The Gear? KISS!

March 14, 2010

I used to shoot with Canon and Nikon 35 mm cameras and Mamiya and Fuji medium format cameras. I also used a 4×5 large format Sinar. I still own several Nikon 35 mm professional bodies and an arsenal of lenses. Lugging around 20 pounds of gear has never really been fun. I also found it limiting my flexibility and joy in going out and taking pictures. Very specialized gear is of course necessary for some types of photography. Over the years I began shooting with less and less heavy gear. It was liberating. Instead of hauling around three bodies and six lenses, I carried maybe one camera and two lenses, or two cameras on professional shoots, because you couldn’t afford not having a backup body. Once I used to haul a large photo bag around all day on vacation, but eventually I took only one small 35 mm compact camera (Ricoh GR-1, if you must know) along. I got outstanding images and I had more fun than when shooting with my heavy professional kit!

I like to keep my photo gear simple now. I don’t need to carry a lot of gear for my kind of photography. Being unencumbered by weight and bulk, I remain flexible and can focus on creating imagery instead of dealing with the gear. As long as the equipment allows me to make a 16×20 inch print in photographic quality, the camera brand does not matter. My DSLR is pretty small and it’s black. I use mostly two lenses, both of which are optically excellent. If an image looks bad, it’s my fault! I am a fan of natural light, but I will use flash to augment available light if needed. Especially when doing Photo Illustration images I tend to use flash with colored gels. I use wireless remote flash, and sometimes I use a tripod. As I said, I like to keep it simple. A big production just isn’t my cup of tea.

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You can’t make silk purses out of sows’ ears, but of course you can try. Technology allows anybody with a computer and photo editing software to substitute to at least some degree the skill of the Photography Craft with extensive editing. If the image was previsualized and executed poorly, all the editing in the world will not make the image a good image. That freshly cobbled together “silk” purse made from sow’s ears will still smell like pig.

Seeing poor or mediocre images photoshopped into something “good enough” has always been very frustrating for me. You can see those images everywhere, including on magazine covers. I have been using Photoshop since the mid-1990s as an image editing tool. I have never used Photoshop to try and “fix” images that could and should have been done right in the first place. I limit image editing generally to image optimization (color balance, curves, sharpness), file and color space conversion, and to sizing. Do I do some retouching? If required, sure. We retouched pimples when we were custom printing, and we did take out the occasional power line. Do I do nonsense like changing a person’s shirt color, do I give someone a digital facelift, do I change the position of their hand in post-production? No way I will do that — there are plenty others who will gladly spend time piddling with a computer. Why would I invest any effort in a poorly created image? I am a photographer and not an image salvager.

The more you get everything right when you take the photograph, the less you have to “fix” later. Use your eyes and “see” — it’s what real photography is all about. The image is created in the Photographer’s Mind right before he takes the photo. It is the technical skill that allows a photographer to “get it right.” That does not mean that every picture comes out as intended or that every picture works and is a masterpiece, but it ensures that the quantity of “keepers” is maximized. A picture taker just snaps away while relying on luck.