#1233. I do it myyy wayyyy (hands-on effort vs full-auto photography)

By pascaljappy | Opinion

Oct 03

One of the mottos of (some?) crossfit trainers is “I don’t care about your results, I care about your effort”. Does photography follow the same logic?

Tied up in knots

Imagine a gym where a guy turns up in a linen suit with a robot lifting the weights for him. Thanks to Elon the conqueror, this could be a reality very soon. “Honey, I benchpressed 700 lb today!” “Well done, dear”.

While this obviously sounds ridiculous, our reliance on machinery and artificial intelligence in other hobbies is far less subject to objections. In photography, it has even been a (collapsing) market driver for years.

This difference ties back to the crossfit paraphrase. Are we in photography for results, or for the effort and associated learning?

Light and shadow

There doesn’t seem to be a right or wrong answer to this question. So let’s instead try to dig deeper into the appeals of both options, and what that could imply for our gear.

First, let’s clarify the notion of effort. Few of us enjoy the idea of making anything harder. Life is full of challenges as it is, so why make a recreative hobby stressful and hard?

This leads us to the first possible dichotomy between photographers. Those of us who enjoy the photographic challenge, and associated feel-good benefits, are possibly those with the ability to savour a challenge, and savour the very concept of learning and personal improvement, because life hasn’t beaten us to a pulp. Anyone struggling to make ends meet or find time to do everything the day throws at them might be less inclined to make photography difficult when it can run smoothly on full auto.

Snail pace

Then again, proponents of the hands-on approach will systematically report how wonderfully fulfilling it is to achieve something the manual way, whereas full-auto success brings a result, yes, but very little satisfaction with it. So maybe those struggling with a less than fulfilling life could consider a change of photographic philosophy to welcome some dopamine into the daily drone?

That’s not for anyone to decide for others. Individuals must choose what feels good for them.

But this is the hardest part. Knowing what we truly want, at a deep level, implies having the time and mental energy for introspection. Exactly what those who seek automation and guaranteed results for comfort may not be able to muster.


Note that I’m not implying that everyone who elects the technological way in photography does so because of an overly busy life. We can legimately enjoy technology for istelf. Or we may want to ensure memories of important moments of our lives are faithfully recorded without introducing the risk of fluffing the decisive moment in search of some hypothetical photographic epiphany πŸ˜‰

We all step into photography for individual reasons that shouldn’t been generalised or systematised.

What I’d love to understand is what makes us happier as individual photographers and what gear best suits that.

Sundried apples

In a way, the cameras I’ve been ranting against for years – the Sony a7Rx range, specifically, but most modern cameras, really – might well be the best for many of us.

Could it be that the configurable buttons and menus that send my blood pressure spiraling can actually allow each and everyone of us to build the ideal camera? The camera that suits our specific needs, evolve with our photographic maturity and guarantee growing fulfillment over time?

Have I been unjust towards those cameras all this time?

Grace from Fall


I still loathe those ergonomics, the lie that one size – even customizeable – fits all, and still think those who peddle that ideology should be dropped head first into a shark pond. Worry not, all is well at DS rant HQ.

But … But nothing. There is no but. That way of thinking stinks. Period πŸ˜‰

Three daisies

What I’d like to see instead is diversity in the field. Not an amalgamation of the offering around the fake promise that is higher XXXX sensors, and the slow dying of anything that dares to think different (R.I.P. Pentax, Ricoh, Foveon, CCD, Samsung, Oly …)

The irony is that the huge advances in technology have made this easier than ever. But the industry hasn’t caught on to that, yet.

The great digitisation/digitalisation between “real” cameras and phones still persists, making the former more corny by the day, and the latter more desirable to me (in spite of huge ergonomic hurdles). But technology hasn’t yet been deployed to cater for the needs of the different tog psychologies.

Provence cozy

You’re probably thinking “it’s hard, you muckfluck, otherwise someone would’v dunnit”. My guess is that it’s not that hard, but possibly not perceived as profitable either. And the latter is the only metric that matters in this world, these days.

But what if it was? Profitable, that is. I mean, there are all those people making insane (painful, and pricey) efforts to run Iron Man races, climb mountains, learn difficult languages and difficult instruments, paint, sing, write …

Books like The Zen of Weightlifting convey the transformational satisfaction that comes with going beyond your preconceived limits. Testimonials from rangefinder converts reveal their astonishment at the sheer joy or crafting something rather than letting the camera take control of everything, even when fails outnumber successes.

“My” first photo using the service Telescope Live. Brilliant automation. Zero personal involvement or pleasure. Others will think completely the opposite.

If I was to start a camera company today, I’d follow the effort/reward trail. What are the efforts togs are willing to make and what are those they aren’t? I find myself less and less inclined to back up and dive into the menial 1980’s nonesense that phones have altogether eliminated and find enormous joy in a clean, natural, file that lets me edit to my heart’s content. Others will refuse to focus a lens manually and will be elated by composition aids, possibly.

All I’m saying is the effort/reward trail might be one worth exploring for a welcome change in market dynamics and greater individual fulfillment. No one will convince me there isn’t HUGE money in personal transformation.

The low technical barrier to entry that made photography succesful in the first place has just obscured this fact for too long.


