Interview with Fine Art Portrait Photographer Bill Gekas

Interview with Fine Art Portrait Photographer Bill Gekas

Earlier in the year while surfing through a list of photographers on Google Plus I came across a photograph that grabbed my attention. A young girl with rosy cheeks, big wide eyes and a serious look on her face stood against a green wallpapered wall dressed in a bright red jacket while holding a bowl of cherries.


The image was striking on many levels – the subject, the colour, the pose, the style of the image and what it evoked on an emotional level all caused me to look twice.

The photographer was Bill Gekas and a quick look through the rest of his work revealed some beautiful images with a distinct style and attention to detail.

Today I’m excited to present an interview with Bill Gekas as well as some of his beautiful images. Bill lives in Melbourne Australia. Check out more of his work on his website and blog. Connect with him on Twitter and Google+.

Bill – can you tell us a little about your switch from film to digital photography? When and Why did you make the switch?

My transition from film to digital happened in 2005. Up until then I was primarily shooting both positive and negative 35mm colour and doing my own developing and darkroom printing from 35mm negative b&w film. As good as what traditional processes may have been at the time the switch to digital capture and post processing just opened up a whole new world which really simplified the process by a large degree.


What impact did this switch have upon your work?

This had the most positive impact on my work where I discovered I could finally create the images in my mind’s eye without spending the time and money using traditional processes! Digital capture simplified the workflow to the point where the tools and workflow were now a transparent part of the creative process and not getting in the way, it felt really liberating in that sense and it was very much welcomed!


Has portraiture always been a major focus of your photography? If not – why is it something you seem to focus upon so much today?

Portraiture came into becoming my main genre about the same time in 2005. Up until then I really was shooting a bit of everything but after discovering some amazing portrait works by the great past photographers I realized that the subjects in these well known photographs although were complete strangers had connected with me, the portraits were eerie, almost surreal and that’s when I knew it was going to be portraiture, portraiture with a fine art aesthetic and a creative flair where I could fuse historical references be it light, props or atmosphere with a more modern contemporary expression from the subject.


Your most recent work has a very distinct style. I hesitate to label another photographers work but how do you describe it?

This style is usually defined as fine art portraiture and you’ll find it lacks the more candid, high key, usual smiling expressions by subjects of modern portraiture that is in current vogue at the moment by many portrait studios. This is a more emotive and creative style of portraiture which a certain type of audience finds appealing.


Can you talk to us a little about what has drawn you to this style of photography?

The emotive, atmospheric, almost surreal nature of it! It’s the type of expression that your subject will give you and sort of remain with you long after you’ve viewed the image. I believe that portraiture can reach a level where we’re no longer seeing the image but actually feeling it, and this essentially comes down to the strength of the connection between subject and photographer/viewer.


Your work strikes me as being quite meticulously planned. How much work goes into the preparation of your photography? Where do the ideas come from and what steps do you find yourself moving through to bring the idea to fruition?

With this type of set-up photography I usually take the photo before I execute the shot! What this means is that the photo has already been taken in my mind’s eye usually days before and then it’s just a matter of pre-prep work. This method enables me to have every aspect of the shoot and post processing worked out to the point where the research and prep time may be 90% of the time that goes into it and the remainder 10% of the actual time is in the shoot itself.


The key to executing a shoot like this is to have it all planned before the subject enters the scene, the lighting, props, composition etc. From thought to finished post processed shot ready for display a typical shot can average a total of 8 hours.

Many of the ideas come from my appreciation of the works by the old master painters. Caravaggio, Vermeer, Rembrandt, Raphael, Velazquez etc. But I also find I get a lot of inspiration from watching foreign films where the cinematic scenes play a prominent role. Fusing these worlds together help create an atmospheric portrait.

Of course any film by Jean-Pierre Jeunet also raises inspiration to create, and I always keep a notebook with rough sketches and ideas by me.


What camera and lighting gear do you use for a typical shoot?

Currently I shoot with a Pentax K5 dslr camera and an assortments of Pentax prime lenses and a 16-45/4 zoom. No particular reason for using this brand other than having some old lenses from the past which I can still use on their latest dslr bodies.

My camera bag is actually quite modest in comparison to my lighting bag. The lighting is key to many of my works and I own many speedlights, an einstein studio strobe, light modifiers, reflectors, rf triggers etc. Most of my indoor studio work is usually lit with a 28″ softbox as a key light, sometimes a second speedlight with a gridspot attached pointing to the background to light it and a white reflector on the opposite side of the subject to fill some shadow areas.

