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.

On my former blog, I intentionally avoided writing about gear because it always seemed so ephemeral a topic on which to bother wasting electrons. But the posts I referenced most often in emails to people soliciting advice from me were posts about how I used whatever I was using and to what end. Across all my pursuits, I find people starving for more information than a spec sheet or magazine “shoot-out” review provides. I find people wanting help not necessarily in deciding what to buy, but in articulating what it is they want to do.

So that’s how I’ll write about gear on this site—by detailing what it is I do and how what I use helps me do it. I’ll start next week with a post on how I decide what to pack for a photo-centric trip, and that will be followed at some point by a post on some of the renovation I’m doing in my woodshop. And if you’re super nice, I’ll write a much-needed post about making popcorn.

In other news, I’m done processing my Cuba selects. And while we’re on the subject of gear, I’ll just say that the combination of redoing my photo library and a deluge of new images from the Cuba trip exhausted the storage I had available to me, so I had to go out and get more.

I whittled the final collection down to 121 final images (with another hundred or so second-tier picks)—for me, a pretty decent haul for a week afield. I’m now grouping them into themes for posting to this here site.

About the author Narayan Nayar

Family man. Designer. Photographer. Woodworker. Food enthusiast. Traveler. Flyfisher. Bicyclist. Platypus aficionado. Frequent user of the letter 'e'.

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  1. I’m really enjoying your posts. Thanks!


  2. Guitar players never talk about music, they talk about gear and technique, because they are things that are easy to understand, and talking about making music is difficult.


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