Tuesday, August 17, 2010

It's Just A Hammer

With me playing with film and large format again, it got me thinking about the emotional worth we invest in our tools. This can cut both ways - believing that without a certain set of tools, we are unable to make great photographs, or blaming our tools for the quality of work we do. Am I retrying large format film to achieve a quality not possible with digital? I don't think so, other than possibly being able to make bigger prints. Am I more efficient? Hardly! Is a ground glass really all that much better than a 3 inch LCD? You must be joking? Could it be that I simply like messing with view cameras, that the process is as important as the result? Absolutely?

But here's the rub. Does the equipment have an impact on our creativity? Might well be. If I spend 4 hours taking a dozen pictures, which I could have done in 20 minutes with a digital camera are the individual images made better? Probably not. But what about all that extra time absorbing the scene - noticing the light, checking the composition especially carefully before wasting film? Don't know.

Who has not at some time seen an amazing photograph in a newspaper. Given the tonalities of newsprint (ain't got none), and resolution of the 5 pixels per inch line screen (just exaggerating here), just about any damn camera could have taken the image and it would still be recognizable as a great photograph.

Is someone who likes messing with  cameras just a hobbyist by definition? Does caring about your tools prevent you from being or being considered as a serious photographer?

We do need to be comfortable with our tools - it's hard to be creative when you are cursing your camera. The right tool doesn't have to be the best tool, or the fanciest, or the most expensive. It doesn't need to be the fastest (and might even benefit from being slower). Wonderful images have been made with rickety old cameras mounting horrible lenses and exposing low quality film (or cheap point and shoot digitals. It helps if the person using said camera isn't letting dreams of better tools get in the way of making the best use of the tool that's in front of them.


Gary Nylander said...

I have always loved using my view camera, I'm not sure if the end results would have been better had I been using digital, the main thing is that I have fun making the image(s).

Tim Gray said...

In my case, my perspective is that I actually have a number of different "interests/hobbies" that arguably all relate to some extent to photography, more or less. Hobby 1, (this is actually photography, I guess) I like taking pictures. Hobby 2: I like messing around with Photoshop. Hobby 3 I like printing - particularly platinum/palladium. Hobby 4 I like collecting finely machined photo paraphernalia. Hobby 5 I like to travel (to places where I can take pictures).

Tim said...

Does the equipment have an impact on our creativity?

Yes, but not in the way that you think.

With the equipment come conventions, such as:
a) "b&w? You can't do that with digital!"
b) large-format 5x4 must be velvia, a portrait-orientation composition, low to the ground, near-mid-far, pre-dawn or post-sunset (and that's second-rate), with rear tilt to boost foreground perspective and make everything sharp and we'll call it "how it looked / felt to be there".

Both are conventional. And both are hogswash, too. I'm doing digital b&w a lot atm, and loving it; I've been known to open the shen-hao LF camera on a scene and leave the movements where they fell open because the rakish way the focal-wedge intersected the scene worked *with* the potential reeds-in-the-wind motion-blur.

But the creativity comes only *after* you've got equipment in each format. I would not pre-visualise square b&w compositions so well if I'd not got a Hasselblad lying around. I would not pre-visualise funky tilt/swing effects had I not spent a while playing freely without regard for convention. Only after that kind of play can you start to refine the selection process - selecting gear or a style or a processing mechanism to suit a particular desired outcome.

Jason said...

As a student and possible hobbyist of photography I can really appreciate your last point about letting tools get in the way. I've looked lots of different photographers and used cheap film and even disposable cameras myself and found that without doing these things I wouldn't have such an understanding of photography. I think the greatest thing about digital, for me at the moment, is that I can see if the picture I've taken is the image I was looking for but without all that hobbyisting(?) I might always wonder why it's not working for me.