Avoiding a (head) shot in the dark

In-house photographer, Alex Holland, is often commissioned to take an interesting portrait shot of a University academic whom he’s never met before and who can only give a few minutes of their time.

One such challenge was the series of portraits of the University’s recently recruited Inspirational Research Leaders. These eight academics are all acknowledged experts in their field and work in departments across the three faculties.

Doing a recce

“Being new to the University, the Research Leaders were extremely busy and I had just a quarter of an hour or so for the shoot,” says Alex Holland, who is based in Marketing’s Creative Team.

“Ideally, I like to take photos of my subjects in a meaningful context rather than just posed against a plain wall, and that takes time … to set up with lighting rigs, test shots and so on. I’ll also try and do a recce of potential locations before the shoot itself.”

“Dr Benoit Vicedo’s portrait needed a bit of experimenting as I wanted to capture him in a campus setting and make a reference to his area of research. So I did some test shots of myself first to set up the lighting. But you can see from the end result it was worth it.”

Alex’s test shot
Dr Benoit Vicedo

Perfect props

The right prop can be a gift, enhancing the subject and bringing another dimension to the image. 

Professor Judith Buchanan and friend

“The photo I took of Professor Judith Buchanan to promote the York Unlimited campaign is one of my all time favourites,” says Alex.

“Shakespeare in film is one of Judith’s specialist areas and in her office she had a life-size cutout of the film star Vivien Leigh as Lady MacBeth in the 1955 RSA production. It was the perfect prop for her portrait.”


See more of Alex’s photographs and read about our Inspirational Research Leaders


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