« Best Shutter Sound Ever | Main | How The Print Medium Matters »

Tuesday, 23 April 2013


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

What then? I imagine that for many of us, the answer will be what caused us to pick up a camera in the first place, or some descendant of that original impulse.

Well, it turns out I park next to a National Historic Landmark everyday (the Assay Office in Boise, Idaho) and then walk a few blocks to my work. It's also the only one within a couple hundred miles of Boise. Thanks for the link, I guess I'll have to give it a shot!

What then? Maybe go get a Holga and start shooting? :)

I know this is cliché, but I have suffered a lot more from my pictures being boring than from them being unsharp. It's the Ansel Adams vs Cartier Bresson thing: Ansel's perfectly exposed, masterfully printed photos are boring. For me, tremendously so. HCB's photos are often blurry or underexposed, and some times you can even see the sprockets because the film was not loaded properly. But they are moving, they trigger emotions, and are photos that you remember later on.

Hmm. I think I heard that Fuji is coming out with a retro-looking rangefinder type with an "emotion enhancement" and "decisive moment" buttons. Let me check on dpreview for it...

Spring? You actually had a day of spring? Here in the Twin Cities our temperatures have been 10-20 degrees below normal all month. A few days ago we had a 7-inch snowfall, and this morning we had another 2-3 inches, which brought down a major trunk of our French willow across our back steps. We're supposed to have 60s later this week, however, and there's talk of low 70s early next week.

It was pretty, though.

Having visited a few, I thought that maybe the UNESCO world heritage sites would be a good list to work from, but there are TONS of them now, so I gave that up. Thanks for this recommendation.
Pentax K-5 is that camera for me (except if it had focus peaking, darn!)
And yes spring came yesterday, even for those in that state just south...

One thing I have learnt in my life, is that just like stress is relative, so is happiness. Apparently we are able to synthesize the happy attitude quite efficiently, and lack of choice for what you can do with your life seems actually to be an advantage. This is not to say, that half a day of sun and what I would consider as deep winter temperatures, in a place like Wakuesha, is to scorn. I am so used to mild weather, 315 days of sun a year, and presence of architecture ranging back to the early Roman empire, that I hardly give it a thought, it is a given. I am glad, that one does non need all that in order to smile ...

If I had the perfect camera (and arguably I do, for my tastes) and the money to do, I already know the project. I've wanted to just load up my car and drive the back roads of the Midwest documenting roadside memorials. Transient at best, they're the about as far from National Historic Landmarks as you can get but that's part of why I want to document them, to spend a summer remembering the tragedies of people I've never met. The curse of money, alas, keeps me at home instead.

What then ? More of what I'm doing now, just with less grumbling ! Or maybe more, as I'd realize I have only myself to blame when things don't turn out right. But seriously, I'm already doing what I'd do with the perfect camera.

Connecticut apparently has 61 National Historic Landmarks of one kind or another. I've been to only two (the state capitol and the Litchfield Town Green, both without realizing their official historic designations). Most are homes of people I've never heard of. Interestingly, I did visit two sites in Concord, MA the weekend before last, and they both prohibited photography inside.

An absolutely brilliant question. The right answer, I suppose, should be: "discover if I enjoy just taking photographs".

Isn't that the reason we keep buying new cameras? So we don't have to go out and actually take photographs?

Let me see... As I recall Spring in Wisconsin is when the permafrost melts and you sink up to your ankles in the cool mud. Also when you meet your friends at the quarry for a few beers and a swim, if you are brave.

Gee, there seem to be over a hundred of them within walking distance from me. I can think of lots of instances where I could get 3 of them into one photo, maybe even four, so I wonder how many could I get into ten ?

I contend that the thing most missed in photography is not a congenial camera, great lenses, good technique, etc. -- all of that stuff can be bought or learned fairly quickly, and if you can't shoot with a camera that is less than perfect, then you probably couldn't shoot with a perfect camera, either. What's missing in most photography is simply thought.

I really wouldn't want to see the results of this contest you're talking about, because it seems to me to be the very kind of thing that a photographer can go out and shoot without a single real thought passing between his ears; and, of course, the winners will be chosen by a committee that will make sure there is no political incorrectness involved. (I'd like to see a photograph of a wolf eating a tourist at a national monument, but even if such a thing were taken, it wouldn't win, despite action, emotion, drama, personal risk, etc.)

