A New Start | Part 1: Something Missing in a Bag Full of Gear
After years of enthusiasm around photography and collecting gear, I found myself with some great cameras and lenses capable of making some beautiful photographs. And while I focused mostly on landscape photography both at night and during the day, it was fun experimenting with various cameras, camera systems, techniques and locations/subjects. Photography was an escape and a challenge and one that was thoroughly rewarding in so many ways.
But something was missing. Or, rather, it had become too much. A heavy bag full of gear, several prime lenses and cameras capable of capturing 42MP images and 4K video with myriad bells & whistles and buttons and dials and deep/confusing menu systems were overwhelming. I wasn’t even looking at what I was photographing, merely what the sensor was seeing and displaying on the EVF of my Sony mirrorless cameras which while very cool and useful felt weird, like looking at a window in your house and realizing it was just a giant LCD screen showing an image of what was outside. And beyond all that, the process of capturing a photograph was just half the equation and one that was not evenly weighted as the time necessary to take flat and lifeless RAW files and process them in Lightroom or Photoshop into a finished work far exceeded the time and energy to take them. And to be fair, night sky photography where I found the most interest has always been a pursuit weighted heavily toward the post-processing phase but even single frame landscape photos lacked life without applying your hand to them, the camera just part of the workflow process.
But that’s exactly what the camera manufacturers designed the camera to do. Photography had turned into a process in which I was no longer a photographer so much as a data collector with tools optimized to collect as much data as technology would allow so that it could be brought into a computer and polished. The industry is constantly pushing the capabilities of cameras which now offer so much power and latitude that you can capture something and then alter it and finish the image however you’d like. Chatter amongst photographers was heavily weighted toward discussing post processing techniques or technical limitations and shortcomings of various cameras while proper technique or basic photography concepts like exposure almost became meaningless as cameras were capturing so much data and the programs you fed that data in to were so powerful it hardly mattered. Watching a timelapse of a professional editing a photo she’d posted to her popular Instagram account was simultaneously impressive for the amount of time and skill necessary to polish the image but also depressing as it seemed that every part of the image was manipulated in some way from simple exposure adjustments to cloning out unsightly reflections in puddles and replacing them with more appealing ones or cloning out parts of the scene she didn’t like. Like is it even a photograph at that point? Can that person in good faith claim they captured the photograph, as she did in the post? Is she even a photographer or more a digital artist, the camera just one of the tools in her workflow?
By and large, the importance of standing in the right place, choosing the right focal length, the right exposure, the proper aperture, the right time of day, has become far less important than it ever has been. I was starting to feel like where photography was headed was somewhere I didn’t like. In much the same way that the microwave oven and the industrialization of food made cooking easier, faster, even “better,” the cost of that innovation came in the form of a loss of knowledge and skill. Cooking had gone from a labor intensive, time consuming and even difficult task that required skill to one that involved simply ripping open a bag, dumping things into a bowl and pressing a button on a microwave or an oven. There’s nothing wrong with that as the time savings are a god-send for busy or cooking-averse people but for people who value the process and knowing what went into the final product, why things taste the way they do or the impact of each ingredient in the dish, there’s so much that’s missing by opening some packages and pressing buttons and sitting down to eat what you’ve “cooked.”
Photography has followed that same path and there I was, someone who enjoyed the process, stuck in a world that was pushing toward industrialization and a desire to make things easier, faster and “better.” And I did my best to feel as much a part of the process as possible as I only shot manual focus, manual aperture prime lenses, I carefully and slowly selected all aspects of exposure and I made every attempt to capture the best photograph I could and not lean on post-processing or on-camera technology to bail me out of poor technique or exposure decisions. I took my time and watched and listened as photographers around me fired off dozens of frames as I waited for the moment that just felt right to capture in that single frame, the shutters of modern DSLRs firing in rapid succession a constant reminder that we each approached photography very differently. And it worked fine for quite a while but I felt that I belonged to a different group of photographers using different equipment and skills than my current setup was optimized for and so I decided to make a change. Over the course of a few weeks I sold my camera and all my lenses keeping my original a7r body and a 14mm lens for astro work, the rest gone. A backpack once packed to the brim with gear was now a collection of empty compartments. With cash in my pocket and months of research determining where I belonged, I made a phone call and a few days later a package arrived.