« A New Record Is Set | Main | Name Your Fave: Still Time »

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Comments

Some of the adages seem geared to get thru writer's block. But if you have nothing to say, then why write anything? Writing is not a muscular activity that needs to be exercised daily.

Hello,

I enjoyed reading and thinking about your digression about finding your own "right way", but for me it is not so different from "the best camera is the one that you have with you". Actually, to me the latter statement seems very similar to your closing line saying "...whatever you decide is going to be just fine" ("whatever camera you have with you is just fine").

Maybe the reason is that we understand the camera statement differently. In my opinion, THE BEST CAMERA does not really exist, not even my best camera. I believe that I could adjust and get used to many different cameras and by using whatever camera, I am making it the best one for me.

For me, the "truism" about cameras means that the camera is only the recording tool and that photography is more about seeing and the desire to record or create a photograph than about the tool. It is almost like a pen (or keyboard) for a writer. I am sure that many people have a preferred pen, but if you have something to write down any pen will do and is better than no pen at all.

What a wonderful piece of writing. Sharply focused, even for 1500 words (or so), it is the exact right message to convey simply because experience proves it true. Maybe advancing age makes it clearer, I couldn't know its truth decades ago. I have worked at it for 40 years, after only 33 realizing, satori-like, I don't know what I'm doing. The simple key essential knowledge, the actual mark, the quiet sign, finally, arise a master of the profession.

And what a stirring Wolfe quote it was too.

Thank you.

I have a camera with me at all times, though it takes some imagination to call it a camera. It is in a 5 year old NTT DoCoMo cell phone. It sort tends to take blobs instead of photos. I think the blobs are so bad that I could not even pretend something taken with it was an abstract. I have hardly ever used it after trying diligently for a week or so. It is not the best camera for anything, and I'd say I am better off doing a quick sketch with crayons if I need to record something. It is mostly passible for reading QR codes though.

I generally carry a x100 around when I am at work or just casually out with no specific intent to photograph. I could not even call it the best camera if something out of range of the 35mm equivalent lens appears. Yes, I could zoom with my feet. I could get flattened by a truck too. The zoom with your feet is yet another truism that is not always (often?) correct.

Very interesting reflections, Mike. My experience while doing research on people's culture in remote places was that I could *either* have my notebook open, taking notes on the conversation or event, *or* take pictures, but not both. For me, two different uses of same brain, mutually incompatible. So I need to go out intending to photograph, and then I do remember take a camera (and am more or less successful, depending in the first place on whether there is an SD card in the damned thing).

"There's only your right way."

- unfortunately, this sentiment has become a truism in our atomized, individualized, everyone is an expert (and right) society...and it's a killer, because if we believe in this idea then we can forget that our material desires (including the endless assembly line of new and wonderful cameras that we MUST have) are actually constructed by the camera industry and supporting casts (blogs, reviews, etc. Sorry Mike!), and possibly take us AWAY from what is important in photography.

"the best camera is the one you have with you"

- I think you are interpreting this literally - of course if I am in a dark room with a cheap mobile phone camera this statement is not true! But let's try and read this is a mantra, a purist sort of zen philosophical point that hopefully helps us remember that developing your eye, your vision, your photographic "voice" takes time, patience, and maybe....gulp, letting go of our fixation on the importance of say 24,000 iso, or having the newest and latest camera- it's just not necessary.

"The best camera is the one you have with you" may not be a truism, but it's certainly not trite, it is a generative, opening idea...it makes you think and reflect a bit about your practice of photography. "There's only your right way" is a dead end, a closure, isolating, and somewhat thoughtless...somewhat like "to each his own".

