Following on from my post titled 'Why Olympus?' I have received an incredible number of responses. Mostly from existing Olympus Micro Four Thirds photographers who now look to that post as their go-to reference for when people ask them "What's so good about Olympus then?". I've had comments on the post, people getting in touch via email and facebook and lots of new subscribers to this blog too. So, if you're reading this today, either on the website or because this post has landed in your inbox - thank you!
The subject of today's post was something I actually started writing as a part of 'Why Olympus' but it became very long and almost subtracted from the point I was making in that post. So I have decided to break this out into a post in its own right. Today, I want to talk about gear again, not specifically Olympus, but this time in terms of mastery, creativity how using the gear that we enjoy the most can, in itself, enhance our photography.
There will be the odd mention of camera brands in this post, but I believe regardless of whichever manufacturer, brand, format or home made DIY camera you decide to use on a regular basis, this post will resonate with you.
Towards Mastery, Again
David DuChemin wrote a blog post talking about a very similar subject, referring to the fact that many people today are chasing the latest & greatest camera, even if the camera they currently have is just 2 years old (or even 6 months old!). Camera companies have caught onto the fact that a majority of people seem to genuinely believe that it's the gear that makes the difference. Or, should I say rather it's the best gear that will produce the best photographs. As a result it's not uncommon for people to upgrade far too regularly. Sure, there are times when a new camera release may warrant an upgrade of your current gear, but as we all know, in our heart of hearts, 95% of what is released into the camera market today is simply an iteration of what is already out there. With some exceptions, of course.
David goes onto to talk about something I had been trying to put my finger on for some time, and, being the fantastic writer that he is, David managed to sum up something very big, with just two words: 'Diminishing Returns'.
To quote David's excellent post, he says:
Isn’t it possible we've passed the point of diminishing returns and our hunger for gear is outpacing our hunger for beauty, compelling stories, great light, and amazing moments?
David's point here, and mine too, is that the more we spend on cameras, the smaller and smaller the improvements (whatever they may be in our minds) are. So to get that extra 2% can cost you thousands and thousands of your hard-earned pounds or dollars but only give you 2 extra stops or 1 extra fps. Margins become tighter and the number of zero's in the price goes up too.
So, the alternative to spending thousands on gear and equipment to improve your photography, is mastery.
Until it becomes innate
instead, I would encourage any photographer to get out there and shoot. Make 100,000 terrible frames and figure out what works, but just as importantly, what doesn't work. This process of learning and practise combined becomes what we know as 'experience' and when you have the experience to react to a situation in terms of light in a scene, a grumpy model or a child who refuses to smile or even an awkward group shot with terrible light at a wedding, you'll know how to handle it.
More importantly though as a photographer you'll come to realise that with time you can look past the gear you're using and achieve great work with what many would consider to be lesser gear. You'll start to create work with meaning (and not just meaning to yourself).
Its not quite the channel it used to be, but DigitalRev did a wonderful series called 'Cheap Camera Pro Tog Challenge' whereby, as the name suggests, they got together a selection cameras ranging from pretty mediocre to quite simply terrible (Buzz Lightyear camera anyone?). Then, they handed these cameras to various photographers and told them to hit the streets and make the best photographs possible. Zack Arias, David Hobby, Lara Jade and so many more did exactly this and what they managed to capture with cameras most of wouldn't touch if we were paid, was quite simply outstanding. (you should really check out Zack's video!)
I'm not suggesting you turn up to shoot a wedding with a Barbie camera, of course, but I would encourage any photographer to get a camera, learn it inside out and shoot with it. Whatever camera that may be.
Responsible Business Practice
If you're a photographer in business, this can also be good practise too (sticking with the same tools for an extended period). Now, some photographers here may step in and suggest an asset life-cycle to maximise the asset value and minimise the amount of cash you have to re-inject in large chunks, but in all honesty, the less often you have to spend out on large gear purchases; the better. It's you that makes your company money, not your computer and not your camera. In business your camera becomes your tool and as such you have to really use the camera to maximise your return on your investment.
Will buying a new camera make you more money? Unlikely.
It's all about the client and interaction...not fiddling with dials
it was reported some time ago that Keira Knightley commented on her experience with photographers; Kiera suggested that film photographers (or rather, photographers who had shot film or came from a film background) were better photographers to work with. I think part of what Ms Knightley is alluding to here is the fact that during the film days there was no LCD on the back of the camera. The technology got in the way much less. You read the light and metered the scene and shot. Today we're doing all that, but then we spend time checking the screen again and again. I think the intimacy and relationship with the subject can often be lost because of these tools.
Please don't get me wrong - they're fantastic tools in that they speed up the learning process and instant feedback is a beautiful thing. They can also lend themselves very neatly to a collaborative working style or situation, but there is a time and a place. For now lets shoot; we'll check the LCD later. If you know your head well enough and your lighting is practised - spend the time instead working on the things that will help get a great shot: the model!
Get to know your gear and lighting well enough that it becomes second nature. This will then free you up to concentrate on the other things that will contribute towards outstanding images: the client or model, the details etc.
back to Mastery
Its one thing to master the craft, which as we know will take a lifetime, but it's another to master your gear as well. We change our cameras and tools on such a regular basis that many photographers never truly get to the point of being innate with their camera. This causes that uncertainty and the need to check, check and check again! Dials move, function buttons move, cameras metre differently and react differently when you shoot into the light (flare etc). Lenses zoom differently and even just feel different and behave differently.
The more you can familiarise yourself with your equipment the more you'll come to visualise the end result and then achieve it using the equipment you have.
To finish, here's another gem of a video featuring Zack Arias once again. Mastering your gear by using it extensively not only benefits you creatively and your business financially, but it just makes sense. About half way through Zack shares a quote from Edward Western and then goes on to talk about the one, single lens he used for around a year after re-entering the world of photography again after losing it all...check it out: