Capturing Artistic Portraits that Speak to the Viewer with Pamela Reed

Pamela Reed has been a tremendous asset to New Orleans Canvas Magazine over the past year and we are very fortunate to have her on our team. She’s a keen observer who takes wonderful portraits as well as candid shots of her subjects. Pamela is a master at capturing poignant and decisive images in public places at the spur of the moment. Her portraits of people are often disarmingly real and capture their personalities. Her work ethic is unmatched, including her ability to endure the physical demands of carrying camera equipment to remote places in all kinds of weather.

NCM: Tell us a little about your background.

Pamela: I grew up in the suburbs of Kansas City on the Kansas side. My father was a journalist with the Kansas City Star and Times. In his later years he was a monthly guest on McNeil/Lehrer News Hour. I learned processing in the darkrooms of the newspaper alongside Pulitzer Prize winning photographers.

My style of photography is based on photojournalism in that I want to present a unique work of art in a portrait but it must say something. The portrait must speak to the viewer from the direction of the subject.

Portraiture to me is far more than standing in front of an artist and posing for a pretty photograph or painting. It is about feeling free and safe enough to let down your guard, trust that the artist will capture the real, beautiful you, no matter how well hidden. I just like to present portraiture in a more artistic way.

NCM: When did you first feel compelled to shoot photographs?

Pamela: I was first compelled to shoot photographs when I realized I couldn’t capture what I saw with a brush and pigment.

NCM: What kind of formal or informal training did you have? Any regrets with the path taken?

Pamela: In high school, being the person who liked to watch from the outside, I joined the school newspaper as a photographer. I used my dad’s Nikon F with a roll of Tri-X 400 asa loaded. I didn’t learn much that I remember but I could get my exposure right so that worked.

I tried taking Photography I in Junior College but for some reason I just didn’t get it. So I just used the Sunny 16 rule and went from there on my own. The big turning point was when a friend in Tucson and I were having a conversation about another photographer who I said just didn’t do much for me creatively but was technically perfect. His response to me was YOU have a great eye and suck technically. That was the kick in the ass I needed 13 years ago! Today, I only shoot in manual, 100% of the time. Always. And not long after I started doing this, I had my first solo exhibition at DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun. I have no regrets with the path I’ve taken. It’s made me the photographer I am today.

NCM: How do you stay relevant in an ever changing digital world?

Pamela: When I was promoting weddings I did market research every 6 months. I paid attention to what was going on in the world. I became aware of who had money and who was broke. I researched heavily and tried to stay ahead of the pack by basically making an educated guess as to what was the next thing.

It just so happened I wasn’t into traditional weddings so I moved my marketing toward nontraditional weddings. I was able to capture more artistic photographs which led to me marketing towards elopements and very intimate weddings, and finally to where I am. Today I do what I feel are rather unique, a bit candid and very real portraits of former wedding couples, some seniors, a few family, a lot of artists and creatives. And I am doing it my way.

I guess I am lucky in that I foresaw where photography was going and adjusted my timeline to fit. I wanted to be in a place where I could create without restrictions and be paid for that creativity. I love what I do and the people who stood in front of my camera and tolerated the antics I pulled to get them to relax.

Today in the world photography is everything, but it’s been watered down by mediocrity. To remain relevant, one must look to the future and find a niche that fits both their style and skill. Something the average Joe or Jill can’t consistently do.

NCM: How long have you been a professional photographer?

Pamela: Since 2002.

NCM: Do you upgrade equipment and software/hardware often? Favorite tools for creating including hardware, software and camera?

Pamela: I rarely upgrade equipment, hardware or software. Only when absolutely necessary to create or provide the best final product. “If it ain’t broke….”

I shoot with Canon only because it was the first film camera at the time to offer several options. Everyone knows its the lenses that matter the most, most of the time. So you buy good glass. Once you’ve invested in pro-line glass you’re kinda tied into that line unless you’re into spending tons of dough switching it up.

Software, well I use Adobe products for the most part.  I have other software I use for the art, but I ain’t tellin’ y’all what dat is!

NCM: If you could trade your current camera bodies and lenses for the newest thing out there, would you? For what brand and why?

