Cameras And The Consumer Treadmill

Morning light seems to awaken these bare branched winter trees in Otago, New Zealand.

“The rational mind is the servant and the intuitive mind is the gift."

"We honor the servant and have forgotten the gift.”

Albert Einstein


I believe this quote is of paramount importance to aspiring photographers. More and more technique seems to dominate our education and equipment our photographic practice. Software companies release so-called major upgrades to their products around every 18 months. Likewise camera manufactures launch new feature-heavy and megapixel-laden cameras on a similar timeline, some less often. It takes a considerable commitment to get your head around one of these new products before the next update is released onto the market.

In the case of the camera most folks are so overcome by complex interfaces and a plethora of options that they set their camera to one of the auto settings and use it, pretty much, like a point and shoot camera.

Photoshop is no easier for the novice to comprehend than was the case with previous versions. Thank goodness for products like Adobe Lightroom which, unlike Photoshop, is designed primarily for photographers, both professional and enthusiast. After a little quality tuition the user is well on the way to producing excellent results without too much trouble.

Get Off The Consumer Treadmill

But is it necessary to buy new software, computers and cameras and, for that matter, mobile phones every 18-24 months? The manufacturers want us to believe it is and their marketing program uses the old features/benefits approach to convince us that we’d be much better off with the new product.

Release The Pressure And Enjoy Your Photography

Despite the obvious financial implications of buying into this philosophy, is it the right action to take? I live in Melbourne, Australia where it’s said that inner city apartments are now in line with New York prices. Many aspiring home owners may actually be better off putting their money into a deposit for their home loan rather than purchasing yet another new camera. The alternative might be to upgrade 1 or 2 items every 2 years, rather than trying to replace the lot within the same time frame. While not feasible for all professional photographers, amateurs and enthusiasts may find it worth considering.

I have, however, bought and sold cameras much more frequently than I should have. I’II publish a follow up article next week listing all the cameras and lenses I’ve owned and my reasons for purchasing them. There are no world-records and no bragging involved, but I hope the article will help folks make sense of the psychology behind their own purchasing habits. Who knows it might even save you some money.

The theme of this article underpins much of my own philosophy towards photography. We have to balance our rational mind, which is associated with logic, technique and equipment with our intuitive mind, which is free, creative and experience driven. 

The most boring photographs are often well exposed, sharp and made with great equipment. Conversely the most beautiful photographs may have little to do with the equipment or any traditional photographic techniques. Great photographs are not so much about the subject photographed, but about the photographer’s experience of the photographic event and about how, through the process of making the image, new possibilities or realities are experienced.

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Eyes That See And Images That Bear The Hand Of The Maker

This may all seem like fluff to some of you. But it is a key difference that separates the act of photography, as a relatively poor 2-dimensional form of documenting our 3-dimensional world, with photography as an art form. There is a world of difference between taking a photo and making a photo, just as there is between looking and actually seeing.

Bringing The Artistic And The Technical Into Balance

I like to read Einstein’s comment, near the top of this post, that to be able to understand, quantify and explain (science, the rational mind) the beauty of existence you first need to learn to perceive it beyond the usual 5 sensory organs (i.e., sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing). Intuition should be trusted for I believe that, to truly understand something, you first need to experience it. Only then should thinking be employed, to record the image, and then only in moderation.

The above image was made on the road back from Milford Sound on the South Island of New Zealand during winter. I was attracted to the tonal qualities within the tree and how they stood out from the darker background. It was and obvious choice to opt for a black and white rendering of the subject. 

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru