The Mighty Herberts – A Fine Art Commissioned Portrait {Sydney Family Photographer}

Warning, monster post to follow! You might need to grab a cuppa to get through this one! 🙂

I am extremely fortunate to have clients that have faith in me.  It never ceases to amaze me in fact, just how far clients will let me take them as we work on a portrait together!

After almost 15 years as a professional photographer, I finally feel as though I have found my way.  I *think* I am heading where I am supposed to be going, it just has been a big, long, windy journey with lots of detours before I found the “right track”!

I have been LOVING the pieces I have been creating with my clients this year, and I am excited to share this one with you all.  Recently, this image was awarded a much coveted Gold Award at the Australian Professional Photography Awards, in the Family Category.

It was not without controversy though!  And more on that in a future post. 🙂 For now, I’d like to focus on the lengths we went to to create this image and all of the hard work that my clients went to to help me!

Firstly, here is the final image, in all of his Super Hero glory!

I have to add here, that this is without a doubt, the hands-down biggest commission I have ever undertaken so far as family portraits go.  We had this amazing idea, and I knew it would blow the socks off people, but I wasn’t at all confident that I could pull it off.  I was really overwhelmed with the technical aspects, wanting to ensure that no details were left to chance and that all was lit in such a way that it would be believable and consistent with what a Comic Strip/Super Heros would usually reflect.

In short, I was freaking nervous!

Sydney Family Photographer

And here is their gorgeous canvas, hanging in its new home, the Herbert Family loungeroom. 🙂

Sydney Family Photographer

The story behind this image is simple.  The Herbert Family are awesome.  They are super hero awesome, and love all things related to animation, gaming and technology.  So, who was I to argue when I read on their questionnaire responses such as:

“Ivy…. Is…. Well….. Unique. When she grows up she wants to be a ninja acrobat fashion designer rock star. She is full of bravado and stories and imagination and words. Lots of words. She is intelligent being my understanding and has a strong sense if self. She fancies herself as a bit of an artistic genius and word smith. She loves drawing, making clothes for her toys, manipulating her brother and ninjitsu. She is awesome. “

“Dad’s profession is in technology. He works for a telco designing websites and online business platforms. He also moonlights custom building outrageous gaming PCs ( see his website at And…. He also tinkers as the patron saint of online having through IRON RIBBON (, which is an initiate he started to address ethical behavior in online gaming culture. But he is not your typical ‘geek’ as he carries incredible volume, enthusiasm and instantly bonds with people. He makes quite an impression…”

“Logan is a delicious boy with a big heart. He is addicted to computer games (no surprises there really…) His priority is always to make people happy, even if it means being bad. He develops strong relationships with friends easily – there are many kids out there convinced that he is their best friend. He is a bit of a slave to his emotions and can lose his rationality with ease. A beautiful soul.”

“Mum is an organizational psychologist (well…. Almost). I’m finishing my doctorate right now. I work as a researcher in workplace gender equality, specializing in workplace flexibility and the balancing of work+ caring roles. My permanent job is as a diversity and inclusion consultant where I work with organizations to build the business case for diversity, unconscious bias and other stuff that relates to women and minority groups. …And I like playing soccer.”

My immediate response to them was that we need to create a comic strip for them, or a page out of a comic book, which is precisely what we did.

When asked what they would like their “super powers” to be, this is what they came up with:

Dad’s super power = tech. The ability to control machines and technology. The tinkerer. (remember that in his real/professional life, Dad is very much a “computer tinkerer”‘.)

Mum’s super power = telekinesis. Mind control.   (remember that in her real/professional life, Mum is an “organizational psychologist”.)

Ivy’s super power = an invincible (and lightening fast) ninja. (remembering that Mum described her being unique, and “wanting to be a ninja acrobat fashion designer rock star” when she grows up.)

Logan’s super power = a normal boy who gains super strength when he gets angry.  (remembering that Mum described her being a delicious boy with a big heart, addicted to computer games and “a bit of a slave to his emotions and can lose his rationality with ease.”)

