Meet Malta’s Tech Guru: Kurt Paris, Photographer

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Tell us a bit about yourself.

I am a geek. I have spent most of my life (literally from the time I could reach a desk) in front of a computer. Computer games, programming, videos, tv series, you name it. In fact, while people think I am a full-time photographer, my main job is in the IT software industry where I am a Lead Architect at Catenamedia. I genuinely love and enjoy IT and programming. This love extends for anything electronic and one day, while randomly browsing on eBay, I saw a good deal on a Canon 350D camera and I thought, well digital cameras are cool toys so why not! Initially I would just point it at things, take a photo and hope for the best outcome. In fact some of my earlier photography work is pretty cringe-worthy.

What motivated you to take your photography hobby more seriously?

After the camera arrived, sometime in 2008, I started teaching myself photography. I saw that a website I had used before – istockphoto.com (now part of Getty Images) was organising a photography holiday in Malta. I signed up and spent almost one full week shooting models and actors in pre-made setups. The group consisted of around 40 highly motivated and some world-class photographers which made it a very intense learning experience. It also taught me that photography is a bit of a non-word because it’s too vague to cover such a varied topic.

When I started focusing on camera shots using real-life models as my subject, I realised that this was more appealing to me than other types of shots I was taking in my earlier days. I continued down the path of stock photography and eventually I became an Inspector for iStock. This was a great learning experience and it taught me that many skills are required to get a technically correct photo –  photography is 50% science, 50% art.

You’ve been a photographer for over 10 years. What would you say has changed from a technological perspective since you started?

Nowadays, it is much easier to be lazy. Firstly, the advancement in camera sensor design has made it possible to recover shots that would be unusable otherwise. If I look at my first camera – the Canon 350D and compare it to my current one Canon 5D mk4 (an unfair comparison since one is far pricier than the other) – the detail, colours and dynamic range are incomparable. My current camera allows me to make a mistake in the settings and underexpose everything without repercussions – I can simply recover them in post-production. With the older camera, this would have led to unacceptable levels of noise which would make the image unusable. Modern cameras (even reasonably priced ones) can produce perfectly usable shots at ISO 6400 or higher which the 350D wouldn’t even dream of.

And it’s not even just in the DSLR department – cameras on phones today have become true replacements for traditional cameras. When I travel, I rarely use anything other than my phone. I currently use a Huawei P20 pro which has 3 sensors, good dynamic range and even a usable 5x zoom all in my pocket.

The other big change is the way we consume the photos – a few years back, we would look towards digital frames or print which required a higher level of quality. Nowadays most photography is consumed on a mobile device via social media, which already tends to reduce the quality due to the compression involved.

Any embarrassing tech moment?

Showing up to a photoshoot without a camera was particularly fun. I had been shooting around the sea the day before and I took the camera apart to give it a good clean. I had left the camera in my room with the air conditioner on to dry it up and the next morning when I packed my bags, it slipped my mind to put the camera back in the bag. Needless to say I have developed an OCD-like obsession with double-checking the camera bag before I cart it out to make sure I have everything.

Any tips on how to achieve good quality photos from a mobile phone?

Yes, I have written a few articles about this on my blog. Essentially, we need to respect that a mobile phone is not a camera and even though it is possible to get great results, we need to help the device as much as possible. This means being aware of the light we are shooting in – if we are in the dark, adding as much light as possible will allow the phone to lower its ISO for a better photo. If on the other hand you are in bright sunlight, move into the shade for a better, smoother light. At the end of the day, all the rules which apply to a camera, apply to a phone.

Lastly, editing photos makes a big difference. There are many free programs like VSCO or Snapseed which you can use to adjust exposure/white balance and generally improve the output of the photo.

Is there any gadget you can’t live without?

I’m probably going to say my phone – I enjoy shooting photos with it. Other than, one of my favourite toys is a YongNuo YN360 LED light. I use this a lot when shooting backstage since it provides continuous light and it can also be used with a phone.

What advice would you give to somebody starting out in photography today?

Date a body, marry a lens – don’t waste a lot of money on a camera body. The rate at which technology is improving is still very healthy. You will most likely be changing it every couple of years. It is important to start off with the basics and then invest in lenses which will last you many years. Most camera systems can give you similar end results, so don’t get hung up over which brand to buy.

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