Sunday, March 21, 2010

Don't Get Caught Up With What You Don't Have

When working on my first book back in 2001, I was traveling through the jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico photographing the people that lived in many of these tiny villages. I spent a good part of one day with a family of four in a tiny village that I can't even begin to remember the name of. There was no electricity or running water. If it rained, the family caught water in a cistern and it was gravity fed through a pipe into the house where they could turn it on for as long as it lasted. If they wanted the water to be anything other than the temperature it was outside, they heated it over an open fire. Cooling it was pretty much out of the question. There was no ESPN, or television of any kind. No Nintendo or Playstation, no internet, no heat or air conditioning, no Transformers or Legos. They had hammocks to sleep in and when they all woke up, the hammocks were unhooked so that the house was one 12' x 12' open room. They were all happy. The kids ran around, played with sticks, and laughed.

Last week, when temperatures here were finally reaching a tolerable level of 60+ degrees during the day, my youngest son (we'll call him "Ansel", who is quickly closing in on 6 years old) spent the better part of two days playing outside with sticks, chalk, and rubber bands. Ansel has Nintendo, Legos, a bicycle, trains, tv, and the internet, yet he chose to use his imagination and make due with less. He decided he wanted a fair, so he went about creating a fair in the yard. He segmented the yard into all of the different midway attractions, creating an archery booth, a slingshot booth, a dart booth, and a skee-ball booth. No electronics, just his imagination and some hard work. He was happy. He ran around, played with sticks, and laughed. He made due with what he had available with no infringement on the quality of play.

I hear so many photographers agonizing over how they are going to get the money to upgrade from their D200 to the D300 or the D700. Their equipment becomes a status symbol for them. We've got to keep up with the Jones's. If Nikon or Canon puts out a newer, bigger, faster model, they have to have it or they aren't keeping up with their PPA buddies. First of all, if you can't figure out how to pay for it, it really isn't a wise investment. If you aren't producing enough income to cover the equipment purchase, you have other fish to fry. The argument that a better camera will raise your senior portrait revenue is specious. It won't. Better product and better marketing will increase your senior portrait revenue, neither of which will be aided by a more expensive camera. If you absolutely need to spend more money, spend it on a better lens. This is where you will see the biggest difference in your image quality.

You need the right tool for the right job. Unless you are shooting sports at a higher level than youth rec leagues, you don't need 8 frames per second. What you need to do is improve your timing. Blasting around the t-ball field shooting 8 frames per second is just embarrassing. None of the 5 year-olds are moving that fast. No high school senior moves that quickly either.

Unless you are consistently printing significantly bigger than 8x10, you don't need 12 mp. What you need is to learn how to handle your exposures properly so that you can get the best out of the camera that you have. I spent a long time printing 12" x 18" with a 6 mp D50 and unless you are 8 inches away or examining the print with a loupe, you can't tell the difference between the print from the D50 and the 10 mp D200. And let's face it, no real viewers examine prints to that extreme.

Please folks, stop falling prey to the equipment bug. Study the craft. Better equipment never equals better talent.


Anonymous said...

Gives you something to think about

Lindsey Peterson said...

Well said.

Anonymous said...

Great post Scott.

Mr. J said...

Agreed. One of the best photos I've ever taken was on a whim with a disposable 35mm Kodak Funsaver.

RE McGrath said...

Gee, I was just going out next week and buying a new D90 but maybe I 'll keep with my Sony DSC-W70 pocket camera. Not really Scott, but what you said is true. I do however need more control than the pocket camera offers. Thanks, Bob McGrath