I also don't like the photos from all the Ansel Adams wannabes who wander around the southwestern landscape, because their products often seem to me to be a triumph of technique over thought. Yes, the sunlight on the golden aspen leaves in the Rocky Mountain autumn is striking, as are the pretty colors in the slot canyons, but why not just enjoy these phenomena, instead of taking the 100,000th thoughtless, unnecessary photograph of them?

So instead of searching for the perfect camera with the best sensor and exactly the right lens, I think most people would be better off if they left the equipment under the bed, and then went to sit on the couch, with the TV turned off, and mentally asked, "What am I interested in?" I'm afraid that for a large number of people, the answer might be "not much." But for a few, an idea will pop up, and following that idiosyncratic idea will produce at least the chance of some decent photography.

I could go on here for a while -- this problem is certainly not restricted to photography, and all you have to do is listen to the 100,000 C&W song about how your woman got pissed because you went out and got drunk last night, or rock song about havin' that lovin' fever, etc., or listen to some jerkwad art instructor tell that a really good drawing takes weeks -- but the problem is an obsession with technique and equipment, as opposed to art. Any intelligent person (with the requisite physical qualities) can learn technique; but technique is not now and never has been the point.

A tough one indeed.
Of course the perfect camera does not exist. If it did, photographing would be devoid of half the fun. One of the things I like the most about photography is to successfully overcome the technical challenges posed by a particular photograph. Some of those challenges come from (or at least are enhanced by) the limitations of the camera. To make a good picture despite the particular problems posed by the camera is a triumph.
The perfect camera would fail to provide that victorious feeling. With a perfect camera, photographing would be so boring you'd want to give up the hobby in no time. There would be no challenge, hence no fun. I bet the experience would be comparable to photographing with a point and shoot or a mobile phone – only with superlative image quality.
Everything we achieve in life is pursued by trial and error. From starting to walk to finding the other half of us, we go through life trying and trying again until we get things fine. This makes us better human beings. I don’t see why photographing should be any different. The perfect camera would deprive us from that learning process. Excellence would be a given, not something we try hard to achieve. We’d soon become jaded. And we would get no real satisfaction out of dealing with the perfect camera.
That said a camera that is not perfect may be perfect for me. I can live with the camera’s flaws if it gives me satisfactory results. Alas, that was not the case of the point and shoot I started photographing with: its flaws largely overcame its qualities. My current camera, however – that’s the Olympus E-P1 –, while inherently flawed, is so thrilling to use that I can easily live with its imperfections. You know a camera is perfect for you when its qualities surpass its insufficiencies.
Of course you aspire to go further and get the best camera you can afford, but even when you’ve got it you’ll realize at some point that it’s not perfect. That’s something you’ll have to accept. Perfection doesn’t exist. You can’t have off-road capabilities and high speed cornering in the same car – some sort of compromise is always to be expected. The same with cameras.
To cut it short, there’s no such thing as the perfect camera. If there was one, however, I’d counsel not to buy it.
Thank you for another thought-provoking post!

Hey Mike, I had to laugh when I read your words about the Wisconsin "spring". I have a dear friend that I grew up with down "south" here in Ohio, and he lives very close to you now, between Waukesha and Pewaukee. We e-mail every day, and I hear the same things about Wisconsin weather from him!

There are those who are born to play the piano; others are born to carry it. I don't pretend to be either. But I did have the perfect camera in my Nikon F-801 which I used in Jerusalem and Peshawar; now I have two perfect cameras in the Olympus OMD-EM5 and Fuji XE 1. They are all perfect. So is my printer, the Epson 3880. Perfect. Why? Because I enjoy using them so much to make pictures I like so much. So what's next is to keep using them....

What's next? Back at the end of the analog era a few years ago, that would have been it: go on shooting with that perfect camera forever.

However, as I said on these pages once before, we are today in a similar time to the beginning years of photography in the 1840s and 1850s, when improvements came at an incredible pace - a head-over-heels evolution of both cameras/optics and light sensitive materials/chemistry. And just as those early photographers adopted each advance as quickly it became practical, so are we updating both our cameras and digital media as soon as we are able, or as soon as we are forced to (what was amazing in a digital image five years ago is hardly even acceptable today in terms of resolution, grain, noise, fringing, etc).

