It was the third time I had photographed Dan Brown - known around Newcastle as the Mullet Lord - and by that time, a photo session with him had become a kind of personal challenge.
Dan, as a subject matter, is larger than life. He makes me want to improve on each photo shoot I do with him.
The first time I met him was for a story that was meant to run in the Herald's Business section. He had just opened his new cafe, Lords Coffee and Associates on Beaumont Street and I had asked if there was any religious connotations to the name. He said no.
I told him I'd had an idea to shoot him with his shirt off, arms outstretched like a crucifix - coffee in one hand and a piece of slice in the other.
He was immediately on board.
Our editor, Heath Harrison, and managing editor, Chad Watson, must have found it amusing because the story ran the next day on the front page.
The second time I met him on the beach at dawn. It was the first of a two-part portrait session for a story that would eventually run on the cover of the Herald's Weekender.
It was a story about Dan's past. It was the first time that I realised that this really funny guy also had a serious undercurrent. We broke the photo shoot up into a nice portrait that was reflective of that serious side, and what had happened in his life, and then we did something fun.
I've been a bit of a collector all my life - hoarder, some might say. I love a bit of kitsch and pop culture and have acquired some interesting objects over the years.
I got Dan to meet me in my backyard where I keep my 1950s-style cement kangaroo garden statue and the big Catholic effigy of the Virgin Mary.
I had seen a photo of him on his social media in briefs with a lawn mower, and had this idea to shoot him out in the sun in his tighty-whiteys.
The first few photos, I had him leaning on the Victa lawn mower with my kangaroo. I liked them, but they felt a little too contrived. A bit too composed.
I remember it was stinking hot day, and I knew Dan had a special connection to water. He loves his surfing and the beach and water seems to be very calming for him.
I knew it might not work out, but I just said, "Mate, what if we just get the hose and have a bit of fun?"
In this case, it worked.
Of course, I made sure Dan was comfortable and happy with the photos and I told him this was the shot we were likely going to use.
When I'm shooting, I try to keep in mind that, for some people, this is the first time they have spoken to a journalist or been the subject of a portrait session, so I try to make them feel as comfortable as I can.
I talk a lot ... (you can probably tell).
It's just casual conversation because I think, sometimes, a photo shoot can have a lot of awkward silences. Even when I'm swapping lenses or setting up a light off to the side, I'll explain what I'm doing and why, just to make it a little bit less daunting.
I had Dan in my backyard around the middle of the afternoon. I wanted a sunny day and good contrast between the colours in the frame, so I used a polarising filter over the lens to bring up the blue in the sky and the colour in the grass. I also used a flash off-camera to the left just to put a little puff of light over Dan in the lawn chair just to lift some of those darker shadows you can see around Mary's robes.
I asked Dan just to lift his head a little to avoid any dark shadows around his eyes and shot at a small aperture of f/8.
On assignment with Simone De Peak: 100 photos in 2019 by the Herald's renowned head photographer
More than anything, with my subject, I just want to do right by them.
Dan is such a character, and he is so great to work with. He just goes with the flow.
As a photographer, when you're working with someone, what you want is trust. And he totally gives you that.
It's such a beautiful thing to have someone do that and give that to you and then you do right by that. You don't want to let them down.
And If they're happy, I'm happy.
- Simone De Peak
HOW I SHOT IT: Canon EOS 1D X, 24-70mm II lens at 33mm, f/8, 1/200 sec. Available light filled with off-camera flash.
SIMONE'S TIP OF THE WEEK:
If my subject is feeling a bit nervous, or it's their first time, I get them looking off-camera for the first few photos. It eases them into the shoot. I might bring them back to look down the lens at the end, but by that time you're usually about 20 minutes in and then they are a little more used to what is going on around them, and what you're doing.