Cinematic Photos Honor First Responders: The Heroes Who Don’t Wear Capes

Update: Brandon has uploaded the EMS photo below to the Saving Eliza SmugMug sale! Very appropriate that a photo of people who save lives be sold to help raise money to save a life! Click here to purchase a print of Brandon’s photo and help raise money for Eliza.


Photographer Brandon Cawood‘s images of first responders look like they belong on movie posters, but the people in them are the actual heroes that we have to thank for taking care of us when we get hurt or are in trouble. The series is called “Not All Wear Capes,” and if you have a friend or relative who is a first responder you should definitely send them a link.

It all started as a personal project to photograph EMS but it has exploded into a viral sensation that we hope won’t be just a flash in the pan.

According to Dani Diamond over at Fstoppers, Cawood has always had a passion for superheroes. Of course, as he grew up, his definition of the word changed. He realized that Batman and Superman had real life counterparts, and while they didn’t wear capes of respond to Bat signals, they were just as dependable and willing to risk their lives to help others.

His love for superhero movies did, however, influence his direction in photography. Which is how we arrive at this dynamite photo series that depicts our real-life heroes in the same style as the Iron Man or Captain America posters we’re all familiar with:

Here are a few of his images:








And a couple of BTS photos that show how the composites come together:



Here’s how Cawood describes the project on his website:

This series is a celebration of our communities’ guardian and a memorial to the healers that put us back together when our bodies are broken. The women and men in this series are those who inspire our children to be noble and brave! They do what they do not for reward but because they want to make our community, our home, and our country a better place. Though they don’t wear capes, these are our HEROES!

The project wasn’t without its challenges. He tells Fstoppers that he didn’t have much of a portfolio to showcase when he first began contacting departments, which made people hesitant to volunteer. Plus, all of the people in the shots are “real” and not models. That includes the victims and bad guys, who are played by Cawood’s friends a family. Coaching them was another challenge.

As you can see, however, the hurdles were all eventually overcome and a great, cinematic photo series is the result. To learn more about Cawood, see the full series in high res or browse through the rest of his portfolio, head over to his website or give him a follow on Facebook.

Image credits: Photographs by Brandon Cawood and used with permission

  • Adam Cross

    I pretty much hate all of them, that post-processing is so gaudy

  • John Adkins

    I think these are absolutely awesome and I love that fact that he chose “real” heroes to be his subjects. He couldn’t have chosen better models!

  • Ryan

    Great work. Reminds me a lot of the environment portraits for a firefighter calendar I was doing a few years ago.

  • Brandon Cawood

    you’re too sweet :). Thanks!

  • Jo Rodrigues

    Pretty, hate, and gaudy all in one sentence. Which one do you prefer the least? Surely you must have one favourite?

  • Kevin

    **anonymous comment about stylized use of lighting and flares**

  • Jo Rodrigues

    Some of them are great! Pretty even, I’d hate to say if any were gaudy to be honest!

  • Jon Peckham

    great images, but worthless statist propaganda content.

  • kotaro_14

    Where are Spiderman, Daredevil, Green Lantern, Nightwing, etc?

  • John Lee

    Love the cause and the shots are cool but I’m personally not to big on the HDR look, Personally.

  • Peter Neill

    The is an awesome way to use HDR. I’m no fan of HDR most of the time, but in this case, the HDR assists in the narrative. It makes these pictures look like superhero movie posters & it adds to the drama. This in turn makes it all the more profound when you realise these are real heroes, and when you strip away the HDR, the drama, these are amazing ordinary people who have stepped up. Well done Brandon, you rock.

  • Peter Neill

    thanks kevin..

  • OtterMatt

    Awesome. I think many of us think the same thing about your ego.

  • OtterMatt

    Firefighter and SWAT are epic, and I absolutely defend my usage of that word. Some of the other ones I could take or leave, but those in particular stand out as great uses of the editing genre.

  • bela

    Dear god, what cheesieness… talk about a propaganda orgy, might as well slap CCCP on there and crank out some Soviet style socialist realism posters. Real men and women who work in first responder jobs don’t think of themselves as ‘heroes’. It’s their job and they don’t do it to be lionized like some sort larger than life figures by the rest of society. Only people with questionable motives like politicians, the nightly news, Hollywood movies and I guess now photographers need to make it into something more than it is.

  • A_Lwin

    I like the idea but not the editing. Are these supposed to be some sort of movie posters or screen caps from games?


    Way to much use of “lens flares”.
    Almost every picture just says “throw in a lens flare and add drama”…
    Too bad, there are many other, more subtle techniques.


    “Brandon Cawood Adam Cross • 4 hours ago
    you’re too sweet :). Thanks!”

    Poor style Brandon, if you don’t want criticism, don’t show your work.

  • ckanderson

    ^Hahaha this guy.. the hell LOL

  • Simon

    welcome to every photog blog ever.

  • ThatOneDude

    That firefighter definitely should not be in a burning building without his SCBA mask or gloves!

  • Brandon Cawood

    thank you so much Peter!

  • Brandon Cawood


  • Thomas

    The firefighter’s lack of PPE threw me, especially since Cawood showed a
    willingness to cover his subjects’ faces with masks in other shots. But that is a minor niggle for some great photo work.