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  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    I do wish you wouldn’t do things like that, Pascal. There’s absolutely nothing in that post to disagree with.
    All I’m left with is the certainty that even if everyone else is a jump ahead of me on the quality of their output, I’m a mile in front on the question of having the introspection to know what I like best – a lifetime introvert like me has the inside running on any issue like that!
    My all time favourite camera – the Zeiss Contarex, and the case full of lenses, magazine backs, meters filters, remotes, etc etc that fired it up.
    My current “dream machine”. Well, that all depends. On what I’m doing. Horses for courses.
    Test shots & planning – the Canon PowerShot.
    Pets – the D500.
    Architecture, travel – the D850 & Otus lenses.
    And so on. There’s no longer “one size fits all”.
    But there’s been a stead drift away from automation, back to old fashioned things like exposures meters, remotes, tripods, filters, manual settings.
    And it’s been accompanied by trialling so many post processing software programs that I thought the other day of my one & only favourite quote from Shakespeare – where the “fool” rushes in and says to Lear, who’s completely mad and straying around on the moor – “Sire, sire – the world’s grown honest!” And Lear replies “Then the end is nigh?” My recollection of that is that at that point, Lear regains his sanity and somewhere near that says something to the effect that “The wheel hath come full circle – I am here!” Having spent 5 years at a very expensive private school, reading Simenon’s detective stories under the desk, instead of paying attention to Shakespeare, that’s about where I left it.
    Why even mention it? It’s because I realised the other day that I’ve gone from very little/not enough “post”, worked up to doing heap of it, then deciding it wasn’t really “doing it” for me and working backwards to a far simpler approach. Which strangely – and despite all the advertising bumpf for these programs – actually produces a better end product.
    So the wheel HAS gone full circle, sanity is restored, AI is crap, and thanks very much Elon, but I take my own photos.
    Which is what I did in the first place.
    But I’ve been to the moon and back, in the meantime. Like Professor Barbenfouillis and his friends!
    And I must say I’m enjoying the more old fashioned, hands on, simplified approach far more than I ever enjoyed the middle kingdom magic show.
    And not having to wrestle with the controls on the camera built into my self phone is worth gold!

    • pascaljappy says:

      Pete, you’re probably on to something with the introvert idea. That makes two of us, and two with the same “proces over result” objectives. The achievement trumps the achieved. Maybe we’ll hear about extroverts to confirm the hypothesis?

      Loved the Lear analogy πŸ™‚

  • PaulB says:

    Pascal / Pete

    Back in my days of using a 4×5, I was asked why I wanted to use it instead of a good 35mm camera. At the time my reply was, that 4×5 film has almost 20x more area, and when it works it really works.

    Today, I recognize that I also had the attitude; β€œIf it’s easy, it is not worth doing.”

    I still have the attitude, since I still prefer a camera over a phone. Even if I don’t use large format much, I still enjoy the process of photography.


    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Paul, my 4×5 days didn’t last very long, as I couldn’t afford it as a student. However, my answer to that question was easy. Just show a massive 4×5 slide and watch jaws fall to the ground πŸ˜†

      I feel the process is deeply individual. I was never very good at 4×5, because the process was too elaborate for me, but I so enjoy watching Sally Mann and the like performing their ritual.


  • Pascal Ravach says:

    Deeply moved by both your text and your photos, Pascal…
    Not sure why, but I feel this is such a *human* post…
    I think a mistake is often to divide choices; take the Sony’s… I too consider their ergonomics abysmally bad; but used in full manual mode with my legacy Zuiko, they are still one of the best choices; as for automation/phones vs crafted/everything else, I observe this everyday, as I commented in the past: try family, snapshots with a sophisticated manual equipment… 90% failure rate; for “calm” photography, or even creative street photography, all avenues are open.
    I don’t feel I need to take side… simply best tool for each task.
    But I can relate to your desire for more “crafting”… adding – supreme insult – that the result matters, but not 100%… as the old saying goes, the “goal” matters less than the journey, then.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thank you, Pascal. And you are 100% correct; The Sony cameras are excellent for a lot of people. Others find them less to their taste. And that’s how it should be. Something for everyone. And yes, it is about journey vs goal, for many photographers πŸ™‚

  • Mer says:


    You seem to be spending quite a bit of time time pondering the ‘what with?’ and ‘what for?’. Photography will do that to you, make you sit back and re-evaluate what you’re up to, at least that’s been my experience.

    The effort-reward you’re mooting here(sounds a lot like the Pixii), I tend to agree. A camera that’s enjoyable to use, that nudges you into a creative frame-of-mind, that’s possibly a bit frustrating to begin with, but rewards mastery with excellent images. It sounds like something worth owning.

    I find the biggest prompt for re-evaluation isn’t gear – it’s other images. Most recently, photos from Tom Sandberg. B&W, wonderfully observed snippets of the everyday, the small moments, the overlooked. Sparse. Many with that stick-in-your-brain quality. I’d just seen images from the pano awards and they were huge and grand and crisp, but none stuck with me the way a simple b&w image of a curve in a road tunnel did.

    The camera I’d like would be one that encouraged me to develop my eye for images that I enjoy and I guess that comes down to X-factor, that something that makes you want to carry it around, use it, and possibly slow down and enjoy the process.


    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Mer, those thoughts tend to pop up in my mind when I’m considering changes in direction. Then, I inflict them on readers πŸ˜‰

      Effort yields rewards and pleasure. And that’s not where mainstream cameras are taking us, so there must be a niche for something slightly different, out there πŸ˜‰

      Thanks for introducing Tom Sandberg. What a fantastic photographer. I’d never seen his work, and seeing it for the first time was great.


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