The camera doesn’t matter

I was shooting some portraits of the workers here at Camp Gibson the other day, and I was looking through the huge viewfinder of this new film camera and just thinking how amazing these pictures were going to be as long as I was getting the exposure right. It’s tough for me to adjust to the image in the finder being flipped – like looking in a mirror (actually, I am looking in a mirror when I’m composing, so go figure) – but I’m getting used to it. There’s a little magnifier that snaps into place so that I see fine focus details, but I hate to use it because it crops my view down. I like to use it for a second to get my focus distance right, then flip it out of the way so I can compose with that full, huge, and beautiful finder.

And that’s the way I compose on the digital camera as well – using the entire frame exactly as I would like to see it in print. It’s a bad habit sometimes because it gives me no room at all to crop, and with this new/old camera, that problem could get a little worse because the format is square, and not as many people are framing square pictures.

But then I started thinking about my cousin Brandon, who is a professional photographer and graphic designer. While I rejoice in every success he has, I know that some people get frustrated with their talents when they see him pick up a camera, say, “Hey, how do I work this thing?” barely point it at a subject and in about 5 minutes, has a picture that should be sold at auction. I’m joking and would never belittle the work that he puts into his creative pursuits. But he does make it look easy, and it can be even more frustrating when he seems to have so much fun at it when for some, taking good photos is just hard work.

After I’d finished the photos, I was working on the internet, looking up some sample images taken with the same camera and lens that I had been using just a few hours before. I was very surprised that all the interweb had to offer was about 40-60 images, and they were completely boring. Some were black and white, but when I searched Flickr for pictures related to the Hasselblad 500 C/M, the most interesting shots were OF people using the camera, not the pictures they had been shooting.

My buddy Shane Powers shoots medium format film and did his Master’s Thesis project using a double-lens reflex medium format camera. He proved to me that shooting with a medium format, and actually selecting and capturing interesting subjects is possible. Beautifully composed pictures with this kind of camera CAN be taken. And looking down into the camera when I’d been framing the portraits, I was sure that they were going to be good. The only thing that could stand in the way was my own ability to read a light meter, or that the shutter in the camera was inaccurate.

The camera doesn’t matter. It’s the person behind it, and you can see from Brandon’s Facebook page or from Shane’s that whether they are shooting with a Canon 5D Mk2 or an iPhone, the pictures have a quality that’s hard for most people to say why they like it, but they just do. Why am I blogging about this? I guess because that sometimes I have serious camera envy and wish I had the newest, best and most expensive stuff out there. I really want a brand new Nikon D700 or the newest equivalent, with a 70-200 2.8 zoom lens that is as long as my arm. But then I look at samples I see on the internet taken with that camera and they look like snapshots. I’ve made due with a lot of lower-end cameras and currently shoot with a tiny DSLR, but I’ve never been happier with the quality of the photos.

And now, when I look through this new/old machine and see an image that looks as good or better than anything I’ve seen so far, I’m reminded that it’s not the camera that counts, it’s the brain behind it.

Aw screw it, I’m going to go and buy that Nikon.

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3 Responses to The camera doesn’t matter

  1. Twice Baked says:

    I don’t know dude… some of my best shots were taken on your $600 lens ( It must have had some of your mojo because I am don’t think I am that lucky. It has left me with some envy.

    Either way, whether it is a guitar or a camera, someone seems to always be better with lesser equipment. The struggle seems to be staying in the game at that point. I often question why I every try to be creative. Another route is to say, “We are all the same because we are artists”. Secretly we are thinking “how do I destroy you”. It’s a fine line between mutual competition and murder. At least in our heads. I regress.

    • Adam says:

      TB – This is one of the greatest comments made on my blog to date. But with that said, I completely disagree. I joke – this is a fine line, and since your writing skills seem to be on a par with my own, this will be the last comment I allow you to make. Thanks Buddy!

  2. Timothy Gray says:

    Great post! I shoot both 35mm and medium format, film and digital, and, like you, have been pondering the role (or lack thereof) the camera plays in the creative process. I’ve written two posts recently (one for each side of the argument), on my blog.

    The first, or, “The Camera Doesn’t Matter” is here:

    The second, or, “The Camera Does Matter” is here: