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Meet A Photographer Who Is Unleashing Her Creativity Through Colorful Self Portraits

Looking at Holly Rose Stones’ (@hollyrosestones) body of work is like stepping into a joyful dreamland. It’s a combination of Willy Wonka, a box of Crayola crayons and Alice in Wonderland. Holly is a self-portrait artist who creates her images at her home studio, lovingly known as ”The Wonky Studio” in Yorkshire, England. She is in the midst of creating a new series that explores personal experiences in a bold and inviting way. Holly has worked with brands including Skittles, Columbia Sportswear and Charlotte Tilbury. We had a chat with Holly about her art, her photographic process, the messages she would like to convey through her work and much more. Keep reading as we delve into the colorful world of Holly Rose Stones.

Product Preview – In This Article You'll Find:
Sony Alpha 7 IV
Sony 35mm f/1.4
Sony 85mm f/1.4 G Master
Sony 24mm f/1.4 G Master

Photo by Holly Rose Stones. Sony Alpha 7 IV. Sony 35mm f/1.4. 1/160-sec., f/8, ISO 250

Photo by Holly Rose Stones. Sony Alpha 7 IV. Sony 35mm f/1.4. 1/160-sec., f/8, ISO 250

An Artist Finding Her Medium

Holly has known she wanted to be an artist since she was 15, always painting and creating. She went to college with graphic design in mind but then she stumbled into photography. She eventually went to Westminster University in London to study photographic arts, and that’s where began to dabble in many types of photography. “I kind of just played around and decided that self-portraiture and creative manipulation in Photoshop was for me.”

Heading to university was Holly's first time away from home. “Self-portrait was a way of distancing me from my real life,” she explains. “I kind of wanted to dive into magical surreal worlds and create things that I just envisioned in my head. That helped me process emotions and things like that – it was just kind of my way of coping through that time.”

Photo by Holly Rose Stones. Sony Alpha 7 IV. Sony 35mm f/1.4. 1/320-sec., f/1.4, ISO 400

Photo by Holly Rose Stones. Sony Alpha 7 IV. Sony 35mm f/1.4. 1/320-sec., f/1.4, ISO 400

Once she left university, she continued to pursue her self-portraiture in addition to supporting herself by shooting weddings. In 2020, Holly and her partner refurbished an old structure into her studio. “That really helped me stay focused during the pandemic.” That became The Wonky Studio, where she does her current work.

The Color Project

Self-portraiture has always been an emotional expression for Holly. “In my 20s when I started self-portraiture, I had a lot of anxiety, a lot of pent up frustrations – and a lot of my work was quite dark. Then as we moved back to my hometown, I felt a bit lighter and a bit more like I wanted to. I was always scared of color for some reason in my work. I always kind of shied away from using bold, bright colors. I don't know why because if you see the way that I decorate my house now, it’s just color everywhere.”

She continues, “But I think it came from a place of fear. And as soon as I fixed up my studio, I had all these ideas: ‘I need to make it bold and bright.’ That’s where my brain went now.” To feed into that bright desire, Holly started The Color Project, where she is using one color at a time to make a series of props and sets, using the ideas from her dreams to create a self portraits series. Using bold, monochromatic worlds, Holly is sharing little stories of herself.

Photo by Holly Rose Stones. Sony Alpha 7 IV. Sony 35mm f/1.4. 1/250-sec., f/5, ISO 200

Photo by Holly Rose Stones. Sony Alpha 7 IV. Sony 35mm f/1.4. 1/250-sec., f/5, ISO 200

The idea for the first portrait in The Color Project series came to her years earlier. Holly tagged along with a friend to a meditation class, something she’d never done before. In the meditation, they were told to imagine the room as a color. “We had to sit there and do a lot of deep breathing and I imagined it and the whole room went green. I wrote it down when I got home, and that was like five years prior to starting this project.” Originally, Holly thought this would just be a single image, The Green Room. “But I enjoyed it so much. It really fulfilled me and I was like ‘right, what color can I do next?’ and the project has sort of snowballed.” 

Holly says it’s really helped her have a sort of structure. She explains that as an artist and being self-employed, it can be quite hard to motivate yourself. So, having these goals helps her stay motivated and moving forward. So far, she’s done green, yellow, blue and pink. She’s currently working on orange. Each color represents a chapter in Holly’s life in one way or another. She puts a lot of emotion and narrative into the images.

