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.


Greg McKay said...

Great article as always Jimmy. I was once one of those guys chasing the latest and greatest piece of gear thinking it would make me a "better" photog. Fortunately I realized it was not the gear but "me" that would make me a better photographer. I'd love to have the new 5DM3 but do I really need it? Of course not. I've got the M2 now after years of chasing the latest models starting way back in the 10D then the 20D followed by the 5D (A camera I wish I still owned.) and finally the 5DM2, my current camera. Along the way I was fortunate enough to make enough money with the current cameras to buy some really nice "L" glass. Then Canon started releasing Mark II versions of many of the lenses I owned, the 16-35, 70-200 2.8, 1.4x and most recently the 24-70mm but I've managed to fight off the urge to sell any of those and upgrade to the newest model. I'm sure if I set up test charts and pixel peeped I'd find differences between the lenses but I've yet to have a single client complain to me that an image I shot with the original 24-70 wasn't good enough for them.
Thanks for reminding me........

Jay Kilgore said...

Hello friend,

I totally agree! For the first time in eight years I went totally all out for gear and got a 60d, 7d and 5d MK II. I found that I really only use the 7D which is funny. It would be nice to own the latest and greatest but why? As long as my camera does what I need to, I don't care much for the version or extra zeros it costs. Now if the rest of the world catches on, the big players will see they have to create cameras of substance, not recycled versions with a cool new name.

Rick said...

I think the manufacturers are just tweaking their products to the nth degree chasing those that have to have the latest and greatest. Do editors really notice the difference in quality in upgraded lenses?