What Innovators Can Learn from Portraiture

Portrait photography challenges you to slow down, patiently observe, check your assumptions early, and ask thoughtful questions to get to the heart of a problem.

If you were to ask me to choose my most prized possession, it would be pretty hard to pick between my camera and my passport.

My passport is a well tattered, dog-eared almanac that chronicles my last ten years of travels. With stamps and visas from more than 40 countries, it has been my ever-faithful companion on more adventures than I can recount. I sometimes wonder if I might even be addicted to the one of the additives in the ink used to put stamps on the pages with each arrival and departure. Furthermore, my passport is a constant reminder of how little I actually know about the world – that there is always more to see, experience, and explore.

My primary camera, a Hasselblad 500c medium format manufactured in 1962, is an homage to a simpler time before the snap happy digital point-and-shoot culture we live in today. With only 12 frames per roll, it forces me to slow down, observe, and be patient – that the perfect moment cannot be rushed. Moreover, shooting film makes me examine the world around me and really consider the deeper story. What elements do I want to bring into the frame, and how do those reflect the subject? How can I capture a feeling or moment to best share it with others?

In our point-and-shoot reality, I often will see tourists who want a picture of an interesting character they meet. They’ll level their camera in the direction of the subject, fire off a few frames, and continue on their way without much more thought. However, if I’ve learned one thing from the thousands of portraits I’ve shot on my travels, it’s that you’ll never end up with a good portrait by taking this approach. To create a truly memorable image, we need to be deliberate, and really take the time to know our subject and try to connect on deeper, more intimate level.

Needless to say, creating this deeper connection with a total stranger is no easy task – one that is often compounded by the fact that there is often a very real barrier of language and culture. The real question is: how do you break down these barriers and create a real connection with a total stranger?

Enter the instant camera. When my wife and I travel, we always have a Fujifilm Instax camera. Not only is instant film a fun throwback to an earlier analog era, but it’s the most amazing way to get a few extra minutes with a person you want to photograph, and helps break down and transcend barriers of language and culture – to create a real, tangible, and shareable moment.

If I see someone I’d like to photograph, instead of just clicking the shutter and continuing on, I’ll offer a trade – one for you and one for me. I’ll shoot a frame with the Instax and give it to the person. In exchange for the photo, I’ve found that the person will often give me an extra 5 or 10 minutes. With the extra time, the subject will start to relax, open up, and show their true selves. This is the moment when the real connection begins to happen, and great images are made.

Antique cameras and a passport are surprisingly relevant to our thinking as innovators. At Fahrenheit 212, we aim to put the consumer at the center of everything we do. No matter how strong the business case for an idea, if it doesn’t resonate with the consumer in a way that is exciting, relatable, and relevant, it ultimately won’t succeed.

Therefore, when working on projects to create new products, services, and experiences, we always try to look at the world through observant eyes. This perspective challenges us to slow down, patiently observe, check our assumptions and preconceptions early, ask thoughtful questions, and often helps us reach the true heart of the consumer. I recommend all innovators try out the photographer hat when seeking to understand consumer pain points, unmet needs, and white spaces in the field – I think you’ll appreciate the different perspective that being behind the lens brings.

Ross Mytton
Director - Innovation Strategy
Ross Mytton
Ross Mytton
Director - Innovation Strategy

Ross is a Senior Consultant on the Idea Development team. Ross brings an insatiable curiosity about the underlying forces that make consumers tick and a drive to push the boundaries of Fahrenheit’s partners in all his engagements.

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