Two Stories

In Creativity and Inspiration, Pep Talks, Rants and Sermons, The Craft, The Life Creative by David54 Comments

The First Story

A guy walks into a music store, credit card in hand.

“What brings you in?” asks the clerk. “How can I help you?”

“I’d like to buy a microphone,” he says. “My grandfather had a microphone when I was a kid, and I loved to hear him sing. I’d play with it when he wasn’t looking, imagining I was like him. I don’t know where that mic went, but I miss it and thought maybe now was the time to get a mic of my own. Maybe I could also be a singer like he was.”

The clerk turns to a wall of microphones and selects one: stainless steel with a vintage look. “This is a best-seller,” he says. “It sounds beautiful, and perhaps the retro look will remind you of your grandfather.”

The man picks it up. It’s heavy in his hands and feels well-made. He recognizes the logo and smiles. As he gazes at the price tag, “You get what you pay for” runs through his mind. “I’ll take it,” he says, “and I’d like a cable and an amplifier, too.” There’s something beautiful about a purchase like this, like a doorway to a forgotten world has opened up. As he heads out with his new gear, it’s difficult for the man not to get drawn into the daydream that one day he might be crooning on a stage for an audience in a darkened room.

At home, he plugs it all in and sings a few Neil Diamond songs to an empty living room. When his kids come through the door after school, he sings a few lines for them but finds they are more eager to get upstairs to do their homework and get online with friends than to sit and listen to his new passion. His wife humours him but is equally unimpressed. “Practice,” he thinks. “I just need practice.”

And so he does—for hours over the weekend, singing along to his favourite songs playing on his headphones. The microphone’s box displays a website link, and a few clicks later, he’s talking to microphone owners all over the world, sharing songs and offering tips about how to best use the microphone. It turns out there’s more to this than he knew, including accessories. The next weekend, he’s back at the music shop and buys a mixer to sweeten the sound. On his way out, he picks up a copy of Microphone Monthly.

Over time, the man becomes adept at using his microphone. He knows more and more about its history and different kinds of microphones. But something’s missing. Dissatisfied with his progress, he returns to the music store, now much more aware of his choices, and purchases the best microphone they sell. He soon begins scouring eBay and buying vintage microphones. For a while, he becomes obsessed with old tube amps, convinced they’ll be the thing that finally makes his voice…well, see, this is the problem. He doesn’t know exactly what is missing, but his dreams of being a singer don’t seem to be moving very quickly.

His trips to the music store have become a weekly pilgrimage, and the guys behind the counter know him by name. “Hey, Barry,” they say when he walks in. “What are you looking for this week?”

To their surprise, he says, “I have no idea.”

“I have it all. And I can sing every song without my wife wincing. She’s even stopped going down to the basement when I get my mic out. But something’s missing.”

There’s an old guy sitting at the far end of the counter who bears an uncanny resemblance to Sam Elliott. Barry’s seen him around but never paid him much notice. “What do you sing about?” he asks Barry, turning to face him.

“Excuse me?” says Barry. “What do I sing about? I sing about everything. I sing about whatever anyone sings about when they get a microphone in their hands. My grandfather had a microphone, and I’ve always wanted one, too. So now I sing.”

“But about what?” the old guy presses. “You gotta have something to sing about. If you don’t know what the song’s about, how do you know how to sing it? To really put your heart into it?”

Barry sits down as he sets his magazines on the counter. “I hadn’t thought of that before. I just like singing.”

“Sounds like you like the sound of your own voice.”


“Listen, there’s nothing wrong with collecting microphones. I’ve accumulated a few of them myself over the years. But there’s a difference between that and being a singer. A singer has something to say. A singer connects the song to the listener—through the ear, into the heart. A mic doesn’t do that, no matter how good it is.”

“I never thought of it like that,” Barry says.

“Some people never do,” says the old guy. “There’s more to a song than making it heard at the back of the room. A song’s gotta make you care. It’s gotta tell a story or make you feel some kind of emotion, so some of the bits are hard to sing along to because it makes your audience get all lumpy in their throats. A song is more than a melody or a good beat. Why do you want to sing? Was it your grandfather’s microphone you truly remember, or was it his voice?”

