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The Red Queen

Princesses  /  Psychology  /  Positive Energy

Professor Timo S. Saari, Ph.D., is a fantasy, fashion and glamour photographer and artist based in Helsinki, Finland. He explores the eternal beauty of archetypal female characters often in fantasy or fairytale settings. He wraps his gorgeous models in couture dresses and extravagant jewelry and sets them afloat in luxurious palaces and around striking castles. His work has been featured on the covers of Moevir Magazine, Femme Rebelle, Edith Magazine and iMirage Magazine.

Dr. Saari portrays fantasy characters such as Princesses, Dark Queens, Angels and Sorceresses in his personal work. And…yes…he truly feels Cinderella, Aurora, Belle, even Maleficent and Queen Daenerys in their lavish ballgowns or horns and wings gliding around in palace ballrooms and neo-gothic castles represent the pinnacle of Female Beauty. He also embraces more modern concepts of archetypal female beauty, having published series featuring secret agents, broken dolls and Barbies.

He collaborates with Finland’s leading modeling agencies and regularly judges and photographs the finalists of various licensed domestic international beauty pageants and professional modeling competitions as well as creates portfolios. He also crafts competition images for international modeling competition contestants and their agencies.

Dr. Saari fuses his photographic art with influences from psychology and design for emotion. He is Professor Emeritus of Human-Centered Design, an internationally established experimental psychologist, having designed emotion-based products and services for global companies. In his art he leverages his 20-year expertise in eliciting human emotions with technology, media and advertising via design cues, including shapes, colors, layouts, movement, sound/music, storylines, character types, facial expressions and body language.

For his working style he draws from his experience as a national TV-news, documentary and reportage journalist, program host, TV-field director, freelance photographer as well as Editor-in-Chief and Director of Research of a large media conglomerate. He conducts his shoots like a movie director, his on set- workflow greatly influenced by his process of musical creativity when performing as a lead opera baritone. Partly fault to wedding dress designer/tailor grandparents, he has generated an exclusive collection of couture and fantasy dresses, accessories and statement jewelry in his atelier he uses when breathing life into selected female characters.

His photographic art reflects the purity, drama and absolute classic and timeless beauty of the female characters he brings to life via his visions. As an artist he seeks to create enchanting and dramatic visual stories of eternal female beauty facilitating a sense of positively transcending one´s everyday reality, as if stepping into another parallel universe…only a much more exciting and mysterious one.


Moevir Magazine February Issue 2021 featured edition

[The Red Queen]

Wardrobe Stylist/Photographer/Retoucher: Timo S. Saari @timo.s.saari

Retoucher: Soulart Mirage @soulartmirage

Female Model/Makeup Artist/Hair Stylist: Annika Helena @annikahelena_

Model: Daphne Michelle Ermstrang @dmermstrang


Tell us something about you. Maybe your life, profession, habit, dream.

My first career was a TV-journalist and photographic journalist. I then ended up as Editor-in-Chief and Director of Research in a large media conglomerate, collaborating with M.I.T MediaLab. 

I founded and directed a 25-person tech psychology lab in Helsinki Business School and Tokyo, co-founded a chain of nine media psychology labs in US and Europe with Michigan State University, spent three years in Stanford University as post doc in emotion design group and worked in US as professor of media psychology. I am well published and have generated international patents in emotionally adapted advertising, mobile apps, smart spaces and games.

Currently I am in a place in my life where I can focus on my photographic art and client work. I have extensive experience in psychology of advertising and my personal work often looks like a mix of fashion and advertising. I dream to shoot brand and product advertising, such as couture and perfumes, but also technology. I would love to build brand-fitting fantasy worlds and populate them with fascinating characters, while partly making sure the ads hit their performance targets.

What makes you choose this profession?

I am fascinated by fusing together science, art, cinematic TV-production, creative team leading… and couture fantasy dresses. As a professor depending on client I design prototypes to impact desired emotions. I massively employ parallel psychophysiological lab/field emotion measures (EKG, EMG, EDA, EEG, fNIR) and eye-tracking. 

During the past 20 years I have accumulated personal, lab-independent “design-rules” for emotion (such as approach/avoid joy, interest, awe, excitement, inspiration, anger, fear, anxiety, sadness…) in advertising, technology and media which I can draw from to inspire and design my art. Add some fairytales, archetypal psychology, fabulous couture and voila.

As a TV-journalist I love crafting visual stories. Inhaled when field directing TV-productions, I photograph like a movie director, planning and pre-framing shots in scouted locations, and sketching visual storylines, thinking how to direct the actors. I thoroughly enjoy leading tight-knit creative teams, many times improvising to solve problems and create new angles on the shoot. I also enjoy building lighting sets (love Broncolor paras) to bring the cinematic scenes to life.

How do you prepare your new shoot?

I start with a vision of the female character I wish to create and cast for it. In my network of modeling competition top performers absolute beauty is a given, success is based on fit for role, acting and expression skills and muse-like, energizing qualities. I am extremely grateful to have a few wonderful, world-class, super-performing repeat models.

