Portraits

Voting with Photos...

I just became an Australian citizen on 26th January and at the ceremony.  I had thought I wouldn't make the cut to vote this time around.  So I (foolishly) hadn't bothered to learn anything about the candidates here in Queensland.  

It turns out I was registered to vote right there at the citizenship ceremony and told I'm expected to show up!  Oops.  Ok.  Better start cramming!

The ABC has a very interesting little tool to help you discover where you are in the political scheme of things.  It's called Vote Compass and it asks you all kinds of questions about various topics important to everyone - just as I had expected - which I dutifully answered.

Then, a very surprising section popped up...  

You are asked to rate the candidates for trustworthy-ness and competence using their photos!  

I often hear people say that a good online profile photo isn't very important...  That it's such a small image and people can't possibly make any decisions based on such limited information...

And that can be true...  If it's a crap photo.  And these photos of the Queensland politicians are all equally very weak photos.  But take a look.  One looks a bit like a super-villain.  One looks like a prison mugshot.  One looks like he has no idea where he is.  One really comes across as more genuine and trustworthy...

Politics aside (if that's possible), you really can and do make decisions based on visual cues.  I mean who the hell buys a different bottle of wine based on what the back label says?  You look at price, name and then you judge the "book" by its cover.

Now I'm certainly not saying that this is the way forward for political discourse.  Far from it.  But it is very fascinating to see this method used.

How did I fare with this step you may wonder?  I skipped it.  Visually, I'm super biased and didn't want that to influence my results at all.

But just in case any politicians or aspiring politicians out there are reading this...  Look into a truly exceptional headshot that actually communicates your values and intention.

Who knows how many votes you'll get with a freakin' amazing photo...

 

The Ghost in the Machine

The Ghost in the Machine

As an artist, I have been pushing people to transmit something in the images we create that tells ME the story I want to see in other humans... Strength, confidence, knowledge, depth, integrity, foresight, empathy, joy, wisdom...

The Opposite of Beauty...

Somebody said that "Beauty is the Opposite of Perfection - It's about Confidence, Charisma and Character..."

I don't know who said that, but I totally agree.

 

The word 'Photogenic' is thrown around a lot in my world.  It's not a word I personally like - or even use - because socio-culturally, it's a very loaded word that skews our self image, striking varying degrees of fear into the hearts of otherwise strong, confident people.

By now, you're probably used to my mantra that 'nobody is photogenic'.  Because that's not the goal.  

Wishing you were 'photogenic' is about striving for perfection which is that unrealistic and completely unhelpful.

There's an amazing Chinese word that describes what I mean perfectly.   It's a very small word with huge implications.  

That word is "Li".

Li refers to the imperfect perfection everywhere in the natural world... The markings in Jade, the grain in Wood... 

These things are beautiful BECAUSE of their imperfection.  Not despite it.  Perfect symmetry and rigid order is not our nature either.  It's Li that makes us special... beautiful.  And it's the Li we strive to see and capture through the camera.

When we truly embrace our own Li, then the important things like Confidence, Charisma and Character are free to come through.  And that is when we connect.

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.

 

Back in Church... But Different.

The gang over at Surge Media really like pushing boundaries and having some fun in the process...  And I love making their ideas come to life.

This is a sneaky little shoot we did a few months ago with the 2 principles over at Surge...  Aegir and Ben.  

I'm not exactly sure what kind of trouble we could get in (after the fact) for shenanigans like this...  So I'll say that we definitely did not go out on the Storey Bridge and shoot this one summer Sunday morning at 5am...  

But if we had it most certainly would have been far trickier than any of us anticipated...  Since even at 5am, there is a steady flow of traffic - I imagine.  

When they asked me to come in and help them create the Church of Surge, I couldn't wait. You see, their offices are in a little old church over in Wooloongabba.  So they decided to take advantage of their special location.

A few cheap costumes and some outrageously expensive video equipment was all it took to pull it off.  As well as buckets of sweat.

