I used to write end-pieces for the CPA newsletter, Focus. Those were called “The Last Word”, because they were the last thing in the newsletter. Eventually, when I stopped editing the newsletter, the archives from Focus formed the first posts in this blog. One of the very first ones was about overemphasis of craft.
Today’s post is about a specific subcategory of that: allowing a fascination with photographic equipment to get in the way of making good art — and good art, in this context, is defined as art that satisfies its creator.
It would seem like I’m the wrong person to write a sermon on this subject. After all, most of this blog is about gear: how it works, what it does well and not so well, how to find out just what it does, and how to get around deficiencies. In my defense, I’ve gone out of my way to point out — although perhaps not often enough — that equipment exists only to serve the needs of photographers, and that flaws in some use contexts are meaningless, or even (think Holga) beneficial in others. A photographer needs to pick gear that lets her succeed in the project at hand. If the chosen equipment has features that are unnecessary for that success, they are, at least for the moment, useless. If the chosen equipment has flaws that don’t affect that success, they are, at least for the moment, not a problem.
I’m writing this little screed because I’ve recently seen a lot of folks doing things that I think are not conducive to improving their photographs. Of course, since I’ve “seen” this on the Internet, I don’t really know, but I suspect that many people are:
- Sending back lenses after detecting (or misdetecting, it seems) flaws that will not affect their photography whatsoever.
- Complaining about raw developers, but using the default settings to judge which is better
- Obsessing over the shape of bokeh balls
- Obsessing over differences in camera image quality that are not gerrmane to the images that they are making
- Judging gear on a scalar (one-dimensional) basis rather than comparing aspects that are relevant to their use, and ignoring those that are irrelevant.
- Wasting time that could be better spent becoming better photographers in all of the above.
I am not without sin. I admit that I am guilty of spending inordinate amounts of time on technical minutiae. I do it because I’m curious, because I like technical things, and because all you readers seem to like it. I even did a ppost recently about bokeh. I am not, however, under the illusion that all of that time is paying big dividends in improving my images.
So go ahead and read this blog. Please. Just keep in mind that the technical stuff you’re absorbing may or may not be relevant to your images. Feel free to dig into what will make your pictures better, and help you grow as an artist. Ignore or skim the stuff that won’t.
Lynn Allan says
I remain curious what your DPR “gear list” would look like.
Here is perhaps a different perspective: Some of us have the mixed blessing of being technically strong and aesthetically challenged … moi? Et’tu?
To “be pleasing to the creator”, I attempt to create images that are …. different. My observation from participating at local camera clubs is that those selected group of ‘togs … way above the average since they are there and maybe even paying dues … are technically challenged.
So I get a kick out of challenges like night pano’s … you don’t see those every day. And They Are Hard To Pull Off. I feel a sense of satisfaction when there are questions like, “How did you do that?”
I realize we can tend to have “price of authorship” and can easily deceive ourselves, but I have noticed gradual improvements in aesthetics over the years.
“Here is perhaps a different perspective: Some of us have the mixed blessing of being technically strong and aesthetically challenged … moi? Et’tu?”
As to the “Et ut?” part, have a look here:
and then tell me what you think.
In general, I believe that we are all born with artistic ability. It may be trained out of us in school, but I think that we can, with effort (mindful play?), recapture it. I also think that aesthetics is cultural, and learnable at any age (again, with effort). Please don’t associate the word effort here as necessarily referring to something unpleasant. Done right, making art is a joyous pursuit.
Erik Kaffehr says
I think that gear and art can and should be separate pass times. The reason I got interested in technology is the amount of contradicting statements about things.
Sometimes technology burns you. Example:
I was visiting Red Rock Point in the Yellowstone and shot long shutter time at small aperture. My images were degraded by diffraction.
Next time I shot with a higher resolution DSLR using medium apertures with a variable ND filter. Now I had problem with limited DoF instead, I had subject matter in the foreground that were not sharp enough.
Photography is a learning experience…