In an outdoor shoot i’ll typically only use one light modified by a circular type modifier being a medium sized octabox or shoot thru umbrella. I try to get away with it by using speedlights due to their versatility and will only really use the einstein strobe if I need to overpower midday sun.


Could you share with us an image that you’ve taken recently and talk us through the idea and how you shot it?


Red Scarf (above) – This photo was taken recently in an outdoor environment not too far from where I live. Actually it’s a small gravel bicycle track that runs next to a creek. The idea from this shoot came from a similar type scene I saw not long before in a film, it was different of course but being late Autumn early Winter here in the southern hemisphere I wanted to portray the season and this was going to be achieved using the background and selection of costume.

The grey jacket and beret had to connect with an element in the scene being the gravel path, the warm coloured foliage was to portray the season and the most important element in the scene is the red scarf which draws our eyes to the point of interest which is the subject. Sometimes it’s important to use strong colours in order to draw and anchor our eyes to the key point of interest, the proviso of course is that it works in the scene and complements the other tones without looking out of place.

Technically this is a simple shot at f4.0, 1/60s mid afternoon in full shade. Focal length was 28mm aps-c which is about 42mm on a full frame sensor. The light was just a single speedlight at 1/4 power fired through a white shoot thru umbrella camera right.

Check out more of Bill’s work on his website and blog. Connect with him on Twitter and Google+.

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

Some Older Comments

  • Doug Craig July 16, 2012 06:17 pm

    I first discovered Bill on the Fotoblur website. I was impressed with him immediately upon my first encounter with one of his images and I have been in awe of his work ever since. He is a truly exceptional photographer, and the little girl he is currently using for a model is absolutely gorgeous. Thanks for sharing this interview.

  • TSchulz July 8, 2012 04:12 am

    What time of day was that last shot taken at?

  • Paul July 6, 2012 01:31 pm

    I've admired Bills work on Flickr for some time now. His style is very unique and immediately recognizable. Beautifully shot and processed. Amazing stuff and a joy to see!

  • Tasha July 6, 2012 09:36 am

    Thankyou Darren for this article. These pictures are so inspiring and the portraiture so different to what we have become accustomed to.

  • Justin Donie July 6, 2012 04:36 am

    When I read photography articles or books, one thing I learned to pay attention to is "Regardless of how good the advice might sound, do you LOVE the images the photographer is showing you?". If I do, then there's something I will definitely benefit from in their images and their words, as they have created something that has stirred my soul. Well, this article fits that bill quite well. I love these images. This is one article I'll be book-marking for sure. Thanks!

  • raghavendra July 5, 2012 04:13 pm

    i have seen his pictures in 500px
    love the child's eyes
    my favorite is the joker picture, it must be shown in this article.

    here's mine

  • MikeC366 June 27, 2012 03:30 pm

    It's great to find a great photographer that uses a K5. Like Bill I have some old Pentax lenses that are just fantastic. I like his stuff, but I have a massive way to go before I get to his level...

  • Erik Kerstenbeck June 27, 2012 12:25 am


    These images are brilliant in their use of staging and the definition and sharpness is truly remarkable. They have a painterly inspiration from the composition.

    Portraits do not always need to be staged, sometimes, when using a nice wide open lens, one can also draw the attention of the viewer to the subject and their emotions without all the complexity of off camera lighting like this shot of a jockey I was following in advance of a horse race! Shooting wide open, the background is a wonderful blur of colors....a very natural backdrop!

  • EnergizedAV June 26, 2012 11:14 pm

    Very beautiful work! Great emotion and mood. You must have had quite a connection with your subject (who is also quite amazing) to bring this all out.

  • Guigphotography June 26, 2012 09:25 pm

    That gave me quite a shock. Aside from the outstanding imagery, the way Bill described having the shot in his mind and having it set up before the subject arrives and also the Jeunet reference - that all struck so many chords and articulated my own methods/preferences (but I was still trying to figure them out). Fabulous stuff and great interview, thank you!

  • Tom June 26, 2012 08:13 pm

    Thank you Darren for introducing BillĀ“s work. Its a great pleasure to look at his pictures. They are simple perfect!

  • Mridula June 26, 2012 03:23 pm

    Breathtaking photographs!

  • ccting June 26, 2012 12:55 pm

    great work.!

  • Mei Teng June 26, 2012 10:27 am

    Beautiful photos. Thanks for sharing Bill's work.

  • JohnP June 26, 2012 09:32 am

    Thanks for sharing that, really inspirational work, on par with the old masters in my opinion. Good to see Pentax being used, I was beginning to think we were a dying race.