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Being There……Picture This

Global Warming Protestor

Last Updated on December 10, 2023 by admin

One of the things that drives me mad with many photographers online, and in the flesh very often, is their push for ever more expensive gear but a complete lack of actually GOING somewhere or DOING something with it. 
Now I can’t say I am completely devoid of ‘gearhead’ syndrome (also known as Collectivitis and Gear Acquisition Syndrome or GAS) but my own desire is kept in check by always asking the question of myself, ‘Do I need it?’ and critically ‘what could I achieve with this that I can’t achieve with what I have?’ 
I have observed, and this is especially true of gearheads riding the retro film Zeitgeist, that their ability to get any good results is often inversely proportional to the quantity of gear they own. 

Some of the villains of this piece include the modern day ‘collectors’. They sit on the internet proudly showing their early 1968 Nikon or classic Rollei and declaiming about the wonders of the German or Japanese camera makers, but never get out there and shoot the bloody things! To me there is nothing sadder than a gearhead with a glass cabinet of wonders that is never shot. I wonder if they ever know (or care) that even in ideal storage conditions, vintage cameras naturally decay. Without regular use the lubricants harden and even with regular use seals decay inside. Being sat inside a glass case is hardly what the cameras makers and builders toiled for. That their amazing design and workmanship should sit in a glass display, like stuffed pheasants. This to me is very sad and reminds me of stuffed animals – glorious in the flesh but utterly diminished by being stuffed and put behind glass.

Nikon F and Nikkor Glass
One of my own small collection. A near mint early Nikon F with early non-AI lenses – it’s regularly in use by me and absolutely not a shelf queen.

The key to actually getting pictures, and this was drummed into me years ago by a hoary old press photographer, is actually being somewhere where something is happening or the view is spectacular on in some other way of interest.  His wise counsel, which I have always tried to follow (albeit with some occasional attacks  of collectivitis), was always to spend your money going somewhere where you can get some interesting shots – NOT buying some new wonder kit which enables to you get even better pictures of your cat or your backyard.

Typical of this behaviour is seeing someone on a film group ages ago where a poster did exactly the opposite of my old press packers advice.  The miscreant had a wonderful, array of Hasselblad, Bronicas and Rollies that were used to produce an almost inexhaustible supply of pictures of his cat, his granny, his back garden etc. Sadly some of these were excellently shot but unbelievably dull to look at. I am not a snob about this. If shooting pictures of your cat is what you want to do then you have my complete permission to carry on, however I am  talking about creating meaningful photography not filling a snap shot album for my cat who would struggle to appreciate it not having opposable thumbs. 

Now, none of this means you can’t get good stuff locally.  I am currently working on a couple of projects where I am looking at the plight of the homeless in my local area and I’m always on the lookout for the interesting, the bizarre or the occasional candid.  One of my other projects is covering peoples interactions with their phones. So if you’re on a budget then you can always find a project to work on thats local. No one is suggesting you should sell your kids into slavery to fund a trip to the Bahamas with a Super Model!

Homeless person on streets
Through the eyes of a child… Homelessness in the one of the richest countries in the world.
Woman with cellphone
Praying for a signal? Tourist in Gothic Cathedral struggles
to get a picture or signal or both.

Having a project in mind helps to steer you towards photo opportunities. Wandering around aimlessly will usually just provoke you into using up film taking more bland pictures.  Now a tip here is you won’t find 36 interesting pictures on a single roll. I doubt I have taken 36 killer pictures in my entire life! So you need multiple projects so you can bag what happens as and when. For instance the homeless man was on the same roll as a few other candid pics of other things.

It may be macro is your thing – I was hiking a couple of years ago and ran into a photographer doing macro photography in the middle of nowhere. As he sat there patiently waiting for THE shot he told me the damsel flies were better there than anywhere else. I could only demur at his know how and wished him well. It’s not my thing for sure but the point is he wasn’t trying out his new wonder lens in his backyard he was out there trying for the perfect shot. He had done his research, knew where to go, what time of day and was clearly expert at his work and critically he was THERE.

The curse of gear-itis is it usually acts as a block to creativity. 


