Behind the Scenes

Falling Up...

For years, I have ravenously devoured knowledge and ceaselessly practised to get better at my craft from every conceivable angle.  I can honestly describe myself as one of the finest professionals in my industry; consistently creating inspired excellence when I'm holding the camera.

I am a professional.

But I remember what it felt like a bunch of years ago - before I really was a professional at what I do.  It was lots of 'fake it to make it'... going out into the world and telling people who I am and what I do until I actually believed it because my results could back it up.

But I've recently discovered something quite shocking.   Something that I don't identify with considering how far I have come and what I've been able to achieve in so many ways.

I've been 'safely' sticking to what I know...  I'm in the Comfort Zone!  

To anyone who knows me well the 'comfort zone' has been - ironically - not really a place I've felt comfortable.  But I've been hiding.

Only in the last few months has this realisation been dragged out into the stark contrast of brightest midday sun...  What I've been hiding from is being a professional business owner - and all the skills and challenges that make one a true professional.

Mainly, it has come from an epic journey through an amazing program called Key Person of Influence... and the people with whom I have surrounded myself throughout these 40 weeks.  And more specifically through a gruelling two day session with outstanding business coach, David Dugan.  

I've always jumped into everything with both feet.  Blind faith and an inconceivable certainty that I will prevail has taken me far.  The ultimate quote that informs most of my choices is a simple one.

Leap and the net will appear

I don't have to try to believe it.  It's just a fundamental truth beyond question.  But lately, as I've learned a myriad new skills I have pushed myself well beyond the invisible confines of my 'zone of comfort'... Into a terrifyingly foreign realm of organising & planning and measuring & counting.

I have certainly leapt.  But the net hasn't come up to meet me.  I feel like I've been falling.  ...waiting for the net.  And getting nervous that I've been mistaken.  Or maybe somehow this time I got it wrong.

But today it all became so clear.  I am falling.  But I'm falling up.  It's strange to be out in unfamiliar space for so long.  But I have mistaken this sensation of falling from a gravity-restricted reality.

Sometimes it's hard to see when you're so close to the situation... It's hard to get perspective.  But I've seen such profound changes and growth in my business over the past few months I'm not worried anymore that the net will appear.  It always does.  But now that I know I'm falling up it seems to me that the farther I go... well, the farther I go.

And that's pretty awesome.

...Not Good at Everything...

Just a quickie...

I got a very cool write up in a blog post...

http://chrisrichter.com.au/ok-im-good-everything/

Chris helps develop the early careers of singer/ songwriters and this one is about not trying to do everything yourself.  Sticking to what you're best at doing and finding others to bring their best to the party...

It's a great reminder to anyone out there creating something for themselves... and a crucial realisation for the people out there trying to create something exceptional by themselves.

The Plague of 'Personal Branding'

As lifetime consumers of media, our tastes are constantly refining. 

These days, if it feels like you’re trying to tell me something, it makes me feel like you’re trying to sell me something.  And I immediately begin to detach.

I first noticed when I was dabbling with video that people would “present” to the camera.  I’d stop them and ask them to tell me what they were about to say and it would happen in the most natural tone… a conversation…  rather than presentation (effectively advertisement). 

Well I don’t go near video anymore, but my point is the same.  The second we approach portraits from a place where you’re trying to tell me something you’ve lost my respect as a viewer of that image. 

This is why I believe ‘personal branding’ is a disconnected plague of insincerity.

Your ‘branding’ is a fabricated extension of you and what your business represents.  It’s important, of course, because it helps us define your product.  But at best it’s a very rough approximation.  

You, however, are a complete person with a unique story.  And you are much deeper with far more context and relevance than ‘personal branding’ could ever hope to convey.

‘Personal branding’ generally presents itself as a smiling head facing a camera.  Is this the degree of depth we are willing to expect from a portrait or headshot? 

Looking at portraits, I want to be presented with a message from the very core.  A message that resonates with me as a complex person, full of preferences and conflict and experiences.  That is what we should expect from head shots and portraits… not a fraction less.  

And it’s possible.  For real people.  Every time.

When I get the feeling from a portrait that you have something to say you get my attention and that is the biggest commodity of all.  That’s what all businesses are reaching for.  

