Mattew is an Australian Army veteran who participated in a personal project of mine entitled ‘Reluctant Heroes’. I’ve been working with military veterans for the past four years, capturing their portraits in what I consider a formal but timeless style of photography. These photographs provide opportunities for families to have these images of their veteran relatives and, of course, for the veterans themselves. They become an important record of service and, in most cases, a family heirloom.
Normally, participants will come to my studio to meet, sit, and chat, and we will have the opportunity to get to know each other before the portrait sitting commences. As a veteran myself, I can usually make a great connection and can relate to participant’s experiences, and in some cases, we can talk candidly and openly.
In some cases, veterans will express themselves and discuss things with me more than they have done with their own families. I receive regular comments from family members that suggest that these discussions are rare and sometimes never witnessed. I don’t promote it, and I’m not a psychologist… I’m just prepared to listen.
In this case, Matt was part of a group portrait session organized by a veteran support group Mates4Mates in Ipswich, Australia. I could see Matt was apprehensive, nervous, and not sure of what to expect. He wasn’t dressed like the typical veteran who had sat for me, with no formal clothes or medals.
There was only a twenty-minute window to work with Matt, and I was super keen to sit with him and discuss what he wanted from his photograph. It was clear to me that the final image needed to convey both confidence and pride. And even though he wasn’t dressed typically for the type of portrait I would normally take, I was sure I could still achieve a strong result.
We both sat quietly after each image and studied them closely, with us conferring intently as to his expression, body language, and the way the light would impact the photo. ‘Confidence and in control’ was the phasing I used to coach him into achieving what I consider a strong portrait.
A strong and confident portrait of anyone has the power to lift spirits. In the case of a military veteran, pride sits deep. The Reluctant Heroes project strives to ensure that it’s not lost when past adversity and impacts on the psyche threaten to take control.
What do you think are the TWO most impactful features that make your image a good photograph? Don’t be shy!
The ‘thousand-yard stare’ is a look that I’m after from each veteran portrait. We work through both non-expressive and smiling shots. Obviously, the eyes are so important when photographing any person, even more so when a veteran is the subject.
I enjoy the look I get with just a single light and work hard in post-production to accentuate light and shade in both the face and the clothing of the subject. Having the eyes nicely lit under the peak of the cap brim pleased me.
If you could make this photo again, what would be the ONE thing you would like to do better or different?
I’ve always thought of taking these photos as environmental portraits. Matt is a very fit man, and I would have enjoyed trying to capture the same level of confidence and control in a gymnasium setting. Given that he did not want to wear formal clothes and medals, the idea would have had strength.
Mick Jones shared this photograph in the FRAMES Facebook Group.
Mick Jones, Lockyer Valley, Queensland, Australia
Equipment and settings
Sony A7R2, Sony G-Master 85mm f1.4.
Lit with a Godox AD400Pro through a Godox 165cm umbrella.
1/125 sec., 85mm, ISO 80
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