So many professions require the use of equipment to accomplish the job. But can you imagine construction workers ogling the latest jack hammer or a dentist having to have the latest and greatest drill in the same way that some photographers relish the next best camera or to the extent that some of us have to have every lens and crave the next new gizmo that will make our pictures better?
As if our camera gear makes the picture.
This thought occurred to me most recently when Matt Eich was in Portland for the opening of a showing of his pictures at Blue Sky Gallery. Matt was carrying his camera, a Canon 5D Mark II with a 35 mm f1.4, as he almost always does. He set it on the table in front of me when we were having drinks. And there it was, a piece of machinery so well used that there’s a lot worn silver around the edges and a ding or two. The lens glass was spotless, however.
It’s clear that Matt values the machine for what it allows him to do. But it’s also clear that the machine does not make the picture. He didn’t carry a bag with more stuff. Just the camera and one lens. When we talk about photography, we talk about the subjects and stories and how to reach deeper, say more, do what hasn’t been done ... not about what new lens or camera he should get or which post-processing makes the pictures look better.
There have always been gearheads, the type of photographer who is more avid about the equipment than connecting with a subject. Hell, I plead guilty to that, early in my career. And now it would be even easier to be overcome by dials, knobs, menus, this or that gizmo. There are so many more things that can be known and used in the digital realm than there were in the film days.
Think of all the options there are in making a picture with a digital camera. At one extreme, you can set color temperature, rapidity of motor drive, ISO for that setting, live view or not, bracket exposures, choose color style and on and on. Or you can let the camera decide for you.
Knowing what all the settings do can be important as a tool that allows you to create the type of picture that says something about what you’re photographing. Or you can get lost filling your camera bag or be consumed by menuland and as a result you’ll make pictures that are technically adept but lack soul.
Which type of photographer are you?