Mike, your post really prompted me to write something!
This best camera argument has been repeated 'ad nauseam', but it doesn't work for me. Photography is not a homeostatic impulse to me, and I reckon it isn't to anyone else; I don't feel an unsurmontable urge to photograph when I come across a certain subject: when I want to photograph, I do it becauise I want to create something out of the subjects I look for. I pick the camera and lenses I believe better serve my vision and my creative needs. I don't feel any need to photograph everything I see; actually, I'm extremely selective about the motives I find worth photographing. If I happen to see something worth a shot and the only camera I have at hand is the one in my mobile phone, I don't photograph it. The phone won't fulfill my photographic needs, so why bother? This 'best camera' debate is of no relevance to me.
About writing - you're right, of course. José Saramago, a portuguese author who won the Nobel Prize for Literature, disciplined himself to write one chapter a day. Luiz Pacheco, one of the best and most underrated portuguese writers, used to write episodes of his everyday life, thus composing a diary from which he'd eventually take some excerpts and develop them into short stories. He'd write without any particular discipline, whenever he found some free time.
I am a blogger myself. I started writing about photography out of my need to express myself and mostly due to the paucity of portuguese photography websites and blogs. So far I've tried to write one entry a day and I impose myself writing one and 1/4 A4 pages everyday (in Microsoft Word format, that is). Sometimes I write more than that when I find the time and inspiration to do so. It works for me and I don't really spend that long writing: three quarters of an hour per day is usually enough.
Of course there is no one formula that can suit everyone when it comes to writing. People have different methods, even if the latter mean having no method at all.

At risk of defending a truism, my interpretation of this one was that it is prescriptive to getting *a* shot, not necessarily *the* shot. More for the unwashed masses than pros doing their work.

...Er, about the wildlife photographer, where is he going to find more in close proximity than Los Angeles?

I always thought the old truism "The best camera is the one you have with you" might be read in more subtle ways, too.

What if it means: "The best camera" is just a meaningless phrase, it's empty talk, it becomes mere conversation the moment you raise the camera in your hand to your eye. "The best camera" is like baseball statistics or auto specs, because the camera in your hand is the reality, it's the one you have to work to your best ability right here and right now. What if the truism is actually scolding the reader: talk all you want about your wonderful best camera, you'll be judged by how well you wield that camera you're carrying right now.

I have been fighting this truism, as it gets mentioned with greater frequency, because it isn't necessarily true, indeed. the oversimplification now goes from cute to a justification for phoneography to be a justifiable camera because it is always at hand. (it does provide other functions, like taking risks in new areas of photography, like The New Topographics.)

while on a trip, I had to live this correction I have been noting. the reason is that I needed to carry something more flexible than the phone (an X20 it came to be). the quality for most of the situations that I needed to take a photo was not met by the phone's camera capabilities (noise, geometric distortion, wide angle lens).

in a way, the solution came from the need that arose by noting how the camera that I always had with me was inadequate to be best I had with me, rather than the gizmo that was bought by being cool was "there" (an Oly E-P3). I was educated by the need, and not the other way around that "teaches" to have an SLR with a 50mm ƒ1.2 at all times.

Human beings are always looking for simple truisms to believe in. Belief often prevents us from seeing the reality of something. Beliefs, that is really what truism are, very often are prejudicial--preconceived notions of how the world works and how it is supposed to be, that are neatly encapsulated in a few words so they are easily remembered. Most truisms are from other people and some we create for ourselves. It is important to examine the truisms in our lives. For example the civil rights movement and all it flavors (African-Americans, hispanics, women, LGBT, and even animals) has a long history, where people examined examined their truisms and found they just weren't true.

I agree with you about the right camera often being necessary. Indeed, while I have sometimes used the iPhone and got just the shot necessary, more often I forget that the iPhone is the camera I have with me, not remembering it is a camera at all. There is an opportunity cost of grabbing the camera that happens to have a film in it, or taking a small camera because it will be easier. I got used to carrying a rather heavy M5 every day, and now think nothing of walking at lunchtime every day with my M9.

By the way, unless there are two poets called Ted Hughes, he is English, a Yorkshireman I think, and once the Poet Laureate - not that an American can't be that, and at least once he was.

I read somewhere that a writer is just someone who finds it more difficult to write than other people. I do like that.

Thank you, Mike!

I don't think it takes anything away from this wonderful essay to note that it seems to be the fruit of a miscommunication.

Now, for all I know, you and Mr. Paterson are communicating perfectly at an intuitive level, but how it reads to me is that he answered a question you didn't ask. For some of us, there's more than a semantic difference between "best" camera and "favorite" camera. Which difference, fortunately, prompted you to consider aloud the idea of "best way", at least in the context of something as personal as inspiration and creativity.

All well and good, of course--I'm just sayin'.

Mike,
Just to let you know that I enjoy the open Mike posts...even if they do have photographic content. I carry around a point & shoot most of the time and don't take very many photos with it. I have lately been thinking of 5x7 or even 5x8 to contact print and yesterday reread you whole plate post. As you alluded to above, not a carry everywhere outfit.
Fred

Thank you. I have often felt almost guilty when I don't have my camera with me, and I get frustrated trying to use a simple point and shoot (or, heaven forbid, a cell phone).

