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Friday, 24 February 2017


Ken may be taking on some heavy hitters with that quote: Let the rebuttals begin!

Ansel Adams spoke of "Visualization" and Minor White embellished the concept further with "pre visualization" and "post visualization", but the concept encompasses more than just looking at a scene and imposing a personal style independent of equipment and materials to be used. Visualization of the final print includes anticipation of the outcome with regard to the influence of the camera format, the lens choice, and the materials and processes chosen to render an image to print. When I pick up any given camera, I do so with an understanding that the mere choice of that camera already establishes boundaries and constraints on the style of image making I am going to be pursue that day.

I think that's true for similar types of cameras, say fast working , sufficient, mirror less or DSLR types but less true for really different cameras. I never made the same types of pictures with a view camera as I did with 35mm. At the other end I carry a very nice but limited Canon S95 where I always shoot with it's limitations in mind.

Sounds good, but not true.

Hmm... I tend to look at this another way.

For any combination of camera, lens and sensor/film I have with me, there are always way more things to photograph than I will ever get around to capturing.

I have a lot of different cameras and lenses at my disposal, and I take out various items as the mood strikes me. I never fret about what I don't have with me, and look for the images that the equipment I have with me will let me capture.

This applies purely to my personal photography which is understandably eclectic and not terribly focussed. My commercial work was of course completely different and caused me to be if anything obsessive about which items to have on hand.

Hmmm.... I don't agree with that. Since cameras are tools, and different tools, even if they are related, can do different jobs, a photographer can set out to take different photographs with different cameras. I think some of us do attempt to take different photographs with different cameras. The trick here is that some photographers will certainly end up making the same photograph, even if they try not to, but some will succeed in taking different photos and it might not be clear to the photographer which result they have achieved.

I like it. Great quote.

Hugh's corallary:
No matter what camera I use to get there, I always end up here.

"Cameras are merely writing instruments for the mind's eye."

So true, so true.

"You will make (or try to make) the same photograph regardless of the camera in your hands."

Not to be a contrarian, but for me the opposite is true: the camera I'm using largely determines the photograph. In fact, that's the main reason I use multiple types of cameras.

In the past two weeks I've photographed with a 35mm film SLR with a "normal" lens (and no rear screen), a DSLR with fast telephoto lenses (optical viewfinder and non-flip-up rear screen), an 8x10 view camera (optical rear view screen but not handholdable), a compact digital camera (flip-up rear screen but no viewfinder), and a smartphone (all rear screen).

Many (most?) photos reflect the specialties of whatever camera was used to record them. Some cameras are good at small depth-of-field, some at large. Some cameras are best at careful composition on a tripod, while others encourage being held overhead, or at arm's length, or resting on the ground and shooting upward. Some cameras are good at "sharp and detailed"; others are great for "grain and blur".

Consider even the difference between digital vs. film: I take between 10x and 100x more photos a day when shooting digital than when shooting film. That means digital lets me take about 10-100 times as many photographic "risks" -- including countless grab shots that may or may not work but are likely to be "looser" because they deliberately weren't carefully composed.

My main advice if you worry your photos look too much alike but you don't want to change your subject matter? Radically change the kind of camera you're using. You'll probably see even the same scenes very differently.

Well said; I agree.

"You will make (or try to make) the same photograph regardless of the camera in your hands."

Sorry, but that sounds more like "truthiness" than true. After all, that can't possibly be true if you stop to consider the lens as well as the camera: You'd be crazy to try to make the "same" picture of the same scene using a D500 with a 500 mm lens and an iPhone or a view camera. I could maybe see an argument for the quote when using different cameras with lenses offering similar coverage, but the original quote still sounds too close to that other truthiness, "the best camera is the one you have in your hand."

I think this is a great insight, even if I don't always agree with it.

My experience, for years and years, was of trying to make certain photos in spite of the cameras I used. I knew what I wanted, but I kept fighting the technical limits of my camera and lenses. In the film era I was shooting f/3.8 at 28mm on a do-everything push-pull, one touch zoom, almost always sitting at 1/60th + a prayer, using Kodachrome 64, Tmax 400 at ISO 1600, and cheap 200 speed consumer film. It was a terrible set of self inflicted handicaps, but I didn't know any better, and I was happpy. In the digital era, I was at 28-100mm-e f/2.4-5.6 on a nice, but only 4pm point and shoot, so again, I'd often park it at 28mm, wide open, and hope for a good shutter speed. Again, happy.

My point being that I knew what I wanted to do visually, and with dogged determination, pursued it. So, Ken, you are right.

Today, I'm better educated, and I pray more humble, but now I go more by the feel of the (prime) lens I have on the camera. Thanks to doing more than a year with (mostly) one lens, I find myself automatically walking up to the spot that lines up with a 40mm-e frame. So the camera, and the lens have taught me how to see. (It's really funny when I have an 85mm-e lens on, and I find out how much I have to back up to get everything in!)

