6 Photographers Capture Same Person But Results Vary Widely Because of a Twist (VIDEO)

As the revealing video below shows, portraits can be shaped by the photographer’s point of view rather than just by the subject being documented. Created by The Lab in conjunction with Canon Australia, the clip features six photographers, one portrait subject and an unexpected twist. The twist consisted of the (mis)information each photographer was given regarding the person being photographed.

The photographers entered the studio individually and were told a bit about the subject, whose name is Michael. The fictional back stories on Michael ranged from him being a self-made millionaire to a hero, ex-inmate, fisherman, psychic and a former alcoholic.

In reality, he is none of those things. Consquently, their finished portraits range wildly in style and context.

The video, called "The Decoy," runs about three-minutes and is a very eye-opening experience in that it makes us stop and rethink how portraits should be created. 

(Via Reddit)

JennaChristina's picture

This video doesn't prove that the photographer's point of view shapes the portrait taken since there was in fact a different character in front of each photographer.

I bet that even if this man was just himself, the photographers would've taken different portraits just because of their personal style, though. (This is why you have to make sure you like the style of the photographer you pick.)

sabrinarae's picture

I agree. They should have all been told the same story, then their different photos would reflect the different photographers' styles. This is a cool experiment, but it only shows that a person can look different, it doesn't prove WHY.

Correa Photographic Images's picture

I think the video told its story just fine. Each photographer was told to create an image using the same camera, lens, subject*(person to photograph), and time limit. Each was given a different story to form a different concept as to what they wanted to project the subject. Obviously you get different results. Any decent portrait photographer will try to get the personality of their subject to show in the photo. To do this you need to know some things about the subject. They got most of this from the introduction and from the actor's feedback as they were shooting. You are right, given free reign, the photographers would have probably shot slightly different photos. But had they been told by the Actor that he wanted a head shot for his portfolio that was for a serious role, most of the photos would have been looking very similar.

Zoog's picture

Although the person is the same the subject changes which each story.

Correa Photographic Images's picture


deeleephoto's picture

I like the idea, but bothered with the how it was done, and I can't agree with the tag line that the photographer shapes more of the image than what's in front of his lens. A portrait is a collaboration, not a one way street and I dislike that this is the message being shared.

It's not news that the photographer has a huge impact on the photograph. It's a collaboration that is influenced by many many factors to long to list here, but in this case they are being lied to and the actor is leading them on. As photographers we are story tellers, and of course we're not going to tell the same story for a millionaire or a fisherman. They are telling the story they've been given. That's their job. I think the photographers all handle it really well and want to get to know the person first to create an honest image WITH him... but that's impossible because he's not being honest, so the pictures can't be honest either.

As someone mentioned in a comment, this experiment would only have been valid if they had been given the same brief and if the actor was being himself.

Tom Meyer's picture

They were lied to. Not good.

ipd's picture

Not at all. It is an experiment, please see it as such. Like when Pharma. companies test drugs on patients, some use real drugs, some use placebo's. This is no different, in this instance they are testing photographic approach with different stimuli.

Zoog's picture

It is photographers interpretation of the subject that shapes the image. All though the same person the subject changed for each photographer. Why were each not given the same subject? Try again!

BryantPhotoz's picture

I believe they should have had them reshoot him after finding out this info and see just how much they changed.
also on a side note they were shooting different people..he was acting his part to influence and confirm what they were told, anyone else notice the touching of the shirt in the video?

gbdz's picture

It is not only photographers who judge people on the things they've heard.
Humans do that all the time. Nicely made, kudos.

kurtjoe's picture

There's no "Control" on this experiment. Also, a photographer brings their own style in the first place. PLUS, if you tell a photographer something, it's SUPPOSED to influence the shoot.

I HATE when "experiments" like this try to convey something that's assumed by the experimenter. That is, "Experiments" with an agenda.

donhajicek's picture

The conclusion drawn by the filmmakers is false. The subject is embodying six different personalities during these photo sessions. Hero, Criminal, Everyday Joe, etc. While photographers can create an environment that tells a story, the subject actually has MORE control over that story than you (apparently) think.

