At the end of my last blog post, I found my writing devolving into a contradictory discussion of vision and creativity vs. equipment. The first half was about the OM-D and how it represents great technology and opportunity, and then went on to ramble and rant about how the equipment doesn’t really matter. It didn’t make sense, as I was rambling on about how the camera doesn’t matter after just talking about all the reasons it DID matter, and to me specifically! Indeed, there are contradictions, I think, for many photographers, as we balance the craft with the art. Many of us are gear heads, and many of us like the promise of new technology. We follow the siren song of resolution, and clean high ISOs, and fast and accurate autofocus. Instead of having one, incredibly long, contradictory, and unfocused blog post, I figured I’d split it into two, and discuss both aspects.
Here’s where it started:
I have read several articles recently that assert that contrary to the old adage that gear doesn’t matter, sometimes it does (specialized photography like sports or birding, etc). I feel like they’re kind of missing the point of the adage, though. They’re missing the essential truth of the matter. Sure, the equipment matters–with the OM-D, I can take it with me when the DSLR is impractical, and still get great photos. When the OM-D is impractical, I can take my iPhone and use that. When I’m getting paid to shoot, I make sure as hell to bring the best and biggest guns I have with me to make sure I satisfy my clients. The equipment matters, no doubt.
In the end, though, it all comes down to your vision. Recently I saw a story in Sports Illustrated where the lead photo–a full-page, glorious color photo–had been taken using Hipstamatic on an iPhone (it was this article, but the online version doesn’t have the photo). It was a portrait, and not a peak action shot, but still… technically, you can shoot sports with an iPhone. The limits of your gear force you to make decisions, compromises, choices. Just because you can’t shoot something the way it is customarily shot because of some gear limit, doesn’t mean you CAN’T shoot it.
The article I read asserted that only when you are beginning photography does the equipment truly not matter. I think that’s hogwash. We are all constrained or limited by something–budget, equipment, size, whatever. the OM-D (see, even though I’m rambling, I’m bringing it all back together!) and the 5D3 together remind me that I didn’t always have the big guns that I do now, but I still managed somehow. Four or five years ago, I couldn’t shoot at f/1.2 and ISO 12,800, but I still managed to shoot some weddings and make some people happy with marginal ISO 1600 and f/2.8. I don’t plan to go try to shoot an SI cover with my OM-D, but really, who’s to say I couldn’t? Who’s to say I couldn’t totally re-imagine how sports should be shot? Who’s to say you couldn’t, or shouldn’t? (I am in no way implying that I’m smart enough to re-invent these things, just that I object to the naysayers who say CAN’T, DON’T, and WON’T a lot).
Embrace the limitations of your gear, and know that those limits will always be pushed further and higher and longer. The march of technology will still go on, and in the end, has very little impact on your photography or your vision. It may make some things easier, or more possible, but no one will be looking at your photos fifty years from now, wondering what focal length or shutter speed you used. Or looking at that SI story and thinking it might have been better if you’d used your DSLR.
If anyone at all is looking at your photos in fifty years, it’s because you had something meaningful to convey. You had a vision, you had a purpose, you had something to share that no one else did, or presented it in a way no one else had. You presented the world as you saw it, altered by your assumptions, convictions, aesthetics and whims. You showed what you thought was beautiful, or important, or worthwhile to photograph.
Go work on that. Go develop that vision. Go indulge that curiosity, that desire to take photographs of things to see how they look photographed. Sure, if you want to get down to brass tacks and be literal and uber-specific, gear matters sometimes. But really, it doesn’t and it shouldn’t. Because if you look hard enough and open your mind to the possibilities, you’ll find a photograph or two in there.