On Why You Need to Rewire Your Thinking If You Obsess Over Photography Gear

Be honest: when was the last time you drooled over the latest piece of gear? If you're like most of us, it was probably more recently than you'd care to admit. And while there has been a lot said on the subject, I think this rant really cuts to the heart of the matter.

Coming to you from Karl Taylor, this great video rant makes his view on how much gear matters abundantly clear, but it also offers quite a few bits of wisdom along the way, all of which I agree with. While we've all heard it before and all know that yes, there are certain situation where only certain gear can get the shot, by and large, the truth is that we spend way too much time worrying about minutiae of equipment that already provides capabilities so far above and beyond what we need to make the images in our heads that it's borderline ridiculous to discuss it at the lengths we often do. Of course, there's nothing inherently wrong with being geeky and having fun talking about gear, but when it starts to detract from cognitive effort that could be spent on making better, more compelling images, then there's a problem. As Taylor says, we need to "start thinking about the way [we] think about photography."

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60 Comments

Fun. This popped up while I was in the middle of scanning yesterday's roll of 35mm film, photographed with the very nice but obsolete Nikon F4. Some frames looked good, others less so - but there was nothing in the good shots that I felt was lacking simply because I didn't take them with the latest digital camera. Now, I'm an amateur - and always will be - so I have that time and no need for the business efficiency that Karl referred to and what I currently do is what provides me with the greatest pleasure. That said, I still drool over lovely cameras and lenses. The difference being that I know if I follow through with a purchase, that, in itself, isn't going to improve my photography one bit.

Alex Cooke's picture

Yeah, I think you hit the nail on the head. That's pretty much how I feel too; I don't mind drooling over gear because I'm a geek and genuinely enjoy the wow factor of these amazing machines and pieces of glass, and I think that's fine as long as I remember that it isn't going to improve my imagery (as opposed to photography).

Peter Mabli's picture

Your opinion is bad and you are wrong. There is no pleasure in photography other than maximizing image quality.

Stop enjoying yourself!

:)

LOL!

Peter Mabli's picture

“There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.” -Ansel Adams

You do you, Richard. Enjoy your journey making something memorable and worthwhile.

Adams used the largest film possible and the best quality lenses to achieve the best technical quality You are either misinterpreting and/or misusing that quote.

Ah no he's not. That quote illustrates the point completely. Perhaps you've misunderstood the quote itself.

No, I didn't misunderstand it at all. The fact is Ansel Adams found both the technical and the artistic important.

Peter Mabli's picture

Nope. Adams understood that, while technical quality is important, it is one of numerous components that make a good photograph, and a good photographer. Sharp images are nothing without vision; that’s what is meant by his quote. He preferred large format, but also shot 6x6, including Half Dome in 1960.

But you are wrongly using what he said to downplay the technical. From everything I have read and know of him, he simply wouldn't do that. It's fair to say the technical side of photography was equally important to him.

He used medium format in his senior years, for obvious reasons. Of course he also could have used 35mm, but he didn't, again for obvious reasons.

Peter Mabli's picture

Read what I wrote more carefully, and try not to let your own bias blind you to it. The technical is important in photography, but as a means to an artistic vision.

No, you, and clearly not just you, are the one that is showing bias. I have addressed both aspects of photography, the objective and the subjective, equally. You do not get to determine for others how much they value either. While you may find the artistic far more important, not every photographer shares your view.

You're also trolling again by mimicking things I say, as you were doing in our last discussion. If you want to keep getting responses from me you'll stop doing that. I'm not playing your childish game Peter.

Peter Mabli's picture

Seriously, Bob, enough with the trolling accusations. What did I say that was mimicking you?

And of course I don’t get to say how much one values the technical over the artistic components of photography. It’s a spectrum and an interplay whose levels are determined by the photographer. You're responding to a thread where I commented to Richard to “enjoy his journey making something memorable and worthwhile”, silly goose!

You seem from previous posts to value the technical more so than some other people may. Good for you! I mean that sincerely. I don’t knock you or others for that, try doing the same for others with slightly different priorities.

