Paul Reid has loved photography his whole life. He always wanted to be a photographer, but somewhere along the line, the dream got lost. In his late 40s, Paul found himself working a desk job at a telecommunications company. It wasn’t interesting, but it paid the bills.
The turning point for Paul was a profound personal tragedy. His best friend, who was like a brother to him, developed a brain tumor. Over the years, the two had forged a close and true friendship. They worked together, lived together – “we were like an old married couple,” Paul laughed. When he first learned of the diagnosis, and for a while thereafter, Paul thought, “Everything will be fine. He’ll get through this.” But it wasn’t to be. After a year of suffering, Paul’s best friend passed. He was devastated.
“It’s such a terrible thing to deal with – especially when you’ve never dealt with death and loss like that. There are moments when you can’t believe it’s true,” Paul confided. The loss shook Paul and made him think about his own life. His friend had fought to live, and lost, and meanwhile Paul was spending his own precious life sitting behind a desk, doing work that was, in a word, boring. He admitted, “Life is short, and I wasn’t following my dreams.” That reality hit Paul hard, it caused him to see the world differently, and he knew it was time to make a change.
So, at 50 years young, Paul decided to drop his 9-5 job and pursue photography, full time. Of course, shifting to a self-employment wasn’t always easy. Paul didn’t realize how feast or famine it can be, and there were moments when he concluded he’d failed. But then work would roll in – just in time, and just enough to make ends meet. These days, Paul is feeling much more comfortable living the freelance life. He makes just a little more than he did at his old job, but there is one enormous difference: He’s doing what he loves. “Doing photography your way, for a living, that’s a dream,” he enthused, “That’s retirement!”
Doing Photography His Way
For many, doing photography “your way” for a living really does seem like a dream, and nothing more than that. But Paul firmly believes it’s the only way to make a success of a photography business. Here’s his argument:
“The best way you can be successful as a photographer is to do what you love to do, what puts the fire into you. As soon as you conform to what you think people want, you’ll fail, and you won’t love doing it.
“In pleasing yourself, doing what you’re passionate about – that stuff finds an audience and will be appreciated. It’s coming from within you. Nobody else sees the way you see. There might be similarities, sure, but no one person sees the world the same way as someone else. The amazing thing about photography is that you can physically show someone else how you see the world. What an amazing gift that is!”
Paul speaks from experience. In his 20s, he took a shot at doing professional photography, but it didn’t pan out. Looking back, Paul recognizes that he was trying to please people, and give them the kind of images they wanted. For example, plenty of people told him he did too much monochrome work. Instead of sticking by the images he loved, he yielded. When you do that, it’s hard to create work that really resonates with anyone, yourself included.
This time, Paul embraced his “monochrome madness,” and people loved it. “Of course, not everyone will get what you do, but you’ll find your own audience,” he said. “The people that do get it, they’ll find you.” And Paul’s experience proves that there’s something to those sentiments.
A Standout YouTube Channel
Over the course of about two and a half years, Paul built up over 10k followers on Instagram, but he wasn’t satisfied with the tiny sharing size for his beautifully detailed Leica Q2 Monochrom portraits. He decided to set up a YouTube channel to share his photos in the viewing size they deserved. Plus, Paul was tired of watching YouTube tutorials about street photography, portraits, etc. with few or no photo examples (and poor ones at that!).
Paul’s YouTube channel took off almost immediately. There he shares tips for improving your photography, gear insights, and even some personal projects. His videos always include plenty of example photos. One video that resonated with me personally is a relatively short video titled, “How to Take Street Portraits.” Here are a few key takeaways that I think will improve your street portraits as soon as you implement them:
- Get the technical part nailed first. If you’re worried about fiddling with camera settings while an impatient stranger waits for you to take their portrait, then don’t. Paul recommends taking a friend out on the street and practicing street portraits on them until you’re sure about all the technical ins-and-outs. Do this before you approach a stranger and you’ll avoid many an awkward situation.
- Make a connection. Don’t lead with, “Hi. Can I take your portrait?” Paul advises making a genuine connection first. Tell them you’re a photographer out doing some street photography for the day, chit chat for a while maybe, and only then ask for their portrait. Paul believes that if you’ve already engaged your subject in some friendly conversation, that connection will be reflected in the resulting portrait. “Connect to make a portrait instead of just a picture,” he says.
- Don’t single people out who are on their own. Paul noticed that when you approach a person who is on the street by themselves, when you ask for a portrait, they are more likely to say no. Pairs or groups are a better bet, since friends of your subject are likely to encourage them to accept, giving them the go-ahead a solitary individual can’t receive. Plus, you’ll probably be able to get at least two portraits from the exchange when you talk to multiple people at once.
- Keep the background in mind. Be aware of the subject’s background, but if you want a powerful portrait, make sure the focus of the image is the subject. You want your viewers’ eyes to be drawn to the subject, not something going on in the background.
There are a few more tips in the video, so make sure you give it a watch. And if you love monochrome as much as Paul does, you’ll probably just want to go ahead and subscribe.
A Few of Paul’s Street Portraits
Inspiring Others to Go “Monochrome Mad”
Paul’s monochrome work is outstanding, and he always shares multiple images during his videos. His goal is to light a fire in others, helping them find the inspiration they need to get out there and shoot. To that end, Paul also offers monochrome photography workshops and mentorships online for anyone who wants to improve their photography.
We asked Paul to share a few of his top tips for shooting monochrome, and he shared two common mistakes to avoid if you’re shooting in monochrome:
- Capturing subjects that don’t stand out from the background. When you’re shooting in monochrome, you’ve only got shades of grey to work with. So, sometimes if you aren’t careful nothing stands out in the image. For example, if you take a photo of a grey dog against a wall that will come out the same shade of grey in monochrome, your subject can get lost. Composition can be a factor too. Street photography tends to get busy looking, so you’ll need to be background-aware, as mentioned earlier.
- Not spending time on editing. Paul says editing is especially important when shooting with a monochrome sensor. The photos are essentially flat, like images on a contact sheet, so you need to learn to enhance the subject over other parts of the image using masks and such. This helps draw your viewers’ eyes to the subject and makes for a more powerful image. And as you spend more time in post, Paul says you’ll “find yourself” in your editing too, making the images even more your own.
Paul’s tips are always practical and easy to apply in real world situations. Give them a try and see if you don’t notice some improvement in your own street photography. In the end, it’s clear that Paul came to do more than just pursue his passion for photography. He shares it generously with others too. And how could he not? To put it in his own words, “Photography is my love song. A symphony of monochrome tones.”