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6 Photographers Shot the Same Person and the Results are Astonishing

A photograph is shaped more by the person behind the camera than by what’s in front of it. And that’s because we have our preconceived notions of who people are based on what we know about their past.

To prove this we invited six photographers to a portrait session with a twist. ‘Decoy’ is one of six experiments from The Lab, designed to shift creative thinking behind the lens.

It reminds us to not judge a book by its cover. Doing good stuff means seeing people as they are, not as we think they are.

72 Responses

  1. Leah

    So true! I hired an artist to do a pastel of my 3 year old son and 6 year old daughter. She came over on a rainy day to take some photos to refer to. My son was nervous and my daughter was crabby, and I kind of picked up a little on a vibe that the artist didn’t really enjoy my kids, maybe thought they were unpleasant people….. Fast forward 9 months to the big portrait reveal…. OMG. She did an exceptional job on their hair and the fabric and texture of their clothes, but their facial expressions were horrifying. He looked scared and upset, and she looked demonic. The portrait is still in the back of a dark closet and was referred to after as “The Children of the Corn”- the horror movie. She just couldn’t See my wonderful children.

    1. Mary

      Only a mother can see the child’s true nature through their tears, crabby days, and nervousness in dealing with a stranger. You should try to have the faces repainted by just give the artist photos of their happy or joyful expressions.

  2. Clare Walker

    Very interesting video, just one disappointment for me..

    I was really hoping that we would find out what the guys REAL story was

    1. Lynn

      Brian, i agree about the background being too loud. This seems to be the trend today, even with a tv show. I hear more background than conversation.

  3. Nire

    The photos were shaped by the guy in front as much as by the people who were behind the camera. He told them things that put who he wanted to be seen as being. It’s just a subtle psychology, but it’s there nonetheless.

  4. Shhughes

    It would have meant more if the person being photographed was unaware of what the photographers had been told. His facial expressions and posture likely matched the character he was playing for each shoot.

  5. Krysty

    Fascinating. Acceptance of a single fact producing the photographers idea of the person. A shot of him without any facts would have been an interesting addition.

  6. Flavia

    Hi Joel, I love the idea and everything about this experience, but i regard you don’t put the photos at big dimension so we can see better. Thank for share with us

  7. Jamie

    This is a really fascinating and interesting concept/project with truth to it, but he looked like he was acting like the characters he was supposed to portray in each little vignette… how does that make it about the other person? It would have been more about the photographers perceptions if he had been the same the whole time and they were just told different stories at the beginning. But if he is acting and playing various characters to distinctly match the stories, then the energy that he is putting out there is also informing the way the photographers perceive him.

  8. Cece

    This is so true of art and people need to know it is equally true of writing and be aware enough to realize that the media uses both to try to sway you to believe a certain way.

  9. Alfe Corona

    Loved the video, the message, the expressions of those photographers after they found out they were victims in a way of a decoy. Very interesting of how a photo of the same person but from a different photographer can give a huge different perspective, However, I wonder if we would have similar results if those photographers were given the same role of decoy to all. Such as telling them he was a self made millionaire. I wonder if the moral of the story would be the same

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  11. The Lab reflects more on the power of a story than the biases of the photographers. It would be interesting to have social scientists explore the whole shoots, rather than the clips we were given–even they communicate bias. When the photographer was told the “decoy” was an ex-con, he acted gruff and jumpy when she reached out toward his shirt. I suspect the complete videos would reveal the decoy did much more acting than we have seen and this had far more impact on the final images than we are led to believe.

    As humans, we read non-verbal clues long before we can speak, let alone read and write. I am not denying we all have biases. I am not denying photographers need to be careful about their preconceived ideas, but I think the person being photographed impacted these shoots more than you imply.

  12. Jan

    A persons looks can often be associated with the real person inside. I know it’s not always the case But it’s the first impression of someone that speaks to your mind about who this person may be and often helps make a decision whereby an opportunity is missed. Perhaps that is your point but even so, don’t dismiss the association between the cover and The book itself. People dress themselves, pick out and purchased their clothes decide on how to wear their hair and form habits of grooming – all of which are decisions that come from Who the person is and what their capabilities are.

  13. Jan

    PS. Perhaps I’ve missed your point. You identified a characteristic for each photographer which created a false belief and resulted in the photos being different. However, you did imply that you can’t judge a person by the way they look and that’s the issue, I was addressing.

  14. Tammy Wittman

    As a Professional Photographer of 20 plus years now retired, that is the one thing I have always said to my clients, we all see things differently. You can take the same person or subject, have 20 people shoot and end with a completely different outcome. To prove my point I let them get behind the camera and let them shoot one frame then its my turn, when I turn the camera so they can see the end results, thier jaw drops and I explaine, that is what make me the professional, that years of training and money on education along with professional equipment. They really appreciate thier Portraits….because as I have always said, there is a difference between a photo and a portrait. People are always shocked that I have other photographs take my childs portrait, I welcome the insight to other lenses and it pushes me too always perfect the craft that I love so deeply.
    Happy Shooting now and forever,
    Tammy J. Wittman ( Retired)
    Professional Photographer, D.P.P.A., T.P.P.A., N.A.P.W.

  15. Gabe

    Yes but these photographers didn’t impose these characters on him… they were only able to operate on what he told them about himself. I thought the photographers did a good job of interpreting him as he explained himself. Certainly the photographer has the ability to shape something, but, these photographers did their best to understand his story.

  16. I took some head shots of work colleagues for our Intranet phone book a long time ago. A few years later they replaced them, I don’t know who took the photos, But the photos had no warmth and were wooden. They were horrible. The relationship between the photographer and the person being photographed is very important too.

