Slow on the Up-Take?

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One of my mantras when it comes to photography is that equipment doesn’t matter. Yes, if you are studying microorganisms, needless to say, you cannot photograph those small creatures with your cell phone. But for 90 percent of what most of us are photographing, equipment doesn’t matter.

I say it’s my mantra, but of course, most photographers who are interested in imagery rather than technique would say the same. It’s possibly an acquired truth for most, I think. I, myself, certainly started out as a photographer being more concerned about the technical aspect of photography than the visual result. Back in the days of film, for instance, I did change my favourite brand of film depending on how I thought it would render whatever I captured and not the least the quality of the grains, the colours and its stability. Also then, only the best camera was good enough—at least as soon as I could afford to buy high-end equipment.

Today, though, I look more to functionality and usages than to technical quality and theoretical performance of my equipment. Anything that works, works! I don’t care if it’s a cell phone, a compact camera or a big professional camera. Well, actually, I do, I try to avoid the big professional camera these days, simply because it’s too big and bulky and burdensome. Take the photo that accompanies this post, a street photo captured in Cuba. It could have been taken with any of the above-mentioned cameras.

These days I might even be slow to adapt to new and «revolutionary» equipment, gadgets or software that—according to their manufactures—are suppose to be game-changers. I am sceptical at the outset, I just simply don’t believe whatever they claim that is new and fantastic is going to make me a better photographer.

Did I say these days? I guess it’s been longer than that. When autofocus was first introduced, I saw no point in it at all. I believed it wouldn’t make me faster compared to how I handled manual focus. Not exactly recently, this most have been back in the 90’s… My thought was that manually I could focus anywhere on the screen. Particularly when the main object is not in the centre of the frame it made me faster compared to autofocus—at least that’s what I believed. With autofocus, I would first have to pre-focus and then reframe the subject before taking the photo. Only when Canon introduced eye-tracking coupled with an array of focus points did it make sense to make the change for me. The functionality, which was introduced with Canon Eos 5(the pre-digital version) and refined with Canon Eos 3, was discontinued with these models, however. But it made me change to autofocus.

I have a built-in resistance, I believe, when something is suppose to change the world to the better. Another example is digital photography. For a long time I did not make the change from film to digital, simply because I thought it wouldn’t make the quality of my photos any better. For a long time, rather the opposite, as a matter of fact. Instead I used film, scanned them and then sent the image files to my clients. My first digital camera I acquired as late as in 2004. (On the other hand, I was actually quick to start using Photoshop. I believe my first version was Photoshop 2.0).

I was slow to take up Instagram, too, something of more recent years. I am not saying this because I don’t believe in development and new ideas. However, sometimes I wait until I see the value of spending time with yet another hype (not that Instagram is a hype, though) or maybe to make sure it’s not a hype and it may actually make me take different or better pictures. I don’t think I am slow by nature, because when I do commit myself to new technology I am very fast to dig deep into it and try to master whatever it is I am learning or adapting to as fast as possible. In the end, the point is I’d rather spend time developing my creative skills and my way of seeing, instead jumping on to any gadget that is suppose to and maybe can make me a better photographer. As I started out saying, equipment, in which is included software and apps, doesn’t really matter. This much said, though, the other side of the coin, however, is that many new gadgets or whatever new comes into the realm of photography, encourage us to be more playful, which of course is great.

How do you see the «brave new world»? Do you jump onto new things right away? Do you wait? Do you care at all?

Facts about the photo: The photo from Cuba was taken with a Canon Eos 5D with a 24-105 mm lens, set at 24 mm. Shutter speed: 1/125 of a second. Aperture: f/4.0. The photo was processed in Lightroom and Photoshop.


64 thoughts on “Slow on the Up-Take?

