Always Hire a Specialist Photographer, not a Generalist

Look around us. 

Technology is becoming ever more accessible and affordable. High-resolution cameras, drone photography, and “blurred backgrounds” are all commonplace now. With that phone in your hand, you could take a technically decent photo that is “good enough” for most people. 

But you aren’t most people. If a specific vision is to be realised, only a specialist can do the best job. Why is that?

10,000 Hours

Specialists dedicate their time to a focused craft or genre, and common sense would indicate that they would be better skilled than a generalist. For example a portrait photographer who has learnt how to make a subject feel relaxed and also how best to light a human face, would be well placed to shoot a fashion campaign than someone who shoots landscapes, food, events, and by the way, portraits.

But don’t just take my word for it. Well-known author Malcolm Gladwell has mentioned the 10,000 hours guideline, whereby that would be the amount of time someone would need to invest in his/her craft to be an expert. 

The Best Work is Often the Most Complex

If I point my camera phone at a building or a person, snap, and there is a simple, unsophisticated photo. A slice of my life, but otherwise visually unappealing. 

But if I wanted a portrait with glamour lighting on the beach, with waves crashing behind me clearly visible and incredibly dramatic, could a generalist photographer pull it off? Maybe. 

However there is little time for trial and error when production budgets are on the clock. In situations like these, a specialist portrait photographer is all that you really need. A specialist portrait photographer would know immediately where to play the lights and how to angle the camera to get the most stunning waves.

Specialist Photographers have Greater Passion

Jack of all trade or master of one? Google started with being master of search, and now they’re in all sorts of fields (e-mail, social media, productivity). KFC began with their secret original recipe, and now they have modern flavours, burgers, and desserts. 

As a portrait photographer myself, I try to focus my work into what I’m most passionate about. Because if I become a generalist, I wouldn’t be caring as much for different genres apart from portraits. When you hire a specialised photographer, you know you’re getting all their heart, sweat and tears into your project. They want to succeed as much as you do, as it gives them great pride to see their work attached to your product or service. 


If your project involves people, and you’d like them to feel and look confident, glamorous, or even heroic, that’s the kind of photography I am passionate about. Together we can create some incredible portraits.


Why There Will Always be a Need for a Professional Photographer

People have been predicting the end of things since the beginning of time. Millenia ago people have been planning for the destruction of Earth or even the universe as we know it. Television was supposed to kill the radio, and internet is being touted as the harbinger of death for print. 

And with the smart phone, everyone is now a photographer.

Firstly I would contend that actually all of us have the makings of a photographer, because photography captures life, and everyone experiences life through our eyes and heart. This gives us the sense of what looks pleasing, and thus an idea of good photography composition.  

Secondly the smart phone is a tool that makes photography more accessible. Is that good? Definitely. Now people have the means to record daily their children growing up, or to capture a live event of which they may not have a means of remembering before. There’s another factor here that hasn’t received as much attention - artificial intelligence. 

It’s predicted (again) that artificial intelligence will render a good proportion of current jobs obsolete by 2030. Automatic procedures, and jobs wired deep with facts and processes are supposedly those most susceptible to influence from artificial intelligence. 

Can AI and the spread of smartphone cameras affect the livelihood of a professional photographer? Yes and no. Here’s why not:

1. Photography Still Needs to be Original.

If you were managing an advertising campaign that had to stand out beyond everything else, creating unique visuals would be a must. Otherwise why not just go to stock agencies and get images that many other companies are using? Artificial Intelligence can do that well. Input some parameters and keywords of what you’re looking for, and it will find great, beautiful photos for you to use. 

However creativity requires thinking outside of the box. Until we reach the singularity, AI cannot achieve that. Creative endeavours will continue to be safe from automation for at least a while longer.

2. Photography Requires Human Empathy

When photographing a person, you just can’t get a machine to do it. Well, actually there are already machines doing that, they’re called instant passport photo booths. Have you seen the expressions that come from those photos? 

Working with models and talent is not just about direction. If they can’t feel or imagine what you are telling them, then they’re not going to be able to perform to their highest standard. Can you imagine a photo booth machine directing a film set or photo production? No one would listen to it. 

