Thursday, January 23, 2014

How Much is That Camera in the Window?

by Linda


Two articles written by two different people came into my airspace a week or so ago. Both were written about the equipment we use to take pictures and explored the values and detractions of this equipment. For me, they resonated the same truisms I recognize to be part of this hobby of mine. A hobby to me, a profession to them. I thought they were similar in their message and interesting and insightful. I invite you to click on the links and read them yourself. I would enjoy any comments you may have about them.

Craig Mod wrote the article called "Goodbye, Cameras" for The New Yorker and a blog post "Photography, hello"
The New Yorker says "Craig Mod is an independent writer and designer who divides his time between Tokyo and New York. He is co-author of "Art Space Tokyo" and author of the forthcoming novel, "Stosh" "
Craig Mod is new to me, but I enjoyed reading these articles.
His blog post goes into more detail about what he wrote for The New Yorker.

David duChemin wrote the article called "Toward Mastery, Again"
Craft and Vision website says:
"David duChemin is a nomad, a world & humanitarian photographer, the accidental founder of Craft & Vision, and the author of Within The Frame, VisionMongers, Vision and Voice, Photographically Speaking, and The Print and the Process, along with over a dozen Craft & Vision titles. David is also the Editor-in-Chief of, and a regular columnist for, Craft & Vision's quarterly magazine, PHOTOGRAPH."
He is familiar to me, I enjoy and have learned from his books. 

A few things that stood out to me in the articles follow.

Craig Mod admits he loves cameras and reading about all the new and improved equipment that is available but seems to think that cameras, as we know them, will be a thing of the past as we all now carry perfectly good cameras with us everyday on our smartphones.

He recalls a time when he wanted to capture a deeply personal moment and he used whatever simple camera he had at hand at that time. At that moment, for that circumstance, whatever camera he had available captured exactly what he wanted. A moment in time, a personal memory.  He argues that the tool he used to capture that moment didn't matter, what mattered was capturing it.

He states how important the story is to the picture, that without it, there is no point.

Of course, absolutely.  There must be a story or else looking at pictures would be like sitting in the basement with all the rest of the trapped and guilt filled family looking at the millions of slides/pictures from aunt Mary's California vacation. (yawn)

He then begins to discuss how "box" type cameras as we know them will fade away, to be replaced by the cameras on our smartphones. He argues that smartphones can't handle low light, create bokeh or high quality pixel data and don't have RAW image support but believes this will all change in time.

He seems caught between not wanting the complexity of a camera and equipment and obsessing over it.

I find myself caught in this dilemma sometimes-it is so easy to pull out my phone and snap a picture. Everything will be in focus. It will be a wide angle shot. I don't have to fiddle with dials or think about which lens to use or decide how I want this shot to look, it will look the way it looks and there's not much I can do about it. Will it tell the story I want? That is the question.

On the other hand, I do have a lens or 2 that I like the bokeh and DOF I get with it. I do like knowing how the picture will look based on how I set the camera. It feels creative as I take the picture. Granted, there is much that can be done to a phone camera shot after the picture is taken, but sometimes it's just better to do it as it happens. I would reach for my DSLR, if only I had it with me! Sometimes you just gotta travel light! Or plan ahead. Or plan to travel light.


His assessment of smartphones is the ability to quickly network with others through various places like facebook and Instagram. But also with like minded people who find creative uses with these smartphones.

This is to me, the shortcoming of the smartphone, the fact that people have a decent camera with them at all times and use it to take pictures of their Big Macs to post online to show their friends.

While it is exciting what can be done with pictures taken with a smartphone and there are some wildly creative and imaginative people out there doing amazing things with pictures taken and processed on a smartphone, the majority of people using them don't take their pictures that seriously. They are very much for in the moment, spur of the moment shots that they want to upload to a social media site to share with their friends, toss in the virtual trash bin and then they are on to the next thing.

David duChemin talks about our chase for the newest and best gear. Is this what will make our pictures better? Does new and "improved" camera/lens make pictures better? Do we need more pixels? ISO? Full frame sensors and all the other wonderful and shiny new things that are available on the next generation of camera?

I found it interesting that he has also heard, from other professional photographers, that a picture is good because of the gear that was used.

hmm. Thought it was only hobbyists like myself that suffered that nonsense!

It seems that David duChemin, like Craig Mod, enjoys playing with all the different equipment. They also state that the best camera is the one you have with you.

Yes, absolutely.

