19 September 2023

Odd jobs: Canberra's one and only 'iris photographer' captures colours you've probably never noticed

| James Coleman
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Iris photography

Randall Haines iris photography. Photo: James Coleman.

Think of the last person you spoke to. What was the colour of their eyes?

Even if you’re deeply in love and lost in the windows to their soul, chances are you don’t know the answer to that question. The iris isn’t something you normally notice, but Randall Haines does.

The strata manager by day and hobby photographer the rest of the time is also the founder of ‘Canberra Iris Photography’ – the one and only for the area.

He’s become a regular at the Old Bus Depot Markets every Sunday, taking photos of people’s eyes ahead of turning them into stunningly edited prints showing the world of colour and texture ‘hiding’ between the blacks and the whites.

“Some people come up to me and think I’m doing iridology,” he says.

“I get some funny looks, but it’s a lot of talking too because it’s so new and there’s a lot of interest here. Every eye is unique, as they say. More unique than a fingerprint.”

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Randall started in wedding photography when every shot mattered because it cost you film. When his daughter was born in 2004, he gravitated towards portraits and then events and real estate photography. But then this came along and “everything else went out the window”.

Iris photography

Randall Haines iris photography. Photo: James Coleman.

“It’s been really popular in Europe – France, Germany and Switzerland – for the last five years at least,” he explains.

“I just stumbled across it on Facebook in May this year and contacted two iris photographers – one in Germany and one in France – and they showed me how to do it. And the rest is history.”

Randall has made many photography props over the years, and this niche field required no exception.

“I’m a handyman and I like to make things and fix things.”

Iris photography

There’s a lot of editing involved to make a finished iris print. Photo: James Coleman.

Using monitor stands and slats from old chairs, he created a structure similar to what you’d see in an optometrist’s office but for a lot less coin. Customers rest their chin on the bottom slat, their forehead against the top, and stare down the barrel of the camera while Randall snaps a flurry of shots.

“I machine gun it, so I shoot maybe eight to 10 shots in a row with the flash, and what this does is shrink the pupil because we want the pupil nice and small and as much of the iris as possible,” he says.

The editing process is much lengthier and done back at his makeshift home studio.

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“Because eyes are very reflective, especially the darker eyes, all your eyelashes and even your nose reflects, so I’ve got to Photoshop all that out first,” he says.

“Blue eyes, in particular, can be quite flat, so I’ve got to bring out the contrast and enhance the texture to make it look half decent.”

The best bits of the best shots are combined to form a single iris, displayed on a black background to match the pupil. Working this close has also revealed some interesting trends among Canberra’s eyes.

“The darker eyes tend to almost have mountain ranges – these sort of peaks and troughs – while the blues quite often have these brown dark spots.”

Iris photography

Randall says darker eyes tend to have more peaks and troughs, and the blues have less texture. Photo: James Coleman.

The final prints come in a variety of forms, from metal to canvas to framed wood, depending on what the customer wants. Prices start at $225 and vary depending on the size and print type. He can also add the eye owners’ names.

He says the finished product makes the ultimate new wall hanging for special occasions like birthdays or anniversaries.

“It’s great to be looking at all these images every night while I’m editing. Yeah, I can’t see myself getting bored of it any time soon.”

Canberra Iris Photography is at the Old Bus Depot Markets in Kingston every Sunday from 9:30 am to 2:30 pm. Visit Canberra Iris Photography on Facebook for more information.

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