12.24.2009

A great article by Ken Rockwell. Really.

http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/simplicity.htm

I get that a lot of photographers consider Ken Rockwell to be irrelevant at best and a source of wild and unsubstantiated craziness at his worst, but I've come to find the core of many of his arguments to be quite valid.  If you read the article I linked above you'll find some great reasoning for becoming conversant with one lens and one camera body.  Hopefully the least complicated body you can find.

I've written similar essays and I've come to the same conclusion:  More gear = less good photos.

The image above is of Sarah L.  I wanted to use her on the cover of my third book but my publisher and I didn't see eye to eye on that one.  When I shoot portraits I generally shoot them with the same lens and the same settings.  Even the light is largely the same.  That's because the portrait is about the subject and not about the technique.  If the technique is the first thing you notice in one of my portraits that means I've failed.  Miserably.  The camera is out of focus and Sarah is in focus.  And that's the way I meant it to be.

Give Ken his due.  He gets it right more often than a lot of would like to admit.

41 comments:

Bronislaus Janulis said...

Harumph! Now you're in trouble.

Never understood the venom for a guy who is funny, has strong opinions, and doesn't take his opinions quite as seriously as the naysayers do for their own thoughts.

Bron

kirk tuck said...

Bron, I'll be frank. I love the guy's stuff. I think he's right a hell of a lot more often than I think he's wrong. And the sense of humor.......sublime.

Anonymous said...

Ken is evil. Ken is satan. Ken is the second coming of Dick Cheney...
Oh wait. This isn't DPReview. I should calm down. Maybe I should read his article before I try to go for his throat. What would it do to my world view if I had to admit he was right?

kirk tuck said...

Now, now. Let's keep politics out of the comments. I'm hardly apolitical but I don't want to alienate the half of my readers who are absolutely wrong. :-)

Daniel Fealko said...

"I'm hardly apolitical but I don't want to alienate the half of my readers who are absolutely wrong."

Well, I guess I can overlook this one transgression. After all, most of us have strong opinions; we just don't like to see them in others. Thus, the problem some have with Ken.

Ken is what he is; enjoy him or ignore him.

Damen said...

Actually I think you have it in reverse Kirk, I find Ken Rockwell to be irrelevant at worst and a source of wild and unsubstantiated craziness at his best - this is what makes me think about me and what I want - Ken is inconsistent and contradictory and passionate - you have to read a lot of him to understand where you stand and to be able to ignore his Leica-hating to Leica loving ways etc ...

Clay said...

I think Ken is really funny. He is more clever than people give him credit for, and I think that a lot of times they don't understand that he is being ironic in staking out one of his seemingly outrageous positions on a subject. As you pointed out, I don't think he takes himself nearly as seriously as his detractors take him. He is a wildly inconsistent, and occasionally illogical personality.

Eric said...

I've had problems with some of the things Ken has said in the past, but he nailed this one. I've been through 3 DSLR's and an E-P1 in the past two years trying to find a camera I like. For the most part all were way overly complicated. Since I was using M-Mount glass on my E-P1 I picked up a used Voigtlander Bessa R3a because I wanted to try a true Rangefiner. That camera opened my eyes. It made me hate the E-P1. I got so fed up I sold off all my digital geat and bought a couple of old film SLR's with the money. I've decided a Pentax LX is the camera for me and I couldn't be happier. Why for the love of all that is holy can't just one manufacturer aside from Leica make a "digital Pentax LX"? I guess I'm jut going to have to save up for a few years and buy an M9. There are no other options out there for me.

Bold Photography said...

It appears that he's had a flash of coherency. However, when we look back at the generally-regarded 'great' photographers, almost all of them used one camera, one lens, and black and white film. Minimize the variables sets the brain free... there's truth there.

Anonymous said...

I've always admired Rockwell's style. His combination of realistic detail, genuine yet unforced sentimentality and sense of humor make his works among my favorites. I especially like his "Four Freedoms" series.

What?

Oh KEN Rockwell...

In that case, well, I like him too because he deflates a lot of stuffed shirts and big heads.

MyVintageCameras said...

I don't know why people are so polarized by Ken.....But I've taken my best photos with the one camera-one lens approach. I'm getting back into tht mode again, because it works!.

Adrian Rahardja said...

It's just too bad that beginners don't usually start out thinking 'Simple' (myself included). In the beginning, I could never understand why one wouldn't want a 10-450mm super-telezoom & choose a prime 85 f/1.4 instead. Now I see. Thanks to people like Ken and yourself.

But I do love me some gear... they're just too sexy to ignore :P

Nina said...

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! XO
Nina

kirk tuck said...

Wish I'd just kept the old Canon FTb and a little sack of lenses and plodded along....

I gotta keep repeating to myself, "Gear is not candy." or "Gear is not magic."

peekay said...

This article explains why I just never have as much fun with my dslr and point/shoot as I do with my film cameras.

Poagao said...

I agree with much of what Rockwell says...it's just the poor writing style and the general arrogance that irks me. Granted, he's not as bad a writer as Chris Weeks, but the latter, as well as you, Kirk, are both better photographers than Rockwell, and that's what makes me stop when he effectively compares himself with great artists and performers.