The looks are polished via styling sessions and I consult my trusted MUAs intensively. Often I shoot in palaces and castles in Europe (Prague, The Hague, Vienna, Berlin), typically taking two models with me for a shoot of 2-3 days.

With a commercial client I need to understand target groups, desired impact and use context of the images. I seek to refine the client’s concept and add more intensity by crafting the image just so in congruence with their brand values. This is critical in advertising where precise emotional impact leading to subconscious action tendencies is key.

Where does inspiration come from?

I adore Princesses, Dark Queens, Sorceresses, Archangels and the realms they roam. Inspiration comes from exploring female characters in archetypal psychology entwined with fairytales, fantasy, psychodynamic theory and mythology. Sometimes a model acts as a muse which calls for styling sessions to refine the concept. I consult books, art, comics, fantasy movies, historical dramas and anime. I also draw from music and the art of opera, as a baritone lead in Finnish National Opera soprano directed ensemble.

The final intuition after immersing myself in inspiring worlds, arrives semi-automatically and suddenly as a gestalt flash, a complete holographic image in my mind. Amusing as it would be this download comes with instructions on what to do, like a to-do-list for a movie director. At any given time I have 2-3 simultaneous visions I work through until images are published.

What is the most important thing for creating new work?

It is definitely positive creative energy enabled by intuitive sync within the team performing to fulfill the vision…and lots of laughter. My visions are filled with a sense of fascination, wonder and awe of eternal female beauty. Ideally there is an absolute, dance-like and deeply trusting connection between photographer and model, generating a field of shoot-fueling creative energy. 

I have humorously dubbed it “Princess Energy” for its purity, rather similar to the well documented phenomenon of artistic energization felt when I sing opera roles, sometimes with 15 people on stage acting and singing six simultaneous music lines.

The other key ingredient for great images is simply fun. My sets are filled with jokes, chatter, laughter and happy, energized people. At its best we have a three-day blast in grandiose 17th

and 18th -century locations while turning out beautiful results.

Could you share how you expand your vision of art, fashion?

Expansion as an artist is a continuous, never-ending process. I will never be “ready” as an artist, only in different places on my journey at different times. Luckily, I am not short on ideas, fantasies and visions, quite the contrary. Currently I expand my vision hands-on, by practicing a lot as well as marinating my brain in different related domains.

As an invited, regular judge in domestic and international modeling competitions and beauty pageants in Fashion Model Agency Finland, the largest local agency, I feel I can take a break as a photographer and zoom out a bit. Professionally judging top competitions is both challenging and fun. I enjoy the bubbling, competitive atmosphere and sometimes style talented contestants. 

Being a part of competitions is an awesome source of inspiration and builds my skillset. I craft competition images for winning contestants for follow-up international competitions, made easier by my judging experience to maximize features other judges will be looking for.

More directly, to grow and achieve optimal performance as photographer, much like a competing athlete, I need to practice in a smart way, setting learning goals for commercial and personal shoots. When engaged in intensively photographing with the right attitude to learn, new, unexpected things can suddenly appear in the horizon. This results in new ways of combining existing things or completely new avenues which are only realized via hands-on practices, or “tinkering” with tools on task, much like any artist does.

Finally, as an enthusiast opera singer in Finnish National Opera soprano directed ensemble during season I practice daily and attend group rehearsals as well as master classes by famous singers. This allows for an intensive “break” from photography and the visual world, immersing myself in the world of music and sound. As I return from this world of music, I feel fresh and rejuvenated again when looking at visual art, often with new ideas springing forward.

In your daily routine, what resources do you like to learn new things about art, fashion?

I enjoy a continuous diet of inspiring media and other sources. I follow the key fashion magazines and best fashion photographers to see their latest work and what is “popular” in photographic style and lighting. This helps me to keep up-to-date in my client work and sometimes modify my style a bit to fit current trends.

Is art, fashion important in your life? Why?

Art is an absolute to me. It is something that transcends time and space, representing something eternal, only briefly materialized in our world to see, hear, smell and touch. It is like a hint of the divine, designed in a form that can be perceived by humans. To me, seeking to portray eternal female beauty is an attempt to gently touch the divine, the immaterial, the timeless and bring this experience to the viewers of my art.

The archetypal characters I design, Princesses, Dark Queens, Battle Angels, are much like works of art by themselves. Making images of them set in scenes is another layer of art. These visual stories, I humbly hope, can act as portals for viewers to step into new, mysterious and exciting universes.

Haute Couture is a deeply satisfying art which opens to the world of mass-designed couture, or “fashion” as we know it. 

Following my wedding dress designer-seamstress/tailor grandparents’ footsteps I have even considered designing dresses, but for now I am satisfied with having a couture dress and jewelry atelier and styling my models.

Who do people impact most in your profession? What do you learn from them?

I extensively consult world-class photographers I am inspired by, attend their master classes, getting to know them, shoot together and learn from their art.

World-renowned photographer Lindsay Adler in NYC is my lead teacher and an extremely successful commercial photographer. She is a master of strobe lighting, building fantasy sets and posing models. Her images are striking, bold, colorful and she is the most fascinating person. I regularly attend her wonderful classes and theme-shoots in NYC while enjoying the big city atmosphere and doing personal shoots on the side.

