The Changing Face of Business Portraits

I've been working as a full time corporate photographer in London for over 20 years, a short period in history but a quantum leap in the technical evolution of photography! Studying as a student photographer in the 1970s, the smell of the chemistry was the overriding sensory experience.  The E4 processing run, colour film, black and white  boxes of bromide printing paper, the chemistry proffered a unique odour, intensified by the light deprived working conditions.  When I joined a Central London agency in the late eighties as in-house photographer (actually salaried) the experience was essentially the same.  The darkroom was similar, albeit more sophisticated. The black and white paper was multigrade, the enlargers were state-of-the-art with integrated filters and the process all by a machine, exposed paper in one end and a dry finished print emerged the other, a miracle of modern technology.

The 21st Century arrived and so did the digital revolution. Photographers swapped film for flashcards,  darkrooms for Macs and Photoshop which has taught us that you can no longer believe anything you see in a photograph!  J-PEGs, TIFFs and images measured in MB rather than inches was the new world of digital imagery sent to bemuse and beguile the 20th Century photographer.  As in most industries the changes were client led, print runs became shorter as clients discovered scanners.  Mail shots became email shots, clients no longer needed hundreds of prints or transparencies to post but a single print to scan and send.  Then came the digital SLR!  The supplier network was no longer needed.  Film suppliers, printing houses, couriers, not forgetting the scanning guys who bridged the technology gap, all gone, now we could do it ourselves!

But what has this meant for the industry?  I believe the clients have benefited all the way. The photography has got better, the delivery has become quicker and the fees have become cheaper.  In 2001 I made the bold, some would say rash, decision to commit myself to digital output.  This was a nervous time as although I was convinced the future lay in sensors and pixels, I was far from certain how my clients would react.  At the time the general perception of digital photography was fairly negative as the overall quality offered by the digital cameras of the day was fairly poor.  The press boys led the vanguard using the latest SLRs, a raft of ever improving cameras followed,eventually hitting the market at an affordable price. How has this improved photography?  Digital technology has enabled photographers to be braver and more creative. The ability to see the actually image shot rather than a preview has allowed photographers the freedom to use light and technique in a less restrained way.  The other creative benefit is removal of material cost when shooting.  In the old days the cost of film and processing restricted shooting in line with the client's budget, now we just shoot and shoot making the probability of, not a good shot, but a great shot much more likely.  Delivery has become almost instant, digital contact sheets and image files delivered via ever faster broadband.