Q&A: Dan Bannister

November 21, 2017


Portrait of Zulu Alpha Kilo founder and CCO Zak Mroueh. Photo by Dan Bannister
Portrait of Zulu Alpha Kilo founder and CCO Zak Mroueh. Photo by Dan Bannister
The photographer's annual portrait photo shoot benefits local charities 
Toronto photographer Dan Bannister has only a few spots left for his Portraits for Good charity photo shoot sessions, so book yours now by contacting studio@danbannister.com! We checked back in with Bannister about why he started the project.
What gave you the idea for Portraits for Good? 
Originally, I wanted to do something for clients at the end of the year as a thank you. I wanted it to be personal and unique so, I thought of offering a portrait. Most of the images people use of themselves for places like Linkedin and social media are selfies or screen grabs so they tend not to be the most flattering or interesting pictures. I thought sitting for a professional portrait might be unique and the fact that you can help a local food bank at the same time would be a great win for all involved. 
Why did you choose the food bank as your charity?
I always do this in December so the food bank just felt like a natural fit. It’s a time of year when people are most vulnerable and those short on food and shelter are most likely to need help. In my mind, it’s also the time of year people are most generous, so I felt like it would be a good time to offer something in exchange for a donation to a worthy cause. I especially like the idea of giving food items instead of cash. The food bank supplies me with a list of things they really need and I send that out to the participants, so in the end, everything goes directly to the people who need it the most.
How many portraits have you shot for this initiative so far?
This is the fifth year for the event. In the past it was always two full days of spots and they would be booked within a day or two of my announcing it so this year I’ve added a third day. Once all the days are booked this year, we’ll have about 100 people through the studio in the three days.
What equipment do you use for the shoot?
A few years ago, the Canadian reps for Broncolor lighting offered to lend me some new equipment for the event and help with the pre-light day. I’ve been partnered with them ever since. This year, we’re using some of their new tools to build some lighting and mood into the portraits that will make the images unique. I spend a lot of time coming up with the final concepts for the portraits, just like I do for advertising and magazine clients so the end result is meant to be a unique and high-quality editorial portrait of the subjects. Broncolor’s help in putting together a package of equipment that I’d otherwise rent ensures the final result is what I want to deliver.
In your work, what are the things you aim for when you’re shooting portraits?
I think a portrait is a very personal thing for both the person making it and for the subject. There’s a lot at stake for both parties so I put a lot of effort into it. I want the person to love the results but, ultimately, my goal is to create an image that I love and that I’m proud of. The goal is not to flatter the subject so much as it is to create an image that makes people look at the picture and say to themselves “I want to know more about this person." A lot of times, people come back to me months later and say that their closest friends and family will look at the image and recognize something unique about that person that only they see. That feels like a successful portrait to me.
What has been the most rewarding part of this experience?
I love making portraits and creating unique and challenging images of people is a lot of fun for me so, that’s a benefit all by itself. It’s even better when the subjects get back to me after receiving the image and tell me how happy they are with the results. But, at the end of the event, when we load up all the donations that people bring, it’s pretty great to see how generous people can be and how a small bit of effort can yield such a great result. 
Why do you feel it’s important for you to give back to your community?
I know it’s probably a cliché to say [that] we’re less connected than ever in the community sense, but I do believe it. I think it’s hard for small, local charities to connect with local donors these days. Social media controls so much of our casual communication and so, without big advertising budgets, it’s hard for local groups to make effective connections. I think it’s important to fill that gap and make sure you do what you can within your own neighbourhood or community to make sure no one is being left behind. 
What has been the feedback from the participants?
I get so many people every year who participate because they’re looking for a way to volunteer or to help in some small way. I’m always surprised by the number of emails I get from people who say they heard about the event and even if the spots are all gone, can they still donate something. That’s incredibly generous.

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