The photographer who sold his camera..
As a writer of this article, I can imagine what your first reaction may be. Yes, the title is not an original masterpiece. It’s inspired by a book which had a title “The Monk who sold his Ferrari”. But I promise nothing else in this article is inspired by that book.
If you are reading this you may have a serious interest in photography. And if you have started learning seriously you most probably would want to become a good photographer. Some of you may be eyeing to become a Great photographer as well, but often wondering how?
I can understand coming out of me it may sound like “Proud words from a weak stomach”, but I can bet that the path is very simple and in fact that it is often ignored, despite the fact that I deliberated a lot about this in the very first batches of all my classes ever (even in my online course).
Most of the modern day photographers are stuck with a discussion like “are you a Canon or a Nikon?” or who has the better kit or a bigger lens or a more powerful light.
Whenever I run into a photography enthusiast I often ask them a totally different question which goes like “What do you shoot?”. A portion of the secret of becoming great usually lies in the answer to this question. The response I get usually is a disappointing “oh! I love shooting everything” or “oh! I love photography so much, that I would like to learn everything”. I would not blame those who give these answers. The reason is that nowadays we are bombarded with beautiful imagery every day through all kinds of media and It is very easy to feel tempted to create or copy almost everything we see. But that is actually a recipe for failure. I would even say that over-attention given to the photography process and equipment, in general, may render you more of a technology freak than a good photographer. Then what makes you a good photographer after all?
A simple response given by someone was “Great photographers are those who take Great images?” Now that is something very wide and subjective too. though I will try to answer that question by the time this article finishes.
A Learning from the Masters
We can learn powerful lessons from the past and it’s natural that we fall back and study work of some all time and some contemporary greats. Lets’ say, Ansel Adams, Henry Cartier-Bresson (HCB), Sally Mann & Robert Capa. They all shot very different subjects but one similarity is discernable that most of them kept their focus on one genre of photography for most of their life. Another discernable fact is that most of them were very equipment non-centric.
HCB quite often said – “I am completely and have always been uninterested in the photographic process. I like the smallest camera possible, not those huge reflex cameras with all sorts of gadgets. When I am working, I have an M3 because it’s quicker when I’m concentrating.” A simple equipment that becomes an extension of your body and vision may be all that you need. Or in simple words, just enough equipment to serve your purpose. (the word purpose is important here and I will need to deliberate on this a little later).
Finding your Genre
So we established the fact that the masters work on a single genre/subject for a really long time so that eventually the subject starts revealing itself to them in a way that other’s never see it. If you know your genre of focus, it is still very difficult to keep our focus on same. However another tough question that ails a whole generation.I often used to play a simple game where I used to ask my students to list down 2-3 passions of their life and then ask questions like Is it visual?; Is it practical?; Is it interesting to others?; and Do they really have a passion for it? The passion that stands true to this test may be the Genre should work for.
What makes a Photograph Great?
Many common answers would be composition, sharpness, details, contrast, colours and perfect focus etc. But they all matter to a very limited extent. All greats would agree on the answer to this difficult question is very simple. “Why the photograph was taken?”, is often the key. The answer to question reveals either relentless passion of the creator for the subject or representation of a moment that may never come back or may never be captured in a similar fashion. Only creators with fully focused mono-passion for their subject (which can be anything) reach this level of purpose in their photography. But those who do produce work which is very close to the work of the masters.
Decisive Moment – The Great HCB Tip
Most of the advice that newcomers get from other photographers is “shoot a lot”. I disagree as this is factually wrong. During a 1971 interview with Sheila Turner-Seed, HCB used these famous words – “You shouldn’t overshoot. It’s like overeating, overdrinking. You have to eat, you have to drink. But over is too much. Because by the time you press, you arm the shutter once more, and maybe the picture was in between.” I know this is a complex sentence to understand, but I would urge you to read it again and again till you understand a gist of it. – Very often, you don’t have to see a photographer’s work. Just by watching him in the street, you can see what kind of photographer he is. Discreet, tiptoes, fast or machine gun. Well, you don’t shoot partridges with a machine gun. You choose one partridge, then the other Partridge. Maybe the others are gone by then. But I see people grrrr, like this with a motor. It’s incredible because they always shoot at the wrong moment.
For most of his life, Henry Cartier-Bresson used his 35 mm with a 50 mm lens. I would not recommend everybody to copy his choice of lens and camera. But would just urge to identify your genre first and then start building up your equipment. If landscape photography is your calling, invest in wide angles, an awesome tripod and so on. If people or fashion is your calling get 85 mm or likes of 70-200. If street photography is your calling then get a 35 or 50 mm and go on… As I shoot love shooting people my choice of lens is 85 mm and actually I resolve today to work with a simple camera and one simple lens 85 mm is my choice, what would be yours? For the rest of the equipment that I own It will be sold or gifted to someone I find worthy of the legacy and I would love to be known as “the photographer who sold his Camera“.