We decided that we would do a separate portrait of each of them, in their “everyday persona” trying to “blend in” as normal people, and keep their “super power” under control.  And, that we would do one awesome group shot of them, in their Super Hero mode as a team, ready to fight for good and bring justice to the world, as The Mighty Herberts! 🙂

And so, here are the individual shots, and how we created each one:

The first one is “Ivy-Invincible”.  We toyed with “Invinci-girl” and “Invincible Ivy”, but decided that “Ivy-Invincible” had the best ring to it.

Our original idea for this shot was to have Ivy wearing her PJs, and casually doing a one handed handstand whilst balancing atop of a sky scraper.  After all, she is supposed to be an “invincible ninja”‘!  Given that the family live in Sydney, we decided that Centrepoint Tower would be the most iconic building to use.

I got extremely lucky, and with the assistance of a very generous Facebook friend, I was able to access the rooftop of a nearby high rise building to get a clean shot of the Tower.  I was able to time this with my trip to Sydney to do the main studio shoot, so it was all achieved during the one week-long trip.

My original vision of this shot was actually to shoot the perspective downwards so as to see the cityscape in the background but that would have required me to be *above* the the Tower, and short of hiring a helicopter, that was near impossible.

So, the plan changed a little.  Below, you can see the original shot of the Tower as I captured it in camera.  Clearly, thanks to Westfield (!) I had a tonne of photoshopping to do to “clean it up”. 🙂

For the main day of shooting, I hired a cool studio in Sydney with multiple backdrops and props available to hire.  It was the “Pipeline Studio” at Sydney Props Studio, which also included a white cyc that we made great use of!

On the day of the shoot, we realised that doing a one handed handstand when reading, whilst great in theory, was not exactly aesthetically pleasing ie. we could either see only the back of her head, or have her in an unnatural position where she resembled a twisted, and very uncomfortable giraffe, much like this guy here:

Image credit goes to:

Yeah, fail.

So, we tried a few different poses, and I was kind of not feeling any of them.  We took a quick break and I looked up to see Ivy sitting, legs apart, happily flipping through the pages of the little book! I immediately started shooting and this was when we captured the final image that was used.

Upon beginning the post work for this shot, I realised that simply sitting Ivy on top of the
tower would not work.  She is a tiny little girl, and for her to be clearly visible to the viewer, she would need to be the equivalent size of about 5 stories of the Tower! Erm, not real believable at all!  (See the bottom right image below)

Sydney Family Photographer

This is when I decided that we needed the binoculars! By adding the binoculars, I could give better scale, and perspective to the shot, whilst still maintaining the details view of Ivy herself and tell the story we were hoping too. I also wanted to give the entire shot a bit of a warm glow. To make the gold on the tower really shine, and give the entire image a “golden sheen”.

Lots of cloning, dodging and burning and post processing hours later, and I think we nailed it. 🙂

Sydney Family Photographer

Next up, we have The Loganator! Now remembering that the brief was:

Logans Super Power: a normal boy who gains super strength when he gets angry.

And that he was described by Mum and Dad as being:

  • delicious boy with a big heart
  • Addicted to computer games
  • He is a bit of a slave to his emotions and can lose his rationality with ease.

We chose to make Logan’s shot about a seemingly “normal” (but very trendy looking!) little boy, who keeps breaking his game controllers whenever his gaming isnt going to plan.  He gets upset at the game, and forgets that this makes him super strong, and before he knows it, he has broken his game AGAIN.  Hence the sad face, and the inclusion of the thought bubble that says “Not again!”.

And so, whilst the concept for this shot was fairly simple, it still required a lot of setting up and preparation to get right. Not only was I completing all of the shooting for the Herbert family this day, but I was also doing a commercial shoot, and another family conceptual shoot (which I will share later!), during this one day studio hire, so the pressure was on!

We decided that a nice touch for Logans shot, would be to have lots of broken game controllers all around him.  His Dad was *such* a trooper and really got behind what we had planned.  He spent lots of hours modifying Nerf guns, creating props for his own shot as “The Tinkerer”, and breaking game controllers!

