Maybe creativity and technology exist on a spectrum. The further you go to one side the more stuff becomes art. The further you go to the other side.....

I tend to vacillate like a sine wave between camera equipment with very high resolution and lots and lots of controls, and gear that some might consider pedestrian or incapable of producing the good results under all circumstances. I bounced from a Nikon D810 to a super zoom camera. From a Sony A7Rii to a gaggle of pygmy-sensored Panasonic cameras. It's never a completely conscious decision but I think I've worked out what my motivation is for the changing systems. 

I buy a high performance, do-everything camera and a bag full of choice lenses because I buy into the fear that most photographers experience. It comes from the idea that if your work isn't strong enough, or interesting enough, then maybe it's your gear that's holding you back. Bad, faulty logic but some of us are highly susceptible to it.

So I splash out hard cash to buy (or re-buy) whatever the best camera of the moment is and I start using it for everything. But the process becomes too routine and too easy. You can routinely fuck up and the camera will save you. You get sloppy. You get complacent. You know that if you just shoot raw with something like an A7Rii all you have to do it get stuff reasonable in focus and the rest you can fix after the fact. Did your boredom with the gear lead you to ignore technique and now you have overexposed frames? No problem, your miracle camera can pull down exposure at least a stop if you shot raw. Were you too busy oggling the models to read the exposure meter? Did you just default to auto because it's all so damn easy? No problem, you can push that underexposed frame up three stops, thanks to Sony sensors (Don't try this at home with Canon cameras....).  And the bottom line is that aesthetically you begin to play to the camera's strengths. Everything is a showcase for dynamic range or infinite detail or ultra-bokeh-ism.

Eventually the cameras become boring and the certainty of knowing you are covered and can produce something that's at least acceptable to a client sucks the nervous energy, the fear of failure, out of the project and makes work just about the work. At some point I get depressed reading that we're all shooting with the alpha---omega of cameras and I crave some fear and some creative adrenaline and some challenge. And that's when the big purge kicks in. The other side of the sine wave. 

I dump all the bourgeoise "safe" and "reliable" gear and start pressing cameras like the RX10iii into service. Or I grab a lens that's nearly as old as I am and put it on the front of a dinky frame camera and try, by sheer force of will, to make that combination make work that's as good as the stuff I can do blindfolded with the $3200 cameras. But more interesting in its imperfections. I think humans, in general, like challenges. If you are operating well above a subsistence/survival level I think you like to show that the art comes from you and not the camera.  That your point of view is more important than the pedigree of your glass. That you don't need a crutch to make interesting or fun photographs. 

That's when I grab the >$1,000 "do everything" compact camera and try to make it sing like a Hasselblad. Because --- if I can make good work with something small and cheap and non-professional it means that the idea worked or the style worked or, even, the point-of-view had value that outweighed the much more mundane idea of perfection

When I'm on this side of the sine wave I generally feel that "perfect" cameras and "state of the art" cameras are for pussies. Until I come across a client with a hand full of purchase orders and a bunch of projects to do. Then the fear kicks back in and I succumb to my own insecurities and head out looking for the next perfect camera. Afraid to risk the promise of cash just to champion a Quixotic quest with lesser cameras.  But in the back of my mind I know I'll be back at the edge of the envelope, down the road. A few months later. Maybe a year...

The same thing goes for the actual work. I'll be busy for weeks at a time, sitting in the studio post processing late into the night, shooting all day. And the more I work the more I wish I had time just to do my own art. But then, when work slows down or stops, I feel unmoored from my business connections. I convince myself I may never bring in another job. I start to fear the void. And then instead of doing my "art" I get busy marketing so I can hook the next tranche of paying work. Which makes me anxious to do my own work all over again....It's a different version of the vicious circle I described above. But it's the best observation I can self-apply in the moment. Go figure...


  1. I bought highest quality because it's all I can afford, and I'm responsible to my clients. Also because it gives me 600mm @ f2.