Tell the subject he's supposed to act like a mute millionaire. Tell the photographer that the subject is an axe-murderer who can't speak. Put them together in that room and see what the photos look like. ;)

If you didn't tell THE SUBJECT which he was embodying for each shoot, this would have been a very interesting piece that would tell us something. As it stands, it tells us little.

MDV's picture

I'm actually in reflecting mode these days about art, personal style etc. so this topic is very much on my mind right now and kept me thinking...I know several people said it would have been more interesting had they been given the same story. Say they were told: "I am an accountant, father, husband, I like fishing etc." I seriously doubt the resulting photographs would have been that different from one another. I bet they would all been somewhat "conventional".

Now had photographers been told: "I am a war-veteran turned street performer, I tour the world to entertain people" the results I bet, would have been much more varied. So I guess my point is, in this particular instance of creating a portrait, yes who is behind the camera matters a lot but also does the perception of the photographer has about the person in front of them as well as the conventions associated with representing that particular kind of person also comes into play. For someone artistic is likely expecting a creative photo of themselves, where as a lawyer or doctor is going to want something more conventional and not too unusual.

As I kept thinking about this I believe the approach is probably the most defining variable. Are we talking about a portrait as a service for the person photographed? Which of course must take into account the expectations of the client. We hear one of the photographer ask "What do you want the photo to say about you." (the video doesn't show how the actor handled the question unfortunately) Now that is by definition a service oriented question unlike a portrait assignment a photographer would be given by a newspaper or magazine. In which case, the photo truly is the vision of the photographer and how he/she wants to represent this personality as opposed to creating an image that corresponds to how the person wants to be seen or perceived. Annie Leibovitz would never ask such question. She will do her own thing whether you are Keith Richards or the Queen.

So in the end, yes the photographer is what shapes the image but what is in front as well since being given a different story will influence the photographer's creative decisions and as well as what the assignment is. Is it a service based portrait or capture this person in your own artistic style? That to me is what would make the biggest difference.

drstong's picture

I see this as a credit to the six photographers. Given a short amount of time and sketchy information each was able to evoke what they thought was needed to complete the job. Nicely done.

Tibor's picture

...what you say about someone. How you interpret what is just in front of you or your lens. What you say or show can be inaccurate, false or even completely misleading. The same story told from different angles can imply different thoughts and actions.

Be always careful of what you say and cautious to believe what you are told.

annoyed's picture

Feed six different photographers six different stories about a person, and tell them to create an image of said person incorporating those stories. Resulting in six different photos????

Mind = BLOWN.

Well theres 3 minutes of my life I won't get back. Plus the two minutes it took me to register and post this whiny comment.

tedw's picture

So they asked an actor to play 6 different roles. Obviously he did well - but it proves nothing regarding the photographers.

A driver's license photo show what a person looks like. 6 county clerks doing a license photo for the same person will likely get the same result. These were photographers, not county clerks, and their job is to learn about their subject and show who he is, not just his appearance. I'd say the actor played his roles well, and the photographers did well helping him to flesh out those roles.

If I was one of the photographers, I'd feel a little used - like somebody played "gotcha!" with me.

Tom Meyer's picture

Several things stand out immediately. These photographers were set up and made to look foolish, manipulative, and incompetent. They were told to make a "revealing" portrait. And then they were misinformed by the agent, and the subject, who pretended to be something he wasn't. It makes what we do seem superficial and manipulative...

I have, for many years, described portraits as collaborations. It's incumbent on a portraitist to know their subject to some degree, or when time is short, to accept their external signifiers as the clues they usually are… (the clothes we choose to wear, the style of hair, jewelry, posture, speech patterns). But when someone deliberately obscures who they are, and strips all genuine manifestations of themselves away, presenting nothing but trickery and deception, all we can do is create a fiction.

If you want a genuine representation of who you are, you must be willing to reveal some of that to a portraitist… or be satisfied with an irrelevant, and in this case, dishonest representation of no one.

I'd be pissed if someone did this to me. And I think a few of these photographers weren't happy. The one woman almost called them on their lies, saying she felt pushed into “a position I normally wouldn’t be in”, probably because she isn’t usually lied to about the people she is asked to photograph.