Pamela: I would seriously research the new mirrorless cameras. I have been enjoying turning off my flash more and more when the light works for me so it would be just awesome to carry one camera and a couple of lenses. Lighten the load man! Skip has been really excited about a new body that just came out. Fuji, Sony and some others are really putting out some kickass cameras and lenses these days. I am looking forward to hearing more about it. However, I would have to dump all my gear to afford what I really want. Soon, my pretty…you will be mine…

NCM: What skill would you say is your specialty?

Pamela:  Editing. Hahahaha. Actually that is a very important part, possibly the most important, of photography. Knowing what to edit and how best to present it. I’m about what is beautiful to my eye. It can be a couple standing in front of a plain wall, a drag queen at a local show, cemetery tombs … so much out there catches my eye. But I guess if I were to say what is my speciality, it would be Artistic Portraiture with a candid touch. It doesn’t matter whether the subjects are: human, animal or mineral. Color or black and white. The images dictates what it will become.

NCM: If you could shoot whatever you want and not have to worry about your bank account what would be your dream?

Pamela: I am doing it right now. I am photographing the most interesting and creative people in this city and possibly in this country. A few might say world-wide.

NCM: Where do you think photography will be in 10 – 25 years?

Pamela: I think photography as we know it is dead, almost. I don’t see it coming back as we knew it, ever. It doesn’t mean no more photography, it’ll just be very difficult for anyone to make a living at it. Digital arrived and it became affordable, then they started putting great cameras in our phones.  Now everyone is a photographer.

When you view that image on a tiny screen or even a big screen tv it’s still 72dpi. So much is lost and as a result folks really don’t know what is a bad photograph because when its tiny it can look great. When you enlarge it 300 dpi for printing, well that’s a different dawg! However, people rarely print much anymore, at least the masses don’t, and lets face it: the masses are who pay the rent! Still, if people aren’t printing then they aren’t SEEING the entire picture.

So in the future photography will be everywhere and sadly devalued as an income-producing occupation EXCEPT for the very few (like in the past) who can remain relevant or are practicing the old style of film photography and processing. I already see wedding photographers charging huge rates to shoot with film. Why? ‘Cause its old and cool!

NCM: Two pieces of advice to the newbies out there thinking about becoming pros.

Pamela:  First: STOP playing the lowball game! Charge according to your skill and style. And don’t lie to yourself. If you can’t tell whether you suck or not, YOU SUCK! Find another profession. Okay, that sounds harsh. But it is harsh. It’s tough out there. Learn your craft! Work as an assistant. That should be a damn law.

Second: LISTEN to your client! Read between the lines. If necessary, pay attention to what they AREN’t saying. So, bottomline, my two bits, don’t under or over-charge for your skill and talent level. Why? In the future. it’ll matter. The more you lowball the lower you drive the rates, and pretty soon no one can make a living because y’all just giving it away.

NCM: Who inspired you along the way, possibly influenced your style?

Pamela: Wes Lyle and the photographers of the Kansas City Star were big influences. Helmut Newton for his artistic nudes in black and white and the lighting. Annie Leibowitz for her early black and white work for Rolling Stone Magazine (she captured the essence of her subjects). Weegee (Arthur Fellig) for his ability to ‘get the shot’. I admire Diane Arbus for making different hauntingly beautiful portraits. James Nachtwey for shooting war photography with a 100 mm lens. That takes balls! And finally the great Richard Avedon for mastering the simple portrait.

NCM: If you could photograph anyone living or dead who would it be and why?

Pamela: To be honest, I don’t have a specific person. I am soulless. Haahaha! I guess the next person who wants to stand in front of my camera is the who. Why? Because the next one always opens up opportunities to experiment. To create something new.

NCM: Do you have a favorite image? And why?

Pamela: Okay, I’ll say this up front: I don’t have a single favorite image. Call it conceited, but I love all my work and each new image that crosses my computer is my next favorite. But right now I would say for capturing a pure, unadulterated moment it would be the Ferrari photo in the French Quarter. To me it says so much without a title or a word in its honor. I feel so many emotions when I look at that image.

My favorite portrait, hmmm, one of my faves is of a couple of friends to whom I gifted their wedding portraits. They’re unique people, him with his straight edge razor and her with her stylin’ self!

Man…but to be perfectly honest, I really do usually call my favorite the one I just did. Each new one is just a little bit better, you know?

You can see more of Pamela Reed’s work at

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