But as has been said, he is what he is, and we're all perfectly free to disregard him if we choose.

Poagao said...

I also wish he'd decide when and why he capitalizes "Leica" in his articles.

And perhaps use the return key a little less.

Mandáš said...

I am a long time reader, admirer and - let me say - disciple of Ken. I eagerly read his articles and reviews, he is too damned birght, sometimes, he himself has to use some irony on himself, too.
I istinctively trust a guy who can self-ironic: it means he knows is is fallible, but doesn't hold him back from using his own brains.
H ehas changed radically opinions over isuses, in time, but that is exactly what opinions are: not The Revealed Truth!
I first strted reading Thom Hogan, then i discovered Ken Rockwell, last but not least i bumped into your blog, Kirk, and let me say that i find many similarities among the obvious differences in each's photography and philosophy on photography.
So who-a to you guys for sharing your experience and thinking with us all!
Merry Xmas!!!!

Marino

Janne Morén said...

People mostly react to Ken Rockwell's brash and over the top style. The actual information and viewpoints hiding behind the arm-waving and hyperbole is usually well thought-out, insightful and pretty much correct.

Toby said...

I'm a fan of of the simple approach, but a lot of people who call themselves photographers, especially amateurs, are really collectors of photographic equipment. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but when you ask them to give up bagfuls of lenses you are actually telling them give up the major part of their hobby, and that's why they get upset.

SS Buchanan said...

I accept that the _core_ message is good... I enjoy using my old Nikon 55mm f/1.2 manual focus, but just last night it didn't work.

I needed a wider lens! If I walked backwards to get the framing I wanted, there were cars in the way, and then a 3 lane motorway. There was no way to get ANY shot I wanted with the fixed lens I had.

So I compromised, and I'm not happy with any of the photos in that location.

On to the article, Rockwell commented how he took such 'great' photos when he only took one lens. To me, they were some of the ugliest photos I've seen recently, which really ruined his message (for me).

Kirk, the other interesting tid-bit is that you've carefully controlled the DOF in your picture above, and then point to an article where Rockwell encourages people to use a Quicksnap, which has no control over the DOF at all :)

Hope you're having a great holiday!

Bruce Robbins said...

What you have to remember is that Ken writes his website for a living. He needs to drive traffic to it and he does that by writing opinionated, sometimes controversial stuff. That's what all columnists, whether online or in the print media, do to attract readers. No-one gets read by being bland.

On that basis, Ken is clearly excellent at what he does. He also puts a lot of work into it, isn't afraid to go against perceived wisdom and prick a few egos. I think he's a great and entertaining read and his is the first website I go to every morning at work (oops - keep that bit to yourself).

Bruce Robbins said...

I forgot to add that Ken's also a much better photographer than many people give him credit for - especially the goons who inhabit photography forums and have galleries packed with pictures of their cats!

Anonymous said...

Ken is a clever and lucid guy and I love his site but I have recently forced myself to stop because he is way to dangerous. I have reviewed some of the stuff I have bought over the years and can clearly see his influence in my purchasing decisions.

Ken is not a photographer with a blog sideline, remember, the blog IS the source of income and he has been incredibly successful in raising the profile of his site. He has also been very smart with his target audience, namely enthusiasts who want to know more, but not necessarily the guys who have already developed advanced skills and have a better informed idea about what they need. In short, Ken has zoned in on the key demographic and nailed them.

Get a D40, it's all that you need, buy it here, and get a lens here, and if you KNOW why you need a D300s (who cares?) then you are not in the demographic anyway. By the way real 'pro' photographers wear their camera straps like this...

Ken comes out with some crazy stuff, but you are dead right about the core argument, and it is the embellishment, the evangalising and inconsistencies, the mangling of cause and effect that all helps to raise his profile and encourages click click click!

There is a lot to admire about the guy, he works for himself and makes money writing and taking photos. Sure beats going to the office every day like chumps like me.

BTW Kirk, great job on 'Minimalist Lighting'.

Michael

John Ricard said...

I think a lot of Ken's problems stemmed from his writing of "reviews" of equipment that he didn't own -or equipment that wasn't even out yet. If he had simply called these things "Initial Impressions" or something, rather than reviews, I don't think he would have generated such dislike.

That said, I've read some common sense articles he's written (like the one Kirk linked to) that I have agreed with.

Marshall said...

Well, he's making a point that I think Michael Johnston made more eloquently (if not entirely practically) in his suggestion to just shoot with one lens for a year.) I suspect Ken's going to get a lot more traffic than Mike given that he also writes sensationalistically (e.g., in his way of generalizing many photographers together as bad phtographers and implying both their interests and limitations).

Trusting your judgment, Kirk, I'm giving the benefit of the doubt and crediting Ken for that couple good ideas even if I wish he wrote them differently. Personally, I think of this as a way to overcome the challenge of being able to focus on what's important in the photograph. If I can consistently do that while many other distractions surround me, maybe I'll become half the photographer I want to be. But I'll probably still be an inveterate lens-switcher.

- Marshall

John Krumm said...