I agree with the final premise, that a portrait is a collaboration, but if one of the collaborators is lying…

This is just sensationalist crap, with a very low ethical content, despite the effort to justify with artspeak. I wonder if the photographers had to sign agreements before committing to the project. They were set up. None of them looked happy. I wouldn’t be.

I've been tagged with this article on Facebook several times, and I'm really tired of it.

PatP's picture

I see the points being made above by many who feel the experiment was flawed. But it made me think of how we are often told something about someone and then that information colors how we deal with that person. And what we're told about them is likely a result of the relationship the other person had with them. So, if it was an unpleasant experience, we're likely told negative things and if it were a pleasant experience, then we're told positive things. So, what we're told about someone is very much a function of someone else's interpretation of that person, which then often colors our interpretation.

I shoot for both of us's picture

Serious photographers know that the camera points both ways. What we photograph is often as much about the choices we make as photographers, as the choices made by our subjects.

Henri Cartier-Bresson said “It is putting one's head, one's eye, and one's heart on the same axis.” This neatly sums up what photographers do.

This video would have been braver if a genuine sitter had been photographed by the 6 photographers. As it stands this is a piece of content marketing where the producers, photographers and subject all depict stereo types. To be fair one of the photographers asked the sitter how he would like to be depicted, but that is a whole other area of discussion.

If we were braver we could ask an open question of the sitter. The nice thing about open questions is that neither the sitter nor the photographer knows what the answer will be.

What if one of the photographers had asked the subject to look for himself in his reflection in the lens? Would we have had a better chance of finding the real subject then? Perhaps, but it would have almost certainly been a braver and more interesting film.

Paul S's picture

Would have been more revealing had they been told different stories, and the subject had just been himself with each photographer. As it seems to be presented, he was "acting" the different parts and that is clearly reflected in the portraits. Kinda renders the whole experiment moot for me, but still an interesting Think Piece I suppose.

balajee's picture

I think the experiment was a credit to the 6 photographers. The actor acted his part and the story they were told was consistent, so I think the photographers did a really good job bringing out the personality they thought the actor really was. Now, if they all had to make a guess about the actor based on some visual clues and then bring out that in the photograph, then perhaps the bias that is more internal may have shown itself in the photograph. That would have been really interesting!

Deaqon James's picture

I thought this was right on the money. It is absolutely the photographer who shapes the image period end. There is no other contributing factors. There is no collaboration.

A photograph like a painting or any other thing is an absolute reflection of how the individual capturing the subject see's that subject.

This video reflects accurately how the story we have in our heads absolutely shapes what and how we photograph the subjects. Perception is everything.

You will photograph a subject you just met who is funny and lively MUCH differently than you would a subject who is shy, or authoritative, or dangerous.

Photography is about telling a story to the world with one shot. And that is exactly what each of these artisans did. They told their story based on the information they had available.

Geo Beau's picture

This was an interesting experiment but I find that it does not tell the whole story. At the end of the video we are presented with 6 very different shots. The question to ask at this point is ...which one represents a fisherman, a millionaire , an alcoholic etc etc..... ? If a majority of people get it right then it might just prove the premise of the experiment. ! To take it further ...have 6 other photogs come in and see if they can place each of the pictures into categories such as , business , labor, gambler.., ...categories that reflect the background of the titles given to the original photographers and have them give us the reasons why these photos evoke those responses ! Then , I think ,you would have a real experiment .

DrJoel's picture

This is a very interesting video. The thoughts, emotions and the intention of the photographer comes out in the photograph. Having spent a lot of time behind the camera, I know this to be true. I normally photograph flowers. I do this because I love the different colors, textures and designs. I love to search for its life force, its beauty and the capture is my favorite part. The flower doesn’t lie, but these photographers were lied to and the man lied as well. I’m not so offended by these lies for the sake of the experiment. The results were really cool. THE PHOTOGRAPHERS FOUND WHAT THEY WERE LOOKING FOR. THAT’S AMAZING TO ME…

Phoenix Headshots's picture

Thought he premise would be more firmly proven if the subject told the same story to each photographer. As it is, this shows very strongly the need communicate honestly with your photographer regarding your needs.