It doesn’t help my photography one bit, but I like to collect stats on things that occur during the business day, week, year and decade because, well, I just love trivia. I don’t count how many paperclips we use at WRP (which, with the advent of digital we hardly use them anymore) but I do count how many times certain questions are asked. I’ve written and spoken many times that the #2 email question I receive is, “What is the best f/stop?” With that trivia thrown out there, I’ve never been asked what’s the number one question. Looking over the stats for 2009, I was surprised that one question had eked its way up into the #10 spot.
“If you only had one lens to use, what would it be?” Now you might think this question is a sign of the times, budgets are thin, or a photographer just starting out, trying to make the most of the dollar they have. But I’ve been asked this question since 1991 when the 1st edition of Nikon System Handbook was released. What always gets me is, typically folks preface the if only question with, “I just read over the contents of your camera bag” which to me kinda indicates that I feel that I need more than one lens for my photography. Of course when I point this out, that I have many lenses, each one filling a particular notch in my visual quest, they still repeat the if only question.
This leads me to a much bigger question and one much more important to photography then my stats. Why do photographers tend to limit themselves? Doesn’t life do that enough without our seeking such limits? My 600VR, my baby, went in for its annual check-up in December. That was the longest 8 days when it wasn’t sitting next to me at my desk. Birds were coming in but I couldn’t do a thing without the 600mm. At least that was my first reaction. I had two choices, not take any photographs or, push the imagination and try some other lens on some other subject. You’d think at first that the only lens I did own was the 600mm during those 8 days by my mobbing but it was quite obvious very quickly the only limitation was my imagination and not my lens selection.
“If you could only go one place this year to shoot, where would you go?” Another if only question I receive (doesn’t make the countdown) also seems to be a self-defeating question. I am incredibly fortunate and I will go to many places this year, all places I want to go to. With that said, just because I want to go to them and plan to go to them, will they produce great images just because I’m there? About half the time, no, I’ll get skunked and that’s with all my contacts and expertise. If only it weren’t so bloody hot here in Yellowstone where I am right now I could make some incredible images (it’s +40 hotter than normal). But it is that hot and it’s still Yellowstone, and as my good friend just said so well, wouldn’t want to be anywhere else right now. I understand folks have vacations they want to plan and often they are shooting vacations. But why limit yourself to some place I might want to go. Hell, I spend time in smelly sumps in Bakersfield for fun, you sure you want to follow me?
If only it was our imaginations we were pushing and not the gear. If only great light were present every time we ventured out with our lens. If only the critters would come to play on our schedule and not theirs. If only there weren’t clocks and rules and work and all that horrible stuff that comes to us on the news. If only…
There is no one magical lens, no one magical body, no one magical Photoshop trick or magical computer. There is no one right photographic teacher. What is magical is the spirit in each and every photographer to take the sensory input they receive and turn it into a photograph that can grab the world. There’s no if only in this, it is a limitless “if”, if the imagination and heart are permitted to do what they do best. Wander! You need a bag of gear (I don’t want any calls from spouses from that one), a calendar of time and an area the size of the planet to fill that wandering. And when you start on that quest, then you’ll know firsthand that there is no “if only”. As soon as you put your right foot in front of your left foot, you’ll have the answer and the best part is, you’ll have the answer for yourself. Sheyrl Crow sings it best and what I remind myself daily. “It’s not having what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got”
Oh, and what’s the #1 question I get asked? What’s the B. in my name stand for? My answer is one that was provided me in a phone call we received once. An elderly lady called and asked if the B. stood for Bull. I like that answer!