David duChemin says
 "What will make my images better is more time with my cameras in my hand. Using my tools until they just fit and do what I want without a thought, the way my Leica already does because it’s so similar to cameras I used years ago that I feel like I’ve just put on an old pair of jeans – and that’s worth more to me than the ability to make a 48 megapixel photograph at ISO 16ooo. What will make better photographs is studying photographs themselves, not the ads for gear in the latest photography magazine. Photographs are made better by curious, patient, passionate, people with vision and imagination, not sharper glass. To paraphrase Ansel Adams – if the idea is crap then it doesn’t matter how big or sharp it is. Nobody cares how much damn chromatic aberration there is in your photograph; we care if there’s no heart."

I like this statement.

I also like that he tells us to get the camera that makes us happy, to use it, to learn about it, that creative energy and new ideas will make better pictures than new and shiny equipment.

This means that maybe I don't need a new camera, a new camera will not make my picture of the bridge better. What will make it better is more practice, more field work, more time out with the camera that I have and the equipment that I have and am most familiar with, and slow down and look at the story in my lens.

This also means that it's OK to use my smartphone. That even with it's shortcomings, it can capture a moment, a memory, and this is important.

I could even take a picture of my dinner on burger night and share it online!

What do you think? What do you need to take a good picture? Do you get the newest camera equipment as soon as you can? Do you think we will abandon our cameras and equipment in favor of our fancy smartphone camera?


We love seeing your "beginnings" in our FOL flickr gallery! Share your smartphone pictures in our FOL Phoneography gallery too!



Kim Stevens said...

I am a true believer that you receive a photo from whatever camera you have that makes you happy at the time. I love my cell phone for instant results to share something with friends or in IG immediately, but it will never for me replace my big girl camera. Yes you can make really fun artistic photos with all the apps, but I still think there is a difference when it comes to being able to control it manually all the way around. I guess David and I are on the same page, as I wrote in my story about the fisherman last October...he had greater results with just a line (no pole) than the fisherman 60 feet away with the best equipment. It is about how you use it, the experience of the tool you have right now. I was even surprised when I compared the lenses I used from football...yes there were some differences about depth of field and the 300 mm lens was really nice, but I'm not sure there was a $6000 difference. And as far as our box cameras going out...never gonna happen...I know too many people who are gear junkies to let that happen! lol

Sarah Huizenga said...

I totally agree that more time with whatever camera you have is the answer. My fear with smartphones is that it will take all the thinking out of taking a photograph. The challenge, the learning will be gone, then we will lose creativity, and originality. I use my smartphone when it is easiest to carry something small, but I still love my big camera best of all. It is a best friend that I would hate to lose.

Jeanne said...

A lot to think about. I love my camera and the equipment and lens that i have that go with it, but it can definitely be something that does not always contribute to relationships. I find myself, often very focused on the camera , when I should spend more time enjoying the moment. It is the ability to create the "FEEL" of a moment that i love with my dSLR. Get to relive the moments over and over. A hobby for me, not a profession. A hobby that I am passionate about!

susan said...

Love your photo Linda! As far as equipment…there are definitely some situations that call for great equipment especially when you need a high res image, bokeh, macro focus, etc. And then again…we all love the availability of our smartphone camera. Yes? I say…keep both on hand. You can't go wrong with that. :)

Dotti said...

Very timely discussion, Linda, and a topic that is dear to our hearts. I read the Craig Mod article and didn't agree. I do agree that phone cameras are handy 99.9% of the time while the box cameras may not be. And our 'favorite' camera should be the one we have with us. I read another article which I wanted to share but can't find, making exactly the opposite point. And it is the point we've already made in this discussion. For many of us, it's about the creativity, the exercise of trying to control our shots, the mental challenge it presents, the quest for excellence. Yes, IG is a fun social network and sometimes I see some real art on there. But just as often, it is photos of Big Macs, 4,900 shots of somebody's new baby, or somebody's nail polish. Really? That's having fun, not serious photography, IMHO. And it has its place. I thought when I upgraded to the iPhone 5S with its very much improved camera that finally I would shoot and share more on IG. The reality: not so. I visit a lot and 'like' and comment, but I can't remember the last time I put up a shot. So, no, I don't ever see my iPhone replacing my 'big girl camera', and, as somebody said, 'our best friend'. Great discussion, Linda! Thank you. {And to each his own. There is no right or wrong.}

CarolHart said...

Though I agree with much of what you had to say, I don't agree that "the majority of people using them (smartphones) don't take their pictures that seriously". I use my iPhone a lot and take every picture seriously. I've had a number of them made into cards, canvas prints, and put into books. I also think the number phoneography gallery shows around the country demonstrates a great number of phoneographers taking their pictures seriously. I also use my DSLR and part of the reason is that I have more control over the affect of my image at the time I take it, which means much less processing on the back end. At the end of the day, I don't think it matters what device one uses to make an image. I could make a pinhole camera out of a box of oatmeal and take a picture with that. What matters is whether or not we are pleased with our images, and if we enjoyed the process. Period. Good discussion Linda. I'm sure you'll get many more comments on this.