Our brains are evolved to look for a challenge.  Something unique… unexpected.  We know very well that the familiar and obvious fades into the background very quickly.  It is precisely one of the things our brain does best.  Unfortunately, familiar and obvious is what most photographers deliver.

If the most important thing in business is to approach your audience (your potential clients) with them in mind, then most photographers are really missing the point.  But when it’s done well, we frame the story the viewers tell themselves about who they see.

You see, a photo is not a one way street.  That’s the real magic of photography (and the aspect most photographers ignore).  It is not a passive experience to the viewer.  We can’t avoid putting the face in front of us through the matrix of human, emotional interpretation.  

The same applies when you’re in a room with someone.  You are either building rapport based on some sort of familiar recognition… or you’re not.  There’s rarely anything in between.

If you’re telling me something - like telling me ‘smiling’ - I am left with no way to engage with the image.  If it requires no interpretation it will not demand the viewers’ attention.  

Opportunity lost.  And how many opportunities can anyone afford to lose, really?

This is all fleeting.  The reactions we have to images are instantaneous.  Forget seven seconds!  We process way faster than that because we are forced to.  I’m not sure where this whole seven seconds thing even comes from, but if you think you have someone’s attention for SEVEN WHOLE SECONDS in order to make an impression, you are completely deluded.  

Go ahead.  Do it right now.  It even feels absurd to suggest…  Look at anything in the room and count… 1-1000, 2-1000, 3-1000…  It’s a freaking eternity.

Often, our images get a glance at best.  But that’s all we need.  These days we are wired to accept or reject in a moment.  So we need a headshot or portrait that delivers instantaneous impact.

The only way ‘telling smiling’ is going to have any impact is if the viewer happens to be smiling in the moment they encounter your image.  I’m not willing to gamble on those odds.  Are you?

Go try that little experiment.  I dare you.  

Go and sit in a room full of strangers with a big fake smile plastered to your face and see if it resonates.  It might if someone else is sitting there smiling too because one of the ways we build rapport is mirroring each other.  

Otherwise, you are ‘that’ person on the train or in the waiting room that people move away from… often clutching their bags - or their children - just a little bit closer.

And what is your Portrait or Headshot?  It is you when you can’t be in the room.  It works the same way.  Who do you choose to put in the room?

Your portrait is an opportunity for deeper interaction with you and your story.  And according to the finest business minds out there, that is how we build business these days.

How much more vital to share something deeper?  

This is not merely facial recognition.  Computers can do that.  I’m talking about a true recognition of values and intention… something fundamental.  One of those aspects that only we - the incredibly refined, blunt objects called ‘humans’ - are capable of recognising in each another.

We don’t need to see your face or your ‘personal branding’We need to see you.  All of you… with all the sincerity, power, experience and intention that makes you, you

Sounds daunting?  I know.  But a great portrait photographer will help you get there with proper coaching in front of the camera.  And the closer you get, the more inspired you are to push further… Ultimately creating images of yourself you never thought possible.  

Not the fabricated mask that is the ‘person’.  And not even simply who you are…  When done well, you begin to uncover - visually - who you know your best self to be… and who you hope to become.

That is the magic possible in every portrait session. 

...And anything less is a crime.

 

New Fun with Outcast Performing Arts

It's been a while, so I figured I'd take a chance to share some of the fun stuff I've been working on...

This was a great project I shot a couple of months ago for Outcast Performing Arts.

I was given a handful of insanely talented dancers, singers and musicians...  A half day in the QUT film studio... and complete creative freedom.

Since there were no expectations for the outcome I decided to make something a little different for them.

Normally, the Outcast 'look' is very dark and menacing.   But with the Creative Director's blessing I went in the complete opposite direction.  I wanted ghostly and ethereal.  So I decided to try something I've never attempted.

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Crazy, fast motion is normally something you try to freeze and capture in all its detailed glory.  But these are 2 second exposures!  Pretty cool, huh?  The combination of ambient, shutter speed, motion and flash gave me all the sweet details as well as all the blur in the same shot.

It's always a blast working with this crew which I've written about here.

The top composite is my own interpretation of what we captured, but the pieces they used were made a bit darker for the website which you can see here.

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I think the most important point to make is that this didn't spring from my mind when I showed up for the shoot.  Yes, it was an untested experiment (which is a bit crazy) but 2 things worked in my favor.

1. Outcast is super experimental, always trying to push the boundaries of what we expect from live performance – so it fit their ethos.

