Every year, photographers from publications around the world descend upon the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) for a chance to catch a glimpse at the film world’s hottest celebrities.
Most photographers don’t travel lightly. They bring their lighting rigs, a variety of different lenses, and, of course, their best cameras to make sure that the readers of the world’s tabloids, newspapers, magazines and websites don’t miss a single thing.
At this year’s TIFF, however, local Toronto photographer Kourosh Keshiri distinguished himself from his peers thanks to one small — but incredibly notable — detail.
Keshiri shot celebrity portraits with Huawei’s P10 smartphone.
A Torontian with a photographic history
Keshiri’s spent most of his life as a photographer in Toronto. Notably, he even gained acceptance into the prestigious Claude Watson arts program at Toronto’s Earl Haig Secondary School.
“After high school, I went to Ryerson for image arts, which is a mixture of film, media and most photography — still photography,” said Keshiri, in an interview with MobileSyrup.
His particular style emphasizes warm colours and an almost naked honesty. Check his Instagram, and you’ll find a variety of model shots, accompanied by classic portraits and landscapes bathed in natural light.
Suffice it to say, he’s anything but an amateur photographer.
“I’ve been shooting professionally in Toronto since 2006,” said Keshiri.
Over the years, Keshiri’s worked with a number of different formats. When the industry began to move away from traditional filmstrip cameras, Keshiri too made the move to digital cameras.
“I’m not stuck to any kind of cameras… I try not to fall in love with my equipment, because I find it can — it’s just a distraction,” said Keshiri. “It should be a tool that works really well for you… so I try not to get hung up on the brands of cameras.”
Keshiri became involved with this year’s TIFF after he successfully pitched an aesthetic concept for this year’s Huawei-TIFF collaboration.
The idea was to establish an intimate setting in which Keshiri’s subjects could feel comfortable, and where Keshiri wouldn’t need to worry about props, furniture or wallpaper.
“I wanted to steer away from building a set and building an environment,” said Keshiri. “So my concept was basically engagement with the talent and filmmakers. Close up portraits — just let the talent speak… without getting things complicated, without dealing with complicated sets or furniture or wallpapers.”
Keshiri believed that if he could remove all of the elements that complicate classical portrait photography, he’d be able to get “more opportunities to click instead of moving things around and seeing what works and what doesn’t work.”
True to his vision, Keshiri’s portrait space is sparing and minimalist. Lights illuminate his subjects’ faces and bodies, while a simple matte wallpaper ensures that the eye is drawn to each subject’s face.
As for using a P10 instead of a traditional camera — Keshiri was ready for the challenge.
Keep your eye on the camera
In his analysis for MobileSyrup, Ted Kritsonis wrote that the Huawei P10’s camera is one of the phone’s most notable features.
“They are two of the best phone cameras I have used so far in 2017,” wrote Kritsonis, drawing attention to the fact that the Huawei devices are impressive — for smartphones with cameras, that is.
Additionally, out of a possible 100 points, image quality rating site DxOMark gave the Huawei P10 a score of 87. In contrast, the iPhone 7 received a score of 86, the Samsung Galaxy S8 received an 88, while the Google Pixel — currently the highest-ranking smartphone in terms of image quality — received a 90.
Having used the Huawei P10 for his portrait photographs, Keshiri had his own take.
“The cameras I use are probably upwards of $5,000 to $10,000,” said Keshiri. “[The P10] is interesting, it’s very interesting. The more interesting thing is what your talent thinks — what your subjects think.”
And while some of Keshiri’s subjects at TIFF — people ranging from local influencers to A-list Hollywood celebrities — didn’t blink at the P10, some of his more experienced subjects were quick to ask questions.
“They look at me and they’re like, ‘Wait, you’re shooting this with a phone?’” said Keshiri. “I explain to them that it’s actually a mini Leica camera in the phone, and most people know what that is and it’s a bit of a conversation starter.”
As for post-processing, one would assume that a photo shot on a smartphone camera wouldn’t afford a lot of opportunity for additional editing. Keshiri explained that this wasn’t the case.
The P10’s camera shoots in RAW, and some of Keshiri’s raw image files were upwards of 70 megabytes.
“It depends on the ISO I’m shooting at,” said Keshiri. “I was shooting a higher ISO, so I have a preset for that, I have a colour profile, I have my custom curves that I apply to everything to give it a look. You normally would never just process a RAW file on its own, unless you want to take it into Photoshop afterwards and apply everything in post that way.”
After taking a photo, Keshiri would usually process it through Capture One — professional grade image editing software — before running the image through Photoshop to adjust minor blemishes.
The results — as his subjects at TIFF discovered — are truly stunning.
Better than good enough
In the past, Keshiri’s been disappointed with smartphone cameras. In discussing his experience with the P10, however, he was quick to admit that he was surprised at how adept the phone is at shooting photos.
“You know, [smartphones are] good for going on little trips and stuff, but you can’t really ever take one too seriously,” said Keshiri. “But this one you might actually be able to take seriously.”
It’s important to remember that Keshiri’s portraits were put together using his talent and experience, as well as a professional lighting rig and a literal picture-perfect setting. Most amateur photographers wouldn’t be able to replicate Keshiri’s work outside of a manicured, controlled setting.
Still, given that Huawei’s P10 phones aren’t quite on par with the latest Mamiya or Hasselblad cameras, Keshiri’s photos remain impressive — and much of the credit is owed to the device itself.
Keshiri frames it well:
“It’s got some juice in it.”