Staff Portraits with a Twist – Populous

//Staff Portraits with a Twist – Populous

Boring Staff Portrait? Use the technique ‘distraction by interaction’

For a lot of people, having their staff portrait taken is up there with having their right arm ripped off.  Not if you’re with Populous Architects here in Brisbane…

Staff portrait of Bindi Perkins on her surfboard for Populous Architects

Surfers are always chasing the next perfect wave – Bindi is no exception.

There are tons of ways a good photographer can make people feel at ease but one of the best strategies is distraction by interaction. Portraits like this give your customers insight into who you are as a company and who your staff are as individuals. With Populous: I took a bunch of non-skivvy wearing, forward thinking, sport loving architects, a few sporting props and some 80’s pop tunes… The results? Much more interesting than your average corporate portrait.

Warwick Chalmers of Populous Architects with his beloved tennis racquet squashed onto his face

Tennis playing architect Warwick Chalmers of Populous Architects

Distraction comes in many forms; laughter, music, conversation.  One of the most effective and yet underutilised is having a concept.  Having a concept helps people to focus on something other than how they look, the intimidating camera, the strange beeps and bright flashes, and how to smile ‘properly’.

Populous are a firm of architects who love sport.  And I mean, REALLY love sport.  They are responsible for some of the most incredible stadia and facilities around the world (baseball, motorsport, equestrian, tennis, basketball… The list goes on), and are heavily involved in the development of facilities and event design/planning for the 2012 London Summer Olympics and the 2014 Russian Winter Olympics.

Sporting nerds, really.

Staff Portrait of Ice Hockey Fanatic Greg Demaiter being pulled by the shirt

Canuck Greg Demaiter is so proud of his Ice Hockey heritage that he was prepared to go into battle with his cricket loving peers.


My first meeting with Populous was in this amazing shared space with a swing.  Yes, an actual swing, attached to the ceiling, that you could swing on. Pretty soon it became clear we needed to do something more engaging than standard portraits.  We ran with the idea of Portraits with Paraphernalia.  I knew the distraction element was going to be very high, so I was pretty confident we’d get some great shots.  But I must admit, even I was blown away by some of the things people were prepared to do!


I didn’t even know competitive frisbee existed!  Although I wonder if catching it with your hands would be easier… I guess this way gets you more points?

The Equipment

Staff were asked to bring in a piece of sporting equipment or memorabilia important to them. All 26 did AND most of them had also thought about how they wanted to be photographed with it. So, right from the beginning they were engaged.

I shot to laptop so everyone could see how they looked on screen and how our ideas translated into images.  This led to people taking more risks, having more fun and as result we got much more engaging images.

Fun staff portrait of Brisbane architect and cricket fan

Will, avid cricket fan/tragic, showing his skills with the bat. You should see where the ball landed.

Portrait of Brisbane Architect Jochem Veerman, wet hair with googles, fully clothed!

Jochem Veerman is built like a swimmer; lean, tall and (in this instance at least) covered in water.

Staff portrait of serious cyclist looking through the front wheel of his bike

Some people feel more comfortable being serious in a portrait than smiling, so finding a way to make that look engaging rather than scary is always a challenge

But what about ‘normal’ headshots?

You can’t always have your CFO in the shareholder report wielding a cricket bat or riding a snowboard.  You do also need more serious, formal portraits.  Well, we did both during this shoot. All the equipment ones were shot first, which meant we had fun first – always helps to loosen things up.  But most importantly people had seen the results from earlier and trusted me to produce a great result when it was just them in front of the camera.

Relaxed and feminine staff portrait of Bindi Perkins, Brisbane.

The beautiful and relaxed Bindi Perkins

Relaxed, seated, comfortable staff portraits at Populous Architects Brisbane

Warwick Chalmers of Populous Architects showing his more relaxed, and slighly male model, side

Architect staff portrait for Populous Architects, Brisbane

Architects are usually quite a serious bunch – not Populous Architects.

The End Result…?

We got a great mix of fun, serious, gentle, classy, hilarious and a little bit weird.

And yes, the swing definitely made it into one of the shots…

Woman with iceskates on, sitting on swing against orange background

Figure skater HyoJin with her skates on

Next time you’re thinking about staff portraits remember, it doesn’t always have to be serious. And you can give people a sense of your business’ identity along with it.