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Interview With Photographer Robert Wilson

Robert Wilson chats to EIZO about his imagery and interest in people photography.

| Professional Interviewed

Robert Wilson was firmly established as an in-demand commercial photographer when he was invited to join the British 52 Brigade serving in Helmand province, Afghanistan. As a war artist rather than photojournalist, he etched out the fine details of his surroundings and his subject’s faces into his signature hyper-real digital images, employing the language of his commercial career to startling effect in this new landscape. He sat down with EIZO to talk about his enduring interest in photographing people and the technical craftsmanship that goes into creating his distinctive imagery.

Interview With Photographer Robert Wilson: samuel l jackson

© Robert Wilson

What turned your focus towards portraiture and the human form?

The photography I am most drawn to always involves people. Even at college the main focus of my work was people and faces. I like the intimacy and immediacy of working with people, you have to work quickly and assess the other person’s moods. In a very small amount of time you have to develop a bond and gain people’s trust. I find it invigorating, trying to put people at ease, trying to coax out a response that will create a good photograph while constantly considering the technical aspects of the shot. 

Interview With Photographer Robert Wilson: England rugby

© Robert Wilson


In your portraits the face fills the frame, like a landscape. What makes you want to get so close and detailed?

Well getting close is not always the best thing, particularly if you're trying to flatter someone and the digital back you are using is 60 or 80 megapixels. However, I do like to get close. Much has been said about the eyes being the windows to the soul, and I have to agree. It's a magical thing looking into someone’s eyes and I've always tried to capture the intimacy that comes from strong direct eye contact. The rest of the face I treat, like you say, as a landscape. Much of the time with a subject is spent assessing their face structure and how best to light it to show it in it's best light. I'm not one for lighting someone to intentionally make them look freakish or geeky. I generally want people to like the pictures I take of them. 

Interview With Photographer Robert Wilson: Miner

© Robert Wilson

And what’s the trick to making your subjects comfortable?

I think you get the best response if you're honest and open with people. Tell them what it is you are after, and go about it in a professional manner. If a sitter can see that you have a vision for something and you are working hard to achieve the best image possible I generally find the subject will be willing to put in the time and effort as the end result is certainly going to reflect well on them.


Interview With Photographer Robert Wilson: Afghanistan

© Robert Wilson


What challenges did you face having to adapt yourself to becoming a war artist in Afghanistan? What did you focus on as your role as a war artist?

There was the challenge of not knowing what I was going to see. Having to react and capture what I came across, working out of a camera bag with no assistant and no brief is actually one of the most fulfilling feelings of freedom a commercial photographer can have. The longer I was in Afghanistan and the deeper I went to front line positions the more intense the conditions, landscapes and faces became. In the end the narrative I came back with was an easy one to put together. In the book Helmand, the journey the images take is almost a chronological diary of the journey I made. 


Interview With Photographer Robert Wilson: Afghanistan

© Robert Wilson


What kind of post-production do you do to achieve your hyper-real look?

Firstly if the image requires complex compositing work I will tend to work on a mock up and give the hi-res files to a retoucher to put together better than I can. Then once the image is how I want it I will grade it on my system. I always start by duplicating my background layer then I build up layers that generally start by adding contrast, then bring back lost detail in highlight and shadow areas. Sometimes this grading process can be done in a few layers but sometimes the layers can be many, it just depends on how the image changes as I go. 


Interview With Photographer Robert Wilson: Portrait

© Robert Wilson


It sounds very delicate and precise.

When I add or take away adjustments through layer masks I tend to work almost like I was painting. With my pen I use small brush strokes building them up slowly. A lot of my work has a muted delicate colour palette so it is important for me to have a monitor that can precisely show the subtle colour adjustments I make. Since changing from CRT's many years ago I have always used EIZO monitors. I love the fact there is no glare and the image always appears correct no matter what angle you view it from. Also, the detail it shows in highlight and shadow areas and the colour rendition of the monitor are superb. 


Interview With Photographer Robert Wilson: Portrait

© Robert Wilson

Robert Wilson's Kit List: 

  • Hasselblad H2 + Lenses (mainly 35mm, 50-110mm and 150mm).
  • Phase One P65+
  • Phase One P45+
  • Canon 5D MkIII+ Lenses (Mainly 24-70mm, 85mm, 100mm Macro and 70-200mm)
  • On Location I use two Macbook Pro 17” Laptops when it’s not possible to use Mac Pro and Monitor, otherwise I use the MacPro Tower with EIZO ColorEdge CG243W, which I also use for retouching in the office along with a second Mac Pro connected to an EIZO FlexScan S2410W.


More information Robert Wilson can be found on his website -

Visit the EIZO UK website for more information on EIZO monitors. 

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JackAllTog Avatar
JackAllTog Plus
14 6.4k 58 United Kingdom
4 Sep 2014 9:52PM
Fascinating article and pictures on the and the main site, I'd really love to emulate some of the techniques here, just starting at the beginning how you you add layers to add contrast to an image?
Also is the sharpness inherent with the body and lenses you use or does it get enhanced in processing.
NikitaMorris Avatar
5 Sep 2014 8:13AM
Hi Stuart,

Let me see if we can get Robert to answer your questions for you.

Leave it with me,

NikitaMorris Avatar
5 Sep 2014 12:59PM
Hi Stuart,

Here's what Robert said: "Regarding adding contrast, there are several ways.....just add a 'Contrast curve layer' is the simplest way. (But there are numerous ways and I'd rather not say the exact method I use).

As for sharpness.....It is inherent in the Camera and Phase One back I use, but very often I will also add a little sharpness to the final file."
JackAllTog Avatar
JackAllTog Plus
14 6.4k 58 United Kingdom
5 Sep 2014 1:44PM
Hi Nikita and Robert,

Many thanks for your answers, its much appreciated. Its good to see that there are reasons why i can't get my current APS-c images quite as sharp. And also that there are more ways yet to learn to get compelling lighting detail into final images.

Kind regards

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