Sunday, February 27, 2011

Nothing Exceeds Like Excess

Photography has not changed since its origin except in its technical aspects, which for me are not important. 
Henri Cartier-Bresson

For some photographers it’s all about the technology and the equipment. It’s all about having lots of the newest, coolest high-tech stuff.  It’s about super-fast long zoom lenses, sexy camera bodies, filters for all occasions, dedicated flashes, expedition quality ballistic nylon bags, super-light carbon fiber tripods, all manner of enviable accessories. The equipment bug bites and gathering the “must have” gizmos becomes an end in itself. Sometimes hundreds of pounds of equipment are needed just to go out the door before a frame is shot

It is often a legitimate need to have only the most of the best and be prepared for all contingencies. Without question, if you’re running off to cover the revolution in Libya for Time magazine you certainly need the right equipment and you better have some back up plans. Do not miss the money shot of the mercurial Muammar in his latest Michael Jackson tribute outfit or you’ll never again get face time with, the even more mercurial, Time photo editor. Shooting your cousin’s wedding?  Same issue to a large degree. It’s happening now, happening once. Do not miss the bouquet throw or your aunt will never let you forget it. And oh, BTW, your cousin will never give you the phone number of that really cute bridesmaid who actually looked good in the sleeveless fuchsia dress with the taffeta rosettes on the bustle.

We haven’t even touched on the photo processing software, widgets, and plug-ins, monitors, monitor calibration tools, scanners, printers, the computing power needed to run it all and terabytes of storage for the tens of thousands of multi-megapixel “captures,” iterations and back-ups.

I understand this equipment need. I love equipment, do occasionally suffer megapixel or lens length envy and drool over the B&H catalog at every opportunity. But these days I’m more into relative minimalism. One 60D body, one short zoom, one longer zoom, remote release, polarizer, graduated ND filters for landscape work, a budget (but sturdy) tripod, an extra battery and a couple other minor accessories. It all fits in one reasonably priced bag I can carry on a commercial airliner. I don’t necessarily carry the whole kit with me all the time or use everything on every shoot. It really depends on what I’m after on any given day. Generally, I like to keep it simple. I also make every effort to avoid excessive “post processing.” The idea is to avoid getting lost in the foggy forest of equipment lust or miss a shot because I was fumbling in my bag looking for just the right gadget. In the end it’s not about the technology or the equipment. The only equipment Cartier-Bresson carried was a Leica with a 50mm lens. He knew the most important detail about good photography. When all is said and done, it’s all about the image.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Photographic Fear

I've been reading a book called "In the Yikes Zone: A Conversation With Fear" by Mermer Blakeslee.  It’s nominally about skiing. The vignettes and stories throughout the book are about skiers afraid of some aspect of skiing and how the author helps them understand and work through what makes them afraid. They learn how to understand their fear and work with it to improve their performance. The skiers experience degrees of fear from mild discomfort and frustration at not wanting to chance a challenging run to being literally paralyzed at the top of a hill, sometimes even the bunny hill, when they get off the lift. Some of them ski pretty well in their comfort zone but avoid anything remotely challenging. Others are so afraid they need to be guided down a small run with Mermer skiing by their side or skiing backwards in front of them, talking them through every little bump and turn on the way down. Some are new, inexperienced, afraid of their untested potential, of stretching too far. Others have been skiing for years, are very experienced and know well the painful consequences of overreaching.

Some are afraid of injury but most seem to be afraid of more than just getting hurt. They are afraid of confronting the uncomfortable. The extreme cases get anxious, afraid of being afraid which feeds more anxiety and more fear until they’re tense, stiff, paralyzed, can’t feel what their bodies are doing, can’t flow with the terrain. They’re so afraid they can’t begin to become better skiers.

I see many parallels with fear in photographic situations. If you’re afraid of shooting a subject, whether it’s a person or a poisonous snake you’ll get tense, tentative. You won’t flow with the “terrain”. You won’t stay with a shoot long enough or get good shots while you’re doing it.  When you’re afraid in any photographic situation you get timid, tentative with the camera, bringing it to the eye only occasionally, furtively.

But what are we really afraid of? We worry too much…about too many things. We over-think. We’re afraid of being afraid before we even shoot. Afraid of confrontation when we point the camera. Fear of rejection when showing the photo. Fear of over-reaching. Fear of getting hurt. Get over it! Let it go! It’s not as bad as all that. You're not likely to break any bones. It’s only a very small fraction of a second and you're done.