Nikon D850

Above: Nikon D850. Credit: Nikon/Fair use.

Camera Love

One of the pressures bearing down on the creative photographer is consumer marketing. And for this reason most student photographers (pretty much without exception) arrive on the first day of their degree course with a nice shiny-new DSLR--by convention the camera-of-choice for the serious photographer. This is only a convention, and one that those promoting and marketing expensive cameras are very fond of. (A DSLR camera can cost from £500 to £3000). There is no requirement to own a DSLR or an analog SLR just because you are getting serious about photography. One of the issues with DSLRs is the bewildering number of functions--these cameras are a computer-with-a-lens-on-the-front. All the options can be too much; they often end up being confusing and puzzling, e.g., rear-curtain flash or progressive curtain? Tracking: on, off, or auto? These factors tend to cause the user to be alienated from their photo-device--they are essentially intimidated by it, and often feel unequal to it.

A second myth that camera-shop sales-persons tend to peddle enthusiastically is the idea that only the most recent cameras (from the present year or last year) are adequate to actually take a photo with--anything else being ancient history. This is wrong, and is a sales technique. The reality is that the optical system on any excellent camera from 1930 onwards will be as good if not better than any present day camera. And there is no necessity for excellent optics anyway. (A Leica from the 1960s still has better optics than any camera you care to pick from the racks in PC world.) As long as a camera has manual settings then any camera at all that you feel comfortable with is great. Your camera choice is a creative decision in itself, not always a technical one.

That is why you should never choose a camera online. The feel of the object on your skin and in your hand is so important. The camera you use should an extension--or a projection--of your personality. Just grasping it and holding it should be a thrill. A trusted camera represents a deep-and-compelling relationship with an inanimate object. Like the empathy has for one's favourite jeans or sneakers--they are a part of you and often feel irreplaceable. Just like a musician's choice of guitar, your camera will shape you creatively--it will enhance and embolden your creative direction. A beautiful camera is a fetish object--an object worthy of being adored, stroked, caressed.

And, just as the rock guitarist will use different guitars for different songs and sounds (e.g., the classic switch from rock-out Gibson Les Paul to 12-string acoustic, so often used as a live-gig effect that instantly changes the vibe from adrenalin-pulsing to intimate), so too, the creative photographer is unlikely to have just one camera.

Most creative photographers build up a personal collection of several cameras that they LOVE. Each one in the collection being a revered object that is cherished and enjoyed as a wonderful light-catching device. The best camera to use for a shoot is the camera that you alone feel most comfortable with ... as per this apocryphal story often told about Hiromix: in the late-1990s, Japanese photographer Hiromix was commissioned to shoot a major fashion campaign in London. She arrived at a large rented photo-studio in East London where all manner of pro-equipment had been set up. She was asked which camera system she preferred, as there were several options available to her. At this Hiromix reached down and opened a green-fluffy pencil-case she had brought with her and took out a Konica Big Mini: "Here is my camera, I have brought my own."

Camera choice changes your behaviour and if shooting a portrait will change the behaviour of your sitter. As David Bailey succinctly explains, "if you take a picture of someone with a Polaroid camera, they stick their tongue out. But the moment you pick up a Hasselblad, they go into an Irving Penn pose [i.e. artificial and stagey] ... put a model in front of a 10x8 inch plate-camera and she turns solemn, she acts though she's in a cathedral."

(25 October 2018)