Saturday, September 06, 2014

Is Your Gear Holding You Back?

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Over the years, I've often thought my gear was holding me back. If only I had this or that, I could shoot more of this or that or, for  whatever this's or that's I was already shooting, I could shoot them better, more easily, etc.

In retrospect, I was correct some of the times and not so correct other times. There were times I was flat-out wrong about my gear (or my lack of certain gear) holding me back; 20/20 hindsight is remarkably accurate that way. There were also times, I'm happy to say, when I was 100% correct in that assessment. Again, 20/20 hindsight let's me make that statement.

Here's an example: Back in the day, in the late 1970s to be more specific, when I began shooting head shots for Hollywood hopefuls, I started out doing so with a Canon AE1 and a 50mm Canon lens. That particular workhorse of a camera/lens combo was fairly common back then, and it stayed common for quite a while. It was certainly common amongst hobbyists if less so for dedicated pros. But I wasn't a pro back then. I was just a guy with a camera and some camera skills --  a GWC&CS versus the generic GWC (Guy With Camera) -- looking to augment my income shooting those head shots. My then spouse was an aspiring actress. I was going to film school, bar-tending, with my sights set on becoming a working screenwriter and later, if the Gods smiled on me, a director.

I started out shooting head shots by shooting them of her, my then wife. She had quite a few actor friends so, as result, I also began shooting head shots for a few of them. My head shot business began growing from there.

I paid a lot of attention to the work of other shooters who were also shooting head shots. I noticed much of their work seemed to be the results of them using a longer lens than I was shooting with. So, I decided one of things that might be holding me back was the lens I was using. That decision led me to purchasing a Canon 135mm prime. In my eyes, my head shot photography improved dramatically after I began shooting with that new lens. But was it responsible for the continuing growth of my head shot business?  Perhaps. I'm not completely sure. In fact, I now lean towards no, it did not, although at the time I might have offered a different opinion about that, at least for a time.

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You see, the one thing that really made my head shot business expand was a single photo I snapped. Admittedly, it was shot with my new 135mm lens. But did that really make any difference? I think not. Rather, it was the content of the photo that truly resulted in my head shot business suddenly taking off, not its photographic merits. How so? The content? Of a simple head shot?

I'll make a long story short: One of my then wife's acting friends needed new head shots. She was, at the time, in her early forties but all her 8x10s were snapped in ways, i.e., ways where her hair, makeup, clothing, expressions, attitude, was such that one would ordinarily expect from an ingenue's pics, i.e., an actress in her late teens or early-to-mid twenties. I convinced the woman to let me shoot her dressed and made-up like a frumpy housewife. A fairly common stereotypical character for somewhat older actresses, to be sure.

Guess what? While the actress wasn't too thrilled being presented that way, ego and all, the photo immediately got her called-in to audition for a national commercial and, after a few call-backs, she scored the role! Actors talk and she was no exception. Suddenly, my phone was ringing off the hook with calls from other actors who were hoping I could make some magic for their photos. They were hoping that lightning might strike twice.

Did any of that small success I had have anything to do with my new 135mm lens? I think not. I could have snapped the same pic of the forty-something actress with my 50mm lens and the results would have been the same. Maybe not exactly the same in terms of its photographic results, but the same in terms of the personal results both the actress and I experienced from that single image.

So, in my example, was my gear holding me back?  Apparently, it was not. Does that mean your gear or lack of it is holding you back?  I suppose that has much to do with what you're shooting or what you'd like to be shooting. But I do know one thing: Your gear isn't always responsible for holding you back, whether you think it is or not.

The pretty girl pics shown above are both of the same model. For the image at the top, we had some extra time so I snapped a few that were decidedly non-glamour in terms of pose, expression, and more. I used a wide-angle zoom lens, a Canon 17-40, to distort the image a bit... just for fun. The second image was also snapped during a glamour/tease shoot and, for that one, I stuck with the genre.

What's the biggest difference between the two pics? Well, other than one of them is color and the other converted to monochrome, the biggest difference is in the content itself, that is, how the content/subject is presented to viewers, and so much less the result of the gear I employed for either pic. The top image, although distorted a bit by the lens, could have been snapped with the same lens as the second image and, IMO, the overall impact of each of the images, on their own, would have remained the same.

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