  1. My first camera was a Zenit, Russian made, not particularly sophisticated, I was given it for my 13th birthday and it did what I needed it to do, it introduced me to photograpy. I enjoyed experimenting with different film, I enjoyed exploring the different grains. When I went off to college, photography fell by the wayside and then when I was living in Japan in the early 90’s, I saw many cameras I wanted to buy but could not quite afford them. I made do with a simple point and shoot and captured some good images.
    When I came back to photography a few years ago, it was into the digital era and from the outset, I wanted to very best equipment I could afford. I saved and went for the Nikon D800 and it has been giving me wonderful very high technical quality images ever since. More recently I bought a Sony Alpha A7R. I wanted to retain the quality of image that the high end mega pixel cameras afford but I wanted much more flexibilty. I didn’t want to be tied to the tripod. Something I’ve found necessary with the heavy D800 and lenses. I have to say the Sony has freed me up considerably and I’m definitely more spontaneous, taking images I perhaps wouldn’t have taken with the D800.
    I do have pictures that when I reprocess them now from early point and shoot cameras I’m disappointed in the quality of the image but not the quality of the imagery if you see what I mean. But when these pictures are printed or viewed on the computer at 1200 pixels wide, they are just fine.
    I’ve become a lot more relaxed but I do have a few pictures I I really do wish I’d taken with the D800 or the Sony but only because I’m a bit of a perfectionist. So yes Otto, for me equipment does matter to a degree because I want to capture the very best technical quality I can but it is very much secondary to the creative process. This has to be number one and something I learned with the Zenit all those years ago.

    1. I do remember the Zenit from back then. Kind of a Russian Leica—without comparison, really. What you write about technical quality I do understand and certainly don’t try to argue against. I use high-end gear myself, when it’s necessary. But I really hate to be asked what kind of camera I use, because in most cases it doesn’t matter and it sure doesn’t make me a better photographer. Yes, when I need to blow up a photo big, I can see the difference, but for me it’s more important to capture strong images with strong quality than have them technically perfect. Thank you for sharing you thoughts and experience on the subject, Adrian.

      1. I agree with you Otto, it isn’t about the camera or the lens you use. I get asked this also. My pictures are not about the camera I use but about the way I see the world and interpret that photographically. I could do this with a phone just as well if needs be. Anyone, with any type of camera, can achieve the same. Better equipment is certainly not going to make you a better photographer. This is without doubt.

  2. Even when I go out with my M43 camera and particular lens of choice, I’m never without my cameraphone so usually use both, and occasionally (depending on the situation) I’ve actually been far happier with the resulting cameraphone image, which is often more spontaneously captured in a simple point-and-shoot moment, regardless of technical correctness 🙂

    1. That is another good point. Small cameras make it possible to be more spontaneous, and the cell phone in particular is so intrusiveness that most people don’t even react when you photograph.

  3. I am a latest greatest type of person, at least in technology. If I could have the newest camera, I would for sure. But, on the other hand I firmly believe that the best camera is the one you have with you. Cell phone or whatever.

  4. I say again that I feel that the camera is the least important!! Your eye and ideas, feeling and sensitivity are the deciding factor in your photography, A good photographer will take good/interesting or amazing photos using the simplest of cameras.

  5. It’s the photographer who makes the photo and the camera is an additional asset or not !! but with digital technology in post production, we can prettify

  6. I agree that it is the lens of the individual that makes a worthy image. Regardless of equipment, it is the person’s vision of their universe. Would you talk a bit more about your Instagram experience. I have been resistant, mainly because of time. I know that you post once a week there. Any words of encouragement or advice. Thanks.

    1. In the beginning when I started out using Instagram I was amazed how easy it was to use. And strangely enough—with respect to what I write about in this post—it felt like any picture I took with my cell phone could be made into something interesting by using Instagram’s built-in filters. Now I have more come to the conclusion that it’s a little too easy to become spellbound by its ease and simple makeover. The photographer still need to take good photos to start with, otherwise the result becomes all but kitschy. This much said, though, I do enjoy using Instagram. It has made me see new possibilities in photography and makes me have more fun with the photographic process. Time wise I don’t really spend a lot of time. I make Instagrams when I feel like doing it or when something pops up in front of me that I think could be a good Instagram. Because it’s so easy to handle I don’t have to spend a lot of time with the app, if I don’t want to.

