Saturday, February 4, 2017

Interview: Allan Warren talks professional photography in a smart-phone age

Story by Joseph Ford Cotto


Photography is an art unlike any other. There is something profound to be said about capturing a single moment in time and preserving it for countless more.

Allan Warren has experience with this the likes of which most of us can hardly imagine. Beginning his career while still a teenager, he has photographed royalty, movie stars, playwrights, singers, and far too many other personalities to mention.

Of course, I will drop a few names: Dionne Warwick, Prince Charles, Roger Moore, Christopher Isherwood, Barbra Streisand, Prince Philip, King Constantine of Greece, Cary Grant, Debbie Reynolds, David Niven, and the list goes on. Check it out for yourself here

While Warren is most famous for his photography, his career is far more diverse than some might think. Over the years, he has written books, plays, and, interestingly enough, started out as an actor.

In 2012, I asked Warren what the greatest reward of his career was.

"Independence and never having to leave one’s home to earn a living," he responded.

Warren had something else to say: "I think the age of portrait photographers, earning a living from photographing people, is over. The other day a friend of mine snapped a portrait of an actor with an iPhone and it was by far a better picture than I could have take with all my so-called professional camera and lights."

Sobering news indeed from a man who made his career behind the camera -- with notable names standing in front of it and paying for the privilege. Nonetheless, Warren still has much wisdom to impart. He recently spoke with me in a wide-ranging conversation. Some of it is included below.

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Joseph Ford Cotto: Smart-phones offer almost anyone who has a late-model cellular phone the opportunity to take and share pictures. This has cut into the digital camera market severely, even though many of these cameras capture higher-quality imagery than the average smart-phone. 

At the same time, more people now have the ability to create photography and transmit it to an audience. Generally speaking, do smart-phones contribute to or detract from the concept of quality photography?

Allan Warren: I think people that use smart-phones are not necessarily looking for the greatest quality,  as far as they don’t need to enlarge their photographs to poster or billboard size. It is usually for fun, to get a record of a dinner party or a holiday snap. In the main, people use them for for sheer convenience. Cellular phones are not only very easy to use but quick, within a second, the deed is done and the subject recorded for prosperity. 

All you have to do is just pull it out of your pocket, click on the camera icon, press the button and take the picture and the deed is done. You can then instantly download the result to your friends, face book or wherever, without even having to plug it in to a computer.

Cotto: With photo editing software, decent lighting, and a steady aim, one can take far better pictures with a smart-phone than would otherwise be expected from a cellular phone. Do you think that smart-phones can, theoretically, pose a serious challenge to professional photography equipment?

Warren: Yes and no. Yes, I think they can definitely pose a threat to the portrait and head-shot photographer who relies on a living, just taking head-shots for actors and the like. Because already the quality of the smart phone is good enough to enlarge to at least a 10 ins x 8 ins print, the size usually required for an actors, or a models portfolio. But no, they are not a threat to the really expensive photographic equipment, where size of enlargements really do matter. 

That would be at least several decades away. Especially for it to be able to equal anything near,the high quality needed in the more demanding world of photography, the commercial and industrial world. Such as photographing cars or machinery, or anything else needing to be photographed on a large scale,where it demands the highest of quality.

Cotto: In our smart-phone-reliant age, what do you believe the place of high-end film and professional-grade digital cameras are -- instruments which allow much higher quality photography, yet are fading from consideration for the average person?

Warren: Yes I think they are, with the exception of the professional photographer or the enthusiastic amateur who both love what they do, and so seek to get the highest quality for their results. Whether it be something as simple, as shooting a Robin the snow their back garden, or wild life captured in their natural habitat, or human beings.

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