Deal with it or don't

Monthly Archives: May 2012

Maybe it’s not you. Maybe – just maybe – it IS your camera.

I read several photography blogs. One thing that several of these authors keep saying is, “The camera doesn’t matter.” Now I agree whole heartedly when they say something to the effect of “There’s no substitute for an artist’s eye”, but to say that the camera doesn’t matter is going too far.

There IS no substitute for a good eye. Remember that I said that.

Some of these guys just like to think that they are Ivan Lendl out there playing tennis with a wooden racket, still taking the younger players to school with their space-age rackets made with flubber-imbedded Kevlar.  They say things like, “Your equipment does not affect the quality of your image,” and they tell you stories about how this one guy made award winning photographs with nothing but a fifteen dollar Holga. Imagine someone telling Michael Jordan, “Why do you want a basketball? You know, to be a world-class athlete, all you really need is a wooden tennis racket.  Ivan Lendl did it!”

So you see, in my analogy, the photographer is not just like a tennis player picking his tools for returning serves and volleying. It’s bigger than tennis. It’s all sports. He’s an athlete picking a tool that will not only work on grass and clay, but on hardwood and ice … many different conditions. He’s not just getting tennis balls thrown at him. He’s getting tennis balls, basketballs, and boxing gloves thrown at him – and he has to use his broom to sweep the ice in front of the big round sliding stone… for some reason.

My point is, for some things, all you need is a Holga or a cell phone camera. Likewise, for some sports all you need is a racket. For others, you need a bat, a glove, and some metabolic steroids. Landscape photography has different needs than taking pictures at a dimly lit dance recital. Macro photography has different needs from taking long-exposure shots of fireworks.

What if you want to make an award winning photo, but all you have is a cell phone? Well you are limited to what kind of photos you can get. (Keep remembering that I said that there’s no substitute for a good eye.) You better want your award to be for a photo taken in the bright daylight. You want to control your depth of field? Sorry. You better want your award to be for a photo with a large depth-of-field because you can’t control that.

Want to make an award-winning photo using a Holga? You’d better (have the eye of an artist, and) want some wicked vignetting.

You’d better want to play tennis, because you have a tennis racket.

“Your equipment does not affect the quality of your image” is just simply a ludicrous thing to say, and quite frankly, diminishes all the rest of the authors’ arguments.  If you want people to believe you when you say, “there’s no substitute for an artist’s eye”, then don’t include that on a page where you also say that the equipment has absolutely no effect on the quality of the image.

You want to know another famous person who also said, “your equipment does not affect the quality of your image?” Adolf Hitler. See? All my arguments just fell flat because I went too far and said something that is (almost) certainly not true. These authors have a good message, but they spoil it with crazy proclamations and bad analogies about painters and piano players and their equipment.

An aside:

Speaking of bad analogies – back to Ivan Lendl for one more… These cameras-make-no-difference authors are also often the guys who dismiss techniques like HDR and other post-processing magic. It’s in-camera, or it’s cheating to these guys. When they look at photos from Trey Ratcliff, I can just imagine a look on their faces like the top-ranked Ivan Lendl had when seventeen-year-old Michael Change, suffering from cramps, served underhanded to win the point in the 1989 French Open. Lendl looked at the judges afterward with a look that seemed to say, “that had to break SOME rule, right?”

So don’t feel bad that you framed a shot beautifully, but you can’t get that tiny-depth-of-field effect that you want. It might not be you. It might be your camera. Don’t feel bad that you masterfully used the light to illuminate a beautiful portrait, but you can’t capture what’s in your mind’s eye with your 1990’s era webcam. It might not be you. It might be your camera.

Sorry Wayne Gretzky. Your tennis games sucks. But not just because you aren’t a tennis player. It’s also because hockey sticks make horrible tennis rackets.