  2. I think this "Quote-o-the-Day" for today might quickly sum up this dilemma. :-)

  3. Kirk as usual a very interesting and thought provoking article on a subject that affects and perplexes most of us amateur users of digital photographic equipment, analogue users not so much!, however I don't quite buy it in your case.
    For a start you are a long time professional in the photographic profession with quite an impressive rate of success by any standards, as a long time reader of your blogs I know you to be above average intellect and no fool to boot who exhibits an above average self awareness in your approach to life, indeed I judge you to be a very savvy individual in a good way, so this behavior merits deeper analysis and probably a long period in cognitive therapy.
    Should you be willing to undergo such treatment and be willing to document it in your blog I feel it would be of immense benefit to us fellow suffers. Looking forward to further developments on this subject.

  4. My comment is not germane to your article, but it is such a treat to read your musings rather than a breathless litany of the latest and greatest camera's specs and whizbang features. Thanks.

  5. Great post! Helps explain why I am now drawn towards gear that is mostly manual in operation rather than "Auto Everything". The cameras I now most enjoy are manual focus only and offer only auto ISO and aperture priority for automation. I have to really concentrate to get the results I want and as a result have a much greater sense of satisfaction when I do.

  6. What your photos look like should have nothing to do with your camera, unless your camera gets in your way.

    When I switched from my film Hasselblad to square shooting Lumix cameras my photographs didn't change in the way I approached making them or in how they looked. The transition was seamless and I can easily mix the two without drawing notice. The Hasselblad was invisible in my hands after years of service, and by the time I switched to the Lumix, it too was invisible and I was able to make it work as I wanted it to without any heavy lifting.

    We have so many choices in gear these days, the only criteria should be whether or not the camera and lens allows us to honestly do what we need them to with as little fuss or impediment as possible. Choosing gear is highly subjective, and what works for me is kryptonite to someone else, I get that.

    Most people are not honest enough with themselves with regards to what they want to shoot, and how they want to shoot it. We are all easily led astray by the heavy breathing of the reviewers of the newest and greatest. Me too. I often have to check myself and ask long and hard questions as to the value of the newest gear.

    More megapixels won't make my work better, only hard work and a consistency of vision will matter in the long run. The only criteria is can I make the photo look like I want it to look with the gear I have, or want. However, if you have no idea as to how you want your photos to look, or what you have to say, or what your images mean to you or your client, then no gear in the world is going to answer those questions.

    I know this because for many years I wandered the deserts of many camera systems, searching for the tablets of truth, and only finding the emptiness of my vision. It wasn't until I grew an opinion and a point of view about where I fit in this world that I found my way.

  7. That's what is lost with digital and the main reason I'm heavily nostalgic for film. But the convenience and capabilities of digital are why I will never go back to film. Examining the actual quality of a film image will show you that you can equal or exceed that quality with m43 cameras, yet other digital sensors exceed m43. What's the appropriate target here?

  8. I took my G85 out to the farm last weekend. Set it up for jpg, B&W and square format. I was stunned at the overall quality of the images. I am a dyed in the wool "square" guy, I just "see" that way. I was planning on taking my Blad on my next trip in Dec but I think the G85 will be going instead.

    The G85 just hits all the right notes for me. Compact but not too small, very capable in both still and video and a very useable EVF even for this old farts eyes. That combined with the excellent lens choices makes it a winner.

    Some day I might have to step up to a G5, but that day has not come ,,,,yet.


  9. I find it to be an interesting coincidence that this post appears on the same day as the very perceptive post "There is No Such Thing as Image Quality" by Mike Johnston on The Online Photographer blog.

  10. My A7 II makes me somewhat lazy when it comes to exposure. If conditions are bright and contrasty, I turn the exposure comp dial down to -1 and get on with composing photos.

  11. "But the process becomes too routine and too easy" Do I sense a need for self abnegation, as though you were a Medieval monk in a cloister?

    Or, perhaps there's a failing of memory? In the five or so years that I've been following, this scenario has played out several times.

    Spectator sport!

  12. Composite images. A gymnast or diver, flying bird...


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