There has been many times when I wished I had a camera with me, any camera. I've had no luck with my cell phone. However, if I look at my images I like the best, I'd say it was more that I had the right lens than the right camera.

Well, I saw the title of this post, got to the "best camera" truism, and was ready to state all the ways I disagree with that. Then I got finished reading the rest of the post and saw I didn't need to, you already stated why I disagree that better than I could.

In the past, when I carried one type of format with me I'd see many shots that made me wish I had my rangefinder (street), D700 (railroad), 4X5 (landscapes), 645 (still life). I know, you can take a photo of any of those subjects with any of those cameras but it's not how I prefer to shoot. And bringing multiple formats with me when not specifically going out to shoot was impractical. I would get brain overload sorting out all I was observing.

Now when I have one type of format with me I tend to look for shots that fit that camera. If I see something that would make a better photo in a different format I make a note and grab a shot with my cell phone for reference. So a notebook is one of the most valuable tools I always have with me.

Great post and a good read.

This essay certainly proves that you are in the right line of work. Much appreciated.

I'm not sure the carry everywhere truism is true. Photography requires such a state of attentiveness that it's something you need to just go out and do. Purposefully. And not as an adjunct to your daily business. Sure, there might be the occasional chance encounter. But I'll bet the odds hugely favor those who walk out the door to exclusively photograph. I'd revise the truism to say, Commit time regularly and diligently for nothing but looking and photographing.

I think I agree with Mr.Paterson.
While the statement may not rise to the level of ' irrefutable universal truth'.,--It's really good advice for anyone who values the 'found photograph'
Photography is different than writing. Writing can be done, as you describe, in many different ways. Photography can be approached in many different ways, but at some point REQUIRES a camera.
If your style is one that values the found image, then 'carry a camera' is really good practical advice, and a really helpful mindset (because if you don't consider a phone camera, or pocket P&S camera adequate, carry something better, IF you might like to record a picture should you find one.
The advice is becoming even more true in a practical sense because excellent portable cameras are smaller and lighter than ever.
Is it universally true? No. Is it helpful advice for a LOT of Photographers? I really think so.
Is it made less valuable because Avedon didn't take his 8x10 to the loo? I would say no.
But who knows, perhaps Avedon missed tons of great ones in there and the world is poorer because he failed to heed the advice ; -))
Now, we'll never know, Bummer
Michael
PS, I've just completed some extensive research on many of the acknowledged masterworks of Photography, in nearly every case, the Photographer had a camera with them at the time.

[I'm not sure you're seeing the logical flaw there. While every maker of a photographic masterwork might have had a camera when the photograph was made, it does not follow from that that they always had a camera with them as they went through their lives and their days. --Mike]

While I think the "letter" of the "best camera" aphorism is not strictly speaking always true, I generally buy into the spirit of it, which can be interpreted a few different ways. Examples:

1. You should learn to take good pictures with the equipment you are mostly likely to always be carrying with you, so you can take advantage of opportunities that present themselves.

2. You should learn to carry the equipment that you would most like to use on the routine basis, so you can take advantage of opportunities that present themselves.

3. You should learn to allow apparent opportunities that present themselves to pass you by if you don't happen to have the right equipment with you, and hope that you can get back to them when you do have the right stuff.

4. You should learn the real truth of the world, which is that under most circumstances almost any camera can make a good picture when given the right opportunity, provided you are open to seeing those opportunities.

Obviously there are particular circumstances under which particular equipment is needed (i.e. sports, macro, meticulous still life). But I think many enthusiastic hobbyists get caught up convincing themselves that certain techniques (4x5, zone system, whatever) are central to "their work" when maybe it really isn't true and they could get "their work" done in other ways.

On the other hand, if you have worked and hard to develop your own way of working and resulting visual style, I'm not going to sit here and tell you that you can get the same thing with a pocket camera ... but I will tell you that you should investigate the possibility. It might make you happy.

P.S. While we are at it, can we also attack that "horses for courses" thing? I dislike that one too.

You asked for readers' "favorite" cameras, not for opinions of the best cameras.

And continuously carrying a camera does not necessarily make one a "better" photographer any more than continuously carrying a notebook and pen would make one a "better" writer. (Of course the emotional strength of the ideas made Kodak and Moleskine, respectively, wealthier!)

