9.06.2011

You can make nice photographs with anything but your keyboard and your mouth.

If you are any good at this hobby/profession you should be able to take this little camera with it's "tiny" sensor and slow focus and long black out time with each shutter release, and make some really nice photos.  If you can't then all the good gear in the world won't help you one bit.  You might just be too incurious to be a photographer....

Some people recently have been asking me about what camera they should buy.  I am mystified.  Don't these people know I switch camera systems and evaluative parameters more often than most people switch underwear?  From one week to the next I might suggest a Leica S2 or a Holga.  And when I ask for their preferences they basically give me a laundry list that covers the gamut from close ups of gnats (you know, "fill the frame...") to following their child across a soccer field at a full gallop.  But they want the machine to be easy to use and small enough to fit in a purse.  The dads usually have a recent copy of Sports Illustrated which they open to page 27 to show me the kind of stuff they'd like to shoot of little Johnny.  It's usually a 1200mm shot of a world surfing champion riding a sick curl or a tight shot of a quarterback being sacked in a night time game at the end of a 400mm 2.8 optic on a camera that does 10 fps at 16 megapixels at a clean 12,000 ISO.  If it's a mom she pulls out her iPhone and suggests that if it were, "just a little bigger than this that would be great."

They'd like to be able to make poster sized prints of Johnny and Sally but they want the files to be small enough to send out to everyone on Facebook from their phones, and.....oh.....they don't "Do" Photoshop so the files should be great right out of the camera.  "The less work I have to do the better." And my favorite:  "I just want something good enough to do the kind of work you do..."

I'm generally at a loss.  But even more so because I know that they will never read the manual, never read a book about basic photographic technique and, I'm probably the fifth photographer they know that they've asked this same question of, and I'm sure they've already heard, "Canon Rebel, Nikon 3100" over and over again.  Why torment me?  What did I do to deserve this?

This shot was taken with that camera (above) and it seems to be pretty nice to me.  It's in focus.  It's reasonably sharp and the colors are pretty.  But I can't recommend it to most people because they won't take the time to learn how to use it. And they sure won't spring for the EVF.  Now I only recommend cameras that: a. Can be purchased at Wolf Camera or Walmart.  b.  Have a "green" zone that means "no other thinking required."  c.  Have a Canon or Nikon logo on them because I'm tired of them coming back and telling me that the guy at Walgreens who makes their prints has never heard of Pentax or Olympus before....and he's been "running the lab" for at least a year.  And d.  Require no small accessories or parts....

But then I get to look at the photographs they generally produce and I wonder why they bother at all.  Most of my affluent friends don't take my advice to buy entry level cameras.  They can afford "the best" and most of them are walking around with Canon 5dmk2s and Nikon D700s.  To which they've attached a really cheap 18-400mm 5.6 to f11 ultra zoom.  But it really doesn't matter because the only photographs I've ever seen from them are on their iPhones.  And I rarely have my reading glasses handy when they want to show me a photograph of Sally that's so backlit it's nearly a silhouette and so cropped that we're looking at a couple hundred pixels at best.

I've changed tactics.  Now, if I'm personally really excited about a film Hasselblad camera system, then that's what I recommend to everyone.  To grade schoolers and grandmothers.  How about a 201f with a 40mm Zeiss, an 80 and a 180?  Maybe some 220 backs?  Then I shoo them over to the computer so we can go to the B&H site and start researching larger Gitzo carbon fiber tripods.  And compendium lens hoods.  If I'm into compact cameras I might goad them into hunting down an older Olympus 8080 that I always found intriguing.  And lights.  Lots and lots of lights.  Pretty soon word gets around and the "give it to me all in a pretty wrapper"  people stop calling and asking about cameras.  And that's okay with me.  Because I have my hands full of people who are ready to make that "big move" into "professional photography" and they're calling to ask me....."which camera bag should I buy?"......and we start all over again.  And then the big question....."which billing software?"  I show them my abacus and my double entry paper ledger and they back out the door slowly and watch me carefully for other signs of......instability.

All of which is to say: if you don't want to do the work and learn the craft, or the techniques or the business,  it really doesn't matter what camera you buy.  Because, whatever you shoot there you are.

(Apologies to Buckaroo Bonzai).


34 comments:

Ed Z said...

My tactic is to tell them the truth:

"Any DSLR or Mirrorless-interchangeable-lens camera on the market today will take beautiful shots and be more than adequate for your needs, if operated correctly. Buy the one that feels most comfortable in your hand - the one where all the buttons are in "the right place" for your fingers."

I like your idea though... maybe I should just start saying "well, I dunno 'bout dem dere fancy digitaly whosits... but I got this swell mamiya I can tell you all about..."

photohc said...

exactly my thoughts...:-)

kirk tuck said...

I might be interested in medium format digital cameras next week. I can hardly wait to hear about it when some acquaintance calls up Adorama to price an H4D.....

Poagao said...