  17. Frank Lynch

    I am not trying to be a smart ass, But I found the results very disappointing and the comment that it was intemidaing I do not relate to – have a good look around the location. And the equipment there. How could you in all honesty walk away happy if that was your result. Do a follow up, Take the same people back to the same location and compare what they shoot. Honestly, that was uninspiring.

  18. Scott

    Whereas I like the general intention behind this exercise, I just can not at all agree with the conclusion/tagline because of the procedures involved- It seems quite obvious that “what is in front of the camera” makes a huge difference if that man in front of the camera knows what character the photographers “behind the camera” believe him to be. This just seems basic and obvious scientific method. Disappointed.

  19. Kids Mom

    That dude is handsome. Seems very down to earth, could I believe he was a recovering alcoholic? Yes. Prisoner? No. I didn’t see it in his eyes. In his soul. Great photography!!

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  21. There is a missing element here in your study. Like placebo, where the subject believes they are receiving what they are told they are receiving,each photographer believed what you told them about their subject. It is human nature to believe what you are told until experience proves otherwise. The professional photographer has as a human instinct a desire to please. they do their best to capture the essence of the subject so that the subject sees them selves in the portrait. ..and then there is the metaphysical perspective which is ; all perception comes from the inside out not the outside in , which of course is a whole other conversation…

  22. Moirae

    Why exactly do we need to see the set up and photography, and not the actual pictures themselves? Why did I have to sit here for three minutes watching a video that was a waste of my time? If you are going to post something, I suggest making it to the point and relevant.

  23. Jude Dassler

    Very interesting, but cut out the dumb loud music, it would be nice to hear them speak, hard with that high pitched piano going all the time.

  24. Juan Cabano

    So he’s smiling in some and not in others. Big rip. No matter who takes the pic it’s still the same person. nothings changed. Nothings astonishing

  25. Christine D Reiss

    Well I wanted to see the pictures, but can’t look at a three minute video to see them so….sorry. I would have loved to check it out.

  26. Terry

    It seemed to me that the young woman wirh the white shirt was almost violent towards him..it’s such a brilliant ecoeriment..never to judge someone too fast.but also what people dI’d wirh theisingirmation.Being a lifeguard does require bravery..bit under that still this man still remains enigmatic..he does however look astonishingly healthy and alert..

  27. PJ

    He was acting and portraying a false persona for each of the different photographers. I thought the article was going to be about the photographer’s perspective of the same person, same story, same persona. But this was not that.

  28. Carolyn

    Having photographed many people for many years, I find catching them in a spontaneous moment can offen reveal ‘truth’ of an element of who they are. Since we are so many different selves each day getting a slice is such a gift.

  29. Barbara P

    Interesting, but these photographers were trying to capture something they were told was an essential aspect of this person in a session that lasted just a few minutes, all in the same room, based on false information. I am not sure this proves what it says it proves…I think it just shows that photographers and artists try to use composition and lighting to evoke essential “truths” about their subject as it is conveyed to them when they don’t have the time to dig deeper. Not sure it says that photographers are biased or have preconceived notions!

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  31. Carol

    This is the same for artist doing portraits. I’ve taken photos of people I don’t know, don’t interview – seeing them doing something – such as fishermen working but I don’t know if they are good people or not – happy or sad – even behind a smile. People in interesting poses of light, color, etc. and choosing the image to paint is one of the hardest choices to be true to the person. A live pose changes minute to minute as the model become introspective.

  32. eric nash

    no. no. no. it would be more interesting to show how 6 real artists interpret a real subject in their own way. you’ve bolloxed the process of artistic interpretation by presenting them with a lie. picasso said art is a lie that makes us realize truth. you can’t start out with a lie. I use a Canon Rebel, but I shoot architecture.

  33. Paul Matte

    Sorry, but I have a major issue with this. The set up is skewed. The photographers each received different info about the man. They did not have enough time to know the man. The man is presented, in the video, as 6 different people to 6 different photographers. If the goal is to prove that each photographer includes themselves, their own perspectives, in their images, then the man should have been presented to all with the same information before the session. Portraiture is an art. Art is about the artist’s INFORMED vision. Of course the images will be different (Different info = different man = different vision). There are too many variables. I would have been more interested if they were all working with the same info. Sorry… couldn’t help myself. My opinion…

    1. Laura C.

      Poor premise. Of course they had skewed opinions…he lied about who he was to each of them. Now. if he didn’t say a word, and they had their own conversations with him, and drew out what they thought the salient points were, you’d have a story.

      Pretty film, poor journalism.

  34. Carol Hobbs

    I do like this project in that it demonstrates the artistry that is inherent in photography; yes, every photograph is shaped by the person behind the lens. But I disagree that this proves that photographers walk into a photo shoot with preconceived notions about their subjects.

    In the project, each photographer was given different information about the subject. So, of course, they tried their best to bring that aspect of the subject into their photos. The task of any visual artist is to capture the truth–as they see it–of what is set before them. That doesn’t mean they have prejudices or are narrow-minded. It does mean that they bring themselves to their art. Which, in my opinion, is why photography can be so arresting and so captivating.

    I completely agree with the comments by Paul Matte, above. I, too, would have been much more interested to see the photographs if all six photographers had been given the same information. THAT would be a cool project!

  35. Diamond

    The true art is how the gentleman being photographed shaped the perception of the photographers with the “facts” he shared. This is much less about what the photo reflects and more about how the information we receive may influence our way of thinking about a person, place, or thing.

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  37. David R

    Looks like the same guy to me, different shots, with different angles, different props and diffferent facial expressions, but essentially the same guy.


    Thought Provoking?

  38. Ron

    Bloody hell. It goes entirely too quickly to get a feel for any of the photogs or the subject. Then there’s scarcely a glance at any of the resulting images! How can you get a sense of it? And the music is annoying as a toothache.

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