A full bag of medium format camera and lenses will pull your carrying shoulder down, culminating in sweet agony by the end of the day. But that’s just the Earth’s gravity and your gear’s mass conspiring to maim your body. What we’re interested in, in this multi-author post series, is gear’s gravitic tug on your lightness of being, joy, fun, happiness, meditative introspection, elation, or lack thereof, and the Newtonian counter-pull of your creative drive on your gear choices.
It is said that we are the average of the 5 people we frequent the most. As gregarious animals, we do pick up on the habits of others and try to blend in, consciously or otherwise.
And I think the same can be said about many outside influences that go beyond who we hang out with. The commute traffic we face every day frays our patience. The media we consume shapes our beliefs. There’s that story of the old monk who spends 21 years alone in a cave, reaches enlightment and gets into a mad rage when stung by a bee on his way back down to the village, illustrating how living in solitude ill-prepares us for the real world.
We are emotional and intellectual sponges. Gorged by our neighbour’s morning singing, last night’s movie, the friends that came for a drink, the book we’re reading, the gallery show we attented, and … the gear in our bag. And photographically, particularly by the latter 😉
Cases in point.
I’ve spent my photographic life avoiding exposure extremes. Avoiding deep shadows in the film years, avoiding blown highlights in the digital (btw, is it manichaeism to note that digital photography is scared of light whereas analog is scared of the shadows, I wonder). And now that my camera is one of the least worried by exposure extremes, I’m constantly creating images with tons of pure black or pure white. It’s taken me to new places.
Philippe, in his recent appraisal of the lovely Laowa macro 100/2.8, divides his evaluation into 4 sections, one of which is “where the lens takes me”.
But, wait. Shouldn’t we be in control of the gear and the rendering, not the other way around? Are Philippe and I photographic wimps. Well, yes, but that’s not the point.
The point is it works both ways. The point is we chose gear according to our projected dreams and aspirations, true needs and the look and rendering we have seen it provide in other people’s work. It’s a meeting point between personal desires and technical reality.
Meeting points are always where the magic happens when human beings are concerned.
You’re better off tackling slush with a 2WD city car on snow tires than in a landy on slicks. Crappy middle management not only brings a company to the ground (so can bad strategy, and lazy workers, don’t get me wrong, but that’s another topic, as are diff locks and snow quality) but also create tons of burnouts and breakdowns. Show the same scene to 10 advanced photograph and you won’t get 2 identical shots. It took XXXX 20 years to become an overnight success (Connor McGregor phrases it differently: “I’m not talented, I’m obsessed.”).
Apparently, Glen Gould’s favourite composer was Orlando Gibbons. The pianist said : “ever since my teen-age years this music … has moved me more deeply than any other sound experience I can think of.”
I’m guessing he chose and fell in love with his piano for very similar psychological reasons. Because where the piano would take him – due to the undbendable technological choices of its maker – is where he wanted to go : a place of deeply moving sound, to his ears.
And the same goes with our photographic gear. We choose it based on a meeting point between our financial constraints, technical ability to use it (although, today, monkeys take selfies, albeit chimpanzees, not gibbons), our dream look and use case, and the actual technical makeup of the gear itself.
The key to a good choice, then, is adequate description of thereabove colliding factors.
Photographic gear is being communicated somewhat laughably, with technical considerations still at the fore, as if it’s still 2004. So, it’s up to us to test what we can ourselves, or seek information relevant to our individual psychoses from credible (to us) sources 😉
Financial constraints, we know about.
Ease of use is something else. In the ever-growing USP of getting the shot in any conditions, technology is disposessing us of choice as it makes life easier. Either that works for you or it doesn’t. Depending on that, you’ll want to stick to low tech gear like me or to the latest full auto body.
The real kicker in the above equation is understanding our dreams. It’s a job very few of us do with any sort of methodology. It hurts to look inwards (soo much squinting). But that is where you gain control over the meeting point.
Buying gear is an act of faith. Disappointment can follow. But when you get it right, its unmoveable technical makeup takes you to the places your aesthetic / ergonomic aspirations wanted you to go.
I’ve been dissatisfied with excellent gear for the past 5 years. Now, I’ve come home to the cuddly X1D. Not only does this thing work like a smartphone, point and shoot and get it absolutely right first time, but its files can be tortured in ways that would have been unthinkable with gear less sure footed at the extremes of exposure. I love it to bits.
So we all need to appreciate the gravity of photographic gear in our lives. When its pull on our mood and rendering is guided by our pull on its selection, life is sweet. When we are swayed by media tides and choice considerations that aren’t deeply ours, not so much. In follow-ups to this post, I will invite other contributors to describe how and why they selected their gear and how that has panned out for them.
In fact, I’m doing that right now! Who wants to join in? How did you pick your gear, why, what works best for you and what didn’t work out?
More formally, here are the answers I’d like to see answered and will pubblish as summary of, if at all possible : what were your aspirations? What were the efforts you thought detracted from the quality of your results? What where the efforts you felt helped your results ? For example : I know someone who makes incredible photographs of dogs jumping and running, with a shallow depth of field. His lenses are manual focus, probably because this helps him focus his mind very very intensely at the right moment. AF may help you get better results or it may simply make you lazy. What’s your story ?
’nuff reading, speak up 🙂
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