Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Right Tools for the Jobs

Everyone knows there's a right tool for every job. Photography is no exception. Today, we have more tools than ever to accomplish our photography jobs. Some of those tools have been incredible boons for photographers. Others are all hype and bullshit and, frankly, aren't worth much in terms of being the right tool for just about anything, photographically speaking.

When I talk about photography tools, I'm talking about everything from cameras to glass to lighting gear to accessories to software to gadgets and gizmos and beyond. Some might argue that any camera is the right tool for the job. I disagree. While the best camera might be the one you have with you, and it's true any camera will let you snap a photograph which, in the broadest sense, is the job, it's not accurate to say all photographs snapped with any camera are equal to a job well done... depending on what, specifically, that job might be, of course.

Some photographers are generalists. Others are specialists. Most of them probably fall somewhere in between those two, descriptive, words. Me? I'd say I'm a specialist when it comes to 80% or more of what I do, what I work at, as a photographer. The balance, of course, could be labeled generalist work.

Since 80% (or more) of my work is specialist work, the tools I own -- from cameras to glass to lighting and more -- are tools which best serve me, i.e., they're the best or right tools for the job; the job of doing the kinds of specialty work I most often perform.

I often see other tools which look cool and I'd love to have but, before getting my hands on them, I always ask myself if that cool tool will be a great tool for the jobs I most often perform. If it doesn't pass that test, there's little chance I'll purchase it.  I have purchased gear that, at the time, I thought would be cool to have and use but, in the end, if it didn't turn out to help me perform the work I usually perform, I ended up selling it on eBay or via Craigslist. I mean, why hold on to something that doesn't really earn it's keep in my bag of tools? Just to have it?  I guess some people have that point of view but, since money is always an object, leastwise for me, I need to be selective in what I purchase.

Take cameras, for instance. I still shoot with a Canon 5D. The original, not the follow-ups. Would I like to have a 5DmkII or mkIII You betcha. Do I need one to do my job effectively. Nope. Are there other cameras I'd like to have? Yep. Do I need any of them? Again, nope. Same holds for glass. There's a lot of lenses I'd love to own. But I have to ask myself, "When doing my job, how often will that lens get pulled out of my bag and slapped on my camera?"  If the answer is "rarely" or "not too often," there's little chance I'll purchase it.

A few years ago I purchased a Canon, wide-angle, "L" lens. It was for a specific job I was going to do. The job fell through. I still held onto that lens for a year or so. I shot with it a couple of times but more for "grins" than anything else. Mostly, it sat in my bag. So, I sold it. The good part was I sold it for about the same money I paid for it. (Thanks to a rebate special Canon was offering when I purchased the lens.)

If there's a point to this update, it's that there are right tools for the job, wrong tools for the job, and tools which might occasionally be right but probably not often enough to warrant a spot in your bag. Then, of course, there are tools which, for the most part, are worthless when it comes to most any photography job you're likely to engage in.

Course, if you have plenty of F-U money to spend, go for it. If I had money to burn, I'd probably need a large room just to store all my photography gear.

The pretty girl at the top is one whose name I can't recall. (Click to enlarge.) It was one of those gigs where I shot about a dozen models, all of them in front of that stucco wall (where they told me to shoot) and all of them with a production manager constantly telling me to hurry up.  It was a mix of natural daylight and a couple of strobes.  I used a 5' Octa for a main, although I used it more for fill than for being a key light. I also used a medium-size strip box as a kicker, camera left. The sun did the rest of the work.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Are You an Artist or Craftsman?

As a photographer, do you consider yourself an artist or a craftsman?  A lot of photographers will likely say they think of themselves as both. I'm not sure how someone decides when they're being an artist and when they're being a craftsman. I'm guessing it has something to do with subject, that is, what they're shooting at the moment or the way in which they're shooting that subject.

For the purposes of this blog update, I should probably define an artist versus a craftsman.

An artist is someone who, by virtue of imagination, talent, or skill, creates works of aesthetic value. An artist is a person whose work shows exceptional creative ability. An artist can also be someone who is adept at a specific activity, especially one involving trickery or deceit, you know, like a con artist or a photographer who overly relies on image processing software to embellish, alter, modify, or re-create what they've photographed.

A craftsman (or craftswoman) is someone who practices a craft or works at a skilled trade and does so with great skill. A craftsman is an artisan, i.e., someone who practices a craft and is highly skilled in the techniques of that craft. Artisan, of course, isn't a word that's used much these days. It's a rather antiquated word which refers to a skilled workman or craftsman. When I go grocery shopping at Ralph's, for instance, they call the specialty breads they prepare, bake, and sell in the store "Artisan" breads. I suppose that makes the people working behind the bakery counter at Ralph's, "artisans." I'm not necessarily comparing skilled photographers to skilled bakers... well, maybe I am. Some might say being a skilled photographer is so much more artistically satisfying than being a skilled baker. Whether that's true or not I don't know. I'm not a baker; an artisan baker or otherwise. Since I don't bake, I have no idea if bakers find the products of their work as or more satisfying than photographers do.

When it comes to photography, I consider myself a craftsman and for good reason. I make my living with cameras in my hands. People don't pay me to make art. Not ever. Not once. Instead, they hire me for my skills and ability to snap the kinds of photos they want. In other words, when they're looking for a photographer, they're looking for an artisan, not an artist. That's not to say I've never snapped a photo that might be considered art. I think I have. Maybe even a couple of times. But, when I snapped those photos, my intent wasn't to create art. It was, as always, to shoot a good, skillful, photo... hopefully, a great photo. One which reveals my hard earned and much practiced skills and, to a lesser extent, my creativity and artistic sensibilities.

None of that is to say there aren't photographers who are artists and who pursue photography as purely an art form. Some of them even make a living at it. A few, very few, make an exceptionally good living at it. Personally, I would love to be a successful art photographer but the truth is there aren't many who can do that, myself included. It's not that there aren't photographers who are really good artists. There are. But like many artistic pursuits, only a few of them -- not many in the overall scheme of things -- manage to take their art to the top.  Many more, however, take craft to the top. It doesn't matter if the artist's art is painting, sculpture, writing, music or anything else. All of those artistic endeavors have their own great artists, albeit not an abundance of them. They also have many more craftsman and artisans amongst them. My guess is that more of them, i.e., those who make a living or some part of their living from artistic pursuits, are better defined as craftsman compared to the few true artists who manage to do the same thing.

The pretty girl at the top, naked and smoking a cigarette, is Cytherea. I used three lights: A main light modified with a Mola beauty dish positioned camera right, and two strip boxes, either side from behind. I set the beauty dish a little low to add a bit more overall drama to the shot. The strip box coming from camera right is cranked up to add more obvious highlights. I did that for the same reason I kept the Mola low.

Monday, October 01, 2012

The More Things Change, the More They Remain the Same

Here's a fun-to-watch 1940s film about careers in photography. You might notice that, no matter how much the technology of photography has changed and evolved, so much else about it has remained unchanged.