Bull Kelp, Queen Charlotte Strait, British Columbia
When I dropped into the waters of Queen Charlotte Strait a couple weeks ago it was a bit of a graduation for me. I’ve spent a year working towards it. Four different SCUBA certifications, a lot of reading, research, and far too much dreaming about the photographs I hoped I would make. And there was the gear. Figuring out housings and strobes and which part connected to what other piece. But I finally had it all together. So when, in the days before the trip I forced the lens port in a direction it didn’t want to go, and loosened it in ways it wasn’t meant to loosen, and then broke another piece because the directions were so poor, and then completely forgot a piece I really didn’t know I needed, it meant leaving my so-called big-boy camera on the shelf in my cabin while taking my little Sony compact with me instead.
I’ve toyed often with leaving my big gear at home and doing my work with smaller so-called entry-level cameras to make a point – the point being: the camera doesn’t matter as much as we like to believe it does. I say it alot, but maybe putting my money where my mouth is would convince the dubious. I never did, at least not to make a point. But when I took my Fuji gear with me to Kenya for my recent assignment in Kenya, and then my compact Sony because of this recent adventure in learning the hard way, and still returned with images of which I am as proud as any other work shot on cameras I once considered more serious, I started to think I’ve made my point as well as it needs to be made. And if you have eyes to see, artists all over the world do so everyday.
We all have raw materials and tools at hand. We have what we have. Some we have in abundance, some we have very little of. Money. Talent. Time. We’re constrained by life at home and emotional distractions and physical limitations. This, my dear friends, is life. We always have, and always will, make of it what we can, with the tools at hand. Or we won’t. But that’s our choice. There will always be something better, some tool or resource we don’t have. The great masters faced this same lack. And they still made do with what they had. All the advances in typewriters and paintbrush technology hasn’t made their work less powerful, less beautiful, or less meaningful.
You have everything you need to create something great. Something compelling. Something human, You also have what you need – the constraints – to make enough excuses to keep you from your work for the rest of your life, or to get creative and make something amazing. Something authentic.
I don’t know what you’ve been told, by your teachers, the guy behind the counter at the camera store, or that one a$$hole at the photography club, but you’ve got what you need. And you’ll grow into what constraints you have, and make something great not despite them, but because of them. Because you need constraints as much as – no, more than – you need a newer, shinier, better lens. Sure, we need the tools, but we need them much less than we imagine.
I can make art with my Sony RX100. And with my Fuji X-T1. Sure, I might make bigger art, sharper art, with this new camera or that pricey lens, and there are good reasons for doing so, but it’ll be no more compelling. It might even be less compelling, because when we rely more heavily on our gear than on our creativity, our work suffers. Our process suffers.
You’ve got what you’ve got, and for now it is enough. Go make something.
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Love that Bull Kelp! Doesn’t even look real.
To be honest I’m not quite sure what to think about this post. My hesitation somehow relates to the issue of using the RX100 and X-T1 to make your point that ‘what you have is enough’. To me that one says more about the gear you have access to and how you perceive it than about the essence of the point you’re addressing.
I’m quite fond of Ming Thein’s concept of ‘shooting envelope’ to describe what one can and cannot do with a camera in relation to subject-matter and targeted output. Say, a medium format camera with its dynamic range and resolution is great for landscape photography and big posters, but due to size and handling is not that ideal for candid street- or bird-photography. Viewed in this way both the RX100 and the X-T1 are great for what you used them for, as far as I know, the former being a favourite among underwater-photographers and the latter also being used by many pros for wedding and documentary work. I.e. their shooting envelope easily covered what you intended to use them for. In this respect, terms like ‘amateur’ or ‘pro’-camera is more of an ego-driven categorisation than a description of what these cameras can or can’t do, if you see what I mean.
(Btw, the Norwegian ad is about shooting envelope overkill. The lines in the end say ‘What where you thinking, really…? – Do something smart with stupid purchases’ It’s an ad for an eBay kind of site, if I’m not mistaken… 🙂 )
That’s why your post somehow reminded me of Marie Antoinette’s ‘Let them eat cake!’. If a cheap compact is all that one can afford then that’s not enough if one would like to photograph birds in flight. Then the ‘what you have is enough’-mantra should actually be about letting go of one’s NatGeo nature photography ambitions and being willing to focus on and make the most out of the subject-matter that one *can* photograph. Or even if one could afford bigger and better, then it’s about being willing to push the envelope of the gear that one has like, say, Alex Majoli did when he covered wars with three Olympus compacts 10 years ago (…and got accepted into Magnum along the way), or Nick Brandt shooting lions in the wild with a medium format film camera.
