So you love photography. How about your gear? Are you pampering your camera more than your partner? One might come to think that the perfect condition of gear can be more important than images. There are other unhelpful photography habits, such as the camera without strap — doomed to drop — or lots of post-processing that wouldn’t be necessary if one would expose properly in the first place.
To each his own, but why not be an altogether more careful photographer. Regarding the care of gear, the ravages of time are especially felt in the age of digital photography. In the analog days a camera lasted for years. Today people get nervous when they don’t upgrade every three years or so, and build quality is often no longer what it once was. Add the ever changing technology diminishing a digital camera’s half-life substantially. Does that mean it’s alright to take less care of gear? And photography’s other cardinal sins? Here’s an unrepresentative list:
- Camera Mollycoddling: Are you preoccupied with the immaculate appearance of your gear? Your camera doesn’t have the slightest scratch even after a year of use (because you didn’t really use your camera). Even under a microscope your lenses look brand-new. True, any buyer of your gear will appreciate the newer-than-new condition. But frankly, how many opportunities did you miss because you were afraid to truly use your gear? Pampering things is nice, but pampering people is nicer. Hey it’s just pieces of metal, glass, plastic and electronics! True, even the best camera turns into the worst camera when it’s broken. So just treat your camera the way you treat yourself. Certain wear and tear is a simple fact of life. If you’re more worried about scratches than a good image then maybe photography is not your thing. So you’re focused more on gear than quality of images. Gear is here to be used. If you’re an overprotecting fetishist buy Leica special editions.
- Strapless You’re Cool: It’s a dogmatic question really whether to put the strap on your camera or not. It’s, however, simple theory of probabilities. The less likely the chance that you put that strap on = the higher the chance that your camera will fall. Sure, if you’re a camera reviewer you got those things for free, why worry! Some people still have to work for their money. Not trying to be not cool. Better carry the baby in a bag? How many shots will you miss by trying to free that baby from the bag in time. Go easy, go practical, go strap, even though you might look like a tourist. If you can’t resist the urge of feeling “free” use at least some sort of wrist strap.
- What Dust? Avoid what’s avoidable. Again, what’t the point of trying to be cool by changing lenses in the middle of a storm. Be old-fashioned. Wait. Look for a safer spot. Use the lens that’s mounted until you can switch. Then at least point the camera down. Simple physics of gravity. Or don’t complain about all those dark dots in your stopped down images.
- A Clean Lens Doesn’t Mean Sterile Images: Afraid of looking ridiculous polishing that glass? You don’t need to own all these rocket blowers, cleaning brushes and cleaning supplies to have a proper, clean lens. To be honest, even a scratched front glass won’t diminish IQ. Instead of compressed air use your mouth and do the “haaaaaaaaaaa.” Especially after shooting an interview you might have dried blobs of that person’s spit on your lens. A microfiber cloth — for peace of mind — will do once in a while. There’s no need to polish a multi-coated bit of glass again and again. Well if you live in the tropics you might think about a humidor. I’ve seen ugly mold in beautiful Leica glass. Outch! For that matter: am not a fan of filters, but hoods are here for a reason. If you’re shooting in a dirty, sandy or dusty places there are no ifs and buts: wear a clear filter.
- Minimalism Rules! Believe it or not, even the most gifted photographer doesn’t just take one or two shots before his attention span drifts him to the next subject/object. Back home at the desk you realize that you’ve missed a great shot due to haste. Bracket more, use a burst shutter, slow down and observe and analyze what you’re about to shoot. Especially with people and portraiture, you get the best results when people start ignoring your camera and act and talk naturally again. I usually shoot my best images when people are unaware of being shot…
- Technology Is King! On the contrary. The opposite is. All the fancy filters and presets and auto settings just drive you away from what photography is all about. The basics of photography didn’t change since its invention. Only the photographic tools and devices did. Learn the basics. Ignore all the auto modes. Learn how to achieve manually what in-camera processors do for you while you have no clue what’s actually going on. Shooting landscape? Kids? Portrait? Blurred background or a deep depth of field? Don’t let the camera do the thinking for you. Know what happens. And only then are you able to differentiate between what photography and fancy-postprocessing is about. Photography is no longer a question of luck.
- Me, HCB the Second: Don’t take it for granted that people like your photography, how expensive your gear might be. Chances are that your photography is more likely to be average than outstanding. So don’t bore others with what you’re salivating about. Get real. Aim higher. Keep 99% of your work to yourself. The 1% makes you much more proud.
- It’s the Lens, Stupid! The best photography begins with the best lens possible, not the best camera body. Rather miss the next successor of your current camera, but never compromise on lens quality. Good glass lasts, camera bodies don’t. Actually, the only way to make money with photography gear is to buy good lenses at attractive prices and resell them. Buying gear is not about happy-go-lucky. Photography is also about rent, investment and waste. In the end every “investment” depreciates — well maybe not Leica lenses. Just see the price you pay for gear as a rent you pay. You have to make an initial investment. And tomorrow’s technology is always better and cheaper. So when it comes time to upgrade you won’t be looking at reinvesting that same amount. Again, better invest in a better lens than a better camera.
- Lazy RAW Shooter: I love Photoshop and RAW, but don’t become lazy. Getting it right on the spot in the field is not only more satisfying. It saves you a lot of time. Even RAW can’t really recover blown highlights and underexposed shadows. Don’t waste precious life correcting poorly exposed images.
- Blame Miserable Gear: And remember folks, it’s mostly the photographer, not the camera nor the lens nor the light nor the ISO nor the anything. It’s you.