Friday, April 20, 2018

Just Stop!

Mike over at ToP has a post up which you can read here in which he talks about missing photography.

Now, to be fair, Mike is in a business. He writes about photography for a living, online, and that basically means that he has to bend a knee now and then to the gearhead. If you want clicks, you gotta talk about equipment, toys, software. But, Mike is talking about something that's more generally applicable. If you feel sometimes like Mike, my advice is: Just Stop.

You don't have to buy a new camera, a new Pocket Wizard, a new strap. You don't even have to know about these things. You don't have to read about this things (unless, like Mike, you write about photography for an online audience, for money).

In fact, it's harmful to spend much effort on these things. You can spend 6 months "mastering" a new thing, only to find that for your kind of photography, what you really need is a few more cross-type focus points, so, damn it, now you have to buy the new new thing and spend six months mastering that.

You don't have to. People used to manual focus the things you "need" the better auto-focus module for, you can probably make the thing you just bought work.

You don't even have to "master" the thing you have now. You only, really, need to find one or two ways to use it that are good enough for whatever pictures you want to take. I own an 8 year old bottom of the line Nikon, and I still don't know half of what it does, and I don't care. I spent some time drinking with an award winning photojournalist who worked with a "Canon 1-something, I dunno what" that he used exclusively in manual. He knew one way to make it work for him, and that was enough.

Time spent reading reviews, time spent monkeying around inside your camera's manual, time spent "testing" and "mastering" this feature and that, this is all time spent not taking the pictures you want to take. It's just a distraction. Just Stop It.

Now, distractions are not all bad. Sometimes we need a mental break, something fun to do to take our mind off the problem at hand. Maybe dorking around with metering modes is a good way to free your unconscious for an afternoon. Ok, fair enough. Maybe you'll even learn a useful thing, maybe not. Maybe you really do want to make something that requires a different camera or a different lens, in which case a little research would fit in.

The people who do really good work are, as often as not, almost but not quite completely stopped on the gear acquisition train. Every now and then they add something new to the quiver, but mostly they're working with what they've got and have been for years. There are exceptions, of course. A few really capable people are also gear buying maniacs, and a few haven't budged since 1962. Most, though, move very slowly and surely through the acquisition of new (or old) tools and methods. A sort of peripheral vision, keeping tabs on what's out there, what's possible, but without too much interest. A little testing now and then, and, more rarely, a new tool taken up.

Ming Thein and Kirk Tuck both talk about "sufficiency." The latter is currently on a journey in which he appears to be learning that "sufficiency" is available on a much larger collection of cameras than is commonly thought. God damn near all of them, I'm starting to think. Thein has somewhat different ideas.

Me, I think that "sufficiency" can be found with god damn near all of them.

There was an obnoxious asshole I ran across once (no, not me, not this time) who explained that you don't actually need a billion millimeter lens for shooting, say, wild birds. At least not if you work at it. He showed off some startling pictures of small birds taken with a 50mm lens. He's just worked out how to get Really Close. He may have been obnoxious and stupid, but that single remark was worth the price of admission. You can do a lot more with the gear you have than you think, if you just work at it harder.


  1. I like to tell the story about how, when I was in school decades ago, we used to have famous photographers as guest lecturers every now and then. Invariably we would ask what they thought of the latest T-Max film Oriental Seagull paper, Nikon/Canon camera, and invariably they would answer with a variation of, "...I have no idea. Been using Tri-X for the last umpteen years, and don't have time to mess around with all that new stuff...."

  2. Sufficiency indeed. After much reading, I bought a Sony 7riii in January, relegating my 9-year-old Canon 5dii to back-up. When the gods smile, the Sony and the 85mm Sony lens (I almost always use 85mm lenses) make wonderful files. But gods demand regular sacrifices and I have sacrificed inordinate amounts of time trying to fathom how to get the camera to do what *I* want when I take a picture. Where the Canon was invisible between my eye and my subject, the Sony is a great big attention hog, with its complex interacting options and seemingly wilful acts of defiance.

  3. Actually, for me, any of the cameras that I have in my pile (film and digital) are more than sufficient for me. And I set all of my digital cameras on Program (HORRORS!), after tinkering a bit with how they see color, and fire away. They seem to do what I want them to do, consistently, so I'm happy. (I know that I'm not a real photographer, but it doesn't matter any more.) Oh, I also really, really like autofocus because I'm 76 years old, nearsighted and with a cataract in my shooting eye. Makes taking pictures ever so much more fun. I plan to get the cataract fixed one of these days...

    With best regards,


  4. On the positive side, it's because of photographers who regularly ride the upgrade train that a bottom-feeder-on-a-budget, such as myself, can assemble a high-performance camera outfit by purchasing used camera gear for a fraction of what it cost new.

    Remember, depreciation only sucks when you buy new things! 8^0

  5. The nice thing is that it doesn't matter where you stop, as long as you stop. Do you like Autofocus? Great! Can you really make use of the 3D RGB Color Tracking Autofocus/Exposure Mode NOW WITH AI? Great!

    Just.. Stop. When you get to a place that suits you well enough, get off the train.