I was participating in an online photography forum when someone asked "Camera XXX or Camera YYY??? And y"
Simple enough question, and there were many replies that pointed out the relative specification advantages of one or the other. All either partisan Canon vs Nikon or delving into the arcana that are modern camera specifications.
I dared to ask "what are you intending to shoot?" and a reply came back from one of the forum participants "which things the XXX shoots better than the YYY" and this leads me to my point. Photography is a very technical art. As a form, it is one of the few modern art forms, only being around for about 200 years - compare that to poetry or painting and you see what I mean by new. As it is very technical, discussion can quickly devolve into specification comparison. To me, this misses the point, and the point of my question.
EVERY camera is a compromise. Let me repeat that. EVERY camera is a compromise. Be it price, low light performance, sensor size, frame rate, sensor color performance. All of these have trade-offs. A $60,000 Hasselblad is a very nice camera, great for studio work - and it is useless for the roller derby and fire performers I capture images of. It doesn't have the frame rate or the low light performance. My 5D MkIII is excellent for those applications.
And back to my question "what are you intending to shoot". It turns out the original poster shoots kids sports and low light macro, had already invested in some nice lenses for one particular system and has a decent crop sensor DSLR. I compared the specs of the camera he has and the ones he listed as choices. Turns out, the camera he currently has is a better fit for what he wants to shoot. A little more questioning it was revealed that he was worried that the 70-200mm lens he was eying would not work with his crop sensor camera. Thing is, it will.
The point is, we can get wrapped up in specs all we want, but we need to consider what we are shooting first and ignore the hype and marketing BS until we can list what it is we need and what it is about our current gear that does not get us where we want. I am a big proponent of keeping the gear you have until your photography outgrows it. Gear will not make you better. It gives more reach for particular images, but it can't make the images for you, and the most expensive camera with rocking specs may be absolutely awful for what you need.
The same goes for lenses. Are you shooting in studio? So, you are mostly at f/6is-11? And you are still working on getting composition & focus right? Then why do you NEED an 85mm f/1.x lens? Yes the 85 is sharper at F/8.0 than your kit lens, but is your photography at a point where you can tell the difference?
Absolutely treat yourself to an indulgence once in a while, but don't get sucked in by the gear companies. Evaluate what features are important and select on those. You will have a much happier time with photography if the gear you have is a good match for what images you want to make.
PS: if anyone wants to send me a Hassie...
J wrote to me on Flickr to ask the following:
I went to Olvera to shoot photos with my first SLR, Nikon D7100 and I came upon the Aztec Dancers. I probably took 100 photos and not a single one really looked great. Some were good, but nothing that gives you that "WOW" impression that I got when I saw yours. Do you have any advice on shooting frenetic dances like that? I was getting close and I feel like this undermined me because I don't have any good full body shots. I would love to know your technique behind your photos of the dancers. It would help me out a lot!
Here's the technical stuff: Canon 5D Mk II, 24-70mm lens at 70mm. ISO 200, 1/1000s, f/5.6, no flash.
For me there are several important considerations for this image.
Firstly, speed. I knew I wanted to freeze the action. In this dance, the dancer turns abruptly and I wanted to have the feathers in motion, but fairly crisp.
Next, composition. This image isn't cropped in post. I had zoomed in to capture the dancer from the hips up. I could have shot full length, but then would have lost the impact of the feathers in the head dress. They only matter if they are a large part of the image. This image would be weakened if it were full body. I also positioned myself where the background she is against at the turn are fairly bland and solid. The dark of the tree, the gray/white of the building. Being against a relatively bland background helps her "pop" as the colors in her costume have no competition.
