One fine spring day, I plunked away at sprouting lupine and California poppies in a vast green field, when my bliss was interrupted by a voice from behind. “Slow lens!” this photog grunted, stomping toward me.
I craned away from my viewfinder to spy a true “gearhead” equipped with wires, cables, ring flashes, the latest boots, a fashionista photog vest and a hefty bag of God-knows-what. Of course his camera was equipped with a power winder. I mean, who would be caught dead without it? After all, aren’t wild flowers are known for their propensity to get up and run around, exhausting whatever available battery one might have?
The assault on my equipment continued with an unsolicited discourse as to how an f2.8 (through-and-through) would really improve my life. That’s what “gearhead” carried. No doubt, he got better images; which meant better gigs; which meant better success; a better life and . . . a greater chance of getting into heaven. I politely endured as the light waned and the wind began to whistle.
The interesting part of this encounter – or any assault on the gear one carries – is that it typically occurs without seeing a single image produced by the offending gear. The commentary is really the product of something someone read in some magazine and, if they owned the right stuff, they must be that much ahead of everyone else in artistic pursuit.
But, didn’t we learn this lesson back in the 1850s? The gold to be found is in selling gear to those who are prospecting for the gold. In the photography world, many a soul prospects for the proverbial gold. Modernly, our hyper-slick media world has fostered the mind numbing digression of gear wars. The debate, explicitly or implicitly, never fails to surface among the pages of the photo mags touting the umpteen-thousandth article on “How to Get Better Images With Your DSLR.”
The point here is two fold: (1) return to art, and (2) don’t dissuade photographers – especially enthusiastic “noobs” – with such nonsense. It’s truly unfortunate to hear photogs pulling gear from a bag and immediately undertake some kind of apology for what they are shooting with. Conversely, it’s compelling that artists such as Will Dunniway, John Coffer, Sally Mann, and the like, create more compelling images with a hundred year old camera and a pile of chemicals than most can with the latest, slickest gear. Unfortunately, I can’t hold your hand and lead you to return to art. On the other hand, if your images suck, it doesn’t matter what you use to shoot them.
Incidentally, I did find a cure for the unsolicited gearhead drawl: electrical tape. While I was covering the 2009 presidential inauguration, I ran into a dude shooting for Getty. I noticed every bit of branding blacked out on his gear. Well, duh. Why didn’t I think of that? Less than a buck’s worth of electrical tape was a great insurance policy for those inane comments and “conversations” (the ones you have to politely extract yourself from) digressing from the true subject at hand.
The moral of the story is simple. Whoever you are and whatever stage you are at in your photographic pursuits, know that preoccupations with gear should never trump the joy of image making. As an aside, mastery of your workflow is the most important aspect of image making. (Learn to use your equipment!)
Yes, if you shoot sports or journalism, that fast f2.8 will make or break a shot from time to time. Yes, if you shoot weddings, the roll off of that 50mm f1, f1.2 or f1.4 adds a lot to the portraiture possibilities. So on and so forth. But, don’t refrain from getting out and shooting because of possible encounters with noisy mouthed gearheads.
As for me – Canon or Nikon? I retort, “Gundlach-Korona!” pause, “Anthony!” pause, ” Holga and Diana!” long pause and a wild-eyed Cheshire Cat grin, “Quaker Oats pinhole!”
Be on your guard, gearhead!