Yes, it's true that the history of photography has plenty of lucky-snap trophies on its wall. But it's also true that the wall features overwhelmingly more trophies captured through conceptual and logistical premeditation, even when the end result appears candid. To deploy an even truer truism, "Chance always favors the prepared". And to bastardize another old truism, practice does not always, or even usually, make better.

Photography, like writing, is primarily an undertaking of the mind rather than an act of reflex.

Mike,

Just like it always was, your post hit the nail on the head. I can't agree more.

Frank

Great post Mike. I suspect that one's been percolating for a while.

p.s. Thank you for posting the sample from Olivia Parker's excellent work, which I might never have otherwise found. Her work would seem a nice exhibit for my earlier thesis.

Funnily enough, all this talk about favourite cameras made me think of Fay Godwin, whose collaboration with Hughes resulted in one of my favourite books - "Remains of Elmet". Her advice was: "don't get hung up on cameras and technical things".

http://www.uklandscape.net/interviews/int%20godwinF.html

Wonderful. Such a delicious essay... about nothing(ness) ;-)

Right now, 95% of my work is done with a Mamiya 6 rangefinder on black and white film. I sold my Hasselblad at the beginning of 2013 and bought the Mamiya for the very reason Mike discusses here: the 6x6 format was perfect for my work, but I never had it with me except when I had planned out a shoot. It was too damned heavy for my to carry. I've got a lot of health problems and can't carry a heavy bag for vey long before I'm in a lot of pain.

The Mamiya 6 is small and light. The body and all three lenses made for it (50, 75, and 150mm), plus a spotmeter and several rolls of film all fit in a smallish Tamrac messenger-style bag. It is light enough I can carry it all day, everywhere I go. I never miss a shot now; if I see something I can stop and quickly photograph it with my 'best gear'.

I always interpreted that saying as meaning that if you only have one camera with you, then, by definition, it is the best camera you have with you. I never thought it meant to imply that you might not be better off if you had brought a different camera. It also implies that you are better off with any camera than no camera. If you look at it that way, then it is hard to argue that it is not true.

Although it's possible to make a great photograph by chance, (Weegee comes to mind) it's more likely that you'll get that great shot by leaving nothing to chance. The best images start as an idea in one's imagination, and are subsequently created by the visual artist. It sometimes involves a great deal of sweat to remove the inertia of creativity - but the resultant art is often worth it.

Isn't this the same thing as the lottery truism: "If you don't play, you can't win." Duh!

Same thing with the camera. If you see and want to take a shot, you have to have a camera (or some kind of "image capture device") with which to take the shot. Seems like a truism to me, but then I tend to not make things more complex than they appear.

My "carry everywhere" camera is an Olympus mju II (Stylus Epic in your part of the woods); even in a case it fits easily into my walking jacket pocket, and it has a really nice, sharp 35mm lens. And it's full frame! One day there should be a full frame digital camera nearly as small...

The problem with the Bellows/Gladwell dicta is that they confuse quantity with quality - a 'fatal' error. They also ignore differences in all the other factors which affect quality and learning. Mentoring, or lack of it, competent feedback and evaluation, differences among people in cognitive style, and (for this forum) kind of photography done, etc., etc. These things make such dictation essentially useless.
And Terry Letton, "wildlife near L.A.?" It depends on what you call "wildlife"....

"As in, you are out with an 8x10, you will want the Leica. You are out with a Leica, you will want the 8x10. You have both, you will want the underwater camera."

I can't imagine being out with an 8x10, and all of a sudden wanting the underwater camera rather than a life vest, but a Nikonos II makes a nice street photo camera.

Just had the same conversation with the wife, and having looked over my pictures from the past two years, I can safely say that the number of photos I took while on these non-photographic walks is fewer than 20, and a grand total of zero has ever made it beyond the scanning stage (I'm mostly a film photographer). I have, however, managed to upset the wife countless times, camera in one hand and unable to help with the groceries and baby without much maneuvering.

Avedon Excusado Weston.

