Story Portraits

Story portraits tell a story in one photograph. Rob Suisted creates meaningful photographic portraits that capture the essence of an individual, their endeavours, or their lives.

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Here are some examples and their explanations:

Bryce Johnson, CEO Fish & Game Council. Canon Media Award winning portrait by Rob Suisted

Bryce Johnson, CEO Fish & Game Council. Canon Media Award winning portrait by Rob Suisted

This story portrait was shot to show Bryce Johnson’s role as key lobbyist for freshwater anglers – sports gear underwater, suit, phone and parliamentary papers above. Shot in one frame you can read how it was created here. This story portrait won portrait of the year in the prestigious Canon Media Awards.


Gareth Morgan, climate change advocate, among many other things. Story portrait by Rob Suisted

Gareth Morgan, climate change advocate, among many other things. Story portrait by Rob Suisted

Gareth Morgan is pretty high profile and has advocated for many interesting things. This image was created to acknowledge his climate change advocacy for a profile piece in NZ Geographic Magazine.  The full story is laid out here, but in summary, I wanted to station him on a melting piece of ice in Antarctica to represent the dire situation our earth faces.  The idea behind him holding the face mask and snorkel was a play to some people thinking our planet has a plan B more futile that diving gear to save Gareth. The image has been very successful, and used by Gareth to support the creation of a new political party in the general election. Finalist in the prestigious Canon Media Awards.


Lisa McLaren, Climate Change Advocate, future leader. Story portrait by Rob Suisted

Lisa McLaren, Climate Change Advocate, future leader. Story portrait by Rob Suisted

Lisa McLaren is an up and coming leader, advocate for climate action, and researcher.  I was commissioned to take her story portrait. Key themes I chose to illustrate were: Low carbon (wind turbine), blue sky thinking and a breath of fresh air.  We managed this in one shoot (with two attempts over two days due to weather) at Wellington’s Brooklyn wind turbine – during a gale force wind storm! Somewhat trying were conditions – wind opposing light, making it hard to wrangle hair, clothing and lighting equipment into the right directions, while blades on the turbine behind sat in the right position. The image also needed to portray Lisa in a pose with ‘Mana’, or gravitas, suitable for the role she’s taking on.


Dr Warren Williams, grasslands scientist, in Forage Germplasm coolstore. Story portrait by Rob Suisted

Dr Warren Williams, grasslands scientist, in Forage Germplasm coolstore. Story portrait by Rob Suisted

Dr Warren Williams is a world leading grassland scientist at AgResearch in Palmerston North.  This image was taken inside the coolstore archiving important pasture grasses and legumes from around the world.  I included the magnifying glass of course as a hat tip to his research role, and placing him among such an important archive both makes for a visually interesting ‘science-y’ back drop, but also places him firmly among his research subjects.


Dr Jamie Steer, whose views regarding introduced pests species has made him a target. Story portrait by Rob Suisted

Dr Jamie Steer, whose views regarding introduced pests species has made him a target. Story portrait by Rob Suisted

Dr Jamie Steer has published some controversial views about introduced pest species and their future role in NZ. This is of course contrary to the main belief that anything introduced is bad.  Dr Steer has of course made a target for himself.  I was commissioned to shot this image to accompany a profile article, and thought it needed a strong story portrait to do the matter justice.  I liked the simplicity of man with a target on himself, between introduced game animals that have had the same target.  Full story of this portrait is here.


Roger Beattie, developer of the pacific pearl, grown in NZ Paua, Abalone. Story portrait by Rob Suisted

Roger Beattie, developer of the pacific pearl, grown in NZ Paua, Abalone. Story portrait by Rob Suisted

Roger Beattie is an entrepreneur that created the Pacific Pearl by seeding NZ Abalone Shells. Here his story portrait endeavours to capture Roger’s passion, and also to tell the story of how Paua are farmed to create his jewellery products, at the actual site of creation.


Jackie Bedford, Wellington School of Philosophy. Story portrait by Rob Suisted

Jackie Bedford, Wellington School of Philosophy. Story portrait by Rob Suisted

When arranging to take Jackie Bedford’s portrait at the School of Philosophy I noticed the noon sun reach down through the school’s skylights.  I returned the next day with a haze machine to catch those rays and create this story portrait of a philosopher.  The ray of light represents enlightenment during study.