(There's a quote attributed to Churchill, and sometimes Kirkegaard, "We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.")

Makes for a fun pub discussion, eh? Many excellent facets of good debate already offered here. If I may add just a bit of meat to the bone....

Certainly different classes of cameras will channel the types of images anyone will be able to capture with them. But the core of my observation lies in the facts that (a) capturing any scene with a camera involves choices and decisions and, (b) the fundamental trajectory of one's primary visual choices is not radically deflected by the camera. The eyes looking at the lcd, viewfinder, or ground glass are attached to the same brain.

Mind you that I'm referring to a lower visual decision level than an identifiable personal style. Rather, I'm referring to the manner in which you build your frames. Do you try to compose by rules or do you arrange elements for relationships? How complex are your frames? How coherent or noisy are your frames? How symmetric and centric? And so on.

With that as a grounding it's been my observation that people follow a very powerful inertia with their self-directed photographic efforts. In the absence of changes to your visual and conceptual framework you will take essentially the same type of picture regardless of the camera you use, whether you do it 1,000 times a day or just once a week. The corollary here is that practice, in itself, might refine your techniques but probably not your nature.

Verification is easy. Just stroll through some Flickr, 500px, et.al. collections.

This is not meant to be a criticism of anyone. Photography is a pastime for most folks. If you're self-satisfied and fulfilled with your work more power to you! But if you're continually seeking to reach some new horizon, that GFX ain't gonna get you there. New subject matter may not do much, either. You're going to have to find a new (to you) way to approach image-making and develop new visual reflexes to get on new tracks!

I think Ken's statement is true but not always.

Commercial photographers might have different cameras for different jobs. Many non-pro enthusiasts "play" with different subjects and have cameras specific to those tasks. Different camera for different pictures. So, Not Always.

Or, on second thought, maybe so. Even though the subjects and specific photographic endeavors might be different and dictate a specific type of camera, might photographers not always try to make the same type of photo within each type of photographic endeavor?

Okay, my mind is clearly getting boggled. It's early and I've had entirely too little coffee to be thinking.

It's true for me, at least with regard to focal length. Except for a macro lens, my only lens is a 24-70 mm (equivalent) zoom. (In this case, the Panasonic 12-35 f/2.8.)

Last year I tried out a Sony RX10 (24-200 mm zoom) for a while because I wanted to see what it was like having a longer lens. I liked that camera, and it contributed five images to my year's portfolio. Four of them were taken at 35 mm or 50 mm.

What MM says is perhaps less pithy, but seems closer to the truth.

I'm no great photographer, but the various lenses I (enthusiastically) play with certainly change the way that I 'see'.

#cameradoesn'tmatter. I agree with Kenneth Tanaka. My pictures are easily identifiable due to Deep-DOF, compositional quirks, and other elements of my personal style.

Here' a good example of using the wrong camera, for the right results. You are out on a walk, and come across a shot that demands a 7x17 banquet camera, but your's is in storage in another state—what to do? Me, I'd pull out my iPhone and make a sweep-panorama. I may be old, but I'm not hidebound 8-) #cameradoesn'tmatter.

I was at the dog park today. I noticed lots of lovely trees in bloom and I pulled out my iPhone 7 plus and got some really nice captures in "portrait" mode of the sharply focused blooms against the blurred background of the branches.

Then I saw a hawk fly overhead clutching a bird in its talons. I ran back to my car and pulled out my SLR with a 400MM lens and got some fantastic shots of the hawk tearing apart its meal.

Could not have got those shots with my phone, or, indeed just about any other camera without a 300-400MM lens.

So nice aphorism - but clearly and demonstrably false.

T. Edwards: Please re-read my remarks. Your anecdote, in fact, sounds like it could be Exhibit A in my thesis.

I appreciated Ken's comment in a previous topic (What's your favorite) where he listed the "abilities" that make a camera "good": capability, versatility, portability and useability. To this I might add "affordability". I think the Sony RX1r would suit be very well were it not for its lofty price tag (sigh).

I took up photography at age 9 because I could not draw or paint to my satisfaction (or anyone else's for that matter). For me, a camera is just another form of paintbrush that let's me produce work to my own satisfaction (an others, very occasionally).

It's because of Tanaka's First Law that a photographer can leave the house with the photographic instrument of his choice, confident he can photograph virtually anything he encounters. This doesn't mean he gets every shot he attempts, or that he is equipped for all possible contingencies.

You work with what you have at hand, and every shot you take is part of your autobiography, in addition to whatever else it might be. To me, this is the essence of Tanaka's First Law.

@ Bear: You share roots with one of photography's inventors, William Henry Fox Talbot. He invented the salt paper printing process (a precursor to the fuller field) because he couldn't draw worth a darn. I've seen some of his early sketches; he was right.

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