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Discovering Focus, Intensity and Being At Ease with Imperfection

By March 23, 2017October 19th, 20184 Comments

I didn’t know what the heck I was doing with the camera. Half my shots were out of focus.

My life (and the model’s life) seemed not to have much focus either at that particular point in time, but we created a space for something to happen. And happen, it did!


Even though I released a set of photos prior to these, Lilly was the first model I shot when I decided to pick up a camera for the first time since college – and that was back in the days of film!

She politely put up with my fumbling and stumbling behind the back of a fully digital, super-charged SLR camera with a zillion options.

Back in the day, I learned about the process.

Developing my own negatives and prints in a dark room where pretty much anything could (and did) go wrong. Whole shoots lost because the film got stuck, over or double exposed, the light meter calculation was wrong, or somehow light got inside the camera before the film was tucked neatly back into it’s container.

Now everyone thinks it’s easy to take photos because we’ve been spoiled with smart phones that produce some pretty incredible shots without us having to think much at all.

With a lack of thinking and process, comes a false sense of control.


It really took focus to not fiddle around with all the settings, while attempting to hold a reflector between my knees (which totally didn’t work!) and stay present in the moment with my model — to capture her.

In the first hour, over half the shots I took were blurry, and I had no idea why. For a life-long perfectionist like me, that’s a hard place to be.
Of course, I did her makeup and hair too (details on products used at the bottom of this article).

Maybe I bit off a little more than I could chew, but I had a feeling it was going to work out…
When she arrived we chatted over tea. Then I had her fully exfoliate her face and I applied moisturizers (yes, more than one) to make sure her skin was glowing.I tweezed her untamed, beautifully thick, dark brows framing her rich, brown eyes while I got a little more background on her.
Lilly is interesting, smart, and had seen some things in her young days on the planet – a kind of nomad in the world.

Moving from city to city for various reasons, with a bigger purpose than simply being a model, but maybe not an exact focus for her life yet.

There’s a high value placed on high achievers in our society, and we can tend to be rather hard on ourselves when we flail. 

When seeking improvement becomes its own missive, it can become unhealthy.

There’s a delicate balance between having the focus and drive to accomplish something, and allowing space for the next thing to reveal itself – not waiting to achieve perfection to feel joy.

This is true for beauty too.


A lot of people get fixated on trying to achieve perfection. Clear skin, perfect brows, perfect hair, perfect…everything.

Pretty much everyone will admit “perfection” isn’t possible. We all have “flaws” and they make us unique – so we don’t look like weird, plastic, robot people.

Then why do we struggle so hard against being imperfect?


So here she was in Portland for the summer working as an environmental canvaser (the folks who stop you on the street and go door-to-door soliciting donations) making just enough money to pay for a small room she was temporarily renting in the city.

I got to hear stories about how difficult it actually was to earn a living that way, pressures the organizations put on her to meet certain goals, and how unkindly many people treated her when approached.

With a level of distaste in her voice that was noticeable, she said that a man once stopped on the street handing her a $20 bill saying it wasn’t for her organization, but for her personally since she was so pretty.

She donated it to the cause she was working for anyway.

An unusual decision for someone who was scraping together cash to survive daily. I knew Lilly had a much deeper story and life wisdom in her than I’d probably come to know in just one day.

She was patient with me and thankfully somewhat experienced as a model. Eventually she and I managed to find a rhythm.
Lilly climbed over bushes, walls, traipsed up and down long stairs with me and into odd positions so I could get her face in just the right light.


Lilly had a quiet intensity about her. Like a controlled, sweet sort of wild. Protected and strong.

Most of the time the qualities we see in someone else are simply reflections of ourselves. It’s the lens through which we look and what we focus on.

To be literal in my analogy of photography and life here…maybe that’s what I was picking up on most since I was in a nomadic, protected, intense and somewhat unfocused place in my life, as I shared in How Pain Creates A Path To Beauty.

I asked Lilly if she felt like these images were intense and she replied:

I think they could be called intense, but they are also very simple (composed with natural lighting and little makeup). What’s intense is the face I’m making or the light you captured, so it’s intense, but no more than any other perfect moment.

Well, I think that’s the perfect moment to end this story on.

I’m curious to know do you see intensity or something else? How have you felt pushed by the pursuit of perfection? Please leave a comment and share what this evoked for you below!

Healthy Beauty Products Used on Lilly:




Lilly is represented by Option Model and Talent.

Photography, Makeup, Hair and Styling all by me, Kristen Arnett.

Post production and (minimal) retouching by Juan Camilo Mora.


Kristen Arnett

Author Kristen Arnett

A makeup artist and green beauty educator helping you find the very best safe cosmetics. Teaching pro secrets for enhancing your natural beauty at every age, so you can be empowered to make healthier choices, and radiate confidence every day.

More posts by Kristen Arnett

Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Kat says:

    I love this article. I’m aspiring to be a photographer but love makeup as well and feel torn. Thanks for sharing this. I certainly saw intensity in those photos both visually and emotionally.

  • Sarah Carter says:

    “Most of the time the qualities we see in someone else are simply reflections of ourselves. It’s the lens through which we look and what we focus on.”

    LOVE THIS! An awesome insights, thank you for the beautiful post Kristen!

  • Teresa says:

    Dear Kristen,

    These pictures are precious, that’s simply “Perfection”to me.
    Once more, I may say …You are GREAT, friend!

    Love always,

    Teresa xxx

    • Kristen Arnett's GBT says:

      Teresa! That is so very kind of you. I can feel all that love. I really appreciate your support!!

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