• black & white
  • black and white
  • glass
  • Reflection

The story behind the image

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Winnie and Mau run an aerial dance studio and event space in Melbourne, and they hired me for an intimate couples shoot. When meeting them for their first consult, something pretty incredible happened: the previous tenant from 40 years earlier, an internationally acclaimed magician, turned up to have a look at the space he called home, the space where his family stayed, and the space where he rehearsed his shows: now, Winnie and Mau’s.

You can probably imagine the stories he was reeling off to us, from a much less-regulated time (oh, the doves/pigeons…). And at the end of it, we took a portrait of him, in the same place he had one taken all those decades earlier. Sublime!

But this isn’t about him (not entirely, anyway).

By the time the shoot came around in their space, it became important to see if there was some way of interfacing past and present (without overthinking it). I love the simple beauty of a double-exposure, and even more so when taken on film. The cityscape here is out of one of the same windows that the magician, Sam, would have peered out every day, and all the layers of buildings that were either the same or different. So I wanted to show that. Without agonising over composition, or any of that stuff. Just a simple layering of the outside with the new custodians of that space there.

Eyes can be confrontational or intense when in this sort of setting, and so having them open might have fought with the whole frame a little much, so I just asked them to take a breath and keep them closed.


(Or, whatever entirely non-delicate noise it is that my Hasselblad makes when its throwing around a giant 6×6 mirror).



I thought about whether I could have agonised over the composition a little bit to #levelitup. Get the triangulated building right in the middle. Line up their faces perfectly with some other structures. Try to architect it within an inch of it’s life until sweat is rolling down their heads while I micromanage them and suck every millimetre of joy out of the process. But i’m finding that by-the-book stuff so agonisingly boring and easy now. I love that this is a bit off the cuff and it feels much stronger to me for it: it feels like a photograph, it’s all baked into one physical piece of celluloid, and it is what it is.
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Describe how you spoke to your subject(s)

I asked Winnie and Mau to stand next to each other, and have their heads upright and facing me as symmetrically as possible. I think a calm or at least mirroring voice is really important, so they don’t feel overwhelmed or unmatched – as well as reading their energy and where it’s coming from, so I can make a comfortable space not just with what I’m saying, but in how i’m saying it. Slower, more deliberate words, lots of positive affirmations, and the word “no” is not in my vocabulary when on a shoot as cognitively it creates a not-so-useful performative spike where they might think they’ve done something wrong, and that’s when an experience can turn to shit for the subject. All positive at all times.

Everything worked as I would have hoped it did.

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What did you say?

Alright. Shoulders touching, breathing slowly. Raise your chin 2 grains of sand. Wait – split the difference. Perfect. Drop your left ear by a measure of one grain of sand. Hold that…

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Tone of Directions



I love squares. How great are squares! Squares inspire me to think simply, and that’s what I wanted out of this frame. My goal with this image was intimacy, distance, and interplay between space and people all in one. Nice and simple. Showing intimacy without resorting to some of the more traditional markers of it (such as licking each others face in a laundry) is a super interesting exercise to me. Or maybe I just like boring stuff? That could be it too. Given it feels quite stoic, I felt they needed to occupy a fairly large part of the frame. I’m not thinking complex compositional rules ever at any point: my guiding questions are these:

“Does everything that’s important have enough breathing room”


“Are the things that I want to talk to each other talking to each other”

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Compositional Rules

Broken RulesLeading Lines


Center FramedClose Up


Describe how you spoke to your subject(s)

Being a double exposure on medium format film, the aperture has to compensate for that extra shallowness. I shot their heads at around f4 or f5.6 and the background maybe F8, but I still had to make sure I had nailed it with a negative that size. I focused on their eyes for the first frame, and then one of the buildings for the second.

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Focus Mode

Manual Focus

Focus POints

Single Point

Focused on


Equipment &

Hasselblad 500CM
Hasselblad 80mm
1/30 @ f/5.6 ISO400 WB-5000

The way the EXIF is written out follows the common photographic method (with the inclusion of White Balance at the end). Here it is broken down:

Shutter Speed @ Aperture ISO White Balance.

Light & Weather

Here, Winnie and Mau were back & side-lit. There was enough draping across the right sides of their faces to give me the contrast I needed, but I was slightly concerned that I would need to overexpose by a tonne to get enough detail in the background. Fortunately, Kodak Portra can literally handle anything that you throw at it, so it was the ideal film stock choice here in a moment where I only had a simple iPhone spot meter.

Here we’re creating a double-exposure using chiaroscuro style light on the subjects. In order for this to work I needed a suitable area of dark, to then expose their faces onto: and that building behind them turned out to be that perfect base.

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Light Type

Natural LightWindow Lighting

Light Quality


Time of day




Editing Workflow

How did you edit this image?

I converted the Kodak Portra 400 colour, to black and white using my basic black and white preset. It’s made for digital images, but it gets me close on an analogue JPG and then I just correct it a little more heavily. I love the colour version, but it feels like that there’s a bit going on, and that it benefits from being monochrome.

Editing is a huge part of my look, both for my digital and analogue work. Spending just 30 seconds using some really rudimentary editing techniques can take an image to a totally different place. And not in an “i’ve just thrown a dinosaur and a spaceship and Bill Murray somewhere on it” way, but in the way that you reduce the amount of things our brain is processing by just getting rid of some highlight spots here and there and doing some dodging and burning.

This one was relatively simple though anyway. A minor crop goes a long way, lots of spotting (cloning) inconvenient highlights that create subconscious distraction and burning others down (I use the burn tool in photoshop and target highlights), adding some contrast, and then some high pass filter in Photoshop. The high pass filter is very useful for bringing out some selective detail – such as in the faces.

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Editing Software
Photoshop and Lightroom
Preset Used


The only challenge I can really think of for this image, beyond the annoying technical quirks of doing a fast double-exposure on a Hasselblad 500CM, were making sure i’d have enough contrast detail in each of their faces against the buildings. For this type of image, you want enough strong highlights over a dark area, so that you don’t have two competing frames covered in highlights and can’t see anything. So I really used that front dark, triangular building as that darker base.

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I solved it, by not agonising over solving it, and instead asked “what does failure look like?”. Failure looked like no face detail, and their heads being blended into a total mush of buildings. That actually sounded like an equally cool outcome, so I just leant in and pressed the shutter.

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Location Name

Melbourne City

Location aDDRESS

Melbourne CBD

Loation Type




For me, this type of image is the perfect mix of calm intimacy with a dash of abstract. If you’re trying to create one of these for the first time, my only bit of advice would be to throw perfect composition to the wind and lean into a little bit of anarchy. What could go wrong?

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