Professional photography

The State of Street Photography

Street photography has a long and storied history, sitting as it does at the intersection of journalism and art. My interest was drawn to it by the figure that has inspired many budding street shooters, Henri Cartier-Bresson. Probably the most broadly influential street photographer in the medium's history, Cartier-Bresson was an advocate of stealth and discretion. He would famously use only small Leica cameras painted black to avoid drawing attention to himself.
Other street photographers use different methods and equipment but the intention usually remained constant: to discretely find and catch people off-guard, wherein the oft-discussed 'decisive moment' makes itself known.

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The ethical considerations of the medium are one of its most controversial aspects.
Defenders of the form often fall into arguing that people have no right to expectation of privacy in a public place, and that street photography is legal. The fault with this reasoning is that just because something is legal doesn't make it particularly ethical. As my friend Phoebe put it: “Legality is pretty much the minimum of human behaviour. That's right at the baseline.” No-one wants to feel harrassed or as though a shifty-looking stranger is surveilling them on the street. In fact, a year or two ago I stumbled upon a photographer sharing his street work on Facebook, all seemingly distant photos taken voyeuristically from a car with a cheap camera. Needless to say, the response to the anonymous photographer's attempt to be creative was not positive.

With the explosion of online photo-sharing and the creeping growth of sites encouraging people to photograph strangers to shame them for their behaviour (remember Women Who Eat On Tubes?) or to objectify and demean them, public sentiment against street photography seems to be slipping even further into the negative. Although voyeurism and shaming are nothing to do with street photography itself, benign street photographers have by-and-large been embarrassingly unsuccessful in preventing the predators from claiming the justification of 'art' for themselves.

I used to be a voracious street photographer. I'd roam around town for hours trying to find something interesting happening, eagerly hunting down that decisive moment. When I got the chance to go to New York for a day a few years ago I dove in head-first and spent the day hunting around for things to photograph. In such a rich ground it felt like there was something happening everywhere I looked. Unfortunately it feels as though those days have slipped into the past. More and more when I'm out on the street with a camera, for each shot I manage to take I can feel myself 'miss' ten others. The growing anxiety at potentially causing upset, potentially being thought a creep or pervert causes me to hesitate, and in that hesitation the opportunity passes by. I've lost my nerve, and I'm not sure I'll ever get it back.

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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.

 

Permanence

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

 


 

Quality

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.