    But what
    really bothers me is the glorification of police gun use. Of the
    various things that cops do that are truly heroic, shooting people –
    while it may be one of the most exciting and stressful things they may
    ever do – amounts to almost 0% of the job description, and is not always
    heroic, especially when so many police shootings these days are
    excessive and unjustified. I think we’ve had quite enough glorification
    of gun culture, cop gun culture included.

  • Jay

    Cawood – Everyone is a critique.

    With that said, I think your art work is great for the subject matter, technical ability, and artistry. Above all, “first responders” will appreciate that you validate their profession. Good stuff.

  • bob cooley

    The results aren’t bad, but this calling them ‘cinematic photos’ is a bit disingenuous.

    This is really more art created in Photoshop than anything else.

    Nice results, but not what I think of as photography anymore than I think of poster-art as photography.

  • the_gator

    As a retired 30 year LEO I enjoyed looking at your photographs. Thank you

  • Mansgame, man.

    I’m sure Brandon will pat himself on the back like the moon guy did and take praise of his friends and family, but to most photographers, this HDR business is as lame and overused as selective coloring was a few years ago. Brandon, bro, you have the camera gear, you have the actors, you have the lights – why would you resort to this HDR nonsense?

    Technically, the HDR cartoony look is absolute crap. The only semi-normal looking picture is the 911 dispatcher. On top of the horrible (can’t stress that part enough) HDR, you’re adding extra balls of fire, underwater, and gun fire and you expect to be taken seriously? Really dude?

    Artistically, the staging and fake acting makes this look like propaganda. Enjoy all the praise you’ll get from those who know you, but you should redo this without all the gimmick. Of if photography is not your thing, call it graphics art and post it on graphics design forums and I promise no photographer will care.

  • Burnin Biomass

    l am mostly with you Peter. I’m not a big fan of HDR, but it is a tool with some uses, and its purposefull use here to give the images a larger than life feel, works for me.

  • Brandon Cawood

    Thanks. I don’t mind what you call it. Call them images. They are 90% photography elements and yes I do a lot in photoshop. Couldn’t do it without photography though. Without the lighting and tech. photo work the results wouldn’t be the same. Thank u for the kind words!

  • Brandon Cawood

    I’m lucky “photographers” aren’t hiring me then!

  • Bill

    “Hero,” what about people that don’t work for the state, what about the real heroes in private industry, that fund these “heroes.” Why not do a shoot on the restaurant business, like the dishwasher, the waitress, the hatcheck person, the fry cook at the taqueria.

  • Adam Cross

    I’m so sorry that I don’t love every photo that’s ever been taken :’)

  • Adam Cross

    either you’re trying to be cleverly sarcastic or you’ve never heard the term “pretty much” before. And no, I don’t have a favourite, the processing ruins every single shot, but that’s just my opinion, I’m not going to argue with people who like them, that’s their opinion.

  • Dave

    I think the photos showcase great technical ability and skill, and I’m sure your style will develop as you grow. Its certainly better than anything I could currently do…its disheartening how quick ‘photographers’ are to tear down the work of another…one of the cons of this being a no-barrier-to-entry industry, theres a lot of insecure, overly-opinionated egomaniacs that want to prop up themselves and their easily replicated ‘skills’ by tearing down others.

  • meh

    why don’t you shut up, get off your computer and do it then?

  • Chris

    The fire firghter shot is by far my favorite. My only critique, and this really stems from my background in film color correction, is the lack of consistient post processing. Some shots are really dripping with hyper micro / local contrast, others not as much. The call center lady is the one shot that really sticks out to me. As for the hyper gritty “dave hill” effect – it seems to be really polarizing these days. Either hate or love it. Outside the photographer world, probably less hate :P

  • Scott M.

    You are not allowed to think that way

  • @JacksonCheese

    It’s a good thing these were meant for the general public then, and not random internet photography critics!

  • @JacksonCheese

    This guy knows what’s up.

  • @JacksonCheese

    These are awesome. Perfect use of HDR to make these look like movie posters or comic book stills. I’m sorry, but the haters & “critics” here have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about.

  • @JacksonCheese

    Oh wow, let me guess. You have a “Don’t Tread on Me” bumper sticker and think that firefighters & paramedics should be “privatized” and for profit.

  • Adam Cross

    everyone’s a critic, and entitled to their opinion. most people just seem to think that negative criticism is somehow from another universe and people should keep that kind of criticism to themselves, jeez, I would never improve if all I heard was “that’s awesome, well done”

  • Jon Peckham

    You are completely wrong.

  • @JacksonCheese

    You failed to understand the audience, is all.
    You’re used to sharing photos with other photographers for criticism, but most commercial photographer is meant for an audience outside Flickr or Petapixel who don’t even know what the hell HDR is.

  • Adam Cross

    i don’t need to know the audience when I’m giving my personal opinion of some work. knowing the audience doesn’t make my opinion invalid.

  • Smarten_Up

    Ugly, ugly, ugly!

  • Ray Williams

    Finally some positivity! Thanks for focusing on the real issue here instead of ranting about processing etc.. 1 internet point for you today my friend!

  • William Charles Pittman

    They’re interesting images but they’re not photographs anymore. I’m glad you were able to undertake and make a pretty masterful mixture of photography and digital art and it’s great that you decided to use it to honor first responders, I just wish the images didn’t come away feeling so staged and unreal.

  • Bill

    No way, I’m lazier than hell, and anyway I think I serve society best by shooting off my big mouth from the comfort of my couch.