Mike,
Re 'I'm not sure you're seeing the logical flaw here....."
The P.S. was tongue -in-cheek which I (mistakenly) thought would be obvious from my "extensive research' comment. It was meant to good naturredly underscore the fact that if you want to make pictures you need a camera, (so if you're inclined toward found pictures, carrying one is good advice) I do understand that many great photographers may choose not to carry one. Which is fine with me too.
Thanks,
Michael

From a comment: "nature photographers, landscape photographers, and journalists go places on purpose to photograph, and they concentrate on photographing when they get there."

Actually, I take what catches my eye when out with the dog and call it either `landscape' or `nature' accordingly. Point being, not all photos in those genres arise from people getting their fix of Outdoor Photography magazine's prescribed way of doing it.

I agree with the general tenor of comments that there is conflation of opportunism versus someone's "primary work", both in the original maybe-truism and in your discussion of it.

> Or maybe you don't even want to photograph if you
> have the wrong camera with you.

That is my problem. I carry a very capable iPhone everywhere and have no problems getting the best out of it technically but it doesn't give me the look I want and the process of taking a picture with it offers no pleasure. I can't quite explain why and only realised recently how unusual this is but I don't see it changing at the moment.

For years, I carried a DSLR with me everywhere; I've done it less over the last few years but am back to the habit now and much happier!

Bryan Willman,
There is a solution to your dilemma of "As in, you are out with an 8x10, you will want the Leica. You are out with a Leica, you will want the 8x10. You have both, you will want the underwater camera."

The solution for you is a Leica S which Joel Meyerowitz says has replaced his 8x10, is very water resistant* and is a Leica.

*I have accidentally found it water proof to a depth of 10 inches, but would not volunteer to take it down to 30 feet.

"Chance favours the prepared mind" famous quote ( or a variation of that ) by Louis Pasteur, ( 19th century French microbiologist ). Perhaps you can have your camera with you at all times but if you are not "prepared" for the "shot" then you will miss it no matter what camera you have.

Being "a photographer" continues to not be one "thing". I'm reasonably confident that there isn't "one true way" to do any given single "kind" of photography -- I'm absolutely certain that there isn't one true way to do photography in general.

If your goal is documenting your life, which is what draws a lot of people into photography (including me), then having a camera around for when things happen is important. But even if one started there, that doesn't remain an important goal for everybody.

I find it frustrating to be wandering around and see something kind of striking, and not be able to try to capture it. And photos I've taken on that basis have sold as large prints.

Some people see more "great" images then they can possibly take, process, or sell, and have to force themselves to take time off, either to avoid working themselves to death, or to avoid flooding their market with images and driving their fans into choice paralysis.

This may tie back in to photojournalism having been the high-status bit of the profession when I (and my generation) was a teenager. It's not just "F/8 and be there"; it's "be there with your camera at f/8."

Dear Mike,

Well said, very well said.

As an outlier in several fields, myself, and having many, many friends who also are, I consider Gladwell's 10,000 hour thesis to be entirely bogus. Sure, there are cases where it is true. One can certainly cherry pick examples to find that. But, as a wise person once pointed out, the plural of anecdote is NOT data. The 10,000 hour thesis is demonstrably not valid for the majority of such people I know. The amount of time it takes to acquire masterful skill runs all over the map. Vis, the column I wrote about how many hours I spent on dye transfer:

http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2013/05/how-many-hours.html

For readers who don't want to have to wade through it, the pertinent information in this case is that I was arguably in the outlier class after 1200-1500 hrs. of practice and I most assuredly was by 2500 hours. (People might want to, though, check out Kevin Purcell's comment at the end of the comments section, as it references studies that nicely debunk Gladwell's silly notion.)

Conversely, it wouldn't surprise me if it doesn't take 20,000 hours or more for some people to achieve that status. The question being, of course, do they have the stubbornness to stick it out that long. Which I'll get back to in a moment, because I think that's the central issue.

In the same vein, Mister Bellow's advice applies to very, very few of the numerous successful authors I know. I *might* be willing to believe 1,000,000 words. I could reasonably be convinced of 500,000. 3,000,000, though, is ridiculously large.

But, I think in both his and Gladwell's case, they're confusing correlation with causation. If I were to make a wild ass guess, I would say what's really going on is that if you don't enjoy a particular craft enough that you wind up putting in huge amounts of time and energy on it, then it's not the craft for you. (At least, not the one you're going to become an outlier/master of.) If the idea of spending, oh say, 2000 hours on a particular “hobby” or writing 500,000 words feels exceptionally burdensome, well, you're in the wrong endeavor.

