Thursday, January 9, 2014

Visionary: First Steps

Our approach will build upon what you already know about photography, but will require some tweaking.

In terms of equipment, and how you should approach the technical aspects of equipment, we take the perspective of Henri Cartier-Bresson:
Constant new discoveries in chemistry and optics are widening considerably our field of action. It is up to us to apply them to our technique, to improve ourselves, but there is a whole group of fetishes which have developed on the subject of technique. Technique is important only insofar as you must master it in order to communicate what you see... The camera for us is a tool, not a pretty mechanical toy. In the precise functioning of the mechanical object perhaps there is an unconscious compensation for the anxieties and uncertainties of daily endeavor. In any case, people think far too much about techniques and not enough about seeing.
—Henri Cartier-Bresson, The Decisive Moment.

A. The minimum that you need 

You need something that will make an image. That’s it.

It could be an oatmeal box with a pinhole in it and sheet of film. It could be an iPhone. It could be a DSLR. It really doesn’t matter. You’ll get plenty from this course no matter what you’re using to make the images.

But it would be nice if you had a camera that provided manual controls in addition to separate automated control over the aperture and shutter speed.

Whatever it is you have, use that. Do not spend money on additional gear. You don’t need it for this course. The most important thing to spend is time, which you will invest in your mind. 

B. What you should consider

The process of making images is an invasive one. Your goal should always be to minimize your impact on your subject. A photographer should be part of the background, and not the center of the event. If you become a distraction to your subject, then you will be unable to capture any legitimate moments. Indeed, when I observe that my subjects are paying more attention to me than to themselves, I stop taking pictures until I’m forgotten about.

As with any endeavor, one needs to pick the right tool for the job at hand. Unfortunately, mass production and consumer misunderstandings about photography have led to a fairly uniform set of tools within a price point most people find acceptable. 8x10 view cameras are still available, but not for the low price of a high-resolution DSLR. 

Other than specific purpose product or studio work, however, the advantage of modern photographic equipment is the high image quality available from very small cameras and lenses. For our purposes, these fill all the needs we could have.

Keeping in mind the overarching goal to be not involved, small, quiet cameras are preferable to large, noisy ones with big zoom lenses on them that look like some implement of war.

In addition to a small camera, a small lens is also preferable to a large one. All inclusive tools have a financial appeal, but they rarely deliver satisfactory results over time. All-in-one lenses that cover the gamut from 35mm to 200mm will be unwieldy, have a low maximum aperture, and suffer vignetting and other optical problems. It is preferable to have one or two wider angle, fast lenses. Telephotos are neither desirable nor needed. (Although not ideal, an iPhone is preferable to a large DSLR. At this point the equipment is far less important than your process of understanding.)