A picture is worth a thousand words— but who decides what those pictures mean and what those words are? In this age of cell phone cameras and easy-to-use point-and-shoots, it’s tempting to believe that the lens does all the work and that the truth will shine through easily, but as this video from Canon shows us, the photographer has more influence than even she or he realizes. A trick of the light, a particular angle and suddenly one man becomes six.

Canon Australia set up the experiment to demonstrate how much what the photographer believes about his or her subject affects how he or she photographs and portray that subject. As Canon describes their idea for this experiment:

A photograph is shaped more by the person behind the camera than by what’s in front of it.
To prove this we invited six photographers to a portrait session with a twist.

Those six photographers – Kate Disher-Quill, Tristan Stefan Edouard, Lyndal Irons, Jin Lim, Chris Meredith, and Franky Tsang – were all invited to photograph “Michael.” The twist? They were all given a different backstory for Michael: that he was a self-made millionaire, had saved somebody’s life, was an ex-inmate, was a commercial fisherman, claimed to be psychic, and was a former alcoholic. Beyond that, they were only told to “flesh out the essence of who he is”— and the differences are staggering.

It’s most interesting to see how the photographers begin their sessions with Michael. In each one, they all say that they want to try to get to know their subject a little bit, but based on what we see in the video, all of their questions are based on that snippet of information they were initially given. Michael wears the same basic jeans, white T-shirt and blue button-down in each session, and while he goes along with his “cover story” for each one, most of his answers seem vague.

As we see when the photographers gather to view their portraits, his reticence didn’t stop them from trying to fill in the blanks. They don’t know, at first, when they come together that they were each given a different story, and seem to attribute their differences just to their different styles. Then Michael walks back in, and the jig is up.

As one photographer says, the story she was given “pushed [her] into a position [she] wouldn’t normally be in.” Another resolves, “We have to dig a lot deeper, and be a lot more creative.”

So what really makes a portrait true? Whose perspective really matters? Watch the experiment in action in the video from Canon Australia, and see for yourself.