We also decided that it would look cool to have a game controller sticking out of the broken television screen where he had been “playing” his game. As luck would have it, our own plasma tv broke down the week before I left for Sydney, and I decided that I would drive down, and bring it with me for the shoot.  At the last minute, my own son decided he wanted to keep it so that he could tinker with it (geeky teenagers spoiling my creativity, huh!), so I left for Sydney in the hope that I would be able to source a screen whilst down there.

I got lucky when, after enquiring at 4 television repair stores, I came across the one in the picture, which they were happy to give me, free of charge, as long as I disposed of it for them.  So many thanks to Microbell for their assistance too!

A definite highlight of the day was setting out the plastic and allowing Mum to smash the screen in just the right place for us to position the broken controller.  She had a blast with that sledgehammer lemme tell you!

Below, you can see a series of shots that we captured, leading up to the final shot.  Little Logan was SO much fun!  I was in hysterics the entire time with his animated expressions that he was throwing at me.  He was in. the. zone.!

Also in the shots below, you can see the first of the behind the scenes shots that my lovely assistant Fiona Eaton from Eaton Photography captured for me.  Fiona was an absolute gem all day, and there is no way I could have gotten through the workload without her.  She was a master BTS photographer-kid wrangler-props sorter-outterer-feather-thrower and more.  (Will share more about the feather throwing in a future post).

Sydney Family Photographer

And here is the final image of The Loganator!  (without the thought bubble)…

Sydney Family Photographer

Now we move to the Tinkerer.  Shot in the same studio as the shots of Logan and Ivy, we simply turned our setup around and used the opposite all as a backdrop. It was lined with rustic corregated iron, perfect for a man shed! And a man shed is what we wanted!

The effort that this family went to was amazing!  I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to be 100% committed if we are to do a shoot like this.  Unless everyone is completely “into” it, it could never be successful.  Patience and preparation is the key, and in this case, we had plenty of both!

Dad’s super power was the ability to control machines and technology. The tinkerer. And in his real life/professional life, he is very much a computer/technology “geek”. 🙂

We decided that his shot should show him hard at work, surrounded by his creations, and looking intense, and a little bit eccentric at the same time, but also wearing normal clothes as he would. I asked Dad to bring with him some “bits and pieces” from his actual workplace that we could use as props.  Bits of machinery and broken computers and the like.  I told him not to feel embarrassed about bringing too much, we can never have too much.  And boy did he listen!

Combined with a laptop that my son had carefully and thoughtfully smashed the screen on and saved it just for the perfect shoot, we had the perfect scene!  Dad even had the perfect eccentric steampunk goggles to finish the look which put the costume ones I had brought along to shame!

Sydney Family Photographer

Add some great lighting, a screwdriver in the mouth, a crazed expression, a bit of post production tweaking and we were good to go!  One very nutty “Tinkerer” at your service!

Sydney Family Photographer

Now Mum was “super” (pun intended!) fun too! She decided to moonlight as “Dr Neuron”‘ who ‘s super power is mind control, and telekinisis.  Given that she is an organizational psychologist and a mum (!) in real life, we thought that this would be a great representation of her!

We decided that her shot should show her at her “day job”, happily working away, and unaware that her “powers” were playing tricks on her!

We constructed Mum’s set in the same spot that we did Logans, but given that she was at a desk and he was seated on carpet on the floor, we were able to disguise it so that it looked like a separate location.

She is sitting at her desk, and surrounded by all of her real life psychology textbooks and case notes, and looking content and business like.  But if one looks closely behind her, they would see her burgeoning notice board jam-packed with her duties and reminders of her Super Hero life.

There are so many details that are easy to miss in this shot unless one takes the time to look closely.

