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Iain Campbell’s Inspiring and Inclusive Video Portraits

We asked artist Iain Campbell to discuss his experiences behind the camera, documenting real people and highlighting timeless moments that unite us all.

“Sometimes, I can just see a face and think, they look interesting — there’s an interesting story behind their eyes,” videographer Iain Campbell, a.k.a. icsnaps, tells us. “For me, the most important aspect is their smile, irrespective of age, gender, or race. A hearty smile conveys warmth, and that’s what I want in my clips.”

Currently based just outside of London, Campbell started out as a model, learning on the job and building his commercial filmmaking business into what it is today. In the age of celebrity influencers, he finds inspiration in the people who surround him every day — strangers and passersby with a quiet smile, a gleam in the eye, or a story to tell.

Finding Inspiration
Inspired by a quiet smile that tells a story. Image by icsnaps.

His video portraits are real, raw, and relatable — featuring newborn babies, retirees, and everyone in-between. He’s worked with lawyers, boxers, dancers, and people with more passions and vocations than he can count. He’s collaborated with people who speak several languages, including sign language.

Inspired by Variety
These video portraits include a variety of people from around the world. Image by icsnaps.

“Listening and talking to each person just shows you how diverse life is,” he says. “There is always a fascinating story or reason as to how someone ended up in front of my camera.”

Campbell’s work celebrates the resilience of humanity and the importance of coming together — an especially powerful reminder right now, as we contend with a global crisis like the coronavirus pandemic. We asked the artist to tell us about his experiences behind the camera. Here are a few.

The Resilience of Humanity
It’s important to represent the resilience of humanity, especially in challenging times. Image by icsnaps.

How do you connect with the people in your films and clips?

I started off in front of the camera as a model myself, so I have met a lot of people along my journey who helped me out when I first started shooting stock. As my skills started to catch up with my experience, I started to advertise on websites for models, and I began shooting more and more people through that method.

I always say that a model release will be required before shooting can start. My shoot breakdowns are quite detailed (time, location, duration, usage, wardrobe, weather, theme, model release, etc.), and I email this to everyone on the shoot and ask them to read and respond so that they understand before everything goes ahead.

Establishing Trust
Establish a sense of trust with your models prior to the shoot. Image by icsnaps.

This establishes that sense of trust before we’ve even met, as they know what to expect. I also offer a service where they can get images or certain clips from the shoot for their own portfolio. A lot of people are happy with this, as they are always looking for the next job.

My profile on the website where I advertise shows examples of my previous work so everyone has an idea of the quality I produce and what they could potentially get for themselves. I get some very positive feedback from artists, thankfully.

Inclusion is also very important to me, and I think the world is turning and diversity is becoming more apparent in everything we see around us. Things appear to be changing to include everyone. And, as a filmmaker, I can’t ask for more than that.

Provide Examples of Your Work
Provide a variety of examples of your work on your website for people to browse. Image by icsnaps.

How do you get these candid, natural emotions from people you’ve just met?

The key factor for me is to just make them feel comfortable, like we’ve been friends for ages. We talk about ourselves, and I see if we have anything in common. Common ground is a great bonding tool. Having a rapport with the model off-camera to start with really helps when you ask them to do something when the camera is on. It isn’t easy for some people to just instantly be natural if they don’t feel comfortable with the person asking.

See What You Have in Common with Your Model
Image by icsnaps.
Build a Comfortable Atmosphere
Build a comfortable atmosphere for your models. Image by icsnaps.

Do you think your background as a model has helped you understand how to work well with talent?

Absolutely. I’ve been there — nervous and not knowing anyone, and then having to perform in front of a group of people I don’t know. Big studios are always churning out shoots, so taking time to get to know people isn’t really on their agenda. It just feels like small talk.

On my shoots, I do try to be more personable and build a better rapport, so when it does come time for me to ask them to laugh or cry or do something silly, they already feel comfortable, like they’re around someone who isn’t judging them. I still model now and then, and have worked on TV shows and film sets, so I’m always learning and seeing how I can make my shoots better.

Keep Learning
Image by icsnaps.
Build a Rapport
Building a rapport with your model helps immensely with their comfort level. Image by icsnaps.

What goes into planning a shoot and scouting a spot?

Many of these locations are close to me and in Central London. I live out in the countryside with lots of woods and open, green land, and getting into London is easy, so my city shots are based there. I have shot in Sydney and Thailand, also.

I tend to shoot outdoors, as I love natural light and there’s no time wasted messing about with lighting. That’s one thing I can’t stand, as it just eats up time — time that I could be shooting. I do enjoy shooting either early in the morning or just as the sun is starting to go down. Just something about those two times helps make some shots look really “punchy.”

Shooting Portraits Outdoors
Image by icsnaps.
Utilize Natural Light
Whenever possible, utilize natural light. Image by icsnaps.

What do you hope your models see when they watch your video portraits?

I hope they can see how good they look on camera, and I hope they see their personalities come through in the clips. As I’ve been in their position before, it’s really easy for me to demonstrate what I’m looking for prior, as opposed to them guessing what my direction really means.

A lot of people I work with are very happy with their own performances once I show them back clips, which then fuels them to want to try more things. For one clip I was shooting, I wanted a sad theme, and the young lady actually managed to shed real tears. It was all acting, as she was very bubbly that day, but the rapport we established, along with the other cast that day, made her comfortable enough to be able to cry on camera.

Fuel the Model's Enthusiasm
Fuel your models’ enthusiasm by presenting them with the finished clip. Image by icsnaps.

We live in a world where so many photos and videos, whether they’re from celebrities or influencers or friends, look picture-perfect. Why is it important to you to showcase these real, natural moments as well, without heavy filters or retouching?

Oh wow, where do I start? I cannot stand the nature of filters and heavy retouching in still images (portraits, that is). It is reckless to sell an idea of someone being something they aren’t, as it can influence those who are vulnerable and create insecurity.

I choose a variety of people for my shoots that I hope can be relatable to people who aren’t celebrities or influencers. Real people are what we are surrounded by, and that is what I want to represent in my clips.

Having worked as a model, I have firsthand experience of this topic, and it is against what I go for in my own work. I’m blessed to have met so many people on both sides of the camera, but I like my actors/models to look as normal as possible. No heavy makeup — as we’re usually on the move anyways — and easy, relatable clothing.

Capturing an Authentic Look
Capture the authenticity and character in a model’s expression. Image by icsnaps.

Do you think there’s something a moving video portrait can capture that a still portrait cannot?

Definitely. Life is a series of moments, and I feel more can be demonstrated in a moving image than a still image. I’ve worked with both media, and so much more can be established in fifteen seconds than in one still image, but that’s my own opinion. I think consumers like to see a “payoff” in a clip. For example, a blank face turning into a smile just has that payoff, with the initial idea of nothingness that transforms into a smile that makes you feel warm.

Creating a Warm Image
In a moving image, one can create warmth through a transformation of expression. Image by icsnaps.

To learn more about Iain Campbell, visit his Shutterstock portfolio, website, and LinkedIn.

Cover image via icsnaps.

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