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on Dec 4, 2009 in Friday Thoughts

Or is it Passion?

When I was in school, I had one instructor that I really respected named Mike, who didn’t mess around. He inspired and spoke plainly and bluntly. Mike was a craftsman. He would tell stories that were nothing short of Superman leaping over tall buildings all in the pursuit of a photograph. Despite having the best gear money could buy, he would constantly impress us with how it was the person behind the camera making things happen. It was near the end of the second session though Mike said something that has always stuck with me. “If we can’t see you idea, you’re not communicating. No matter how good your idea, if it’s not executed, we’ll never know it.” Pretty powerful stuff for a photograph.

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Which came first, the camera or the photographer? Without the photographer, the camera has no life. Without the camera, the photographer can’t visually communicate. I’m a firm believer that it’s the person behind the camera that counts. At the same time, who’s usually the first kid on the block with the new Nikon gear? Me. The camera gear permits me to stretch my imagination and my imagination pushes the camera to perform. We could go around and around and around on this same thread and probably never come to any conclusions. With the introduction of the D3s and with DSLRs coming out more and more with video, perhaps it’s time to sort this out.

In high school I had a great teacher who, with a Hawkeye Brownie, captured images we couldn’t compete with shooting his Nikon F. This started the thought that it was the person behind the camera that counts until the assignment to photograph a match lighting was handed to us. When it came time to photograph that match, a macro lens was needed to get the image size required. That Hawkeye that just the day before did such a great job, now came up short. It couldn’t keep up with the imagination. So with the seed planted that it’s the person behind the camera that counts, I went out buying more gear.

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I would submit that for me, vision and gear go hand in hand. I can’t be the photographer I am without either one, with neither being more important than the other. I would also submit at the same time with that being true to myself, both would be meaningless without passion fueling them both. Passion is what powers the vision and it’s passion that drives me to earn the bread to buy the gear. It’s also passion that pushes the use of each piece of gear beyond its design limits.

Having seen a photographer successfully shoot with a 400mm lens, the front element of which he kept in place with a wad of chewing gum, I know for a fact that anything is possible in photography. He made images because, bless his soul, it was his only outlet in life to express who he was. But because it’s possible does it make it practical? I know another photographer who is just starting out who has a passion for birds so he uses the only lens he owns, a 50mm lens. It ain’t easy and the majority of the time completely unproductive, but it can be done. You can have a 600mm lens and chase birds all day long and not come back with a decent image as well, I’ve seen that happen too. Both shooters have a vision, both have gear but perhaps the one has a bigger advantage, passion, pushing that 50mm and his skill set.

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I have a dear friend who, while he doesn’t own much gear, is always pining away for the latest and greatest. He’s constantly texting and emailing me asking about this piece of gear or that, telling me the specs for this new piece of gear and what he could do if he had it. But he doesn’t have it so he goes out with the one body and lens and flash he does have, and makes really amazing images that come from his imagination, heart, soul and passion. He admits his skill set is still growing which is how it should be, he has great vision and like any healthy photographer wants new gear, but that giant heart makes images to be proud of because they pull heartstrings!

This in no way takes away from the vision over gear sentiment floating around. I just think it’s not that cut and dry simply because being humans, nothing is that cut and dry when we’re talking about communicating. But I do think that simply saying vision over gear or it’s the photographer behind the camera that counts glosses over what’s really important. Photography and striving for what we perceive as the perfect picture doesn’t stop there. We’ve gotta have vision, we’ve gotta have gear just to get started because without either, it’s back to pencils and crayons. But to be successful, we can’t always be at the starting gate but racing down the track to an unknown finish line, one that I hope I never reach. What is it they say about race horses when they just keep going and going, they have heart?! Photographers who survive those first decades and are still vertical and moving forward with their craft have heart too, a passion for communicating visually the wonders of the world in which we live. I’m going to leave it up to you to make the final call, but I know the answer for myself in this question, vision, gear, or is it passion?