  • Mum’s nails are painted the same colours as she wears when she is dressed in her super hero costume, a little clue to her “secret identity”.
  • Amongst her to do lists and reminders of her super hero commitments on her noticeboard are happy snaps of her kids, and artwork they have done to remind the viewer that she is a mum too.
  • To her right is a world globe, for her to check where she needs to go to conquer the bad guys.
  • Her brief case, telephone and clipboard all indicate her “normal” desk job.  But, to her left, unbeknownst to her, her telekinesis has caused her coffee that is in her “Super Mum” mug, a pencil and her very cheesy desktop family portrait to levitate beside her. She is blissfully unaware of this, as she ponders her kids, or perhaps it is her next Super Hero job?  Either way, her super power is most definitely “giving her away”.

She is epitomising the everyday multitasking that mums do everywhere, and she is the original “Super Mum”!

Sydney Family Photographer

We worked on a variety of crops, and expressions, before we settled on the one above for the final image.  Mum was so committed and played the part flawlessly!  We also had the amazing talents of the very lovely Sylwia Lukosz who was our hair and makeup artist for the day and ensured that everyone was coiffed and powdered to perfection!

Sydney Family Photographer

I really wanted to show some of the details from mum’s shot, as unless you are able to see the image at a high resolution, they could easily be missed.

In the series of images below, as well as the details from mum’s shot, I have shown the text that I designed, then printed, and overlayed over the image. I had decided to enter this image into the Australian Professional Photography Awards and it is a requirement that all elements in an image must be photographed, and so font can’t be used.  It can be added as a photographic layer though, which is what I did. You can see “The Tinkerer” and “Invinci-Girl” below, as per their original photograph. The “Not Again” thought bubble is shown with the background removed, just as it was overlayed into the final image.

Sydney Family Photographer

The final two images above (very roughly dropped onto a white layer for the purposes of this blog post, so please excuse the extraneous markings etc) are close ups of the details in Mum’s shot.  I designed the “super mum” in photoshop and printed it out, then using double-sided tape, I attached it to the mug.  I then hung the mug from a piece of string in the studio with lots of plastic underneath, filled it with coffee and let it swing back and forth until I got a “spill” that I was happy with.   I then reversed the spill pattern so that it appeared to be defying gravity. 🙂

The last piece is a hilarious, cheesy family shot that we did toward the end of the shoot.  I had wanted something to fill the frame that would be floating above Mums desk, so thought that a funny, cheesy family shot, but whilst they were in their Super Hero Costumes would be the perfect final touch.  And, I think it was! 🙂

Now the final piece of the entire construct, was the “hero” shot, and quite literally too!  We dressed everyone in their Super Hero persona, with the intention of capturing one great action shot of them all.  I photographed them on the cyc, with the intention of dropping in an appropriate industrial/edgy looking backdrop that I would go searching for through-out Sydney later on.

Sydney Family Photographer

By this point in the day though, the kids were starting to wear out, and I wasn’t 100% satisfied that any of the group shots I captured would be “enough” for what I had envisioned.

Seeing the window with the kids fast closing, I chose to move on and capture some individual shots of each of their “characters”, more for their own memories of the day than to be used in our final shot.  We had some great fun doing it too!  I gotta say, we milked every last ounce of Super Hero bravado out of the kids that day!  They were blissfully exhausted by the end of it!

Sydney Family Photographer

Mum and Dad absolutely rocked it too!  I am pretty sure that they really have been super heros in a previous life!

Sydney Family Photographer

Special mention must go to the amazing effort that Dad went to with customizing his Nerf guns!  Yes, those are everyday Nerf guns you see pictured!  He sanded, painted then sanded again to give them the most perfect super hero patina you ever did see!  Combined with the steampunk inspired chaps and jacket that we sourced on Ebay, and his awesome long scarf that provided just the punch of colour that we needed, Dad was the best Tinkerer one could hope for!

On top of all of this, Dad’s look would not have been complete however, had it not been for the amaaaaazing, hand-crafted leather top hat, provided so generously to us by Artisan John and his beautiful wife Anna, over at Cobb & Co Leather.

