My great uncle's Leica

Gear Up, Gear Down

Gear and practice.

I don’t get a lot of questions about photography. Very few people ask, “What are you trying to accomplish in this image?” Instead, most people ask questions about photographic gear. “Do you shoot Nikon or Canon?” “What lens did you take this image with?” “What strap/bag/flash/tripod/underwear do you recommend?” A lot of people confuse having a discussion about cameras with having a discussion about photography and for me, anyway, these are not the same thing. My biggest lament about photography is that the compliment you get from the viewing public most often tends to be:

“That photograph is wonderful. You have an amazing camera!”

Spoiler alert: it’s not the friggin’ camera. No one says of David Simon that his keyboard must have been magical to help him bang out The Wire. No one remembers Picasso for having exquisite brushes or Luke Skywalker for the power converters he never picked up from Toshi Station.

It’s true that gear and practice are intimately related topics in any field. The things that you do and the ways that you do them are both enabled and constrained by the tools and materials you have to work with. And these days many of us are all spoiled by choice. Commodity gear in many fields consists of highly sophisticated tools that require little skill to get started and that presume to understand your intentions so they can do a lot of the work for you. Over the years, my pursuits have generally settled on simpler tools that may require a few more skills to use but once those skills are acquired, allow me to better connect my intentions with my results.

Neither approach is unilaterally better than the other—if the results of the more automated tools are acceptable, why not do them more quickly? The people whose work and methods I find most compelling generally work from both camps and are not religious about it, and I try to echo that ethos in the way I go about things in photography, woodworking, bicycling, and so on. I tend to walk away from theoretical and “gear qua gear” monologues and gravitate instead toward conversations about intent, process and approach.

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