Technique for Its Own Sake

Just before the weekend, I bought myself a new camera. Nothing much to write a blog post about, really. But then I thought about how little excitement I felt about the acquisition—and how good that actually is. Which, then, is why I now write about my new camera.

My point, of course, is that a camera is only a tool, something we need in order to be able to take photos. The camera, whatever kind it is, or however expensive it is, doesn’t matter much. It goes back to the old saying; it’s not the camera but the man or woman behind the camera that matters.

When I got my new camera, I set it up and customized it so it works the same way as my other cameras for easy transition between the cameras I work with. Then I took a few test shot, was happy with the result, and put it in my camera bag. Yesterday I used it for an assignment—and all is back to normal by now.

I have not always been this laidback about my cameras. In fact, I think that goes for a lot of people who photograph—and certainly photographers. There is always something special about a new camera and camera technique in general—at least for many photographers. You don’t need to be a camera geek or a technical wizard to be able to take pleasure in the technical aspect of photography. When I started with photography, I certainly was in that place. Not that I wasn’t interested in the final result, the photographs, but I enjoyed handling the cameras and the equipment as well, and I was definitely excited whenever I acquired a new piece of equipment. Today I know that technique is okay, but also that it’s very easy to get stuck in it.

Technique for its own sake is meaningless, at least if you are out there photographing and intending to create personal and moving photos.

When I first picked up a camera with a more serious intention, I got caught up with the technical aspect of photography. I learned as much as I could about the craft, I quickly found out about all settings my camera had to offer, I read about optics, camera functionalities, composition and so on, and I took sharp, well-exposed and well-composed photos—mostly at least. But the pictures all lacked soul, although at the time I didn’t think so. This was in my late teens and into the beginning of my twenties. Back then, I would not even consider a photograph that was not technically perfect or at least of good quality. These days I have come around 180 degrees. Today, if I had to choose between the two—a meaningful picture that is technically poor and a meaningless picture that is photo-technically unassailable—I unhesitatingly would choose the first.

Of course, back in those days we needed to understand the craftsmanship more than we do today. We shot with unforgivable film, the cameras where manual, without autofocus and mostly without automatic exposure modes. We had to know how to set the shutter speed, the aperture and we had to focus manually, with films that had little latitude and was expensive, at least for a young man still not making tons of money. Although all this craftsmanship I needed to learn did not help me create photos with any soul and heart at the time, it became a backbone when I finally was able to let loose and started to adapting towards a more creative approach (so don’t get me wrong; the technical aspect of photography is an important part of it all).

The turnaround came when I studied photography at the International Center of Photography in New York. I came with the idea that I was already a proliferate photographer, and got completely frustrated when my fellow students and my teachers clearly did not think the same. However, instead of closing myself down inside a shell, I pushed on and pushed through and finally started to listened to my heart more than the craftsmanship I had so believed in before. So, yes, it is all too easy to get stuck in the technique.

The morale is simple: Cameras are not important. You behind it are.

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken a Canon EOS-5D and a 28-135 mm lens set at 93 mm. Shutter speed: 1/200 s. Aperture: f/13. The camera (the one I photographed) was placed on a light table and lit with a flash from the front. The photo was processed in Lightroom.