Hey, I like all my cat photos. : )

I like the "simple" approach, but don't mind a good zoom cluttering up my thought process on occasion. The mind is actually quite flexible! I can take a wide angle cat photo, then zoom in real close on the face. The Zen of zoom, I call it. : )

kirk tuck said...

Everything is hyperbole. Use what you want but understand why you want it. I guess that's the underlying message.

John Taylor said...

Hey Kirk Merry Merry best of the season and all that, i still have my FTb and a couple of FD lens (24 ƒ2.8, 50 ƒ 1.4) Almost got rid of them, glad i didn't even though i hardly use them any more. (XP2!!!!)

Anonymous said...

Hello Kirk,

Ken is bit of funny and his views are reasonable... but not allways right in my POV and he is a Nikon Guy. Anyway. Back to the topic.

I take similar views and thats why I like 4/3. Take it simple.. take a fully featured DSLR(by this I mean IS, AF, Liveview, manual Controls etc. and not ISO, DR, MP blabla) three to five lenses and that's it - or all you need.

To a degree thats why I Like an Leica M so much (ok I can't afford one but that's on a different page).

And I the end those are those reasons why I like reading you Blog - take it simple, look at your clients, what's the job and take the right approach. Gear is only a side part of it. And great photos as well.



Borbarad

Scot Allen said...

Gear Candy... makes me smile

Happy Holidays!

kirk tuck said...

Luscious gear candy. Eat to much and you'll get a gear- tummy ache.

Anonymous said...

I get a kick out of Ken recommendations. All digital but real photographers of course shoot Velvia with film cameras according to this same source. Mamiya 7's are the best camera but he shoots 35mm Leicas instead. Contradiction after contradiction. And he doesn't even have to get a real job!!! What a life. :)

Noons said...

Ken is a perfect demonstration of a simple principle: there are no absolutes!
Yes, digital is good. Yes, film is good. Yes, using less equipment lets you concentrate on the image making.
And yes: you are absolutely right if you "hate" him.
Now, go out with a single camera and a single lens and make some real photography. You'll enjoy it.

Royce said...

The thing I've found helpful about Ken Rockwell is his refrain to stop blaming the gear for bad pictures and to not evaluate a camera or lens based on how it does while photographing a color chart.

The people who seem the most pissed by Rockwell are the gearheads on photo forums (who, I admit, he does ridicule) or people or are just annoyed by his bombastic style. B

James Bland said...

Ken needs to make some attribution on some of anthropology remarks regarding men and women, but that aside, I agree with his viewpoint to a point.

There are some compositions that require different focal lengths and being familiar with Wide angle and Long lens perspectives in composition can improve the photograph.

Sometimes you just can't get closer or farther away. Having the right tool in the box is helpful.

Carry the owners manual if you must, be familiar with those functions that you regularly use which are normally on the camera, the others are probably irrelevant unless you're using them as consistent style elements.

I've created great compositions with Pinhole cameras, like butter, and I've created some beautiful images with a large format field camera. I've owned a Canon AE-1, which is now in the possession of my niece with just the 3 lenses which I gave her and I miss that camera.

In the end, if you're not having fun or doing the work you like doing and the equipment is getting in the way, do something different.

The point is to have the right tool for the right job and produce the right output as simply as you can. As stated, it's composition that sells the image, not the gear it's produced on, as long as you meet your customer's minimum requirements.

Anonymous said...

I've been using 35mm and 120 film for 35 years. Three years ago I went on a two week Mediterranean cruise and took only a Leica CM and E100G film. To date, those are my best photographs. The camera hung on my belt and I was free to observe and photograph when I saw something I liked. Ken is correct in his premise.

Ken Rockwell said...

Hi All,

Thanks, Kirk, you are too kind.

To him who asked, Leica is the company, and LEICA is the trademark.

Leica is used when referring to the organization, and LEICA, as in LEICA SUMMICRON, is used when referring to a particular product.

I use short paragraphs because I like to keep each to one thought.

I'm trying to knock out the last thing I'll need to write, which is the Holy Grail of defining what makes a good photo. Maybe if I can write it, I can go out and actually take some pictures for a change and give up on new gear articles.

I'm tired of all this digital stuff I have to rebuy every other year.

kirk tuck said...

OMG!!! I have a Ken Rockwell response on my blog!!! Seriously, thanks Ken. Great explanation for the variations on Leica and LEICA. I'm glad to see you here. I'm an unabashed fan.

Anonymous said...

As a new reader to kens website, I am glad that I found him. KISS. Keep it simple stupid. I love it. Well he dint say that exactly but he implies it. I love the fact that he isn't an inflated windbag like some. I've read a lot of articles that say u have to use Photoshop etc.... I say bull. If you are really good you should be able to wow the crowd right out of the camera. Those of you who can't shouldn't call yourselves pros. Welcome to the aspiring ranks with the rest of us.

Mark said...

Never have I seen so much digital editing as I do with the majority of Ken Rockwell images. Sorry if it offends you Kirk, or Ken or any of his seemingly blind followers. I've only been a full-time pro for 40 years straight, and maybe I'm still learning. But I'm old enough tell it as I see it.