Big Pro Tip: Use What You Have
A photographic bowling ball of wisdom fell into my lap and I almost missed it. It was during my first internship as a photographer at a daily newspaper in Michigan. My photojournalism degree obtained, my college days behind me for the time being and a coveted photography internship in my future, I was fresh, ready and excited for what lay ahead. There are many stories to be told and learned from regarding these experiences, but this is about gear. A sturdy, built-like-a-brick camera was handed to me with a couple of lenses, a flash and a black camera bag and I was off to photograph assignments.
While on assignments during those early days, people would ask me,”How many pixels is your camera?” During those early days though, the least of my concerns was pixel count. I had a tool in my hand that captured images and that was it. People, light, story telling—these were my priorities and concerns. Not only was pixel count unimportant to me, pixel count was also unknown by me. I was so busy telling stories in the beautiful communities nearby, I didn’t care or have time to look up how many pixels there were, it could’ve been 1 or 1,000,000. Turns out, the pixel count on that early camera of mine was in the megapixel range of 2.7. So there it was, 2.7 megapixels of information being used to capture all my photos; through near stories and far, through happy stories and sad.
After that, my next camera was at least twice as many megapixels. Then, with each new release of a camera, there were more and more megapixels bursting out of a camera that could do it all with blazing speed. Maximum features and image quality seemed like my only option if I wanted to capture images I cared about. But, here’s the problem: New cameras come out at a ridiculous pace. Old cameras plummet in value at a ridiculous pace; just putting an insane amount of desire and mind power into purchasing the latest camera is completely ridiculous. I was spiraling into a death-spin photo mindset of believing if my photos weren’t good enough, it must be my camera. How wrong I was about it all.
After buying cameras and seeing their worth drop significantly, I became ready for a change. The days of not knowing what my camera’s limitations were had been gone for too long and I was ready to have them back. I missed the image making process and the art of it all. I missed it when the only important action was to press my shutter button at the right time, not care about what type of electronics were under that shutter button.
Make Images with your Heart and Soul
The purpose of this valuable blog post is to tell you that it’s all about the act of making images, and the image itself, instead of the camera. It’s the process of capturing what you like and practicing that process over and over to improve. When you’re making photos, think about anything else other than the camera you’re using. It doesn’t matter if it’s a camera with 100 megapixels or an oatmeal box with a pinhole and a negative inside (what I used in an eighth-grade photo art class), it’s all about the image, the art, and/or the practice of photography.
The way that I started to achieve my mindset of photo zen was by picking up a 35mm camera and making images with it. I was slowing down, enjoying the process and, most importantly, having fun. Sure, images with a large-format camera would be eye-popping at insanely-large sizes, but I don’t have such a camera nor does mastering every camera style interest me.
I’ve read that 35mm is too small, too this or too that. I thought,” Thirty-five millimeter film is absolutely gorgeous and I’ve encountered masterful works using the medium.” If anything, 35mm is too beautiful. I’ve blown up 35mm negatives and they’re stunning. Give me that grain and gutter-low detail and whatever else and it’ll be perfect, for me. I’ve enlarged 2.67 megapixel images and they’re beautiful too. What’s important here though, is that my 35mm could be your iPhone, or your Holga, etc. I love hearing about photographers that primarily use cell phones, or that have used them on big shoots, like Luisa Dörr. The important camera truly is whatever you have with you and enjoy using.
Some of those images I made during my first photo internship are some of my favorite to this day. When my photos improve, it’s not because my camera was anything, it’s because the image was simply better and my instincts to capture the image were improved. If it’s not abundantly clear already, the bottom line is that you simply make images. Don’t live outside your means to purchase a new camera. Make images that are important to you and create art and images that speak to you, you’ll be happy you did. The bottom line is: Don’t focus so much on the gear that you lose sight of the process and image.
“Life is the art of drawing without an eraser.”John W. Gardner