Dr Gina Grimshaw, Senior Lecturer, Cognitive neuroscientist. Story portrait by Rob Suisted

Dr Gina Grimshaw, Senior Lecturer, Cognitive neuroscientist. Story portrait by Rob Suisted

How to make a brain teaser for a portrait of a brain researcher?  This story portrait took some thinking through.  I was commissioned to shoot this image and wanted to make our brains work to understand it.  Firstly, Dr Grimshaw is in a completely different room to her research subject.  By exploiting ‘Snell’s Window‘ (the point at which light changes from refraction to reflection through glass) I was able to place them together.  By placing different temperature light in the two rooms it helps the viewer understand the image, as do the post it notes on the glass.  Dr Grimshaw (and the two dummy heads) actually sits off the far right of the photo.  An appropriate way to create a story portrait of a neuroscientist I think.


Bill Robertson, ex-Surveyor General of New Zealand. Story portrait by Rob Suisted

Bill Robertson, ex-Surveyor General of New Zealand. Story portrait by Rob Suisted

Bill Robertson is a fascinating man who has had a remarkable career, from survey fieldwork, to delineating war zones, to creating unique maps and charts. As Surveyor General of New Zealand, he was responsible for land jurisdiction through New Zealand and dependancies.  When commissioned to shoot his portrait I felt it needed to include elements of his profession (the trig survey station), but also an eye looking out to the future, and horizon.  Of course, weathered face and hands are testament to years in the mountains and elements.


Matthews Family, passing 170+ years of time on Waiorongomai Station. Story portrait by Rob Suisted

Matthews Family, passing 170+ years of time on Waiorongomai Station. Story portrait by Rob Suisted

The Matthews family have farmed Waiorongomai Station, South Wairarapa, since the start. For me the story portrait I shot had to represent the passing of time, and their steadfast connection to the land here.  By co-opting several hundred sheep as extras and letting my shutter drag for several seconds I was able to get the dynamic movement to capture the passing of time, while Charlie, Karla, and their kids stood perfectly still under the giant old tree planted by an ancestor.


Dr Jan Wright, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. Story portrait by Rob Suisted

Dr Jan Wright, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. Story portrait by Rob Suisted

I was commissioned to take Dr Jan Wright’s portrait to be used while she was Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. It would also be left in the office beside portraits of previous incumbents. Rather than conservative boardroom type portraits, we opted to tell more of her role – by simply placing her into the environment, and using some fantastic complimentary colours.  It had to also capture the importance and gravitas of her role to Government.  I have previously taken Dr Wright’s portrait with a stronger emphasis on telling the story of her role. More here.


Kevin Prime. NZ Conservationist of the Decade, Maori affairs, leader. Story portrait by Rob Suisted

Kevin Prime. NZ Conservationist of the Decade, Maori affairs, leader. Story portrait by Rob Suisted

Kevin Prime is a noted conservationist, Commissioner with the Environment Court, Maori leader, farmer, ministerial advisor, role model, father of 13, and many other things. I was commissioned to shoot his portrait, which is daunting when you have to do justice to someone of this standing, or Mana.  My thinking kept coming back to the feeling that Kevin is a metaphoric Kauri tree in our forest.  I definitely wanted to capture Kevin inside a forest anyway, as I’d seen how much energy it gave this man; it lit his eyes and sparked up a youth like passion (these are observations that portrait photographers must start observing, long before photos are taken).  I wanted to photograph Kevin with a giant Kauri tree, but it had to be done right, not cliched.  When I put this idea to Kevin, he said “I know just the tree”. When we arrived, I saw a fire light up in this eyes, and then heard a strange noise and then felt it – the tree dropped it’s seeds on us.  We looked at each other, he said “that’s auspicious”. We were on the right track.  The photo above I’m pleased with; it associates Kevin with the King of the forest, but shows him in a humble natural way.  His hand connects him to the giant Taonga, with respect. (Photo taken with proper biosecurity consideration regarding Kauri dieback disease)


Stu Muir, protecting wetland and river habitat for whitebait spawning. Story portrait by Rob Suisted

Stu Muir, protecting wetland and river habitat for whitebait spawning. Story portrait by Rob Suisted

Stu Muir is a farmer who cares about wetland restorations, living beside the mighty Waikato River delta.  He’s put a lot of effort into habitat restoration for our native whitebait.  How to capture that in one portrait photo?  We took a few days to get it, but this frame is what we came up with.  We screened the river to create a flow for the whitebait, stationed me in a small punt, and I used an underwater camera with a big front port, and very wide lens to shoot it. There’s a photo of us doing this here. The photo aims to show Stu looking over the young whitebait as Kaitiaki as they swim upstream into new habitat he’s created.