  7. I am like you about these things too. These days even small cameras such in the cell phone do very good job in producing good image quality. The image quality is not the same as good picture (good work). I think we have natural instinct to resist change to new thing especially about the way we do thing until we realize the benefits. I think that is also ok too.

    1. I think you are right in that most of us resists changes. But I also know friends and colleagues who would jump on anything new at any time. So as always we human beings are quite different.

  8. Good to hear your thoughts on this, Otto. I have to agree it is the eye of the photographer that is important, not the equipment to much. The only newish thing I’ve jumped into, and with a passion, is Instagram; I love that for being able to just post a photo and not having to get wrapped up in narrative. I also enjoy seeing other’s work to learn from; this is an easy place to go from photographer to photographer to see different work and different ways of seeing.

  9. I don’t jump into new technology right away because I’m not interested in new technology. I guess I’m not at that young age when new technology is vital to keep pace with the rapidly changing world. I tend to go by gut instinct for some things and research for others. I’m not a phone or social media user so when my old basic mobile phone died, I bought the cheapest basic model outright $99.

    But cameras were a different thing when I decided to spend (what is to me) a substantial investment in a DSLR & my first lens. They were a subject of which I had zero knowledge. I researched and talked to camera store assistants over and over again. I have literally spent hundreds of hours talking to camera store salesmen and reading reviews (and several forums trying to ascertain what people liked or disliked about a lens and whether it applied to my situation) in the past. I apply everything I read to my own situation and abilities. I know what I can do and what I can’t. I am decisive in what I will do and won’t do. Because my life is fairly simple and energy/health restrictive in retirement, I’m not interested in spending hours doing anything that doesn’t give me positive results. Maybe its an ‘age’ thing.

    I have only learned the technical aspects that I need to know, to do what I want to do. To some extent I’m not interested in things that I can’t use (at my age).

    So I make fairly quicks decisions nowadays. But that has come through reading, research and experience of many years in the past. And if I can’t afford what I want, I go without something else to buy it. But I am realistic. I don’t believe in buying 3 lenses if one can do the job. I don’t believe in paying for a top-of-the-range lens when I haven’t the finances, ability or opportunity of making good use of it.

    In my mind, in old(er) age, “less is more”. Material acquisitions are pointless unless we have the vision and willingness to explore and use them. But then, now I’m not earning a salary, I really don’t have the finances to buy things for the sake of new technology anyway.

    1. Even if you had the finances I think you have a very healthy approach to technology. Particularly doing the research beforehand. I think a lot of camera-buyers could learn from you. But in the end as you say; material acquisitions are pointless unless we have the vision and willingness to explore and use them.

  10. When I was growing up, there was a little saying that “necessity is the mother of invention.” Today, it seems as though we have reversed that. Someone invents something, and then tries to convince us that it’s necessary for our happiness. Generally speaking, most of what the merchandisers attempt to thrust upon me, I resist. If I see a need, I’ll make a move. But I never purchase solely on the basis of advertising, hype, or (heaven help us) the “everyone has one” argument.

    I do think that good equipment makes a difference: sometimes, a great difference. If I bird is willing to sit still, an iphone does very well. If an aerial courting display is going on, something a little more is needed. But, even in specialized fields like wildlife, sports, or macro photography, it’s still the eye and the heart that see the subject first.

    1. Back to the old balance between demand and supply. And, yes, it seems like a lot of producers rather create a demand instead answering a need. Otherwise, I agree with you, there are times when equipment matters, but mostly we can get away with whatever we have.

      1. Here’s an idle thought: while the photographs from different cameras may be equally good, the experience for the photographer can differ. One reason I went to a DSLR was to learn how to use it — to begin understanding photography. And there’s a bit of a difference between someone walking down a boardwalk in a nature refuge snapping pics with an iPhone while talking to a friend, and a photographer with a nice DSLR or good P&S sitting on the edge of the boardwalk, considering settings and waiting for a butterfly to come into range. The product may be very much the same, but the process of taking the photo is weighted differently.