“His voice. I can still hear it. I can still remember the look in his eyes when he sang to me—like I was the only one in the room—and the look in the eyes of everyone else who was listening. There was magic in that.”

“And you think the magic was in the microphone?”

Barry purses his lips and closes his eyes. “No. But it seemed like that was part of it when I was a kid.”

“The magic was in your grandfather. That’s what you’re chasing: what he thought about, who he was, and what he loved. It was in the way he revealed a part of himself to you when he sang. Singing can be a very vulnerable thing. I bet if you gave him the cheapest mic in this place, he’d still make magic when he sang. I bet your grandfather knew what he was singing about. Hell, I also bet that if he had no idea what made a great microphone, he most certainly knew what made a great song.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“I overheard you say something was missing. It doesn’t sound like you need a better microphone. Perhaps you need something better to sing about. Maybe it’s time to start focusing on what makes the music, not what makes the sound.”

The Second Story

A guy walks into a camera store, credit card in hand….

For the Love of the Photograph,


  1. David,
    Yes, thank you for the reminder! As a San Franciscan Art Institute student in the late 60’s my first photography class was an introduction to the basics of composition, light and darkroom using a plastic pinhole camera. While the assigned images became more complex, the limited technology remained basic. It was an excellent introduction that I’ve tried to keep front and center while resisting the lure of bigger, better and faster all the many years since then.

    I wish you well on your continued healing journey.

  2. A well-written, thought-provoking analogy. Well done, and thanks for sharing.
    Sometimes we get lost when it comes to photography, but since it has much in common with any creative endeavor, any other medium might have sufficed. But perhaps not as well; we all “get” music, so using music & singing to make the point is perfect.

  3. Hi David

    I get the analogy, but I think it is a bit flawed..
    I agree that buying more and more gear is not (always) (damn you, constant G.A.S.) the solution, but..
    A man does not have to decide what he should be singing about. He should decide HOW he should be singing.. ..which emotions he wants his song and voice to evoke in the listeners.
    Photographers does not need to decide if they want to photograph buildings or animals, but they need to decide HOW they should be photographed.. ..which emotions he want the pictures to evoke in the viewers.

    1. Author

      John, all analogies are flawed. But to your point, I was talking about photographers knowing what their photographs are about not specifically what they are of. Subject/Theme/Idea/Concept vs. subject matter and the stuff in the frame. Unless you know what you’re trying to express you’re going to have a hell of a time knowing how.

  4. Lovely story! I really liked the analogy to another field which made your point so much more obvious. But currently I‘m not only thinking about the technical gimmicks, but the graphical ones as well. How much artificial beauty do we actually need? What is the core, what surface and on and on it goes …

    But I have another analogy for you: A well known author presents her new book and someone says to her: Really great work! What typewriter did you use?

    Thanks a ton for your post David, I‘m looking forward to more of them.

  5. Beautifully told, David! Gear really isn’t the be all and end all – some of my favourite images recently have been made with a wooden box with a roll of film and a pinhole to let the light in – as simple as it gets. I see this approach with the musicians I work with so often too. They assume if they buy an expensive, hardwood recorder they’ll magically become a better player, when they’d be better off focusing on their technique and musicality on whatever recorder they’ve already got. Mind you, I have just ordered a new camera, so I’m a fine one to talk! 😂

  6. Great story! I completely agree that major expense is not necessary to achieve memorable pictures. Composition and timing are key ingredients to any good picture, and they are independent of the equipment. However I do find an analogue between cameras and musical instruments where I find myself drawn to play my more expensive, better quality, better sounding guitar much more than my lesser-quality, slightly out of tune with itself guitar that I started on. The sound I get out of the nicer guitar is much more attractive to me than the wonky noises coming from the lower quality one. Not only that, the nicer sound enables and inspires creativity because it’s just so viscerally attractive – even addictive. Likewise, high-end audio equipment isn’t necessary if one simply wants to listen to music; but having experienced it I can say it completely transforms the experience. For me at least, that’s how it works with cameras too, and perhaps even more so with lenses. I can take a good shot with a Polaroid, and it will furnish a memory or an impression that’s worth having. But my photos taken with glass lenses and a higher quality camera have a visual impact that I find much more satisfying, and completely justify the extra expense.

