Art for Your Own Sake

There are a lot of photographers out there – ones I really respect – who recommend shooting on one camera, using one lens. The reasons they often cite are definitely compelling:

  1. You stop yourself from buying other, unnecessary equipment.
  2. You master one focal length (they recommend only using one prime lens).
  3. It helps you be more creative.

That’s awesome! I don’t wanna buy stuff I don’t need, and I want to be more creative using a focal length I have mastery over!

Cool!

Some photographers, especially street photographers, take this idea even further. The suggest that you use one camera, one lens, one film, one development process, and one editing style – all in the name of mastering that process.

But that makes a pretty big assumption, doesn’t it? I mean, that implies that what is most important to me about my photography is being good at it. Is that true?

Well, obviously I enjoy being good at things. Everyone does. To be a master, though? I guess if I could, like, snap my fingers and become a “master” photographer, then yeah I’d probably do it. But is that my most important goal as a photographer? To become a master? Should it be a goal at all?

I dunno.

Over the past year, I’ve found myself shifting focus away from the “photograph” part of photography. I have a backlog of negatives that I’ve developed, but I’ve not yet scanned – or even looked at.

There is a balance, I think, to be made between a desire to master an art and a desire to enjoy an art.

The photographers who are telling you to become experts are really only expressing their opinions. They have something that works for them and they’re sharing it. That’s awesome! But their goals were probably a lot different from yours or mine.

I’m not trying to become a professional photographer, or become a commercial success. I’m just trying to have fun.

Having fun, to me, means trying different cameras and lenses. It means experimenting and trying something without knowing if it’ll work. It means buying expired film and seeing what happens when I shoot it.

I’ve gone off the deep end on having too much gear before, oops. But I believe there is a middle ground between “one camera, one lens” and “every camera, every lens.” Nowadays, when I get new gear, it’s usually a really old camera to have fun playing with.

Since this shift, the photos I get aren’t the same as the ones I used to. As a result, I don’t get a lot of love from the digital-friendly online photography community. People on 500px and other sites want a specific look: sharp, contrasts, full dynamic range, saturated.

I’m not always into that.

So I have to remember that I’m doing this for me, and not for the upvotes.

Sometimes, it’s fun (and educational) to limit my gear for creativity’s sake. I’ll go with one camera, or one lens, or one film, or no light metre, or an old point-and-shoot, or any number of limitations. It’s fun! We went on a trip to Europe last month and I only took one interchangeable lens. I got to know the 50mm focal length very well. Now that I’m back, I’m playing around again. After a month away, it feels refreshing.

Remember that people giving advice are only telling you what worked for them to achieve their goals. What will help you achieve your goals may be wildly different, so always treat an expert’s advice as an informed opinion rather than an absolute rule.


Posted on May 24, 2015