tilly-may-photographyTilly May Photography is a startup photographic studio with a difference – it specialises in nude photography – celebrating the human body to try to capture the beauty of the human form without using the stereotypes so often projected by the media.

We spoke to founder Tilly, about being a freelancer, her journey setting up her own photographic studio, how the Prince’s Trust has helped her along the way, and the public’s reaction to ‘Inspire Nudity’…

TechSPARK: What is your background?

Tilly May: I had a pretty alternative education growing up. My experiences vary from being home educated, to attending a Spanish Comprehensive (where I was the only English speaking person), sampled Steiner school and then finally went to a Democratic school called SANDS…

Throughout all of this, creativity and independence were a very strong theme. So I guess it is kind of natural that I should end up in career where both are integral to what I do. Right from the beginning I have always studied image in some form or another (BTEC in Media Studies, Foundation in Fine Art Media and finally a BA Fine Art, New Media).

“The idea behind ‘Inspire Nudity’ is simple! It’s about supporting people to feel comfortable and joyful in their own body”


Throughout uni I became particularly interested in performance art, feminism and storytelling. Although photography was a part of my work I mostly used video and installations as my main mediums. I was always intrigued with immersive experiences.

It wasn’t until I finished uni and moved back down to Devon that I got my first digital camera and being surrounded by musicians and performers (who were studying at Dartington College of Arts) as well as winning ‘Dartington Photographer of the year’ I was encouraged to use photography seriously for the first time.

tilly-may-inspire-nudityTS: What was the idea behind ‘Inspire Nudity’?

I have been a self-employed photographer now for 4 years, and although I love photographing performances and events it is when photography is used as a tool for collaboration and connection that gets me really excited!

The idea behind ‘Inspire Nudity’ is simple! It’s about supporting people to feel comfortable and joyful in their own body. To give a safe space for people to celebrate their own unique beauty, have fun and be proud with it.

Nudity doesn’t have to be so serious and our ‘beauty’ definitely doesn’t have to be defined by the stereotypes that the media and society as a whole tells us it should!

I believe very strongly that ‘beauty’ is always about the soul of a person and I hope to capture the joy and acceptance there is when someone is lost in the ‘moment’ or simply having fun (and preferably getting very messy!).

The process is completely bespoke. My aim with each shoot is to discover and capture the exceptional spirit, sensuality and vision of each individual that wants to work with me.

TS: What has the public’s reaction been to it?

TM: I have had a very positive response from most people that I have spoken to!

Of course you are going to get some people that don’t quite understand the intention behind the work and why someone would want nude images of themselves! However, Bristol is the perfect city to be setting up a business like this!

“Bristol has supportive network of creatives as well as the general public tending to be pretty open minded and interested in the slightly unusual”


There is a very supportive network of creatives as well as the general public tending to be pretty open minded and interested in the slightly unusual.10708642_1482269812043236_8542287460836718154_o

I also feel that the timing is right to be setting up ‘Inspire Nudity’. More and more people are becoming aware of the negative impact that the media and social networks can have not only on adult’s self esteem and health but children’s too.

There is a real need to defy this ideology, reclaiming back our own beautiful bodies and rejoicing in our differences.

TS: Where is the studio based?

icandy-tilly-mayTM: I’m very excited be working in a beautiful vintage themed beauty parlour, called I Candy . It is situated on the high street, next to St Nicholas Market (opposite Castle Park), very central! There is a small boutique shop at the front and the beauty parlour is upstairs. My studio is at the back of the building.

I have yet to move into the space (that is still how new my inspire nudity business is!) but am hoping to have the ‘launch’ in January (don’t have an exact date yet).

Getting the studio is a great example of the importance of talking to everyone about what you’re doing! I met Val, the owner’ because I was looking for props for my 8 week artist residency last year (with ‘The New collective’). I was one of 8 artists accepted to do the residency, culminating in a group show. It was through this residency that I was able to build up my ‘Inspire Nudity’ portfolio.

I was so excited about what I was doing that I was just chatting to everyone that would listen! The woman behind the counter mentioned that they had a spare room, they wanted to start using it for something interesting and ‘Inspire Nudity’ sounded ideal! Before I knew it, I had found the perfect space to set up my studio.

Not only is the studio/space in the perfect location, but to have Val’s support is amazing in so many ways! For example, I am not very good at make-up myself, so I am very happy to be able to work together with her very friendly professional make-up artists (as an added option to the shoots).

