Photography is a very personal matter. Not only for the subject but the photographer as well. As photographers, how much can our perceptions shape an image? Can our perspectives skew an image? Can how we feel, what we think, what we know (or think we know) about a subject change the final outcome of the portrait?


In conjunction with Canon Australia, The Lab created the following fascinating video that explores just how much our perceptions can shape an image. Called “Decoy,” six photographers were invited to photograph one subject for the experiment. Each photographer was told the subject’s name, Michael, and in a twist, each photographer was individually told a piece of fictional information about Michael. One photographer was told that Michael was a self-made millionaire while another was told that Michael was an ex-inmate. Each of the six photographers thought Michael was something different – a millionaire, an inmate, a psychic, a fisherman, a hero who saved someone’s life or a former alcoholic.

Placed in the same warehouse studio with the same possible setups, the photographers set out to capture the essence of who they thought Michael was, and each of the six portraits are vastly different. As the photographers looked at the images at the end of the video (before the reveal that Michael was none of the things they thought he was), you can hear some of the photographers remarking on how in one image to the next, Michael looked like, “a totally different person.”

THE LAB: DECOY – A Portrait Session With a Twist


It’s interesting to see the bias of each photographer come out in the interaction with the subject but especially with how they use light, composition, and posing to convey an image of who they think the subject is. Armed with one fact about the man, they draw their conclusions, and each tries to tell Michael’s “story” with what they think they know to be true.


I would’ve liked to see the experiment done a bit differently, with each photographer knowing the same detail about the subject and see if their images still look so vastly different. Nevertheless, I found the experiment to be extremely interesting. What do you think? Comment with your thoughts below.

If you’re interested in being a part of future experiments, check out Canon’s website here.

[Via Shutterbug]