And also, I hope you find the absursity in calling me childish in a post that you begin with the equivalent of “No I’m not, you are!”

So silly!

"...but there was nothing in the good shots that I felt was lacking simply because I didn't take them with the latest digital camera."

Perhaps it's a case of ignorance being bliss, or for your particular use. Sometimes I wish I couldn't see the difference, or that it didn't matter, but I've scanned a lot of film on dedicated films scanners and the fact is 35mm film compared to 35mm digital is a huge difference in objective quality. The same goes in favor of APS C compared to 35mm film.

"The difference being that I know if I follow through with a purchase, that, in itself, isn't going to improve my photography one bit."

It can improve the objective quality of your images. In the film example, it will in a dramatic way.

I guess it depends on what you mean by 'quality'. If you obsess about 'maximizing image quality' - and it seems that is the be all and end all of your photographic viewpoint - then you are right. I, on the other hand, look for artistry.

I'm talking about objective quality. That doesn't depend on anyone's point of view or preference. Objectively quality is what can be measured. In the 35mm example, 35mm digital delivers far better resolution and far less noisier images, especially on the high end for the later.

Artistry doesn't get any more subjective. Remember, photography is both technical, the objective, and artistic, the subjective. That's always been the case. Some people swing more in one direction than others, that's all.

I'm not going to argue with you over the technicalities. I have both digital and film cameras - I am well aware of the differences. What you have failed to understand when I wrote "there was nothing in the good shots that I felt was lacking simply because I didn't take them with the latest digital camera" is that the best objective quality is simply irrelevant to me. I could have photographed the scene digitally - I made the artistic choice to shoot film. What is relevant is the artistic worth of the result, and, of course, each of us tends to interpret that differently.

"What you have failed to understand when I wrote "there was nothing in the good shots that I felt was lacking simply because I didn't take them with the latest digital camera" is that the best objective quality is simply irrelevant to me."

No I didn't. I said "perhaps it's a case of ignorance being bliss, or for your particular use." Your particular use covers that.

What I then went on to talk about was something that is typically not spoken about in such discussions and articles, that photography is both subjective and objective. This topic almost always conflates the two or simply ignores the objective. Even the photographer in the video gives the impression that there is no objective quality difference between 35mm digital and 35mm film. That's misinformation and a disservice to novices and amateurs.

"What is relevant is the artistic worth of the result,.."

That's fine, but what is relevant to other photographers, I would most, is both the artistic and the technical. What you wrote and what the photographer in the video said doesn't address that.

Sorry - you're wrong, Mr. Brady. You have an axe to grind, and good luck with it, but please don't apply your misconceptions to my intentions. Let's leave it at that.

What exactly am I wrong about and what axe do have to grind? I simply and obviously corrected you on something you said I failed to understand and then I addressed what you and the photographer in the video both failed to address. That's all.

As I said, let's leave it at that.

By the way, Bob, I'd be really interested to see some of your photographs - I notice you don't seem to have any here. Do you have another display site?

What do my photos have to do with what was being discussed?

Nothing much - or maybe a lot. I won't know until I see them. You do have some?

Maybe a lot in what way?

I don't know! I'm interested but if you don't
want to share that's OK.

I'm interested in the topic.

You don't have to agree or respond Richard, but you're not going to silence me.

I'm an amateur also. What's interesting is that I have two of the three cameras that Karl featured in his video; no, I don't own a Hasselblad. I've been shooting film since 1980 with my Canon A-1. I added a used Canon New F-1 so I could use my Canon FD lenses. What I didn't know was that my wife bought me a Canon 5D III for Christmas 2013. I enjoy photography whether it's film or digital. With the price of the 5D, I'll use that until it breaks.

I'm not a gear geek and don't really care about such things but it does get a bit old hearing this stuff over and over again. Rather than telling people what not to do, I much prefer practical articles on how to improve photography. If there were more of those, I wouldn't be reading articles I don't really care about. Maybe I should get a hobby. I hear photography is therapeutic and not too expensive. ;-)