From the time I first began visualising Dad’s character and the final image, I had my heart set on a steam punk inspired top hat complete with Brass aviator goggles and accessories.  When I approached Anna and John about the shoot, they were so very generous and accomodating and ensured that we received the top hat in time for the shoot, despite very short notice. I only wish I had discovered them earlier than I did, before I had sourced so many of the other props we used in the shoot as they also do a wonderful range of cuffs, belts, wristbands etc too.

John hand crafts ALL of their products himself, and the love and effort that he puts into them is so very evidence in the fine pieces that he produces.  Do go and check them out folks, I don’t give this recommendation lightly!

So, back to the image – well, as I mentioned, I wasn’t 100% happy with any of the group shots, so in the end, I decided to ditch them all and create a composite image from the awesome individual shots that we took.  That way, I was able to select the best poses and expressions from each person to really showcase their “super hero abilities” and create the true “hero” shot that we were after!

It wasn’t until I returned home to Brisbane that I was able to find the perfect backdrop though, and so I photographed it a week or so after the main family shoot in Sydney.  And this, is the final result. 🙂

Sydney Family Photographer

And here is a collection of a handful of more behind the scenes shots that I love.  You can see me demonstrating the pose I was wanting from Mum so that she was making good use of that whip I brought for her! I must say that she is much more convincing as a Super Mum than I am!

Next is one of the original group family shots that I wasn’t entirely satisfied with.  Then a couple of shots as I was photographing little Ivy for her Tower shot.     Sydney Family Photographer

I should add that I am wearing THESE Black Milk leggings during this shoot, I keep having so many people ask me what they are when they see these BTS shots!.  Mum is also a Black Milk fan and wearing THIS and THESE in her Super Hero persona!

Ok, so that about covers it I think!  It has taken me about 3 hours to write this post, so I am very much hoping I haven’t missed any important details! 🙂

I will finish by saying a very special thank-you to everybody who was involved with this shoot, it was an amazing effort, and as I mentioned before, absolutely the biggest thing I have ever undertaken for a portrait client.  It was exhausting, but exhilarating, and I hope that this post inspires some of you who were sitting on the fence to take the plunge and attempt something amazing.  If you have an idea, a vision, share it with me!  Two heads are better than one, and it would be my honour to bring your idea to life!

One last shot to share, the AFTER shot.  Here you see one very dirty, very used cyclorama, and my lighting setup.  I have to say, I was very glad that I didn’t have the job of repainting it after we left, after completing 3 separate shoots there that day, there were a LOT of dirty little footprints everywhere!

And btw, if you have made it all the way to the end of this post, and have actually read the entire thing, HIGH FIVE to you!  I owe you a drink sometime!

Sydney Family Photographer

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  • Gemma Higgins - So so cool going behind the scenes!! I think you are a bit of a superhero my dear! And congrats again on your GOLD 🙂 xxReplyCancel

    • Tanya Love - I think I’m more excited to have an actual comment on the blog than the Gold award Gemma! lol. Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment, it is great to know that I am not all on my lonesome over here! t.xxReplyCancel

  • Fiona - Amazing!!! You have rocked this so hard! Love the attention to detail- each of the sets are ridiculous!

    The lighting is perfect for the comic “look” particually on the little dude! Couldn’t have been better:D

    Gush gush, could go on forever. The animation nerd is coming out in me big-time!

    Seriously, just awesome.ReplyCancel

  • Alicia Adamopoulos - When you first showed this to me it blew me away and it still does.

    This is awesome.
    You are awesome.ReplyCancel

  • Shannon - You owe me a drink! Xx nice one babe you are sensationally talented!ReplyCancel

  • Tanya Love - So, apparently the comments section on my blog *does* actually work! Thanks everyone for being so kind! xxReplyCancel

  • Alison Covington - Next time I expect one of the boys to film the whole day so we can watch the doco, you just keep getting better and better. Can’t wait to be telling everyone I know that famous chick!ReplyCancel

  • Chrissy - Holy shamoley!
    So, so, so much work has clearly gone into this shoot!
    I hope you got paid a small fortune, it’s seriously amazing xReplyCancel

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