It was one of the hottest days we had seen here in Brisbane and the old circuits at the church couldn't handle the 1000's watts of juice the film lights were using; all my flashes (yes, we still had to light it - even with the film lights); AND the air conditioning...  So in the interest of art, we sacrificed the A/C.

People have been asking me if it is a composite... pieced together using different moments and multiple exposures.  But it is 100% captured in camera.  

Here's the Before and After...  Obviously some effects were added after the fact...  But it's really all there.  

Honestly, that's the most fun for me.  I know I can take components from a zillion different sources and make something completely new...  But I love the challenge of doing it all for real. 

World's Greatest Photos of the World's Greatest Shave...

A good friend signed up to shave her head this year for the World's Greatest Shave...  I decided to capture the fun...  During the event and afterwards in the studio.

The actual shave was loads of fun, but the real magic happened the next day in the studio creating some absolutely stunning portraits.

Amazingly, "World's Greatest Shave raises about half the money the Leukaemia Foundation needs to fund its important work – providing support to people with blood cancer, as well as millions in research."

Valentine raised a couple thousand dollars in the effort and realised one of her own personal dreams in the process...  A huge success!

The Ladies are in Town!

Emma and Bridget - the amazing women from Women's Property Panel - are hosting an outstanding workshop this month over at Portside in Brisbane...

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I had the privilege of photographing them a couple months ago and got to see some of their magic, first hand.  In a word... contagious.

They have an event on International Women's Day with some pretty impressive speakers (not to mention a room full of awesome ladies, super passionate about property).

Here's the link to the event page on Facebook...

Come along and get your learn on!

I'll be there photographing the day...  See you there!

Different Looks, Same Spot.

I love shooting on location (as I've mentioned before) because there's so much to work with.   

This is a recent shoot for a financial-corporate-type-guy who needed something really powerful and something very approachable.

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I've been eyeballing this spot for a few months, waiting for the right shoot to use it.  It's a sweet little corner of the Convention Centre that could easily be overlooked.  Unless, of course, you're me... constantly looking for light and lines.  

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And my brain is always thinking multi-use...  So you get the clean portrait plus lots of space for copy in case you're on the cover of a trade mag, brochure, etc.

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Early Morning Magic...​

One of the most brilliant 'connectors' I've ever met asked me to make some portraits for her.  

She has just started a new solo enterprise and needed some images to show the magic she naturally, effortlessly brings to a room.

So, how do you show magic?

Well, first I had to get her to stop talking.  The ideas almost never stop flowing so I figured I had to engineer some quiet moments by giving very specific instructions but keeping them open enough for her to interpret on her own terms.  'Cause that's Jenny...  on her own terms.  

But, of course, I also had to capture that electricity that surrounds her... because every moment, you're sharing her constant eruption of inspiration.

She said her favorite place to think is on the swings.    So that's where we went.

I've found that if you get into the space people feel best, you often get a much higher degree of unguarded honesty.  That's why I love shooting on location. 

It's relevant.  It means something.  It's personal... and it matters.   

...And so do the people I photograph

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.

Exposing Myself at Bus Stops...

Oxfam’s Shadow Report went out to the government a few weeks ago.  Hopefully my images all over it will help secure the funding they need to continue the amazing work folks are doing to Close the Gap…

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(The two girls’ t-shirts required some work…  The kisses shirt originally read “I’m bringing sexy back” and beneath OMG it said “Over it!”)  I ‘heart’ Photoshop.

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These were all captured while I was in Western Australia a few months ago with the video crew from Red Hat Films that produced the official video (plus my behind the scenes footage which I wrote about here…)

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And it’s almost time for Trailwalker!  My images have been popping up all over the place…  Posters, bus stop ads…

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If you and 3 companions are interested in an epic race for a good cause, then check it out here on Oxfam’s site…

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Today, bus stops… Tomorrow, the WORLD!!!

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.

Ahh, India

Well it has been an amazing start to 2013!

We spent almost a month shooting a documentary in India called Devout Warrior which you can find out more about here.