A lesson well learned, although occasionally forgotten by me, is this.  Many years ago when I was suffering super acute Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS) I found my pictures were getting worse.  The usual antidote to this was to buy more gear and I am sure readers will be familiar with this. It goes something like ‘if I could just have a billionth of second shutter speed I could get more interesting pictures’ or ‘if I could have an f.95 lens I’d be able to get better shots’ but the truth is, if you stopped buying gear you’d do better. A long time ago I was young, a bit later on I was a bit less young but had money in my pocket. With cash and a penchant for more gear I slowly started filling a camera bag with filters. Filters would make me creative. Filters would make you look like a pro. Filters would turn the bland into – well the bland actually. The temptation was always to think that a filter would of itself create a good picture. In truth the filters could turn a good picture into a great one but would more often turn a bland picture into an even blander one but this time with some special effects thrown in.

Abandoned railway station in Gosport
Rock bottom – this is probably the epitome of what happens with too much gear. Multiple filters but absolutely bland photography. Yes I’ll admit to it. 28mm lens with 5 filters in play!

Back then, with a bag full of filters and just about every focal length lens that was possible to own I was despairing of getting good shots and seriously wondering what had gone wrong with my photography. Crushed by the the lack of good shots despite the every increasing size of the camera bag I decided to eat some humble pie and seek lessons.  My hoary old ex-press photographer teacher looked over my bulging camera bag with a weary eye and a poorly disguised look of contempt and then handed me a Box Brownie and told me it had a 12 shot black and white roll loaded and not to come back until I had composed 12 good pictures.

Now a box brownie poses some serious challenges.  Fixed lens, fixed focus, fixed f stop and the less than scorching 1/60th second shutter speed.  Cleary speeding cars and long lensing was out.  You simply HAD to look for shots and work hard for them.
The lesson it taught me was of course getting a good shot is down to you NOT the camera.  I didn’t succeed in getting 12 cracking shots but it did force me to focus on what’s important and what’s important isn’t actually the gear.  Yes a faster shutter speed will help you if you’re a sports photographer, a 1000mm super fast lens will help a nature photographer but experts in those fields will get a good picture with almost anything.

Now if your reading this and thinking ‘well of course I know that’ then ask yourself the question ‘why aren’t you doing it’ because most of us blather on about photography being an art form, it being in the eye of the photographer blah blah blah but most of us (and I include me in that) are very often swayed by the idea that some new camera, new type of film, new lens will resolve our issues and make us better.
Of course if you are taking killer pics every week then you should move on because these articles are clearly not meant for you.

Me and a Konica in Japan
Travel broadens the mind and it’s usually cheaper than buying new gear too! Me on Koya Mountain, Japan with a trusty Konica S2. It may look warm but it was extremely cold – later on we nearly died on a mountain in a blizzard – the Konica was never the same again.

So, if you’re thinking your photography is at a dead end then get yourself a project or better yet spend some money on going places rather than  keep spending on gear which will only ever have a very nominal input to the quality of your photography.
I will be doing a series of articles on the theme of ‘being there’ across 2024 – this is just the first clip round the ear to maybe get you thinking about what you can be doing better. I’ll be looking at getting projects going and finishing up with people at the very sharp end of things.

Go away now and get some decent pictures because I swear if I see one more picture of ‘Tibbles’ the cat shot on some super rare classic I may just be forced to find out where you live and hand you an ‘observers book of the countryside’ and drag you kicking and screaming into it to do something creative. However if you’re sitting there getting angry and thinking ‘I can do better’ then good – go and do it and then this article will have achieved its purpose in getting your arse in gear. 

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4 months ago

Mel – you are a woman after my own heart.

I’ve only read the first few sentences but already feel I must agree.

A camera (perhaps like all things and especially people ) becomes something to be admired only because of what it does not for its designer or internet-hyped label.

Some cameras have to be stuck on cabinets because of their historical significance and that’s fine. That’s what the Leica Museum or looking at Don McCullin’s bullet-scarred Nikon is for.

I love design but cameras are designed to DO something.

An E-type Jaguar or a Spitfire looks lovely when parked but it only achieves the purpose it was designed for by being used – and of course the only person who can appreciate the experience is the driver or pilot.

Having a beautifully elegant Leica doesn’t make you a good photographer in the same way as having a sports car of a plane doesn’t make you a good driver or pilot.

But as we know a good photographer can take a cheap ‘happy snapper’ P&S camera and make. sing.

And that expertise only comes from getting out there, using cameras and learning what you and they can achieve.

Reply to  Richard
4 months ago

We would agree – though Mel would be of the view that the design of many of these classics is in itself an art form. The engineering is often superb and wonderfully subtle in its design and one can only wonder at the amount of hours which people had to labour to bring these from the designers mind to a physical reality.