Award-winning artist Dan Hecho is my go-to when shooting female beauty in natural light. He is a master of making light and shadow dance on the female form and an expert in analyzing and posing select parts of female anatomy in classically beautiful ways. His ballet-dancer images are magnificent works of art displayed in galleries. Not surprisingly, he is really a classically trained painter turned photographer. I regularly attend his classes in Europe.

Margarita Kareva is a photographer with a lot of depth and mystery. She produces fantasy and fairytale images with a unique feeling that invite you into the world of a complex story with only a single image. She is also a skillful editor of images. Her fantasy master classes are unforgettable, particularly three days of fantasy shooting in Provence, France, in the Lavender Fields. Joachim Bergauer is an award-winning master of adapted classical portraits, often shot wide open at 135mm and in black and white. His workshops have taught me how to add more depth to a portrait to illuminate the person within.

I am fortunate to work with talented fashion designers I am inspired by and often acquire and rent their creations, sometimes partly co-designing custom dresses. 

Videnoir Couture in Milan produces the most gorgeous couture and accessories, often with a gothic twist. Alice Corsets in Kiev makes full-blown masquerade and dark fantasy couture dresses and produces great runway shows. Dresses by Irina Krutasova in Amsterdam are magnificent creations, ranging from accurate, 16th century period dresses to more modern, fantasy creations. 

Moriel Corsetry in Moscow designs awesome and dramatic, sometimes vampire-inspired corsets and dresses I am lucky to have several of. Sadovska Couture in Kiev designs fantasy dresses with huge trains, up to five meters which are wonderful for princess shoots. Linda Friesen couture in Maastricht makes fabulous more modern fantasy dresses. Royal Black Couture and Corsetry in Vienna designs fantastic costumes and corsets worthy of displaying in exhibitions.

What will be the suggestions to new photographers?

Follow your passion, something that really touches you deep inside. You can use this passion to energize your work beyond just doing something that “sells”. Of course, what sells and what your passion is can sometimes be the same thing or very close. Passion also leads to a more extended creative process taking you further in your art.

What is your favorite camera? Why?

I have no favorite, but a best compromise. My personal work often looks like a combination of fashion and advertising, sometimes even like beauty and cosmetics images. Hence, I seek to optimize the look and glow of skin, face, eyes, hair and couture. My images are often hi-key and shot using rather extensive lighting sets. An image style I like is really produced as an interaction of lighting, lenses and sensor in this order of importance. Lighting is really the key to everything and not all types of lighting fit all cameras, no matter how good the camera. And as for lenses…well…cinema lenses can cost several hundred thousand dollars for a reason any film director would know.

As an artist, I need my tools to exactly fit my style and I need to know what I can achieve with a certain tool, like a camera, lense or certain lighting equipment. I constantly test-shoot various cameras and lenses to see if they fit my photographic style and workflow and to see what kind of artistic tools they would be in my kit bag… and hope to find the perfect ones.

I have shot with quite a few medium format cameras (Phase One IQ4150, IQ3100, Hasselblad H6D100, Fuji GFX50S, Hasselblad X1D ii, Pentax 645Z and Leica S007) and enjoy them even though they are notoriously expensive, slow, have limited focusing systems and some of them crash a lot. In full format, for my style I prefer Nikon D3X, D800 and D850. They are instant, agile, robust, have great focusing systems, work well with Broncolor lighting and with the right lenses especially at ISO64 are able to produce very close to medium-format quality.

What are the most difficulties during your shoots?

I love shooting and building lighting sets in challenging, gorgeous locations. Inside a palace or castle, everything is peachy and not much can go wrong, shooting battery powered strobes. However, outside you are subject to weather, lighting changes and all kinds of surprises. When shooting one set outside a castle on the Atlantic coast wind kept knocking one of my sand bagged light modifiers over and I had no assistant. 

I was struggling until an older, helpful French gentleman offered to hold the lighting stand in place. I said “just for a couple of minutes” and finished shooting the scene. I then turned to thank the French gentleman who said “That was actually twenty minutes” and laughed….so problem solved by a patient French gentleman.

I also have a lot of lighting gear. It is expensive, large and heavy. I have constructed a travel-kit out of it, carefully optimizing what I can bring to a flight checked in a media bag and what I need to carry on the plane. Regardless, hauling all this gear on location from one place to another up the stairs into the wall of a castle really gives you a workout. But as the quality of my images with a proper lighting set is so much better, I just take it as exercise and soldier on.

Finally, a cute problem I have at times. As I rent out parts of palaces and castles, other parts still have visitors and tourists who are often very curious. My gorgeous models look like fantasy princesses in couture dresses, huge crowns and extravagant necklaces. This sight draws many little girls with their fathers to us, standing eyes wide open behind my set, shyly asking if they could talk with the Princess and if they could have their picture taken with them. 

I break the shoot at times to allow the model to chat and pose with these adorable little girls who are all smile and radiate happiness having met a Real Princess. This is a heart-warming problem to have, but something I need to prepare for when shooting.

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