Why not the ever-simple, easy-to-use "I don't know." That's what I use, sometimes with an added "Pretty much anything should do fine these days" if I'm feeling particularly loquacious.

michael said...

Thanks for a good laugh. This is so timely. I was out shooting on the beach yesterday with that same little camera you picture. I was also using a manual speedlight and a small soft box. Some guy came up to me, wearing two big Canons, and asked my why was I using the flash during a sunny afternoon. I didn't look, but he probably had that 18-400 f11 lens on one of them.

Anyway, I told him the flash was to scare off aliens.

Bold Photography said...

@ Michael - people look funny when I break out the flash for pool shots... nothing like bouncing flash off the water to light up the kid's faces - along with a CPL to make the water really deep blue... but those are with a big Canon and a big prime lens on front.

I may be picking up a Hasselblad later this week - and when that happens.... back into the dark, mysterious world of film. If I can only figure out how to load those backs properly....

Trudehell said...

You made me think of this cartoon from another blog:
http://www.dannyst.com/blogimg/wtd.jpg

Your post is well written and true to some extent. Still I don't understand the need to patronize hobbyists and amateurs, other than to differentiate between them and yourself big time. If you're a good photographer your work will do that for you. I guess that's why you also throw in photos in your post - to let your work do a little talking too.

Unlike the amateurs you describe that would never read a book about photography or touch any non-green buttons on their camera, I'm trying to learn more about the complex and wast subject of photography, out of a genuine wish to take photos a little above snapshots - and because the hobby of photography is very educational in so many ways. (Shoot I have to write about that in my blog sometime!)

Even though I have read a book or two, I am no doubt closer to the amateur mother with the iPhone, than to anyone making a dollar form their photos. And stupid enough your post makes me feel guilty for liking to have photography as a hobby.

Think about it the next time you want to look down your nose at some silly bugger wearing a Canon & looking bewildered: Maybe it's me - or one of my kind.

jasonhindle said...

With the E-PL1, I've taken two of the best photos I've ever taken in the last year, for no other reason than it happened to be with me when it wouldn't have been practical to have the DSLR in my bag.

For my purposes, I think my current DSLR will be my last.

Marco Venturini-Autieri said...

So eventually you adopted my tactic too, however you described it much better than I can. Nice post!
Marco

Kevin said...

Thank the stars you recommended the compendium hood at least they will know you are serious. My little Nikon D5000 is great light easy to carry and if you stop down the kit lens sharp enough to get the job done.

Paulo Rodrigues said...

Hi Kirk, I took your advice and bought that camera. The only problem is that I don't know what to photograph. Could you advise me?

Bruce L. Snell said...

The caption under your first photo totally did it for me...

"-you might be too dumb to be a photographer"

I'm still chuckling to myself.

Dave Elfering Photography said...

Good post. But at least some of us are honest and admit they're wannabes! My whole blog is the wannabe photographer so I freely admit to spending years thinking the camera that would make me an uber photographer was out there. The big brands have made a lot of us re-enact the emperor's new clothes with regard to buying big heavy cameras and thinking we were photographically clothed...

You are right, whether we're shooting with a $20 Yashica Electro from Ebay or a $5000 Nikon we should be able to produce art and not fixate on the hardware.

Tom said...

The best camera is the one you have with you, when you need it.

Jim said...

LOL This is sooo familiar.
Tom is right about the best camera being the one you have with you when you need it but it's also true that most people seem to think there is a magic piece of equipment or a 'secret' that can be summed up in 15 words or less which once imparted to them will make their photos great. If a beginner says to me "I want to make photos like yours" I ask "Do you have 50 years to work on it?"

Anonymous said...

Oh Yeah!

David Bateman said...

You must be really troubled with people lately. First the forums and now the newbies. I say there are two quick answers to what camera people should buy.

First, say the only good camera for them is a IQ180 back on a phase one. Or something equally expensive at over the cost of a car. Tell them it will provide the files that are rivaled by none, and you don't what to second guess your camera purchase. But then tell them, while your saving up for this car (I mean camera) you might as well pickup a Olympus EPL1,2 or 3. Compared to the real camera they will get soon, its practically free. And they can tell everyone they are soon to get x big camera and working with this little one for now.

Second answer is to just say, you don't need an other camera. The images your getting with you Iphone are just great. Its small, always with you. And if you down load the latest camera App, you can do HDR and Tilt shift. You can't go wrong with what you already have.

kirk tuck said...

Trudehell, I don't Patronize beginners or amateurs or hobbyists, only people who want to acquire skills without doing the work. I know a bunch of great amateur photographers and they got that way by....doing the work. I'm tired of the "teach me to be Ansel Adams and Chase Jarvis in five minutes...."

And I think the article is clear about that. I also have people come up and ask me, "What's the quickest way to write book and get it published?" To which I always respond, "Start writing now."

Neil said...