In other words it’s about becoming creative through resistance and/or restraint. That imho is the *really* interesting struggle when it comes to the idea of ‘What I have is enough’.
Sometimes what we have is not enough. Sometimes we find ourselves with the wrong camera or the wrong lens or whatever other BS we tell ourselves to make excuses for why we’re not just taking the shot. For me, I know that lusting after gear I don’t have or wishing I had brought a different piece of gear with me has never, not once, led to a better image. It usually leads to no image.
I like to look at constraints as a challenge, trust my creativity and skills, and use the gear available to me to make the best images I can. I’m usually not disappointed with the results.
I love the underwater pictures you posted. I’m incredibly claustrophobic so haven’t had a urge to go diving. So am an extremely appreciative of the photographers who do!
I also came to my own epiphany about finding the perfect “travel” camera.. I love going on horseback riding vacations, particularly in Iceland. But the conditions are hard. On one of the tours, the owners bring cheap point-and-shoots to take pictures that they send out to the guests at the end of the trip. They said they could go through a few each season.
What I deal with: at most I have one hand to hold the camera if I want to photograph from horseback. There is little to no room in the saddle back for a camera and not all tours allow you to wear a backpack. It can go from dry and dusty to wet and cold rather quickly. Touchscreen settings, complicated menus, telescoping lenses, and tilt-screens can often be more of a hindrance.
I killed my Sony RX-100 when my horse fell in a river crossing – it was in my pocket. The smartphone survived, the Sony didn’t. The rest of the trip was photographed with the the smartphone.
I’m going again this summer and will be on a horseback camping trip without a support vehicle. After trying to figure out how to protect my current favorite – a Fuji X00S, I realized that the Olympus TG2 tough that I used last year will work just as well. No RAW files but I got some lovely pictures with it and I won’t have to worry as much about my equipment if the weather turns nasty.
Indeed, I’ve been reviewing several years of photos that I have filed chronologically in Lightroom. I often can’t tell which camera I used and often can’t tell when it was just an Android phone or iPhone.
I am looking forward to more of your underwater photos.
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Underwater photography can be soooo challenging with missing key components, flooded equipment, poorer than expected dive conditions, dive gear malfunctions and so much more. Yet we need to figure it out for, as they say, “We may never pass this way again.” Thank you for your post and the reminder that we have enough to make it work.
“You’ve got what you’ve got, and for now it is enough. Go make something.”
I’ve got it, David! I’ve got it!
Man, I wish I knew what this was all about – great little video, regardless. Thanks!
I originally saw it on petapixel with the caption:
Expectation vs Reality When Buying a New Camera
The Norwegian company that did the TV ad appears to be a website similar to Expedia or any of the other popular airline booking sites. It was just clever advertising?
I saw the ad a few days before you posted the blog, Enough. I thought you’d appreciate it. Got any Norwegian buddies?
As always…another fabulous posting!
An online photo community in which I participate recently had a poll asking what one thing I wished to have understood better when I first got started in photography. There were many options. So far, I think I am the only one who has responded “it’s not about the gear.” It’s a lesson slow in sinking in, but it would have made a huge difference if I had understood that from the start. Hopefully, your philosophy will get people thinking about what really matters.
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‘Nice one’ David, as they say in England. Point well made. I grew through my twenties toting a big, flash aluminium case FULL of gear wherever I went (no doubt leading my family to doubt my sanity and a permanently lowered left shoulder) and the transition to digital was the window my pride needed to reduce the quantity without altering the quality of images in any way. I’d spent years justifying all the bits and pieces to all around me, including myself, in the quest for ‘better’ pictures and only belatedly learned that a the amount of gear didn’t change the quality of the images and bit sometimes meant I didn’t even get a shot off at all!
Keep up the preaching and the wonderful pictures and stay off high walls.
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Thanks for the encouraging ideas, David!
Well stated, as always David! Thanks for keeping us all motivated and inspired.
Sorry about all the trouble with your lens, but you nailed it again, re using what you have at hand.
Van Gogh might not have had the best brushes ever made, but what images he created!