Is Your Photography Better?

(commentary)

The Christmas tree is out at the curb. The decorations are all down. You’re back at work for another year at the grind. When you get a minute, consider this question: did any of the photographic gear you got for Christmas improve your photography? If so, how?

We all get caught up in the marketing frenzy that comes at the end of the year. When the camera makers throw some buzz worthy products into the mix at the last minute (Df, A7/A7r, etc.) and the retailers all are dangling instant rebates and other goodies as incentives, it’s tough to be the Grinch and ignore the siren call of consumerism. We all give in, and many of us give in because we rationalize that the new gear will make for better photographs. 

Since this is also the time of New Year’s Resolutions, let’s combine the “is your photography better” question with a challenge: prove it. (Those of you who didn’t get something new photographically for the holidays stand by, I’ll get to you in a minute.)

Now I don’t want you down in the pixels and running standard deviations on test charts to prove it, I want you to prove it in your photos as others see them. That’s sort of the goal of taking photographs, right? For others to see them? 

So go out and take the same photo with your old and new gear and show those to the others you usually show photos to exactly the same way as you usually do and see if they see a difference. 

What’s that? You’re complaining that you got the new gear to take pictures you couldn’t take before with your old gear? “My new camera can shoot at ISO 128,000,” you say? Perhaps, but my challenge is still on: prove it. Prove that your new gear can do things your old gear couldn’t. 

I’ve already lost a lot of you because you’re realizing that maybe the new stuff you got probably doesn’t make a huge difference in your photography. You want to tune out at this point because you don’t want someone to rat you out for conspicuous consumption. What you are is a consumer of photo equipment, not a craftsman using photo gear. 

Nothing wrong with being a consumer if that’s what floats your boat. Overall, most of society is far past the Agrarian stage where every shekel you take in has to go for absolute daily needs, such as food and shelter. That’s certainly true of those reading this article. Buying stuff keeps a company in business. That company keeps other companies in business. All those companies need employees and (sometimes) pay back dividends to shareholders. 

If you’re a consumer of cameras and accessories, then buy on buzz if you’d like. There’s about to be a couple of months of buzz coming up as it’s announcement season once again at the camera companies, so I hope you saved some cash for the next round ;~)

The folk out their serious about using their cameras need to do more, though. They need to make sure they’re steering the right course through the buzz. That’s why I wrote: prove it. 

Even I get caught up from time to time and end up with gear I thought would be photographically useful to me that turned out to not pass the "prove it" test. I’d have to say that the D4 worked out that way for me, for example. I can’t really prove that the D4 does a better job than the D3s for the work I use that type of camera for. Sure, I get a few more pixels, but more pixels wasn’t what I was using the D3s for in the first place. Now I’ve got a more complicated workflow (have to carry two card readers with me, for example), had to buy new batteries, and so on. I can’t really prove I’ve gained anything other than the extra pixels, which I didn’t need. 

On the other hand, the D800E was a real improvement over the D3x I was using for work that required resolution, and far cheaper, too. You never quite know whether the promises from new gear are going to deliver until you do what I’m suggesting you do: prove it. 

Now to those of you whom Santa didn’t grace with new gear this year, I promised I’d deal with you. What you should be working to prove is this: that you’ve extracted all the performance out of your current gear that you can. 

One thing I notice is that we all get a little lazy over time. There was a time when every one of my landscape shots was off a carefully aligned and handled tripod, even when I was hanging off the side of a cliff. Boy that’s tough to do as you get older. More stuff to carry, more things to set up, more things to keep track of and handle during the shot, and so on. So we start taking short cuts using rationalizations like “I can hand hold 1/250” or “I don’t need the big tripod for this.” So maybe I’m not extracting all the performance out of the current gear I’ve got, too. So what I’ve written you should do applies to me, too.

While many folk put their cameras away for the winter, I don’t. I’m out trying to prove things. I suggest you do that, too.

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