And, so far as that 19-year-old mentality goes, the principle certainly applies–– 2000 hours feels as daunting as 10,000 at that age!

This reminds me of that old nonsense about people doing their best work when they're young, which you so nicely trashed back in this column:

http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2011/10/age-old.html

What's behind all of this? My wild ass guess is that it's the near-superstitious human belief that there is some “secret” to success. Whether it's the secret numbers that will let you win the lottery, the perfect diet and lifestyle that will let you live to be more than 100, or the discipline that will let you become an outlier.


pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
======================================
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 
======================================

As someone who makes use of this quote a lot, I have finally been provoked into making my first ever TOP comment. I'm not claiming it's an universal truism, but I do think it can be useful sometimes.

1. I see friends and family who want to take better photos so they buy a dSLR, perhaps with a twin lens kit, and then also a camera bag. But the fact is that this camera kit is large, and over time is used less and less, and mostly gets left at home. I use the quote you're commenting on to push them towards MILC or something like an RX100. It will take better photos than a P&S and it will be used much more often.

2. For more serious photographers, fact is you can't always know when you will have the opportunity or inspiration for some serious photo time, a MILC kit can be with you pretty much always, in ways that my big black dSLRs and big black lenses can't. I don't think that my X-T1 and a few lenses sacrifices anything to the big black kit in most situations.

Of course an RX100 won't substitute for a 4"x5", but my X-T1 will substitute for my D3s in all but the lowest light, and my brother's NEX-6 will take better shots that the twin lens dSLR kit that he would have left at home.

"Sometimes I write drunk and revise sober, and sometimes I write sober and revise drunk. But you have to have both elements in creation..." -- Peter De Vries

Edward Abbey: "One word is worth a thousand pictures. If it's the right word."

Cameras are expensive, heavy, clumsy, and optional, but still kind of fun to kill time with.

To Richard Newman I suppose I committed a divided middle fallacy but I didn't think it necessary to append :) to make my intentions clear.
As an amateur photographer I find it very helpful to carry my camera bag in my truck pretty much all the time. My portfolio is greatly enhanced by the shots that I otherwise would not have gotten if I hadn't been able to take advantage of special conditions. The light oesn't come back for you on Saturday morning if you missed it on Tuesday. That doesn't mean much to a studio bound unless he is itching to expand his "personal work"' but I'll bet most of the do.
.

The best camera I carry with me are my eyes. I don't always use them because my brain needs to be engaged for them to work photographically. When that happens it is then that I think that I should return for another moment when the light is better with the other camera: tilt-shift-lensed and tripod-mounted. Without both those cameras that shot will never happen.

I think it really depends upon where you are in your development as a photographer. It takes some people a long time to develop an eye for what interests them, understand how to capture with the camera what that see, etc. - lots of deleted photos and fits and starts. At that point, I think that the most important thing is just to have a camera with them and to use it. As we focus our interests that is not so important or relevant - discovery is replaced by planning, technique, etc.

Hey that angel has 6 toes!

Funny, but I've always thought that the "best camera is the one you have with you" to mean that you should stop daydreaming that if you just had the latest and greatest and newest camera, why then your picture would surely be better. Shoot more with what you already have and only consider your 'dream camera' if;

1. You can afford it and like to play with new toys. (Hey, it is your disposable income)

2. It will keep you from going insane because the 'camera you have with you' is just not able to do the type of photography you have in mind. (At least not very well.)

If your pictures are bad, dull and pointless then getting your dream camera probably just ain't going to help.

I speak from experience.

I never liked the expression because I hear it everywhere and it seems so trite. Might as well say "the best pants you have is the pair you have on."

The anecdote that depicts Dylan Thomas checking the clarity of his prose/poetry with an illiterate washer-woman was also told on the Tang Dynasty Buddhist poet Bai Juyi (772–846). Auto-apocryphal, indeed.

We should be careful not to worry too much. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we'll forget the camera at home, or be looking the wrong way or something, and we'll miss a great shot, thus failing to add to that 10,000 hour (or 20,000 hour or 2,000 hour) mental database of experience. You don't have to cram "meaning" into every last minute of your life. That kind of performance anxiety might be counter-productive.

