Thursday, February 09, 2012

Choose the Right Camera... Or Not.

A few nights ago, I watched a documentary film called, Visual Acoustics. The film chronicles a remarkable and gifted man: Julius Shulman.

Shulman was an architectural photographer. Arguably, he was the most notable architectural photographer ever. Certainly, he was the most influential. One of his photos, Case Study House #22, is an incredible example of mid-twentieth-century modernism in architecture. The image, even without the architecture tag, is iconic in the history of photography. I highly recommend watching this terrific documentary.

In the film, while speaking with a group of high school students interested in photography, Shulman tells them the camera is the least important part of photography. What he meant, of course, was not so much directed at cameras in general -- cameras certainly are important if you want to make photographs -- rather, his words are in the context of what kind or type of camera a photographer might use.

Obviously, different types of cameras are better suited for different genres of photography. In architectural photography, for instance, many shooters use large format view cameras. On glamour sets, you're most likely going to see a 35mm SLR employed or, occasionally, a medium format camera being used. I've yet to witness anyone shooting glamour with a view camera although there's probably more than a few people shooting buildings and other architectural stuff with a 35mm SLR.

I'm often amused at how much attention gets paid to the types and brands of cameras photographers use. For some reason, the impact many photographs may exude often seems to be secondary in terms of many photographers' interests or comments regarding the images. Instead, a whole lot of photographers seem more interested in the equipment used rather than the creativity applied or the aesthetic value of the photos. I don't get that. A photo is good, not good, or something in between regardless of what camera was used to capture it. Same goes for lenses, other gear, or the post-processing applied.

If you're trying to up your game as a photographer, I suggest you pay more attention to things beyond gear and equipment. The right gear will certainly help you realize your visions. Gear is also fun to talk about. But your gear simply represents tools. And while tools are important, with the old saying about using the right tool for the job being an axiom for good reasons, tools alone aren't going to guarantee your visions are captured to any great effect. In fact, relying on tools alone will nearly guarantee your visions aren't effectively captured... unless you get lucky and it just happens by some fortunate set of circumstances. Personally, I'd rather not count on luck to capture a decent photo.

The pretty girl at the top caught in a reflective pose is Devin. I snapped it with my Canon 5D for those who are mostly interested in that stuff.


Jesse Swinger said...

I agree with you abkut gear talk. It's easy to buy a new cameras an lenses, it's much harder to create beautiful photos. I fee somel shooters gravitate to equipment talk to make up for a lack of actual photos worth showing off. Thing is with enough money anyone can buy fablous expensive photo gear. But that same person has to be able to use it, that you can not buy.

The Photodawg said...

Back in the 80's, my usual retort to gear-head talk was, "Nobody ever asked Hemingway which brand of typewriter he used to write his books." Now days, I will not even acknowledge questions about equipment, and I get asked a lot. The camera companies will tell you that all you need to do is buy their cameras, and you will be shooting like a pro in no time. Wow, a lot of pros must feel cheated, because they spent all of those years learning and studying their craft, when all they had to do was buy the new XYZ camera.
The one bit of advice that I settled on, before I got tired of the whole mess, was to buy an inexpensive manual camera or auto camera, set to manual. Then shoot as much film as you can afford, back when film and processing were cheap. Now, in the digital age, I would give pretty much the same advice, media cards are cheap.
Familiarize yourself with the great masters of photography, study their work and analyze what speaks to you about their work. Study, study, study, shoot, shoot, shoot, always on manual. Take risks, you might be surprised. After a few years, you may become a decent shooter. The most important piece of equipment you can own is your brain, and you don't have to buy one, you just have to exercise it.
Sorry Jimmy, about the long rambling diatribe, but this needs to be said about every 3 months, so the kids will know that us old farts really care.

John said...

Maybe along the same lines, maybe not - I just read a statement from a professional photojournalist, suggesting that any young person interested in photojournalism should learn to shoot video, not stills.
So maybe it's true for video, too?

Richard S said...

great photo!