup, hair and wardrobe is also a must! If you feel like you look great, that will show in the photos.

How do you think the internet and social media are changing the way we think about photography?

The internet and social media have opened many doors for photographers because their work can be viewed instantly by anyone in the world. Hopefully this audience could by an editor, art director, or client you want to work for.

In many other ways,I believe this instant accessibility makes photography itself a commodity and less of an art in people’s minds. The digital crossover from film made photography an art that is less studied and now experimental with hobbyists and photoshop experts mixed in with “professionals.” The waters are very muddy now and that bothers me a lot. It’s a lot easier now to masquerade as a professional with a good website and some okay images. And that has been detrimental to the business of photography.

How do you think about light in your photographs?

Light is the critical element which sets the mood for the image. When I think about lighting an image I think about the feeling I want to give to the viewer. 

If the image is for a client, then we both collaborate on the lighting based on what they want to communicate to their audience. If it’s a personal project or portrait, I light based on my vision of that person or thing. Usually it just comes to me. I can see someone and think immediately how I would “see” them in the image. Two very different things. Seeing in the literal sense and seeing with your imagination. That is where technical skill and vision set in thus the actual “photography.”

You have some extraordinary black and white images. Can you talk about when and why photographers choose to use black and white versus a color photographs?

Color versus black and white depends on the mood I am trying to set. Both are very powerful in communicating an idea. It just depends on what you are shooting.

If it’s a portrait, sometimes black and white works better because your eye doesn’t bounce around the image for the colors. With black and white images, your eye sees black and white and shades of grey. The expression and formal elements in many cases can be more of the focus with black and white.

But I use a lot of color in my photographs for portraits as well; especially with fashion and editorial. I just exhibited an entire portrait series called “Women Of Colour”! Using color speaks to many things. Being vibrant and alive are just two things I try to capture within a portrait. So depending on the mood and subject, sometimes color is the way to go.

You also work a lot with makeup. Can you talk about how you decide which makeup to use on a client?

I use HD makeup because now the cameras are so sharp and pick up every little detail.

Makeup in this day and age has to be able to cover imperfections but not the natural skin texture. Otherwise it will look very artificial. When I put makeup on clients, I want them to look human and not like mannequins ! With technology now, it is possible to do both.

What makeup advice can you give IVY members, who want to add something more dynamic to their everyday look?

A pop of color on the lips is a quick way to add drama to your everyday look. If lipstick is not your thing, then go for the eyes. As far as mascara my motto is “do it until you’re satisfied!” The eyes communicate everything, so looking well-rested helps a lot. That is where a good concealer comes in hand and then black mascara on the top lashes only.

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