Photographer Saunak Shah loves portraits. He loves portrait photography so much that he’s created a vibrant portrait photography community – both on Instagram and in real life – of other likeminded photographers. He calls it Pursuit of Portraits (PoP). Started in just 2015, PoP has grown to over 100,000 followers and has had nearly 1 million photos tagged with their hashtag: #pursuitofportraits.
We caught up with Saunak to find out how Pursuit of Portraits started, what photographers can gain from their meetups, plus trends he sees in photographic portraiture today.
Tell us about Pursuit of Portraits. How did you grow the portrait photography community initially? What was your first move to connect with new photographers?
PoP is a global creative collective with one mission: Create an accessible global community of portrait-lovers through platforms to share the best of portraiture photography. In all our projects, we work to unite portrait photographers and enthusiasts of all levels and backgrounds, facilitate collaboration, and foster supportive relationships.
I started PoP on Instagram (@pursuitofportraits) in 2015 to curate my street style and people portraits in one place. Within months, my work got on the radar of Instagram and they featured my photos twice as part of a weekend hashtag project.
Instagram then made PoP a suggested community ambassador account and my work was highlighted for thousands of creatives. Around the same time, I was getting immersed into the portrait photography community in New York City and making in-person connections.
I then felt the need to grow PoP into a bigger platform. I wanted to create an outlet and meeting place for portrait lovers globally to connect, collaborate and share. Today, with over 100k followers and growing, we continue to nurture the same mantra.
Can you share one of Pursuit of Portrait’s most popular images? Why do you think this photo resonated so well?
This shot by Disha Jani (@huesandhazephoto), a 22 year old NJ-based photographer, did really well. It received over 5K likes and over 26K impressions over a week. I believe photos that convey a sense of place and emotion tend to perform the best. People can empathize with the setting and in times when we all need grounding in reality, online content that bridges that gap speaks for itself. This photo of Mia (@mammamia450) above captioned “Say you won’t let go” also does a good job of that.
Have any photographers featured ever gotten work from a new client who found them on @pursuitofportraits? Or any kind of success story you can share?
Brands and boutique agencies are always on the lookout for photographers that provide a unique sense of style and influence on Instagram. We have had agencies reach out to PoP directly to commission PoP photographers for assignments.
Recently, we worked with Scotch & Soda, an Amsterdam-based fashion brand to create content and engagement on social around their Fall 2016 collection. Amongst 4 photographers and 6 models, we were able to create impact with a reach out of over 1M in less than two weeks.
In 2017, PoP plans to officially represent portrait photographers globally so we can act as liaisons to further fuel these partnerships. Currently, PoP photographers have worked for leading brands in the automobile, technology, lifestyle and luxury, fashion, food & beverage, and travel and hospitality industries.
Tell us about your new Pursuit of Portraits Spring 2016 magazine. Did you experience any challenges with this inaugural issue?
One of the biggest challenges with putting together a print publication is the funding. I ended up funding for the magazine myself with the hope of breaking even, but also with the end-goal of creating something unique. It was important that the magazine featured a set of diverse creatives from all skill levels and backgrounds from across the globe.
Another challenge was the end-product. Being a graphic designer and art director by profession, I knew I wanted something beautiful yet didn’t cut any corners with printing and use of materials.
With all factors considered, we decided to have a limited run of 500 printed on a 4-color printing press using 100% post-consumer paper. It looks good, feels good and smells even better. We are proud to have featured over 160 photographers from over 25 countries and that in itself was a huge undertaking!
What do you think photographers gain from the meetups you host? Any advice for photographers who really want to grow from these?
The mindset and ethos around PoP’s meetups have always been to facilitate collaboration and foster supportive relationships. For a full-time photographer, it might not always be the best scenario to spend hours of billable time to meet new people, but it can pay off. For example, you might not walk away with a prospective client or a new gig off the bat, but you may make connections that could trickle onto something worthwhile.
PoP’s goal for 2017 is to partner with brands, merchants and venues to create more opportunities, and experiences. Over the last year alone, we had a chance to partner with the Central Park Conservancy, NewYork.com, W Hotels, FujiFilm, CreativeLive, AdoramaPix, TenTree, Foodkick, JBL and Tumblr, to name a few. With these reputable partners on board, we further the scope of providing value for the brand and also the individual photographer.
Over the years, what photographic portrait trends have you seen? Is there a certain trend that’s hot right now?
The past year was definitely the year of lights – string lights, neon lights, sparklers – and photographers who were not shy to experiment. It was so indulgent, PoP actually had a meet-up called “Twilight”!
In 2015, we also saw a lot of ‘harsh light’ as a concept, and trends in shooting portraits taken in abandoned locations, which is still popular in certain circles I believe. Street style is probably the only constant I’ve seen throughout all of this, interlaced both with personal style and editing techniques.
Recently, I’ve seen a lot of low contrast fade and split toning in editing. I’m also seeing traditional techniques of photo manipulation on native equipment coming back to the forefront, and use of available light in indoor settings. For me, color, mood and texture have been my primary driver to weave into concepts. Rest assured, there’s always the desire to create something new, something that stands out.
What’s next for PoP? Do you have a goal you want to reach in 2017?
We’ve been blessed so far to be part of a movement that made portrait photography amongst emerging creatives something mainstream via Instagram. We can only hope that the influence continues to grow, and in the process, we create more opportunities within the community.
In the near future, we’d like to put out another two issues this year for our print bi-annual and feature even more photographers in near and far out locations. We’d also like to make our platforms more available for collaborations. We’d like to partner more with companies and brands that serve portrait photographers, but also share our common goals and collective culture.
We’d also like to recruit portrait photographers globally as PoP photographers who can thereby be advocates, trendsetters and evangelists that can fuel our mission forward. And if the stars align, we’d love to have a PoP HQ in Manhattan. Yeah, that would be dope.
Follow Pursuit of Portraits: