I read it again last night. This nonsense has to stop. Why do photographers so often have such a hard time simply acknowledging that what we do is inherently technological? As such, technological advances (i.e., new gear) can (and typically do) play an enormous role in the work we produce. Perhaps much more so than most other art forms.
You’ve all seen the kind of commentary I’m talking about; another piece about how painters don’t talk endlessly about their paintbrushes. Or, even more inanely, how if Art Wolfe were to shoot with a P&S camera, he’d still produce a remarkable portfolio. It’s the photographer, not the camera, that produces great work, blah, blah, blay.
While it’s true that no camera ever went out and took a photograph by itself, it’s also true that no photographer ever went out and took a photograph without a camera, either. Clearly, then, things are not quite as simple as some folks would have us believe.
Photography requires both photographer AND photography equipment. The relative weight of the role of each varies, for sure, but to deny the significance of the equipment in photography, and particularly wildlife photography, is to deny reality.
Even a cursory examination of photography illustrates how valuable the technology is to what we do. Recent advances such as Image Stabilization/Vibration Reduction, Auto-focus and focus tracking, High ISO, etc, etc play a critical role in much of what many of us shoot. It’s always amusing to me to hear Joe Schmoe talk about how secondary the gear is to taking photo, standing there with $20 thousand dollars worth of camera hanging off his shoulders. I’d invite Mr Schmoe the present his portfolio of images taken without any gear sometime.
But let’s look at some of the common arguments heard, such as those presented above.
a) Painters and their brushes. Wrong. Talk to painters sometime. Here’s just one example:
“Make sure you have the best possible brushes you can afford. While it is possible to save money on paint and canvas, one should never work with cheap brushes. In my experience, cheaper brushes are simply not worth it.”
Serious painters often spend years studying not just composition and form, but even paint makeup, etc, of the old masters.
And even though we can see the argument is simply incorrect, what if it weren’t? So what? We’re not painters, we’re photographers. Writers don’t look to dancers for direction, why should photographers mimic painters?
b) Art Wolfe and his P&S camera. Art’s one of my favorite photographers. Amazingly talented and hard-working man. And he knows his gear, wonderfully well. And, he doesn’t use a P&S, but typically is carrying some of the most advanced, technologically involved camera gear available. Here’s just one example from his blog. This post, from 2 years ago, lists his basic kit. The fact that he lists his sponsors liberally across his website supports the idea that his gear is, at least to Art, critical.
Secondly, and more importantly, what highlights how silly this argument is, is that it ignores the most fundamental point about all ‘gear’; one has to know how to use gear, regardless what kinda gear we’re talking about. Hand Mr Wolfe a P&S that he doesn’t know how to use, and I’ll wager he doesn’t produce much worth a damn with it. Hand him one with the camera manual, and he’ll do much better.
3rd point; offering Art Wolfe as an example to make a point is like suggesting we might all become wealthy by running fast, and then pointing to Usain Bolt to support your case. Statistically speaking, those people don’t even exist.
4th point; hand Art Wolfe that same P&S and his current DSLR system for a week, and I’ve little doubt with which system he’ll produce a stronger portfolio.
c) It’s the photographer. Sure, it is indeed. A great photographer produces great photographs. But I don’t know very many at all who don’t use good, or really good, gear. And I know quite a few photographers. And I’ll suggest that regardless of what they might tell their workshop clients, or write in their articles, they use good gear, if not the best they can scratch out, because they know they’ll produce much better results with it.
Gear matters. And I spent a helluva lotta money on it last year, so I damned well better be right. 🙂
Carl (wishing he had a D3s)