People

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At least once a week someone asked my advice about photography, about turning professional or how to get work published, but the questions, 90% of the time, revolve around equipment – “What cameras do I need to turn professional?” and “I want to get into portrait photography, but I can’t afford the same lens you use”.

Years ago, when I was just starting out in photography, I would buy a lot of magazines. A lot. I’d flick through them and the first thing I would do is find out what gear professional photographers were using at the time – cameras, lenses, film…even bags! I made the mistake then, the same one that people make now, in believing that if I used the same gear as David Bailey or Sebastião Salgado then my photos would be ‘as good’ as theirs, which is of course ridiculous. In fact, when I was in my late 20’s I used exactly the same Leica M6 and 35mm lens at Sebastião Salgado, did my photographs look anything like his? No, they did not, because I didn’t see things the same, I still don’t.

So my advice is always pretty much the same – ‘good portrait and documentary photography has very little to do with equipment and technique. Spend a year learning how to use your camera, whatever camera it is, and then devote the rest of your life to learning about people’.

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13 comments

  1. holmesphotog

    Whilst I think you’re exactly right with the need to learn about people to get good portraits, I sort of disagree that it has very little to do with equipment or technique.
    I think your photos are fantastic (they provide real inspiration for me), and it’s clear that you like to use a very fast lens (that must be a 35mm f1.4 or f1.8?) which is very expensive. You certainly couldn’t recreate the style of image I often see on your blog without such a fast lens!

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      • holmesphotog

        A-ha yes! But imitation truly is the sincerest form of flattery.
        It’s a testament to your photography that you get so many enquiries for advice! Your portrait photography has genuinely inspired me to get back into taking photographs.

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      • Shallow dof is only one part of the equation, one used by many portrait photographers who then add the rest of their style on top of that.

        As for price, about any 50/1.8 is rather affordable, and if one is shooting Fuji I believe most such 50s could be matched via – also quite affordable – adapters.

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  2. I think you are very good at “seeing” people. Your portraits are, I believe, unique, almost to the point of providing a window into the person in the photograph.

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  3. “good portrait and documentary photography has very little to do with equipment and technique. Spend a year learning how to use your camera, whatever camera it is, and then devote the rest of your life to learning about people” – Thanks for this; I need this reminder every now and then. It’s easy to get caught up in gear-related fantasies that I forget what it’s all about – the peop;e.🙂

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  4. “good portrait and documentary photography has very little to do with equipment and technique. Spend a year learning how to use your camera, whatever camera it is, and then devote the rest of your life to learning about people” – Thanks for this; I need this reminder every now and then. It’s easy to get caught up in gear-related fantasies that I forget what it’s all about – the people.🙂

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