  7. Hi David,
    This is it! This story is a „must-read“ for all photographers and people for searching what is the meaning of their life.
    Thank you so much and I wish you the best healing and recovery

  8. Hi David,

    I very much enjoyed your posting. Many of us chase equipment as a solution for self improvement and personal growth… and fail to appreciate the importance of finding our own creativity and inspiration regardless of the camera we may be holding in our hands.


    1. Author

      Thanks for that, Thomas. You’re right. And on this subject the conversation seems to fall into the EITHER/OR trap. I’m a fan of BOTH/AND thinking. Play with new gear, new techniques and processes, but don’t neglect the creativity and the messaging. Do it well and you might find they work together. It’s just that the one can never be a substitute for the other.

  9. you nailed it…..if only I had more colored pencils and different paper, a better sewing machine, or a macro lens? If only there was something interesting and new to draw/sew/photograph….if only…..yeah. Big Grin! And yet, I know from experience my best work has come from “making do” because it made me think outside of the box. I have many tools I’ve never learned to use fully. Why am I looking for more? Putting in the work, putting in the heart–those will provide the spark.

    1. Author

      I heard a wonderful quote the other day: “the magic you are looking for is hiding in the work you are avoiding.” Like you, Jane, my best work has always come from “making do” – with a situation, my constraints, the light, whatever isn’t working according to my expectations. Just making do. Nicely put!

  10. As someone who loves authenticity and soul in a photograph I knew where this story was heading as soon as I started reading it. It’s not the equipment that captures the feeling of a place or object but the brain behind the camera!

  11. As a wise man once said, “In order to take the camera into the world, our world has to be more than just the camera.” – David duChemin

    1. Author

      You know, once in a while someone quotes me back to me and because I have no recollection of saying the thing they quoted, I think, “wow, that’s really deep!” LOL. Thank for that, Gary. I needed the chuckle. I guess this is the peril of writing so many dang words!

  12. I am just stopping in to say I hope you are well, there is mention of you needing surgery. Is there a problem with the healing in your leg? I hope you won’t lose more of it. I am sorry I have fallen off reading many of my emails due to other pressing things but I shall keep you in my thoughts. Years ago I lost all of my photo equipment in a fire and now due to my own health issues I am on disablity and can no longer fund that lovely hobby. I have to really try not to get drawn in as I still have that itch. Now I stick to quilting and needlework…lol. Definitely not nearly as exciting but it keeps me busy. I wish you well and I do enjoy your work.

    1. Author

      Hi Kathy! In June I had my right foot amputated in the hopes of getting better function from a good prosthetic. You can read all about it here – – and here – – over 4 months later things are healed well, I’m in a prosthetic that fits better and better all the time and I’m beginning to resume the activities I love. But no, there is no further problems. I just like to keep everyone up to speed. I’m terribly sorry to hear about the loss of your photography gear – that’s quite a blow. I’m heartened to hear you’ve not given up on being creative! 👏

  13. David – What an impressive first story! May many who read it begin to write their own second story about the person who walks into a camera store, credit card in hand…. who truly understands how the gear they plan to purchase helps them to tell their personal story and share their unique vision. Perhaps they could use that credit card for something else of value. Thank you.

  14. Very effective way to communicate an important message—that the message is more important than the medium [i.e., gear]. Marshall McLuhan would not agree.

    But, what about the person who understands this concept and is struggling to find the message s/he wants to communicate? That, I suspect, might the subject of a future article you might consider.


    1. Author

      I agree with the general idea McLuhan put forth, but I think he gets both over-quoted and mis-quoted. In this case the camera would not be the medium, the photograph would be. And he was saying something about the fact that our messaging can’t escape the limits of the media we use – that the medium influences or determines how the message is perceived or experienced. I think he’d be very much on board with the idea that the technical means of creation were only secondary to what we say and how we say it. But that’s only a guess. I find McLuhan a little impenetrable at times. 🙂

      Your second question is important, but impossible to answer on behalf of someone else. Art takes introspection. It requires a rich inner life and self-awareness. But ultimately I don’t think it’s a stretch to say most of us have at least some sense of what we’re interested in – focus on that, follow where it leads. We hear so often to follow our passions, but perhaps “follow your curiosity” is better advice.

