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Mirrored Grace

August 2015 issue

Mirrored Grace

Megan DiPiero's glamour portraits show clients their own beauty

Beauty: Its interpretation is as diverse as we are. Yet despite our theoretical agreement that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, “standards” have emerged. Created and perpetuated across all forms of media in America, these standards are often defined in the most superficial terms. The billion-dollar vanity industry seeks to fix what it wishes us to believe are flaws but with the subversive side effect of cultivating an inferiority complex about our physical appearance.

For many people what results is a vicious cycle of aspiration, failed hopes, and negative self-talk. Megan DiPiero is one photographer who’s actively seeking to break that circle of distress that’s claimed the psyche of many women and men. In fact, DiPiero has built a successful and soul-gratifying business around beauty photography in Fort Meyers, Florida. Forget old-school notions of mall-based glamour photo studios. DiPiero doesn’t aim to shoehorn clients into a preconceived set of constraints; instead, she seeks to amplify the individual characteristics of each subject. Rather than try to make clients conform to a social standard, she wants to show them how beautiful they already are. 

© Megan DiPiero

DiPiero’s quest is to make real women feel as beautiful as what they perceive in popular media without trying to make them appear that way. “I’ve always looked at my friends and thought they were so beautiful, but the way they talk about themselves, it’s a complete mismatch. I thought if I could get them in front of my camera and convince them of how other people see them, it would be such a gift to me and to my clients. I want them to really see themselves and recognize the beauty that was always there.”

DiPiero started her business in 2010, photographing primarily families and portraits. She quickly joined PPA and followed her peers’ strong urging to enter images in the International Photographic Competition. Not believing her existing family photography was yet up to competition standards, DiPiero began putting together concept shoots that forced her to take charge of lighting and compose images with a competition mindset. She focused on getting more technical education, which organically pushed her to expand beyond families and children.

“I found I was falling in love with the idea of controlling light, just like I fell in love with photography when I was first photographing my infant son,” says DiPiero. It wasn’t long before DiPiero discovered Australian photographer Sue Bryce, who specializes in beauty photography, and realized the potential right in her own community. She immediately set to work on her portfolio and was quickly buoyed by clients’ responses. “I had one in those early months that was crying while looking at her images because she didn’t know she was so beautiful.”

That was two years ago, and today, DiPiero’s beauty and headshot business accounts for more than family portraiture, which is just fine with her. Beauty photography has become not only an outlet to challenge societal dictates about what is considered beautiful, it’s also a way for DiPiero to help women overcome the pressures of those dictates. Though it’s a business, it genuinely warms her heart to watch clients transform in front of her lens.

“A woman’s beauty is in her expression,” she says. “If you look at mass media, you’d think it’s all about the waist, the breasts, or the hips, but it’s not. If you show a woman the beauty in her eyes and expression, she’ll fall in love with herself.”

© Megan DiPiero

Helping women get past their apprehensions is a top focus for DiPiero, and it begins at the first contact, when she asks each client how she dreams of being photographed. Understanding their vision helps DiPiero uncover their insecurities and strengths. She starts with an in-person style and concept consultation, happily walking through closets and selecting clothing with each client. Often what looks good in person doesn’t photograph well, so DiPiero helps clients understand what works, what doesn’t, and why—things she learned well from her own experience in front of a beauty photographer’s camera.           

“I chose my clothes 10 minutes before the shoot because I’d procrastinated, did my nails the night before and my hair late that morning,” she says. “It was so bad. I showed up and felt so panicky. Giving them that pro consult makes them feel confident, which is a great place to start, and keeps them from feeling frenzied and frazzled.”           

On the day of the shoot, hair and makeup are provided at the studio, but DiPiero notices a little nervous anxiety creeps back in her subjects once the camera comes out. With some positive banter and reassurance, DiPiero coaxes back the confidence and by the last clothing change, she says, magic is in the air.         

“I love that the session starts with handshakes and ends with hugs,” she says. She aims to unveil the images to clients within a week to reduce the anxiety that can build if they have to wait too long. “They’re usually blown away,” says DiPiero. The most important thing to her is that they don’t believe the magic comes from the photographer but from their own beauty. “I’m just bringing out their best. They blossom when I follow this process.”           

© Megan DiPiero

When it comes to the end product, DiPiero says that, unlike family and child photography clients, most beauty subjects aren’t comfortable ordering large wall portraits. Instead, she finds 5x7-inch prints in 8x10 mats are the most popular. She’s also experimenting with offering slightly larger 6x9 and 8x12 prints in elaborate, layered presentations with deckled edging, fillet, and matting that conveys luxury without appearing overwhelmingly large. “My whole world has always been about printing big. But these smaller prints are better enjoyed in a more intimate way. You have to walk up to a small portrait to experience it—so much different than a large wall print.”           

She’s also steering beauty clients toward gorgeous albums, which helps boost her sales average (usually about $3,600 a session, which is impressive for the beauty market). But though beauty photography has proven to be a lucrative market for DiPiero, she says that helping other people find their confidence is what boosts her own.           

“I’ve been so critical of my body my whole life,” she says. “I’ve struggled with the same things these other women struggle with. But when my clients make that switch from disbelief to Wait, is that me? my own self-esteem goes up. I love the evolution of watching a woman come to know herself.”

megandipiero.com

Stephanie Boozer is a writer in Charleston, South Carolina.

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