the role of equipment in photography

Here’s something I hear fairly often: « Great photos! You must have a really good [advanced/expensive/fancy] camera! »

This irritates me enormously. I mean, it really, really, really annoys me. Being a good photographer wouldn’t have anything to do with oh, say, knowledge of its technical aspects, or years of learning about light, or having some artistic talent, for example? Nope. Must be the camera.

How often do you hear people say, « Wow, great artwork! You must have seriously expensive paint brushes! » Right.

Back when I shot 35 mm film, I used a few different SLRs and a small variety of fixed and zoom lenses. My last film camera was a low-end manual Nikon SLR, and my everyday lens a wonderfully smooth 50 mm 1.8 that I borrowed from my brother.

The time came, however, when even that relatively lightweight camera and lens were too heavy for me to use. I have osteoarthritis and nerve damage affecting most of my body, and in particular my limbs, and as it worsened I just couldn’t carry around and hold up an SLR anymore.

Add to that the fact that I could no longer tolerate the chemicals or the physical stamina required to spend hours in my darkroom, and my decreasing ability to manage the hours of work involved in doing photo shoots, and it was looking like photography would no longer be a part of my life. I certainly couldn’t do it for work anymore.

This, as you can imagine, was a serious drag. Very, very depressing. But I figured I’d better try to be a « good sport » about the whole thing, and so I sold the SLR and dismantled the darkroom — shipping all the equipment to my brother, who hopes to one day set up his own at home — and bought a compact digital camera. It had to be something that I could carry and hold without difficulty, and that I could use in my left hand — I walk with a forearm crutch on my right side, so using that hand is sometimes a bit awkward, especially if it means raising my arm up, as one often does when taking photos.

I ended up with the Fujifilm Finepix F30, a compact digital camera that offers a good selection of exposure control — it has a manual program mode, as well as aperture priority and shutter priority, and allows exposure compensation of two stops either way in 1/3-stop increments. (It can also be used as an automatic point and shoot, and has a lot of nifty sounding scene modes, but I confess I’ve never explored those features.) I do available light photography only — never use a flash — so that, at least, wasn’t an issue. I figured this camera would give me enough control over exposure to not go completely unhinged with film+SLR-withdrawal.

Turned out, though, that for a long time it didn’t satisfy my photographic desires. I mean, I kept taking pictures, but they all felt like random snapshots. I missed my darkroom. I missed using my favourite films, with their characteristic grain.

In time, however, I managed to get over this (okay, not entirely, but to a reasonable extent.) Photography started becoming more interesting again. I started learning a little bit about colour — I had always worked with black and white film, and was, frankly, completely intimidated by colour photography, and not quite sure I really wanted to do it at all. Now I see that I can keep trying and learning and growing as a photographer.

A couple months ago I put up this web site — kind of my way of telling myself and the world that I was not done as a photographer. I didn’t have to keep thinking of myself as a former photographer. I might not do this as my full-time work anymore, but I still do it, and I love it, and I learn more and continue to be inspired by what I see around me and by other photographers’ work.

I had a point, originally, and then rambled off. Oh, right: it’s not about the equipment. Yes, you can do all sorts of groovy and wonderful things with fancy cameras and accessories. But you can also explore photography and make beautiful images with pretty basic equipment.

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6 réponses à “the role of equipment in photography

  1. :D your final paragraph plastered a giant smile across my face :D
    I’m so thankful that the creative spark in you was so strong that it just couldnt’ go out and you work with it and share your creation :D

  2. Jordan, thank you for your lovely comments, both here and on G+!

  3. One of the things I’ve seen in the community we both live in, is, yes, there are professional photographers, or just hired photograpers, at many of the events which you also photograph. What I notice is you get calls to use YOUR photographs, because you manage to capture such wonderful shots. I’m glad you have this photo website up. You inspire me!

  4. Thanks, JD! It’s a very different experience now, taking casual shots at events, compared to the event photography I used to do. I really enjoy how relaxing it is these days — no pressure at all. And yes, lovely to see that people still like the photos!

  5. It’s a frustrating conversation to have sometimes. There’s a techhead bias around photography, that can cause it to become more about specs than artistic choices.

    Have you seen this post by Penny De Los Santos? http://blog.pennydelossantos.com/2011/04/07/street-photography-in-san-francisco-its-not-about-the-camera/

  6. No, I hadn’t seen that post yet — thanks for the link … very cool!

    I guess that bias is pretty prevalent. It’s interesting to see that many photographers introduce themselves by listing their equipment. The other thing I’ve been pondering lately is the distinction among photographers of identifying as amateur, enthusiast or professional, and how often people’s equipment seems to enter into categorizing them. Strange and entertaining to ponder, at the very least!

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