TS: What equipment do you use in your studio?

TM: My camera is a Nikon D300. My favourite Lens is my fixed Sigma 30mm f/1.4. It has such a nice depth of field, and is great in low light situations.

My most recent purchase that I’m excited about is my Sigma 28-70 wide angle lens. I bought it because in the summer I work for a lovely stage called Wandering Word, which is a spoken word/poetry tent at the festivals.

The tent itself is actually a stunning yurt and I wanted to be able to get the whole space and wider crowd shots. As much as I love my 30mm it is very similar to how our eyes see, so it’s nice to have a lens that extorts ‘normal’ perspective. It’s very fun! 🙂

Currently I mainly use a one light set up. I have an umbrella and my sb800 flash. When I move into my studio I am going to by some continuous lights as I want the experience to be as un-intimidating as possible. If you have a light flashing in your face it is going to be very hard to let go and feel relaxed.


The simpler the equipment the better really, a photograph doesn’t have to be technically complicated to be a great image. It is much more important for me to build a good atmosphere and be able to focus on the person I’m working with than the lighting set-up! Not that I am saying lighting isn’t important! It’s just not the most important part!).

TS: What has been the biggest challenge is setting up the business?

TM: I think having confidence in what you do is always going to be one of the hardest things to overcome… To learn to value what you are sharing or creating. Particularly in the creative industries or when you are doing something unusual.

Also deciding on pricing. When your work is not just something that you do, but is a part of who you are and how you relate to the world around you, how can you put a price on that!? Pricing your work it is not only about the physical but also about how you value your skills and self. This is something that I am still struggling with.

“I don’t believe anyone is ever 100% ready to start a business; you just have to be present and do the best that you can in that moment!”


I don’t believe anyone is ever 100% ready; you just have to be present and do the best that you can in that moment! I always feel nervous when giving someone their photos!

A friend of mine said a lovely thing to me the other day. She said that being nervous just proves how much I care, if I wasn’t then I wouldn’t push myself to continue learning and moving forward.

TS: How did you approach getting funding from the Prince’s Trust?

TM: The Prince’s Trust has a course called the Enterprise Award scheme, which supports young people to set up their own business.

There is a week’s training in the basics involved being self-employed, and how to write a business plan. After that week it’s up to you to follow through and write your business plan (and you are given a business mentor to help along the way).

“The Prince’s Trust Enterprise Award Scheme is a great way of getting you to really think about the details of setting up a business”


When that is written you can apply to a ‘dragons den’ type of situation where you have to be able to prove that you have a viable business… if you pass then they give you a low interest loan and a more specialised mentor for the next two years.

It is an amazing opportunity and a great way of getting you to really think about the details of setting up a business.

TS: How did they help when setting up the company?

princes-trust-logoTM: The biggest support that the Princes Trust have given me is the regular meetings with my business mentor, Alan. He helps me to set goals and to stick to them (most of the time!).

It is really helpful to have someone external who has business experience and can talk with me about all the boring bits, like figuring out the finances, time management etc…

They also gave me a £200 ‘Will It Work’ Grant which I spent on getting my logo designed (By Jon Owen) and my first business cards printed.

TS: What do you wish you knew when you were starting that you know now?

TM: Ha ha! Well I am still very much just starting out, so I am sure I have a lot more to learn and overcome! But I guess going back to when I was at uni, I wish that I was given a bit more practical advice about being an ‘Artist’ in the everyday and how important it is to have a good support network!

Over the last few years I have been very lucky to have met an incredible bunch of artists, musicians and poets that enthusiastically encourage and support each other… that has been invaluable for me, both personally and creatively.

TS: What’s the best piece of advice you can give to someone else considering starting their own company?

TM: Make sure that it is something that you genuinely love and care about! If you are truly passionate about something you will naturally spend your time and energy thinking, talking, learning about it!

“If you are truly passionate about something you will naturally spend your time and energy thinking, talking, learning about it!”


I talk to pretty much everyone I meet about ‘Inspire Nudity’. Not because it’s my ‘business’ but because it is on my mind, there are so many elements to it that keep me inspired and wanting to learn more!

To have found something that I can see myself happily doing for the rest of my life, is something that I feel continuously grateful for.

We’d like to thank Tilly for taking time out of her busy schedule to talk to us. You can see more on her work at the Tilly May Photography website and The Tilly May Photography Facebook page.


Jamie Middleton