  11. how very interesting,both the post and the replies. I believe that it is not the equipment that makes the photo, it is the eye of the photographer, AND it is important, in all cases, that the artist knows, if the capture is for him/herself, or an audience. As an “artist” I could never survive as a commercial artist/photographer, my “art” is an expression… of my thoughts/feelings or “vision” at that time and place. The equipment has to be an extension of my “art” Each day is a new canvas.

    1. You make a good point, in that there is a big difference between whether you make images for your own pleasure as an artist or for some commercial client. But, still, in both cases the equipment has to be an extension of the artist’s eye.

  12. The photo you’ve shared with this post is so brilliantly clear and captures the detail with wonderful lighting. Based on what you’re saying about equipment I am thinking that perhaps I need to learn more about the editing process. I know very little! It encourages me to hear from a professional photographer of your caliber that more expensive equipment isn’t necessarily something I need to consider. I went for many years thinking that I’d like the latest in any kind of equipment or technology. If I could afford it, I’d buy it. But I gradually recognized that I’ve grown tired of the “latest and greatest” in almost everything and really prefer simplicity. Very interesting thoughts, Otto. Lots to consider and think about!

    1. I am glad the post makes sense to you or makes you think. As to editing, yes, it’s often something that most photographers have a hard time with—even professionals. But being able to pick the strong images out of a series can change both how you are perceived as a photographer and how you photograph.

  13. As a long-time hobbyist photographer, I used to read photography magazines a lot. I was always annoyed by the way they pushed the latest and greatest gear. When they began filling half the magazine with stories about autofocus, and later digital photography, I felt like I was being cheated because I wasn’t interested and it didn’t apply to me. But…things do change! I got my first autofocus camera in 1990, because I’d had two eye surgeries and was missing too many shots from inability to focus quickly and accurately enough. In 2000, my daughter bought a tiny Canon Elph digital camera, and when I had a chance to try it for myself, I fell in love and soon got my own. I carried it everywhere and used it until it died. I went through a couple more cameras with more optical zoom power and higher megapixels before finally upgrading to my Nikon D5100 dSLR. But it was never for the “latest technology,” but always because it gave me a better ability to capture the kind of images I wanted.

    I was also slow to get on the mobile phone bandwagon, and again it was my daughter who led the way. Long after it seemed that “everybody” was carrying one, I didn’t even know how to use one to make or answer a call. Nowadays my iPhone goes everywhere with me, and actually I probably do about 85 percent of my photography with it. But I don’t have the latest model, even though I understand the picture quality has been upgraded quite a bit. (Someday!) I’m not a technophobe by any means, but I’m also not interested in acquiring things just because they are supposedly “new and improved,” if the old is still working for me. The same holds true in other aspects of my life as well!

    1. I think you comment shows that development isn’t bad, but one doesn’t need to be on the bandwagon of the latest and newest to make use of new improvements. Thank you for sharing you way through the technology jungle. 🙂

  14. Any type of camera is only as good as the photographer behind it. I know people, family members actually, who have really fancy and expensive equipment, yet they still manage to chop people’s heads off and catch their relatives with a mouth full of food. 🙂

  15. You’ve made me take a look at how my photographic thinking has changed over the past couple decades, Otto, once again with a great post. I used to be pretty quick to read and then adapt to new thoughts ideas or equipment when it first came out but stopped doing so about 8 years ago ~ perhaps tiring of the idea of a slew of products promising to be game-changers. With the mirror-less and high-quality phone cameras, I am excited one again on what is being put out on the market, but this time, it is with the idea of what you allude to above: if you have a great eye, great photos will be created regardless of equipment.

    1. Seems like we have had quite a similar approach to technology over time. I completely agree with you last statement. If technology can help to achieve something you need, it’s worthwhile considering, otherwise I’d rather spend my time creating. 🙂

  16. I once had a dream about a camera that took pictures the way i saw them in my mind, well, better actually… a camera that DID make me a better photographer… but this camera ‘bent’ reality… and we all know that that can only happen in dreams… oh and photoshop lol… but gosh it was a great dream… right now, i agree with you, it doesn’t matter… i sold my OM-D and bought an iPhone and the pics are relatively the same that come out of it, except my portrait lens, how i miss that…

    1. But if the camera understood your mind, what would have been left? You could just send it out on a mission and it would take the photos for you. Better have an iPhone then, I’d say.