Photo by Holly Rose Stones. Sony Alpha 7 IV. Sony 35mm f/1.4. 1/200-sec., f/5, ISO 100

Photo by Holly Rose Stones. Sony Alpha 7 IV. Sony 35mm f/1.4. 1/200-sec., f/5, ISO 100

The Technical Side

When Holly first started her photography journey, she was shooting on Nikon, but roughly five years ago, she made the switch to the Sony community. She wanted to switch to mirrorless technology and she specifically wanted gear that would make self-portraiture easier. “The Imaging Edge App has made my life so much easier. I can use it with a remote to take pictures, because I’m often shooting pictures of myself alone. And when I started using my phone with the app, there was no lag, which is huge. And then you can just touch the phone screen to focus.”

She continues, “I now have the Sony Alpha 7 IV, but I started with the Alpha 7 III and I upgraded because of the flip out screen, so I can see myself. And that initially, especially when I didn't have my studio, it was so much easier for me and it just made so much more sense. Now with my studio again, I connect the camera laptop, but still I use all the apps anyway. And on your phone you can change all the settings which is very useful when I'm shooting from afar.”

Photo by Holly Rose Stones. Sony Alpha 7 IV. Sony 85mm f/1.4 G Master. 1/200-sec., f/8, ISO 100

Photo by Holly Rose Stones. Sony Alpha 7 IV. Sony 85mm f/1.4 G Master. 1/200-sec., f/8, ISO 100

Holly’s kit is now two of the Sony Alpha 7 IV cameras, which she uses for self portraiture and weddings. She also has the Sony 35mm f/1.4, Sony 85mm f/1.4 G Master and Sony 24mm f/1.4 G Master lenses.

In addition to her photography work, Holly shares behind-the-scenes vlogs on her YouTube Channel, where she has over 12,000 subscribers. Holly says that her Sony kit works beautifully for vlogging as well. She films on her Sony Alpha 7 IV and her Sony 24mm f/1.4 G Master. “This is another instance where the flip screen is so useful. And they’re quite light cameras, I can move them around so easily.”

Looking Forward

Holly also shares with us that over time she’s struggled with body dysmorphia, which she says is very common. “People might look at my work and think that I am so confident because I put myself in front of the camera, but that’s not really it. I’ve just always used it to help me figure myself out and see myself in different ways – look at myself objectively. An idea will pop into my head and since I’ve also struggled with confidence and getting people on board with my ideas, it’s just easier to model the image myself.”

She continues, “So with the whole mental health side of things, my journey documents it because we're all on this earth trying to find our way. I feel like that is just me creatively finding my struggles and I can pinpoint emotions that I've had during that time when I look at images.
I have been on an up and down journey with this, but now I look back I can see what lessons I've learned of each stage. I think The Color Project is more about that – celebrating those lessons that I've learned. Because sometimes in my work, I've reflected things that might be a bit more lighthearted and I felt the opposite. So now I think my imagery in my art is more about reflecting what is actually inside. I suppose it is about the study of expression and understanding myself a bit more.” 

Photo by Holly Rose Stones. Sony Alpha 7 IV. Sony 35mm f/1.4. 1/250-sec., f/13, ISO 100

Photo by Holly Rose Stones. Sony Alpha 7 IV. Sony 35mm f/1.4. 1/250-sec., f/13, ISO 100

Looking ahead in her career, Holly of course wants to finish The Color Project and eventually tour it in some way. She doesn’t have the concept fully fleshed out, but she wants to get it in front of an audience. She also wants to continue delving into themes of mental health and how therapeutic self-portraiture can be. She talked about how solo her type of photography is and that she hopes to get out into the world more and talk with people about mental health and creativity. “The crossover of creativity and the soothing nature of creativity and using art to conceptualize feelings, emotions and that kind of thing, especially among women, who have been so often told to be a certain way. I want people to create without judgment.”

Keep up with Holly and her progress on The Color Project on her Instagram, YouTube Channel and TikTok accounts. And if you want to chat with people about creativity, photography, or how to express yourself through imagery, join the conversations over on the Sony Alpha Universe Community Forums. 

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