The rare post without a photograph – Thoughts on gear, GAS, and all that.

So I’ve been bombarding you all with a lot of photographs lately, I figured I’d take the weekend to put down some words for a change. After all, I know how you love a rant every now and then. Plus  something has been welling up inside me of late, especially with all the new camera announcements. So if you’re ready to ride this one out with me, grab a seat, maybe a hot beverage and perhaps by the end I’ll have figured out what I’m trying to say.

Firstly for those not of a geeky camera leaning GAS is photo-nerd speak for Gear Acquisition Syndrome. This is the usual follow up of spending too much time online looking at photographs, seeing what camera was used to take said photographs and then heading over to eBay to try and find one cheap. One of the problems with being a photographer is that we all have an inner gadget geek which drives part of our brain. The artist part is happy with whatever creative tool it is given, often it is happiest with the most limiting of kit. The geek side however, that side wants new stuff, new (old) stuff, different stuff. It wants all this as it feels that somehow by having it magically the photographs the photographer creates will be better. Now I’m fairly sure most will agree that in the modern digital arena this problem has become amplified with all the manufacturers telling us about the super dooper new features and mega high iso capabilities etc etc. People get really hung up on this stuff and one quick glance over some of the nauseating internet forums will reveal just how strongly some folk feel about how important it all is. I guess it’s human nature to want to have better “stuff” than the others and to try and claim some higher standing by having said “stuff”. However photography has a great leveller of the playing field in it’s bag of tricks. The end product. I see many self proclaimed “pros” shooting with the latest and greatest camera gear producing very mundane and somewhat dead photographs. On the flip side I see many modest “hobbiests” shooting beautiful, heart wrenching work on cameras aimed at the entry level, or on cameras manufactured 30 years ago. So what does this tell me, does this mean we should shed ourselves of out megapixel beasts and go grab a point and shoot? no. Does it mean we should all go and shoot film just because this one guy on the internet said it was cool? no. Should we maybe just stop and think about what it is that new bit of kit we’re lusting after is going to grant us? maybe.

I feel one of the things we’ve lost in this digital age is time. Time to truly acquaint ourselves with our tools, to fully understand the strengths and weaknesses of each piece of kit we own. The only way to get this is through spending time with our equipment, shoot with it, feel how it works, or if you like “become at one with your camera”. In the olden days (man I feel old typing that) we’d have one camera for years, the only thing which would make a huge difference would be the film you ran through it. Now you’re lucky if the fancy new DSLR you bought will last two years. Less if you spend time reading photo magazines and review sites. A lot of the photo industry is about trying to part you from your hard earned money, to be fair I’m part part of that crowd in that I’d like my clients to part with hard earned money in return for some beautiful photographs. However much of the industry would have you believe it’s more important to have the latest camera and lens than it is to truly understand how to create those beautiful photographs. I’ve seen many a person on photography workshops and training sessions not really know how to use their cameras and I don’t mean how to use the camera to take photographs I mean the basic stuff like change iso, format a CF card, that kind of stuff. You know read the manual stuff. I’ve seen the “Photography basics 101 : how to take great photographs”  courses end up with people lining up to ask how to set the camera up. I’ve even worked with “pros” who seemingly lack those same skills much to my dismay. As Mr Canlas tweeted yesterday “if you accept money for shoots, you should know how to meter.” Pretty much sums it up

Know your gear.

Now I’m not claiming to be immune from said GAS, after all some may recall my acquisition of a Canon 85mm f1.2 last year. A lens which is rather highly regarded. Do I still own said lens? I do not. Why not? it spent far too much time sat on the shelf than it did in my bag. At that time last year I was all hung up on the gear I had and on what I wanted to be able to shoot the kind of photographs I thought I wanted to shoot. I was all about the geek rather than the artist. Looking back If I’d just concentrated on going out and shooting those photographs I’d have learnt a whole lot more than I did photographically. Sure I learnt that the 85L is a great lens (in optical and bulk terms), however it just wasn’t for me. Would I buy one now if I had the spare cash floating around? probably not, there are a number of other things I’d invest that cash into before another 85L.

So what is it that I’m really going on about?

Well I guess I’d be nice if people started to rebalance their inner battle between the nerd and the artist. Let’s all just step back from the latest press releases about magical new cameras and concentrate on actual photography. You can lust after cameras and lenses that’s perfectly fine, just don’t let that be your overriding pull to photography. If you’re not out there creating new work, new work that you are proud of, then who the hell cares how many megapixels you have. Or that the photograph you took of your cat last night in the kitchen without the lights on at iso 1000000 with your 12-1000mm f1.4 lens and at 30 frames per second has next to zero noise in it at 100%. Seriously unless you just got a commission to photograph really fast black cats in a coal mine under ambient lighting conditions it really isn’t that important.

So to re apply the Baz Lurhman line “Don’t read beauty magazines, they will only make you feel ugly”, don’t spend all your time reading photography magazines they will only make you poor. The reward from going out and taking a great photograph that you are proud of is much longer lasting than that momentary joy you get from buying a new camera.

 

Just saying. . . . . . . .

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4 thoughts on “The rare post without a photograph – Thoughts on gear, GAS, and all that.

  1. This was a great post. Thank you for touching upon this topic.

    Like many people, I suffer from the GAS as well. I am very guilty of following the exact flickr-ebay-own cycle you mention in your post, but mainly out of curiosity. I ask myself, “What could I do with this particular camera?” One added step in that cycle for me is finding great gear at thrift stores. Over the past few years I’ve found many, many great cameras in thrift stores for saddeningly low prices. I’ve bought all of them to use, and remain true to that justification for buying them. As strange as it may sound, I sometimes feel as though I have “saved” a great camera from a worse fate (Nikon F2 and FE in a junk camera bin? Really? ). The camera bin at a thrift store can be the undoing of a great camera as big hands and little hands alike make the camera slowly fall to pieces.

    All of my cameras are film, though I do enjoy the convenience of my point-and-shoot digital for certain things. I don’t particularly pay attention to new innovations in digital because I simply can’t afford it. This is a good thing in that I focus on what I have for a longer period of time. The only real downside is that I’m not particularly motivated to learn about new innovations in the world of cameras and photography. These new innovative cameras are great, but only if people take the time to actually learn how to use them. Why buy a Nikon D series if you’re never really going to use 95% of its features? Anyway, that’s a different rant for a different day, I suppose.

    At the end of the day I am left with my film camera and the constant desire to try to develop my photographic eyes. For me, being able to see every single shot on a screen makes me less likely to see it in my mind before i press the shutter release.

  2. As we all know, I too have GAS. Nice post Mark, even from a currently crippled man, this is the reason I told Alya I’d hoped to shoot something today…haha

  3. Pingback: Project (kind of) 2012: gas stations « Patrick Braun

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