"In fact, I could make a contrary argument: that you need your "real" camera with you when you encounter a good photographic opportunity, because if you have the wrong camera with you you'll waste that opportunity."
So true. I carry with me my "real" camera 5-6 days a week (is a mirrorless that can be carried in a little discreet shoulder bag), and I carry my smartphone 10 hours a day. If I encounter something that make my brain say "That's it!", but I only have the phone, I simply don't take the shot - not because the phone result could be "worse", but I've customized my camera to take a shot in MY way. A thing that I cannot do with the phone - and invariabily, the phone shots are something that I feel "extraneous" to me...

i don't no nuthin bout truisms and smart stuf but i always hav sum kinda camera in case…ya know…aliens

A few of my strongest photographs, and to my surprise, were taken with the iPhone 4S. Invariably with plenty of light, and I am hard pressed to tell the difference with images made with larger sensor cameras, even in larger prints.

I find that I see more and see more possible photographs whenever I have a camera with me. And as it is for many of us, I see different things in part due to the camera and lens at hand.

I agree with the other posters who wrote about the value of all the practice photographs we take over the years when we have a camera with us. Practice of many kinds. That includes for me photographing the same small area I walk past a couple of times a week, with features that change greatly with wind conditions, time of the day, and the weather above it, an area I have made more than a thousand of pictures of now: they are at once found images and evolved images.

"It is an old observation that the best writers sometimes disregard the rules of rhetoric. When they do so, however, the reader will usually find in the sentence some compensating merit, attained at the cost of the violation. Unless he is certain of doing as well, he will probably do best to follow the rules." -- William Strunk Jr.
(This is one of Strunk's insights that compels me to continue recommending Strunk & White.)
As for the statement, "the best camera is the one you have with you," we could write an explanatory paragraph to help readers use the idea to improve their photography without mistaking it for an eternal law. Perhaps Professor Strunk will help us reduce the paragraph to a pithy statement that will catch on like, and then supplant, the original statement. ;)

I was going to write a second comment along the lines of what John Camp said. But I did not post it. Which is good, because his is better.

"...never mind Gertrude Stein..." Haiku in four syllables.

I have many many cameras. I don't seem to be able to sell the old ones. I use most of them from time to time. I spent more than 2 years using the iPhone exclusively. After 45 years of photography what did I learn from the iPhone about photography? Well, everything. Absolutely everything. My iPhone images are images of my life. They have substance and meaning and, frankly, many are very good. I also learned that very many photographers spend enormous sums on technological marvel cameras. They then complain about the tiniest minutia and go on to produce technical masterpieces that correctly follow every rule of photography and at best are glossy copies of images that frankly have been done to death. Images that have no meaning other than as technical exercises. The camera truly does not matter. The iPhone is easily the best digital camera I've owned.

Wonderful column, enlightening comments as well.

Ok, I get it: yes it's fully possible that I'd become a much better photographer if I were carrying a camera with me at all time. And using it. Even though it's not "my thing".

The trouble is: I'm a hobbyist. I photograph for fun. And if I were forcing me snapping pictures this way, the odds are that i'd get bored and change hobby sooner rather than later.

So thank you, Mike. Thank you for helping me shed the last ounce of guilt for failing at taking a camera with me everywhere! You wrote it masterfully: it just doesn't suit everybody.

(Like Andreas from the featured comments, I have a drawer full of small/smaller/smallest marvels that I positively dislike using. It's not even the IQ, which gets better all the time, it's... all the rest!)

When I went to live in Germany for a while, I carried a point-and-shoot 35 mm camera with me wherever I went. Once in a while, I would take a great photograph (to me) with it, but usually by serendipity.

So at some point I signed up for a beginners photography class at the local Volkshochschule (sort of adult education classes) to increase my probability of serendipity.

We bombarded the teacher with all kinds of questions, and it seemed as if the first words out of his mouth were always, "it depends."

I came to realize this was a good (and easy) answer for everything in life.

"What's the best camera?"

"It depends."

With that said, having a good camera certainly increase your chances of a good photograph. Having your camera with you increases your chances infinitely (over not having one). And having an extra camera for your wife increases your odds of a more harmonious life, while decreasing the odds of fighting over who took the really good shot.

You've toppled a popular idea, with style, here, Mike! I like it.

It's an idea that's obviously very attractive to those who need or want to advocate for recent technology improvements increasing camera mobility, such as smaller cameras, image stabilization, and high ISOs.

So ... now I'm trying to figure out what camera trend you're secretly trying to promote with this post ... ;)

The comments to this entry are closed.