Is Portrait Photography Still Relevant?

Everyone has a camera these days” is something we hear often in this business, usually from fellow photographers frustrated with their friends and relatives. Camera ownership is an almost ubiquitous feature of our modern lives, and they're here to stay. Consumer cameras have been available in some form or another since the Kodak Brownie, but the flood of mobile phones containing integrated cameras has caused an explosion in photographic enthusiasm amongst people who wouldn't consider themselves photographers. All five of the most popular cameras used to take photos for Flickr are mobile phone cameras, and this lead is only increasing.

The reasons for this are manifold and have been discussed at length for years: Everyone carries a phone nowadays and so everyone also carries with them a compact camera; the film that was so expensive, difficult to use is no longer necessary; pictures taken with mobile phones can be shared immediately via Twitter, Instagram, or other social networks. Surely the proliferation of amateur photography spells doom for the professional? Actually, though much diminished from its heyday, I believe that professional portrait photography is still relevant in the modern world.



Although it may seem contradictory while we are taking more photos than ever, the market for photo prints is in sharp decline, tumbling 20% between 2013 and 2015. This reluctance to print photos for display and preservation rather than viewing on a screen can cause problems. I don't know about you, but whereas my parents still have almost all the printed photos they took over their lifetimes, a lot of the photos they took during the dawn of digital photography are lost. Stored on memory cards that are no longer readable, or on computer hard-drives that have since ceased to function and been thrown away.
Surely the solution is just to print more photos, right? Well, not really. Phone camera photos are (relatively) small, so despite what you might read online, they don't necessarily bear the brunt of printing very well. For example, a photo from Instagram will only print at around 2 ½” (smaller than a credit card) without severe degradation of quality.

The negative is comparable to the composer’s score and the print to its performance.
— Ansel Adams




Speaking of quality, professional portrait photography charges ahead in what can be achieved. The professional photographer community stakes its reputation on the ability to consistently produce high quality photographs. A talented professional photographer can shape light to create dynamism and use techniques to maximise sharpness and detail. Prints from professional cameras (and skilled photographers!) can be wall-sized with outstanding clarity and quality. A bit ambitious? Well, perhaps, but nothing beats a camera in the hands of a professional when it comes to quality. When you employ a professional for your portraits, you're not just hiring a fancy camera but also the benefit of thousands upon thousands of hours spent honing and perfecting the craft.