Ben. Photographed with a Leaf 40 megapixel camera
and a wickedly cool Schneider lens.
Can you feel it as it crashes against the shore? A wave of camera rationalization that's just amazing. Driven by the desire to differentiate the work of photographers who want to make money from those who just want to be photographers. A new approach that provides a new set of reasons for clients to hire photographers who'd like to make a real living doing this stuff, the lure of medium format digital cameras. And the new crop of maxi-pixel Nikons and Canons (believe me, they're coming).
Will it work? For some. Will it fail? For some. I've played with the "big boy" cameras. They didn't make my work better or worse. Had I kept them they would have made more cost of doing business rise appreciably. Here's the deal: If you are already working for the big time clients you'd like to be working for you probably didn't need the big medium format camera you just bought, anyway. The clients came to you because they already liked the way you do stuff. The camera gives you a new anchor to try to hold them to you but deep down you know you're held captive by the capriciousness of styles in the advertising coliseums. And if the clients you wish you worked for aren't already returning your calls then just showing up with new hand metal isn't going to convince them that you just became an artist.
When I look at the portrait above the first thing I notice is not the pixel count because we've downsized it for the web. The first thing I see is the expression. The direct connection with his eyes. His self-assurance. If the first thing you noticed was some expression of dynamic range (remember, we're looking at 6 or 8 bit monitors and we're looking at 8 bit compressed jpegs here....) then I haven't done the job of bringing direction or feeling to the image.
When I hear people talk about the NEED for more pixels and more dynamic range and more bits I think of this image below:
Brio. For Time Warner.
If you listen to the howling masses today you'd think nothing could be accomplished, photographically, with fewer than 16 or 18 megapixels. But we did the image above with a Nikon D100. A whopping six megapixels. A four frame raw buffer. Molasses slow CF cards. But the light is good and the expression is good and the ads worked and the check cleared. And I'm not really sure if the image would have looked better in newsprint at a higher pixel count.....
I think we tend to lose track of what we really need in the emotional flurry of the new camera announcements. I felt excited when I first talked to the Olympus reps about the new OM-D. I really had a desire to snap one right up. But I shot with my little Pen EP-3 today when I looked at the files I saw a camera that was outperforming my Nikon D2sx from four years ago. I saw detailed files with perfect color. And I chuckled to myself when I was reminded by the client that our destination ( along with 60% of marketing work these days ) for the portrait I was shooting would be on the company's website. Last time I checked the portraits were running about 320 by 320 pixels. Would we be able to pull it off??? Or would we NEED the power and the glory of a Phase One?
I've used a lot of cameras. My readers will attest to that. And I like almost every one I've held in my hands. But they're interchangeable. From six megapixels to forty megapixels, none of the specs really matter if I can't make someone genuinely smile and if I can't have them engage the camera in a collaborative and self assured way. And if I do that part of my job right then just about any camera I can clutch in my hands will probably deliver a serviceable file.
It's more fun to shoot with the latest stuff. But it's hardly necessary.
The portrait I shot today was fun not just because the subject was fun and knowledgeable and personable. And it wasn't fun just because it went well and the images looked good. It was fun because I did it on a camera that many people think isn't suited for professional work, with lights (LEDs) that people still don't get. At the most we were using less than $2,000 worth of gear. And it was fun because the success or failure of our undertaking didn't depend on the gear. It depended on me doing things correctly and the sitter joining in with the spirit of the engagement. And that's why this business is fun. Not because we can bring "the big guns to bear."