Deanna said...

I am sure you all know how I feel about phoneography, I know I am probably one of the last of the hold-outs, but my I agree with Sarah about the learning and the challenge may go away with bringing out the i-phone. And I agree with Carol H about some truly great art being created, but I guess it all boils down to what makes you happy, what gets your creative juices flowing, what makes your heart soar.

Dotti said...

Totally agree, Carol H., there are many, many mobile photographers who take their work seriously. And you're so right ... at the end of the day, it's whatever gets us to look, to see, to be creative and expressive.

Linda/patchwork said...

I read somewhere that it's not the equipment, that takes a great's the photographer. That makes sense.

I've seen wonderful photos taken by all sorts of equipment. Some SOOC and others turned into art pieces in post processing.

I mostly use my point and shoot. It's a good point and shoot...with a lot of bells and whistles. I can set the settings and it has a great zoom lens, built carrying other lenses. That's why I go it.

Now, we have a new dSLR...with a big zoom lens. We've had it for two months, and I've picked it up once to play with. I do need to learn it. I may love it.
But, for now, I'll probably still grab my point and shoot first.

I'm really BAD with my phone camera. But, that's ME...not the camera.

I just think it's good that so many are interested in MAKING that photo. Well...maybe not ALL those photos out there.
But, you get what I mean.... :)

kelly said...

for me, i used my phone camera for 'snapshots'. little tidbits of my everyday life. but i see people doing amazing things with their phoneography. i love that we can have this discussion here. learning so much for everyone point of view.

Carol said...

I'm late coming on tonight, but I was very interested in your post, Linda. And thank you for referring to those articles - I hadn't found those sights before and have bookmarked them both. I don't know that I'm saying anything new. Technology progresses with or without us - our computers are outdated 10 minutes after we buy them. You can't possibly keep up - so you must find what works for your life, for your style , for your individual purpose. I will add something I always find interesting. My teacher studied with Ansel Adams for years before he passed away. She says that she laughs when people say digital photography would make him turn over in his grave. She says he was always interested in the newest thing, and in things that made photography easier, as long as he could make it work up to his own standards. She says he absolutely would have loved digital photography and probably the iPhone too.Like Dotti said - no correct answer for all

Anonymous said...

I'll let Minor White speak for me: "I'm always and forever looking for an image that has spirit. I don't give a damn how it got made." I don't have a smartphone but I'm a big fan of the way some creative folks use smart phones to make images. I use and love my DSLR because it challenges me and I feel happiest when I'm learning and growing. It makes images that make me happy right now. My father used a medium format Bronica and before that an iconic Rolleiflex with film. He made images that I treasure. Technology will continue to change. I'll keep looking for an image that has spirit...

terriporter said...

And I'm even later to the party but I have read every word of your wonderful post, Linda, and all the comments and wanted to add my two cents. I have loved photography for many years and nothing makes me happier than hefting the big girl camera and going on a walk with her. And I do find that the more I shoot the better the outcome is. But I'm in love with my iPhone for so many reasons. No, it will never replace the big cameras but I am finding ways to be creative with it in a completely different way. It's not a replacement of my camera but another avenue to explore. As far as Instagram and people taking pictures of their Big Macs and nailpolish, I'm pretty selective about who I follow. I want to follow people who are taking serious shots and so those are the types of shots I see in my IG feed. I love that it's always with me and I can pull it out and play whenever the mood strikes me. It will never replace my DSLR. That will always be my true love, but the iPhone just gives me more ways to create and I think that's a good thing. Thanks, Linda, for this wonderful post and for getting us all thinking.

stephmull said...

What a thought provoking post, Linda! I, like everyone else, love my big girl camera and wouldn't give it up for anything. In 2012 I did a 365 project and lugged that camera around with me every day. My shoulder got very tired but I learned a heck of a lot and grew immensely. In 2013 I started another 365 project but didn't have as much time to dedicate to lugging the camera around, uploading and then processing the photos, and I failed miserably. This year I'm trying the 365 thing again but with my IPhone and my focus has really been on getting back to recording the everyday life of my family and I need to be able to do it in 5 minutes or less.

So where I'm going with all of this....the camera choice I make has everything to do with where I am in my life and my creative journey, and which camera best meets those needs today. Tomorrow may have different needs so I will make a different choice, but it's great to have the option to choose!

Barb said...

Enjoyed your essay, Deanna. I am depending on my smart phone camera more and more, but when I really want depth and clarity, I lug the big girl camera. I'm going to read the articles - thanks for the links.

Post a Comment

Thank you for sharing part of your day with us. If for any reason you are unable to leave a comment here on this post, please leave your comment on our Facebook page or in our Flickr discussion group. We love hearing from you!

© Focusing On Life