One of the best things about the advent of apps, sharing sites and high-tech cameras in recent years is the way we all get to pretend we’re photographers. Thankfully the days of getting your holiday snaps back to find a roll of 30 blurry, thumb-obscured disasters are a mere memory – one that we’ve quickly buried under thousands of other, artfully filtered memories since.
But let’s spare a thought, shall we, for the people who actually do it for a living. The poor sods who sit politely through reels of our over-exposed and under-lit creations every day on social media, while we use VSCO Cam to take aerial shots of our dinner and think it basically makes us Rankin. Let’s take a moment to ask, how do the professional photographers feel about us all being happy snappers?
‘I think one of my least favourite comments I get is “wow, your camera is so good!”,’ says Jo, a creative wedding and lifestyle photographer based in south west London. ‘I mean, yes, it is… but if I handed it to you, you wouldn’t get the same results. Every photographer has learned the science and technical aspects of their camera, but it also takes years of understanding light and composure and how to capture a special moment to actually be any good.’
Don’t think you can just fake it with a filter, either. ‘People rely far too much on a heavy dose of Lo-Fi to make something look eye-catching, when a little thought on what’s happening as the photo is being taken would go a long way. Filters can’t fix bad lighting or composition.’ What, not even Mayfair? That’s me told.
When even half-arsed amateurs have to hold back a few snarky comments on our daily scroll through Instagram and Facebook, it must be plenty worse for people who actually know what they’re talking about. So are they tempted to give us tips? ‘I have to bite my tongue sometimes,’ says Jo. ‘Usually I stick with saying something nice when I think they’ve done a really good job. But I have been known to save friend’s snaps and re-edit, just to see what it could have been…’
‘I’m never tempted to comment,’ agrees Jade, a wedding and portrait photographer. ‘ But I do silently think to myself, just because you put a vintage filter on it doesn’t make it a good photograph! Also, those clearly staged food snaps that are set against a beautiful place setting with various other objects to suggest a ‘fabulous lifestyle’ – they really irritate me.’
‘Oh and spot colour. Seriously, just stop,’ says Jo. ‘It’s been done until all we can see when we close our eyes is a black and white scene and a bright red phone box. Let’s embrace all the colours the view has given us.’
But do the pros ever user a cheeky filter themselves? ‘Yes! I have a plethora of apps on my phone. I know some people probably dislike them, but you can’t deny that a bit of editing can change a photo from good to absolutely radical,’ says Jo. ‘Anyway, all professionals will do a certain amount of editing to their work to make it the best it can be.’
Will, a wedding and portrait photographer based in south London, even credits the digital revolution with getting him into the profession. ‘I was a keen photographer through my teens, but it was only when I was able to immediately review my photos on the back of my first digital SLR camera that I really learned how to take photographs properly,’ he says. ‘In the early days, Flickr and Myspace allowed me to get encouragement and feedback from other users, which spurred me on to develop my skills. So I welcome Instagram, Facebook, Twitter etc with open arms – I wouldn’t be where I am without their ilk.’
‘I think it’s great that digital SLRs are now affordable, as it’s always nice to be able to capture moments of your children growing up,’ says Jade. ‘It doesn’t bother me, as not everyone knows how to use their camera properly… so hopefully that’s where I come in.’
Hopefully it is – though the rising trend for low-key, ‘normcore’ weddings in recent years has seen more couples doing away with the professionals and going DIY, sometimes with disastrous results. ‘I’ve seen some very questionable photos where people have asked their ‘all the gear, no idea’ friends to shoot their wedding,’ cringes Jo. ‘It just saddens me that they don’t have the most beautiful capture of their day possible – a day that won’t happen again, ever. Those photographs are what you’ll be smiling at twenty years down the line.’
‘I think that people will always be willing to pay for quality,’ says Will. ‘And I’m not only talking about the actual taking of the photos – all professional photographers are at least half decent retouchers too, and will have the skills to outdo modern apps.’
Artistry aside, there’s also a physical challenge to being a photographer – agile, unobtrusive, blending seamlessly into the background in order to get the perfect shot. ‘Things happen so quickly during the course of a wedding that you have to be prepared for every eventuality and lighting condition so you don’t miss a moment,’ says Jade.
But even when people do call the pros in, there are still eager amateurs getting in their way. ‘I’ve definitely seen a rise in the number of guests at weddings with SLRs,’ says Hampshire-based wedding and portrait photographer Jade. ‘At one there was a guest with a much bigger and more expensive lens than mine hovering around me and he was constantly being mistaken for the professional.’
‘The worst are ‘Uncle Bobs’ who will be there with their camera all day, getting in the background of your shots and shooting right next to you. It can be quite distracting,’ agrees Jo. ‘But if it’s ever a real problem, most will understand that you’re there to do a job and you are the priority.’
It looks as though the DSLR army might be backing off soon, though – sales of cameras have been falling steadily since the whole world and its auntie got a smart phone, with a 40 per cent drop in 2013. But instead of relying on a spot of Instagram’s ‘1977’ for atmospheric avatars, we could borrow some kit from the 70s instead.
‘My favourite images on apps and websites are often sets of #analogue 35mm film photography,’ says Will. ‘In fact, I would recommend to anyone to shoot a roll of film every once in a while – the pictures have a timeless look that most digital cameras can only approximate, and being restricted to 24 or 36 photos definitely keeps the trigger finger in check.’
So maybe less is more for us snap-happy Instagrammers. Next time we’re hastily filtering a grainy picture of our dinner into oblivion, it might pay to stop and think ‘how could I make this photo better without digital intervention?’
And if we don’t, there are plenty of professionals who know the answer.
Check out the pros: