The Power is Sufficient

An art is definable only in its own terms; it is as difficult to write about photography as it is about music, especially from a personal viewpoint. I feel that as one grows older his credo becomes simpler and more direct. Penetrating the smoke screens of equipment and techniques, glamor, ideology, and simple achievement, motive, the art of photography appears as strong and vital – and purposeful – as any other creative medium, and stands cleanly on its own feet. We are confronted today with a dichotomy; as our equipment and materials constantly grow in scope and quality the creative and technical standards appear to be diminishing; there is a near-cult of photographers who seem to intentionally avoid the beautiful and precise image, concentrating only on subject and obvious function. My personal reaction to this attitude is a determination to go as far in the opposite direction as possible. I believe in the most beautiful and appropriate prints, and the most clarifying and revealing approach of mind, heart, and craft. I believe that firm objectives in this direction can fulfill the promise of photography as one of the great visual arts. However, we must always be logical in our critical estimates; most of photography is not intended as art and should to be judges as such. But if art is intended, compromise must not be tolerated. – Ansel Adams

There’s a story about an automotive journalist sent to the Rolls Royce factory to find out about the latest model.  He asked the Rolls Royce person “How many horsepower is the engine?” . The Rolls Royce representative looked at him quizzically and responded “The power is sufficient”.

It’s easy to be seduced by numbers, statistics, and features.  If it a new camera comes out with more of those, it must make better photographs, right?  Not really.

I was reading an Internet forum a while ago and someone, a person brand new to photography, asked which DSLR would be best for him.  He wanted to take some pictures of his kids around the house and at their soccer games.  He’d heard that Nikon’s were good, so he asked on the Nikon forum.  It wasn’t long before someone said he absolutely must have a Nikon D700 (because crop sensors are crap) and then he’ll need some good lenses (because consumer grade are crap), meaning he needed a 24-70 2.8, then the 70-200 VRII for soccer, but then that really didn’t have enough reach someone said, so he needed the new 200-400 VR II.  Then for low light indoors he needed a 50mm 1.4, etc.  Pretty soon he was up well over $10,000 and I’m sure certainly shell-shocked.  When he asked if he really needed to spend that much he, of course, was berated as a newbie and likely never visited that Internet forum again (which is probably a good thing).

Do you know the image requirements for National Geographic?  A 6 MP camera.  Six.  All of the photographs on my site from Bali and Cambodia were made with a 6MP Nikon D40 and I have beautiful 20×30 prints from there.  My largest print (and the one I’m most proud of – “Gone” from my site) is now 50 inches wide and hanging in a friend’s loft.  It was made with a Panasonic G1 micro four thirds camera.

The more I photograph the more I realize what cameras are just tools for implementing your vision.  If it takes a Canon 85mm 1.2L to do that, then great.  It it’s a $25 Holga, as many of mine are, then that’s great too.  Don’t be seduced with the marketing folks and the multi-page spreads in Popular Photography.  It’s a tool, nothing more. Same thing with the whole film vs digital debate.  Whichever one allows you to fulfill your vision is the best one.  I use both and there are stunning examples from photographers around the world using each.

Oh, and one more thing:  Camera brands are not religions!  Every brand out there takes good photos, so lighten up already.

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5 comments

  1. Ok, let me first say that I agree with you. But I was laughing.

    I started with a D40, but wanted a D90 for taking better higher ISO images indoors. I bought a 50mm because the kit lens was too slow. The 50mm didn’t have enough field of view, so I got a Tamron 17-50mm, but it focused too slow for moving kids, so I got the Nikon 17-55mm f2/8. I also got the 70-200mm for more reach, but could use more for soccer. 🙂

    Ok, I take more photographs than just of the kids, but that was the original rational.

  2. I’m still trapsing around with my first (and only) DSLR, the Nikon D80. I think one of the best things Nikon has done for me this year is NOT introduce a replacement for the D700. It’s given me the chance to not focus on the gear but to work more on my intention while photographing.

    Thanks Mark…another great post.

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