I was along for the ride shooting the production stills and behind the scenes which was absolutely epic.

I'll leave the productions stills for another time...  These are just some of the spontaneous moments that happen all around you in India.  

...Eye contact from complete strangers that our little western minds can barely comprehend...

...Unabashed honesty in a gaze

Everything everyone tries to tell you about India is true.  But it all just pales in comparison to the actual intensity of the place.

I'm ready to go back.

...Dodgeball!

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Oxfam's annual Dodgeball fundraiser for the Grow Campaign was a blast!

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This was the second year I shot the event.  Last year I made all the standard images, covering the event.  So there was certainly no need to reproduce all the same stuff...  This year I decided to just make portraits of the players.

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I decided to shoot super wide (around 16mm for all the individual portraits) giving an extra exaggerated and dramatic vibe to the quirky folks that came along to support the cause.  

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...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!

Eat Local… Feed Global - World Food Day

Sunday was an amazingly beautiful day… Cruising with the top down… Driving to Lennox Head, getting pumped for another gig for Oxfam…

This one was for Oxfam’s GROW campaign for World Food Day and visually it was going to bevery similar to one that I shot last year.  So I was trying to think of a way to bring back some photos that would get the message across; but at the same time stand out as better and different from everything I shot last year.

For ‘Shout the Horn’ campaign last year I focused on the branding (brochures, flyers, posters, signs, etc.) and the people played a secondary role in the images.

But this time I decided to really focus on the people.  

I wanted to portray a much more personal side to the event.  And I could visualize images of people convincing me to pay attention to an important issue...

I had to bring the message through the images in order to visually support the campaign. And I wanted my images to stand out from the crowd… Afterall, other photographers were covering other restaurants in various states around Australia.

Fortunately, everyone there for the fundraiser played along with my shenanigans, giving me a some very great images.

So once I had the necessary shots in the can, I was looking around for a little something special.  I always get in and get the shots I need.  If there’s any time left, I start looking for those little detail shots that really round out a set of images and help tell the whole story.  Well, this time I decided to take it one step further…  Video!

Once I saw the brochure, it hit me like a flash.

Boom!

There was a big group of about 10 or so people who were having a great time… laughing, drinking… all different ages.  Just get everyone to say one line from the brochure and clip it together!

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There you go!  19 seconds…  Fast and dirty.  Totally improvised in the moment.

A Big Thanks goes out to owners Lisa and Tony at Seven Mile Restaurant in Lennox Head.  They are fantastic people running a lovely place, with a grand view of the ocean where whales splashed around just off shore.  And of course a HUGE Thank You to all the wonderful people who came out to support a good cause AND allowed me to conduct my one-man photographic circus.  They all truly made the day a success.

Rohingya… Ro-who?

I was invited to attend an informational evening by the kind folks at Oxfam last week.

The Rohingya Community here in Queensland is educating the general public on the horrible conditions their community is facing back in Myanmar right now.  They are essentially a displaced community, denied residency and actively discriminated against (which has recently escalated to extreme violence) even though the people have been in the same place for generations.

I did a little research when I received the invitation and realized that I could potentially make some amazing portraits…  and at the same time, provide the Rohingya community here in Australia (struggling for recognition and change within the international community) some powerful images that they might use in their campaign.

Sujauddin (a member of the Rohingya who emigrated here as a boy) is an incredibly engaging and charismatic personality working here to stop the violence abroad and provide a voice to hundreds of thousands of people, silenced and denied any freedom at all.

I had my own little corner that evening and invited everyone who was willing to stand in front of the camera for a special little photo session.  We had a great time. and the teenage boys definitely got the most out of my presence…

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But, of course, the stars of the show are always the older folks and the little ones…  The little kids were the bravest and jumped in front of the camera first.  They all brought a surprising degree of presence to the images.

And then, there’s the wisdom inherent in certain faces that really light up the lens…

I had a great time, learned a lot, met passionate people, ate amazing food, created great images… It was a fantastic night and hopefully, my images can help add some uplifting faces to their cause…

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.