One of your best posts in a while. I swear I've had all those conversations. I remember a time when I recommended an Olympus EPL1 and the dad came back from the store with a 7D because the clerk didn't know anything about an EPL1. So now the 7D has a cheap kit lens, and takes pictures of deer and puppies all the time. Great use of that equipment.

Anyway, I bet this post resonates with a lot of photographers.

jason gold said...

What leaves me dumbfounded is fellow photographers who show me their latest "stuff" on some electric do-dad with an image not much more than a i-phone. I want to see real prints.Snappers seeing me with a Canon Ae-1P and the 35~105(all a gift). It was use the "Canon week".
They wanted "advice" from the white haired old guy. Yup! Said I," See the picture,push the button,".jason gold

Archer Sully said...

Lately I've been telling people what a great deal used OM lenses are.

neopavlik said...

This is why you need to have copies of your books on you at all times, then you can suggest they buy the appropriate book.

I figure this happens to everyone:
-My dad was looking for something new that is pocket sized and similar to his Konica Minolta point and shoots (which have surprisingly amazing viewfinders for their class btw)
-My brother was looking for like a $300 camera with high fps that could keep up with his kids.

Dave Jenkins said...

Like every working photographer, I've encountered this situation many times. I am always friendly and helpful, and what I tell them is that there is no "best" camera. Choosing a camera is very much like choosing a wife (or husband). They all have pretty much the same basic features, so it comes down to choosing the one that most appeals to you.

My wife and I are thinking about leading a group tour. If it happens, I can't wait to see the faces of the photographers in the group when they see that all I'm carrying is a couple of E-PLs and two or three lenses!

Bruce Bodine said...

Kirk,

Not to get off topic but how close are you and your family to the firestorm outside of Austin?

kirk tuck said...

We're doing okay here. The sky is filled with smoke and soot. There's an inversion so the atmosphere isn't going to clear up quickly. Bastrop is the big fire but that's nearly 25 miles from us. The fire has completely destroyed one of the oldest state parks and we've lost thousands of towering pine trees. Very sad. There are closer fires but so far our area is fire free. We've got our fingers crossed but most of the people here have been taking care to water their trees and lawns and it's suburban, not open grass land. I hope that helps prevent fire here. I'll keep you all posted. It's very sad and the heat of the summer is really started to get everyone down. This was just another crappy thing about this summer....

John said...

Ha! Great post! We have an affluent friend who bought some really nice, expensive Leica gear about 12 years ago and ever since, anytime we see her she's carrying a throwaway from Walmart.

Now she wants to buy some top of the line digital camera gear. I guess to keep her old Leica company somewhere in the deep recesses of on of her many, many closets.

John Krumm said...

Better be careful Kirk or you might not have so many affluent friends... : )

Teaching photography at a middle school (one of those parent organized charter schools) I get asked a fair amount about what camera to buy, usually point and shoots. I've sent them my top three picks with links to each at Amazon, but I don't think anyone has followed my advice in the end. Many people would be better off with something like an old Olympus stylus (the little 2.8 lens one) some iso 200 color film, and just still get the scans and prints at the drugstore. They'd have prints to keep for many years, and scans for facebook. I think the only thing you could do on that stylus was turn the flash on and off, and press the shutter button.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kirk,
Glad to hear you and your family are safe from the wildfires. I keep hoping the rain in the East will go West (gently).

M

Travis said...

Kirk,

I totally agree with you in regards to putting in the work. A friend in our social group recently bought a rebel and I've witnessed the fact that she can't manipulate any controls, it's straight green mode and pop-up flash and you can see the tell-tale shadows in many of her "portrait" photos. That's fine as a hobbyist, but the thing that kills me is that she markets herself as "portrait photographer", and people tell her how great her photos are, and pay, I think. It drives me insane. If you market yourself, put in the work and know what the hell you are doing!

Martin Davey said...

Love it excellent blog :)

John Robison said...

Don't have affluent friends but still get asked about what camera to buy. Now I just whip out my homemade 4X5 box camera with it's lens from a 1927 Kodak Autographic and tell them it's the only way to go.

Dave Elfering Photography said...

Keep in mind we live in a time when people take classes to pass tests that they could just study for, workshops to make them instant masters of things. We want cliff notes and shortcuts and most don't want to hear that elbow grease is really the secret.

Daryl said...

Several years ago, I stupidly sold my Zeiss 6x6 folding camera (ca. 1952). I got some terrific photos from that, in large part because I had to think about everything--even focusing distance, since it had no rangefinder.

One day, I was sharing some recent photos from the Zeiss with a co-worker who moonlights as a wedding photographer. Another co-worker, barely old enough to know anything other than digital, walked into the breakroom, looked at the photos, and paid me the ultimate compliment: "You must have a really good camera!" "Yes, I do," I replied.

Paula said...

Always enjoy your posts. I especially liked the bit about the employee that never heard of Olympus or Pentax. It's sad but true. Even though I'm an Olympus fan girl when I get asked the question I always tell people they should get whatever feels right. If they are planning on "going pro", Canikon is probably their safest bet.