Kate Broadbent and Emily Welch testing breeding stock for facial eczema spore tolerance. Story portrait by Rob Suisted

Kate Broadbent and Emily Welch testing breeding stock for facial eczema spore tolerance. Story portrait by Rob Suisted

Kate Broadbent runs a Coopworth sheep stud that breeds facial eczema tolerant sheep through careful testing and controlled breeding.  This image tells that story by bringing in the science and research aspect to the work with animals in the stockyards.


Emily and Sam Welch, record holding shearers on their home stand, under a rimu tree. Story portrait by Rob Suisted

Emily and Sam Welch, record holding shearers on their home stand, under a rimu tree. Story portrait by Rob Suisted

Emily Welch is a world record holding shearer.  So is her husband Sam.  Shearing is also their professional livelihood. Rural folk don’t trumpet success; Emily and Sam are no different. Despite being world beating athletes, their home shearing stand is a single stand under the Rimu tree in the backyard.  It underlines their humble nature, a key feature in this story portrait.  We waited until dusk, took a long lead out with some tungsten light to give a nice warm glow, and I lit Emily’s high speed shearing with a softbox to stop the blur.  Dog watches on


Roger Belton (founder of Southern Clams Ltd) checking clams harvested at dawn. Story portrait by Rob Suisted

Roger Belton (founder of Southern Clams Ltd) checking clams harvested at dawn. Story portrait by Rob Suisted

Roger Belton couldn’t understand why Kiwi’s didn’t value our clam beds while other nationalities craved them.  He started a successful export business through hard work, research, and infectious enthusiasm.  The tides dictate harvest and often this mean early starts.  Here I wanted to show what Roger exports, but to also capture his passion that drives him to work in the cold coastal waters while most of us still sleep.


Georgie (nee King) and Scott Archibold farming at French Pass, with D'Urville Island behind, where Georgie's family goes way back. Story Portrait by Rob Suisted

Georgie (nee King) and Scott Archibold farming at French Pass, with D’Urville Island behind, where Georgie’s family goes way back. Story Portrait by Rob Suisted

Georgie Archibold (nee King) grew up on remote D’Urville Island, as did many generations of her family before her.  However, the family sold the farm, but her passion to become a farmer was strong.  She and her husband Scott therefore managed a large farm across the narrow but dramatic stretch of water called French Pass (with it’s iconic lighthouse).  This story portrait bridges that connection for her, and the use of the lighthouse firmly anchors them to this familial location. Red band gumboots are of course a clear link to a farming lifestyle.


Matt Newton. Helicopter Pilot and farmer. Story portrait by Rob Suisted

Matt Newton. Helicopter Pilot and farmer. Story portrait by Rob Suisted

Matt Newton is a well known chopper pilot and farmer in North Taranaki.  I had to document his life and work.  Not long after I arrived he appeared and said he had to lift a helicopter off some spray equipment.  It was pouring with rain and it was dark.  Heck, why not try for the impossible – no light, movement, lots of water, cameras.  Of course, as a rescue pilot, these are the nights he’s often called on to fly. We fluked it.  My medium format digital camera made a big difference, and side light from the hangar gave me a bit to work with.  The red strobes on the aircraft flashed the blades above with stop motion, and we were half way there.  Matt hovered and stayed dead still looking at me.  Out of many frames shot, this one jumped out sharp.  Matt’s comment when he saw it – “I’ve seen helicopter photos all my life, and that’s the best one yet”. He might be biased, but I think it captures his work and essence.


If you needed a story portrait commissioned, please make contact via: www.robsuistedphotography.co.nz. We work with a wide range of clients, from magazine and book publishers, to Government departments or businesses wishing to create a new look, a record of achievement, retirement gift, or with private individuals wishing to capture the meaning of someone special to them. We can discuss ideas and work up a plan and price.