2. I had spent hours considering the concept and technical details.

Of course, I had a back up plan ready to go if the hybrid didn’t work out.  But good planning and conceptualizing is the real reason this worked.

A Little Bit of Video…

Here's a neat little surprise I found in my inbox today...

The fab crew at Red Hat Films who produce the Close the Gap film every year (which I've written about before, here) threw a few moments from my 'behind the scenes' footage into the final edit of an interview with Dan Sultan immediately after Rock for Recognition in Perth.

...John Butler at Home

We just spent 7 days with Oxfam shooting the Close the Gap campaign in Western Australia.  It was a fantastic trip full of highlights…  Shooting portraits from Bunbury to Mt. Magnet (which is officially in the Outback!)

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Photographing John Butler at his home in Freemantle, WA was definitely a high point of our trip…

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He is a big proponent of Indigenous Equality in general – and more specifically, Close the Gap.  So he invited us to his home where we filmed and photographed for about 4 hours.  He spoke very eloquently about the need for equality and a true ‘fair go for all’.  Here’s a little behind the scenes video I shot, edited by the phenomenal crew at Red Hat Films who have made the Close the Gap video for the past 4 years.  http://youtu.be/wMwhU8LBjOE

I had loads of ideas for cool portraits when I arrived, but after we spent about 40 minutes with him – shooting all natural light just using a reflector – I knew I had it nailed.

Oxfam requires a very specific look that they use for their visual communication.  So once I knew I had the ‘right’ shots in the bag, I started experimenting a little bit for a portfolio piece.  The above shot is exactly the quiet, contemplative character John seems to be…

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And as a little bonus, since his whole family was there when we arrived, I offered to do a family portrait since there was a perfect spot in their dining room.  Their chicken is basically a full-fledged member of the family so I thought we could create something extra special if they would be willing to put the chicken on the table…  They totally went for it!

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Score!

Behind the Scenes...

I was asked by Rotary Club to shoot a big fundraiser for Project Now (establishing a much-needed women's residential addiction treatment / recovery facility).  Normally, I don't shoot events...  But they said the magic word - portraits.

The Governor of Queensland, Her Excellency Ms Penelope Wensley, was in attendance and they needed some decent group shots of the Governor with the heads of the organizations collaborating on this epic project.

The portrait location had been decided without me...  But when I entered the space, I was very pleased with what had been chosen by the planning committee.

Plaza Gallery - Brisbane Exhibition Center

They chose the Plaza Gallery at the Brisbane Convention Center.  The beautiful wood floor... big, fantastic works of aboriginal art lining the walls... proper gallery lighting... Yum!

I especially loved the tungsten warmth running the length down to the cool pool of blue light in the gallery's entrance.  Basically, a perfect space for a group portrait.

With groups, you need to be careful to light everyone evenly.  This one was only 11 people, but you still can't get too creative with light placement.  Plus I needed a set up that would serve for smaller groups of 2 and 3...

So I went pretty flat with the light.  But I was relying on the depth of the space and that little pool of blue to give the overall light 'shape'...

The trickiest part was producing a big enough light source without bleeding all over the walls and lifting the ambient to where I lost the gallery lighting.  So I placed the softboxes pointing down at an angle that normally would have made unfortunate shadows under eyelids etc...

Using a small ladder got me two things:

1. They were now looking up-ish into the light source, eliminating those shadows

2. I got to maximise the beautiful wood floor (and avoid the ceiling which was doing nothing for the composition, anyway).

Plus, I only had 10 minutes to get the 5 groups shots I needed, so it was fun working under a strict time frame.

I'm definitely pleased with the results.  It's certainly nothing to put in the portfolio, but I really enjoyed the small complexities to successfully pull it off.

DOP... It's Official!

Hey everyone!

I’m super excited to announce my first official Director of Photography credit.  It was a video testimonial job I did for a French company (Arcil) at a yogurt plant in Victoria.

Here’s the YouTube link for all 2.5 minutes of heart-pounding, cinematic, yogurt plant testimonial action:

http://bit.ly/O2ZtLd

 On set...

On set...

I have been doing some small video production for recent clients as a bit of a value add to my services…  I’ve written about it before here.  But now I have officially added (small) video production to my bag of tricks.

It’s something I certainly enjoy doing… and diversifying your skill set is always a good idea.