Lastly, patience. I would love to say this was one shot and done. It wasn't. These dances are long in duration and repetitive, so the dancers are dancing the same pattern over and over. This wasn't the first time I had seen this dance, so I had an idea for the shot. Once they started dancing, I found where she turned and where I could get the best composition. Then every time a dancer came to this spot and spun, I captured an image. Some didn't get a nice profile. Some didn't have movement in the feathers. Some had the feathers across the dancer's face. I don't know how many, but many. This was the most important thing to get this shot. Watching the patterns and finding the right place to shoot from. Take your time, plan, know what you want. Yes, you will miss out on some opportunities early on, but you will be considerably increasing the probability of a great shot later on.
Everyone has an origin story. This is mine.
In 1977, I traveled with my family to Canberra by car for school vacation. Canberra is about 200 miles south west of Sydney, where I grew up. Canberra is the capital of Australia and is home to things like the Supreme Court, Parliament, and the National Gallery. My parents, my brother and I visited the sights in the crisp autumnal air. Kicking piles of leaves.
The camera I had was nothing special, except it was mine. No special features, focus being near, not so near and far, and aperture being, inside, cloudy or bright day. Film was the same. I don't have the negative anymore to find out.
We visited what is now Old Parliament House. At the time, the new Parliament House that replaces the top of a hill was under construction. Looking across Lake Burley Griffin, northwards to the War Memorial, I made a photograph. Long before the days of digital, I waited for the prints to come back from the lab. One image above all other stood out. It is the only image I have from that trip. It isn't really in focus. Unless I told you, you can't tell where it was taken. The thing that struck me was the lens flare from the sun. Not planned. I didn't even see it when I took the photo as the viewfinder was separate from the lens. Magic. A ring of rainbows.
There is a magic when something comes through in an image that was not previously obvious. Freezing hte moment forever, capturing time. That's what this image is.
Despite hundreds of thousands of images, circumnavigation of the globe and nearly forty years, this is an image I always come back to.
I have since improved my skills and equipment, although I a still a sucker for lens flare as evidenced by the blow image taken with a Holga in the hills above Burbank, but more of those adventures in a future installment.
Here is a map link to the approximate area the first was taken.
Many of us have 9-5 occupations in addition to our artistic vocations, and the need to put bread on the table, along with family commitments, can come at the expense of time pursuing our art. It is frustrating to be too tired to shoot, to write, to paint. Your brain aches, eyelids fail, unable to do anything that seems productive.
How do you manage to be fulfilled in your art, with the needs of the world nipping at your heels? How do you hit your 1,000 golf balls a day and still do a 100 mile a day commute?
Take a step back. Breathe.
Art isn’t all doing. Much is thinking and learning. Study and learning are just as vital to your art as sitting in front of an easel.
Long driving commute? Have you tried listening to podcasts? Listen to others in your field, keep up with trends, hear about different techniques. And don’t limit yourself to your own field. The arts have more in common in terms of process than they do differences. How about some art history? Learn perspective from the past. Your art is informed by history even if you don’t know it.
Don’t have to drive? Great, you have more options. Read a book! Libraries are great repositories of books and books on tape. Take something on the train with you. It can be visual or it could be the biography of an artist you admire. Studio photographer? Pick up a magazine and deconstruct how you think they did the lighting or retouched the cover.
Out and about? If you are a visual artist, how would you compose an interesting scene where you are? What canvas would you use, what camera settings? Writer? How about a couple of lines to describe the scene or something that might happen there. It does not have to be perfect, it does not have to earn a Pulitzer. What matters is being in the process. Now you are thinking, “but I go go beautiful places everyday!” Did I say it had to be beautiful? How about the bus stop, the gas station, the laundromat. Images and moments are everywhere. Yours to use to hone your skills. The more you pay attention in these in-between times, the better your art will become. See that person standing in the doorway? Examine how the light plays around the frame and across her face.
At some point you will have to write, paint or shoot, definitely. But in the in-between times make sure you take every advantage of the moments in your day to hone your skills, attune your ears and eyes, connect to heart and art. If you do, you will be in the right mindset to generate wonderful work.
© Grant Palmer Photography