  17. This was a fascinating read Otto and thanks for sharing your thoughts so forthrightly to show how individuals can utilise technology differently. I waited a long time to go digital, yet I still tend to think in analogue terms when shooting if that makes sense. The instant feedback of digital is priceless when travelling and its best feature (in my humble opinion) is having the extra variable of ISO. Being able to shoot outside in bright light, then go inside into low light is arguably liberating. However, I continue to resist Photoshop and intend to keep resisting. Thanks for a great post.

    1. I think—coming from an analogue mindset myself, too—that the instant variable ISO setting is one of the great advantages of digital photography. As a result I hardly ever use flash any more. On the other hand I don’t understand your reluctance to use Photoshop. But in a way it’s certainly more true to the thinking of those using slide film in the old days. 🙂

  18. I so agree, Otto. I know some people who spend thousands of dollars every year on buying the best cameras, maybe they think it’s going to magically improve their photography but I haven’t seen that happen. It’s the photographer who makes the image.

  19. I can relate well to the photographic journey you describe. Forty years ago I carried large bag containing at least two camera bodies, countless lenses to meet all occasions and a heavy tripod. I had similar reservations about autofocus and the advent of digital photography For health reasons it became necessary for me to revise my methods and I have not used an SLR or tripod for more than 15 years. My interest now is wholly on picture making rather than technicalities. Actually, you’re way ahead of me Otto – I don’t have a cameraphone, instagram or iPad!! But I thoroughly enjoy my photography.

    1. That is the best way, to enjoy one’s own photography. And, yes, it does seem like we have had a parallel photographic travel—except I never much confined myself to a tripod.

  20. You told us that it is the story which you are capable in narrating when you take a picture that is important and not the camera!! :)I have, however, a question Otto about the people we take pictures of and publish on our blogs.Do we have to ask them whether they agree?? Thank you in advance for your answer. Best regards Martina

    1. That is a very relevant and somewhat difficult question (as politicians say when they don’t really want to answer). I think there are several approaches. My baseline is that people in public areas, can be photographed and also shown on a public platform such as a blog. If you however ask, you need to respect the answer. And for photos taken in private settings I think it is definitely polite to ask for both accounts. I often ask also in public space, but that’s is rather to start some kind of interaction. Asking doesn’t then necessary mean words, but just making clear you want to photograph. In my opinion that is sufficient. Every photographer has his or her own opinion about this, and in the end each of us will have to follow our gut feeling.

  21. I tend to be quite slow/thoughtful, taking my time to see how things work … as for digital photography … I never thought it would come to anything! 😀

    I’m still thinking about Instagram (or 500px) as an additional platform for my photography but time is an issue and seeing too many people getting bogged down with it all really puts me off. I see in one of your earlier comments that time isn’t such an issue … but I don’t know how you post as regularly, or with as much content, as you do. I don’t have time for that so how would I manage Instagram/500px?!
    By the way, I’m not expecting you to resolve my time management issues! 🙂

    1. Time is always a question, no doubt. But whereas blogging does take more time than I really have, Instagram can be so quick and immediate, because of the simplicity of the app, I don’t really think about the time. As for 500px, I have not tried so I don’t know. Now solve you time management issues, but just giving you my thoughts. 🙂

  22. I also started off concentrating mainly on technique in order to nail down composition. It took some time before I was able to focus less on technique, and more on composition and feel in order to affect better composition.

    It’s like going through phases. I find that it’s still somewhat true when I move into an area of photography that I’ve never really explored before.

  23. I think fascination towards equipment generally fades away as an artist matures. This comes with the realization that although equipment does enhance a piece of art, almost all great works of art are more a result of a brilliant mind than an impressive apparatus.

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