3. Smartphones Will Always Have More Limitations than Professional Cameras

Technology improves at an exponential rate. Just 15 years ago a 128MB (yes megabyte) thumb drive was cutting edge and cost over $100. Today a 4GB capacity drive is considered too small. The same goes for smartphone cameras. Megapixel counts are going up, with dual cameras and large apertures being used. I’ve read reviews of the iPhone X and Google Pixel 2, and they are really impressive. 

But in that same time frame, professional cameras and lighting have improved tremendously. DSLRs and mirrorless cameras are spitting highly detailed and crisp 50 megapixel images, and shooting 4K video as an afterthought. No night scene is impossible now, with ISO usable up to 25600. 15 years ago professionals would not dare go beyond ISO 800. 

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Now here’s what I start to worry, because some predictions do come true. Can a professional photographer become obsolete? Here’s how it might happen:

1. AI Grows Beyond our Imagination

So many top corporations are developing AI, and there are already useful applications in photography. For example in editing, AI can auto-correct not just exposure, but perhaps even cropping and colour toning. AI can remove watermarks and knows what to smoothen and what not to on a person’s face. If you think about it, technology is amazing but scary. It’s not inconceivable that AI can one day take a great photo (by itself) without instruction or parameters. 

I just read this article about AI merging photos into composites, and the results are amazing. Such a thing would be unheard of just two years ago, so you can already imagine what will become reality in the coming years.

2. Perceived Value of Photography Becomes Too Low

A professional photographer needs to make enough money to earn a living. However with the widespread penetration of smartphone cameras and AI, the public may start to perceive photography as a cheap skill without much value. 

Photographers would then be unable to earn enough because clients are unwilling to match the price needed to stay profitable. When that happens, there’ll be a market correction - either professional photographers stop existing as a vocation, or there’d be such a small number left who can take on the few clients that are willing to pay. 

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It’s an exciting time for photography, but it’s also tumultuous for us professionals. I’ve been shooting for 8 years now and there hasn’t been a time when my business felt safe in the long term. No matter where it will lead, I hope we will press on and stay optimistic. 


The Best Place for Family Photos in Singapore

In the small island-state of Singapore, land is scarce and our scenery is highly urban. We don’t have mountain ranges (not even a single mountain), nor do we have a clear blue horizon when we look out into the sea. What we do have are plenty of high-rise buildings of mostly modern architecture. 

That’s great when you are conveying trends, culture, and “hippiness.” 

But when photographing families, I’m looking for symbolisms of purity, nature, and life. There aren’t sprawling national parks in Singapore, unlike many other countries. The closest one we have is the Botanical Gardens, recently awarded as a UNESCO heritage site. Even before this international acclaim, I was already a big fan of the Botanical Gardens despite it being somewhat far away to where I live. 

The biggest reason I like the Botanic Gardens is their large open fields, a rarity in other parks around the country. If you take a look at the much newer Gardens by the Bay, there is so much concrete and intervention that you don’t even feel like you’re walking in a park. At Botanic Gardens it feels and looks different from metropolitan Singapore. In family photos, that means you don’t see a building sticking out over the canopy. 

The Botanic Gardens also has lots of unique features not found in other places. There’s the Band Stand, a white gazebo surrounded by trees with yellow flowers. At the Orchid Garden (paid entry) you’ll be mesmerised with the amazing colours on show. Then towards the north end, you can walk right up to the Eco Lake to snap some beautiful family portraits. If you’re lucky, some ducks will even walk up to you for a sweet photobomb!

I’ve done multiple outdoor family photos, and many chose Botanic Gardens outright as their favourite place, even before I offered any location suggestions. And for those whom I did suggest, many would pick Botanic Gardens without hesitation. It goes to show how well loved this national park is. I used to think it was a very elitist place, where tourists, expats, and the affluent who lived nearby would go to, but I realise the Gardens hold many community events at Palm Valley, while activity and exercise groups often meet in the park on the weekends. 

Even after all the photoshoots at Botanic Gardens, I don’t think I’ll ever run out of spots or unique looks. It truly is a remarkable place and there always is a new hidden corner to discover. If you love going there just as much and would like some beautiful family portraits to look back at 10 years from now, please feel free to contact me.