    1. Author

      Thank you, Kristin. I worried about hitting publish on this one. Nice to see it get received well rather than provoking a barrage of “yeah, but…” comments. 😉

  15. I am concerned about you. I know you had a foot problem. Now you mention amputation. That sounds serious. My thought are with you, my favorite photography author. May things go well

    1. Author

      Thank you so much for your concern Jan. In June I had my right foot amputated in the hopes of getting better function from a good prosthetic. You can read all about it here – – and here – – over 4 months later things are healed well, I’m in a prosthetic that fits better and better all the time and I’m beginning to resume the activities I love.

      So, yes, amputation is serious, but so is living a life with a foot that gives me increasing pain and decreasing mobility. My injured foot never healed and was only getting worse and worse. My new situation only seems to be getting better and better! See the picture at the top of this post for a peek at my sexy new leg hardware. 😉🦿

  16. So, you’re saying if I buy camera gear to match exactly what you have, my photos may not be as good as yours. ????😂😂

    1. Author

      There’s one sure way to find out, Jim! LOL. Time to increase that credit limit. 😂

  17. If you have something to say, then the equipment is the fun of the implementation, but not the statement itself!
    Therefore, know in advance WHAT you want to say and best case also your WHY!

  18. As a retired music recording engineer, I can relate to these stories easily. I can even go some way to identifying with the guy and his credit card. I had access to the best audio kit in the world during my working life, but was never at a loss for something to record – that came with the job! My photographic hobby started not long after my audio engineering career, spending hours in my darkroom and variously being pleased or disappointed with my pictorial output. Now I have the leisure to spend more time on my hobby, and have no technical issues with the camera or post production software, but lack the inspiration to produce images, other than the enjoyment of the process.
    Thank you for your thoughtful articles, which go some way toward providing the missing inspiration. I guess the answer is to “keep making the pictures”.

    1. Author

      Thanks for that, Anthony. You nailed it! Keep making pictures. Follow the thread. See what you like and do more of that!

    1. Author

      Thanks, Bela. That question, as simple as it is, has helped me a lot in my photographic life.

  19. Wonderful story…It reminds me of an oft repeated saying about learning high speed driving on track, namely “a lot depends on the the nut that holds the wheel” Maybe that applies to “the nut holding the camera too”? Grin!

  20. It’s always nice to start the day with a big smile. Two wonderful stories David. Thanks.

    1. Author

      The pleasure is mine, Dave. Thank you for giving me someone to write for. 🙏

  21. This is a great post but a photographer’s drive for new and better gear also has benefits. Consider a sports photographer on the sidelines thirty years ago doing manual focus on fast action or trying to catch the peak action of a play. Today’s technology has made it easier for those of us who less talent to capture better images…more in-focus images…of the high school players we follow week after week. Therefore giving parents more and better images of their sons and daughters for their keepsakes. The 20 frames-per-second images gives me more choices to select better images despite the thousands and thousands of them I have to sort through. Yes, you must know good composition and the sport but today’s cameras have helped us do our jobs better. I always enjoy and learn from your posts. Thank you.

    1. Author

      You’re right, Ron. New gear – better, faster, sharper, etc – means new possibilities. But in my analogy the poor guy has all the best stuff and it doesn’t replace the need for vision of some kind. If you’ve got something to say the best gear is a boon and in some cases makes possible what otherwise would be impossible. But without it, you’re probably just making some version of Ansel Adams’ “sharp photograph of a fuzzy concept.” To coin a phrase: gear is good (even great!) but vision is better. 😁 (I’m often mis-understood as saying the gear doesn’t matter. It matters a great deal, it’s just that it’s insufficient.)

      1. You sure about that? I’ve seen a lot of photographs of sports made by photographers who clearly aren’t sure what their actual subject is. It’s important not to conflate the subject matter with the subject/idea/theme of a photograph. A photograph OF something is not the same as a photograph ABOUT something.

  22. David,
    You have such a beautiful way of focusing my thinking on the essentials. Thank you. See you in Kenya.

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