In an effort to take creative breaks from my client’s work, I started experimenting with self-portraits as a way to express myself creatively as an artist and learn new techniques. I’m inspired by visuals that unpack emotions and ideas with symbolism and a surreal twist. 

I created True Colors as a personal rendition of the popular cliché “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” This image was created almost completely in camera. I love Photoshop and working with composites, but I felt confident that I could create this image in my studio with some patience and lots of black paint. 

I sketched my concept, thrifted my costume and props, purchased the fruit, and painted everything black. Because black absorbs light, I took my time in the studio getting this lit properly with two Profoto strobes and soft boxes before slicing the fruit and jumping into the scene. It was important to have well-defined highlights and shadows even though most of the image was black. When I brought this into Photoshop, I only had to clean up some dust and imperfections and refine the image with basic editing.

“True Colors” © Tonya Wilhelm

True Colors was shot with a Nikon Z7, Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S at 41mm, 1/200 sec at f/10, ISO 200.

Achievements for this image include:

  • Image Excellence from Professional Photographers of America in the 131st Annual Exhibition
  • Gold Sealed Image Award and Top 100 rank from Master Photographers International Competition 
  • Best of Show in the 85th Annual International Juried Exhibition with the Art Association of Harrisburg
  • Highly Commended/Finalist in the Creative Photo Awards 2023 and on display on the Sienna Creative Photo Awards Exhibition.

I fell in love with this image and the concept of color being the subject of a composition. This is a portrait series, but you never see the subject’s face which is a default focal point in portraiture. I wanted to shift the stereotypical portrait focal point to a color-driven composition.

When I plan a new image, I approach the design like I’m creating a still life, and I try to blur the lines between the subject being part of the still life and part of the background. I started producing other images in a color pallet series so I could continue playing with this theme.

See more of Tanya Wilhelm’s creative images on her Instagram page and her website!

Titles left to right – “Tidings of Color and Joy”, “Blue Plate Special”, “Broken Record”, “Freshly Squeezed Color”, “Have Your Color and Eat It Too”. 
© Tonya Wilhelm

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