When you hear the phrase “divorce photo shoot,” you might picture tabloid-y shots of warring couples, spouses caught cheating, and sensational headlines like “Headed for Quitsville!” But 37-year-old photographer Allie Siarto offers the spiritual antithesis of these paparazzi snaps. Instead, her “divorce photo shoots” provide a therapeutic and healing service for newly-single women looking for a fresh start and a confidence boost in the form of self-affirming solo shots.
Siarto’s clients might use their new portraits for dating app profiles, to launch a new business, or simply as a timeline-cleansing Instagram post. Bustle spoke with the Lansing, Michigan-based photographer about what inspired her to start offering divorce photo shoots and how these sessions help women reinvent themselves after a major life change.
When did you first offer divorce photo shoots, and what inspired you?
Siarto: I just launched it in February of this year [after 12 years as a wedding photographer and two years doing branding photography]. It started because some of my favorite branding clients were women who were going through divorces, and they were using branding photography to reinvent themselves. I realized it was a really empowering experience for them. [Post-divorce], they are going through a really difficult transition and a lot of energy is going into everything except for themselves.
The divorce photo shoot isn’t just something for them that makes them feel good; it’s also something they can use in that [personal] reinvention. I put the word out in a local Facebook group called Not Your Mother’s Networking Group, and people loved the idea.
Walk us through a typical divorce photo shoot.
Siarto: I compare it to a spa day: a day for you. They get their hair and makeup done — I can offer it, or there’s Annie Kathryn Hair + Bridal Studio right across the hall. They bring outfits and we pick out what they’re going to wear and pair it with backgrounds. We do talk about [the divorce], but we don’t make it all about that. It’s more lighthearted: I tell them, “You deserve a fun experience. This is going to be fun.”
Can you talk more about the photo styling?
Siarto: It’s studio, so it’s mostly black-on-black or black-on-white backdrops, and then we do have some furniture and plants in there, so we do a couple natural indoor backgrounds. But these are all indoor, in-studio photos.
Is there any wardrobe guidance?
Siarto: When I give them guidance, I like to do all black, or black and white, so I have them bring some neutrals. But then they’ve also brought brighter colors — like, a bright blue velvet dress or some bright pinks. I give them advice and I have a styling quiz they can use, Style & Select, where they put in their size, color options, and general style, like formal or boho, and it gives them exact outfits they can buy or they can use those as inspiration.
Is there a reason you lean toward a more neutral color scheme?
Siarto: I think it’s just personal preference, just keeping it simple. I like the drama of all black. It depends on the person, but I think it looks good on everybody.
Since some women will be posting these photos on Instagram, what do you think is the perfect post-divorce shot to share?
Siarto: It’s really just that photo that makes you feel good. Women like to share a really nice photo of themselves. They’ve had their hair and makeup done, but it’s nothing over the top — they still look like themselves, just a really put together version of themselves.
It’s that shining light in a lot of difficulty. It’s giving them a chance to honor themselves and have something positive in the trenches of a difficult time.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.