So I suggest that your "perfect" camera, Mike, is not conceptually appropriate as it might have been a few short years ago when photographic change came at a snail's pace. Perfection today is a particularly Moveable Feast, and must be constantly pursued, if never quite achieved.

No brainer: just go out and start taking pictures. Then start talking about the pictures. Pretty much a closed loop and self pertetuating.

"HCB's photos are often blurry or underexposed, and some times you can even see the sprockets because the film was not loaded properly."

Juan, I'm sure there's a PhotoShop action out there to add those sprockets.

I found out a couple things with this post... one, I live near an NPS historic site called Fort Durham (never heard of it and if you follow the link you'll see why)...


And two, I took a picture of an historic site without realizing it was on the list (not a contest winner, but still cool to have). The Alaska Native Brotherhood hall in Sitka, AK:

ANB Hall

Another answer might be "All the street corners in your town or neighbourhood" e.g. it's been done in Manhattan.


Dull, boring, mundane? Only as dull and boring as you make it yourself but our mundane will be interesting in 50 years or less.

An arbitrary goal or constraint like this will often take you places you never expected.

I don't think the major problems to be solved in photography are the technical ones. Playing with cameras is fun, but in the end it's less than 25% of what it takes to take good pictures.

It depends on the weather.

Work on my carpentry. Tinker with the car.

I'll probably find something's the matter with my perfect audio...

What Albert Einstein said (about means and aims).

If allowed to define 'perfect camera' as a one so good that there was no thought or desire to change it for a period of perhaps 5 years, I have experienced that twice.
First with the original Nikon F
Then later a Hasselblad 903 Superwide CF which for me was my favorite camera ever. It saw the world the way I saw the world--only better.
They both provided the luxury (not fully appreciated until the digital age drove it home) of never thinking about anything but the pictures.
Both cameras just did their jobs, and both delivered negatives or chromes that seemed to have a bit more in them than originally visualized.
The result was you ONLY thought about the next picture.

For all the benefits of digital (and there are many) it's speed of evolution has taken away the sweet bliss of never thinking about the 'next' camera.
I shoot 95% Digital now with a Canon 1Ds mkIII which I got in the first month of it's availability (September/october 2007 ?) so I have kept this one a long time too, but with digital it's not the same.
Even though I am producing what I think is the best work of my life, I cannot help think of what might be next, or how nice 1 or 2 more stops of dynamic range might be.

Having said that, I can't imagine a more interesting opportunity than living through the 'digital revolution' .
I think the analog background allows one to more fully appreciate the near magic of Digital.
Digital continues to make more things possible, things we might not have attempted with older technology.
Also, with cameras as good as they are now, and significant improv ements less and less 'necessary' to produce great work, we may be closer than we think to more 'perfect cameras'

If all my equipment is perfect, and works perfectly, I won't have any excuses for lousy pictures any more!!! DARN!!!


> Of course, there are old places elsewhere, too. Or so I hear.

Hmm. I was visiting a buddhist temple complex the other day, and noticed a sign in English about a 751 year old gilded wood statue they have, which has been designated a Japanese National Cultural Property.

However, although I was there with the express intent of taking photographs, I forewent taking a photo of the fireproof hut it is stored in :-)

Taking photographs can operate in many ways, with many aims. One of these is self expression. For this you don't need to dream up any kind of project (which may end up seeming contrived and phoney anyway) - you just need an eye, you need to take lots of photographs, and you need to edit them, almost subconsciously. Eventually a style and a vision will float to the surface and you will recognise yourself in it.

If you gave me a perfect camera, as I define it today (FF, no shadow banding, swiveling LCD, ISO 400,000 that's as good as ISO 1600 on a 5D Mark II, pro-level AF, silent shutter, 40-ish megapixels, good raw HD video, acceptable cooked 4k video), I would go out and shoot wetlands at midnight at ISO 100,000 and up. I want the world to see frogs, and toads, and turtles, and serpents, and leeches, and fireflies, and owls, and deer, and beaver in their natural light. I want to make pictures like dreams on black canvas: skyglow cutting silhouettes out of the horizon, moonbeams painting silver highlights on the world, and everywhere the almost imperceptible motion of black leaves on black limbs on black trees rooted in the black earth.

But perfection is a moving target.

The moment I ran into a scene that the camera couldn't capture, it would cease to be the perfect camera. And I would. No camera can capture everything I want it to. Not even close.

If a camera--even an imaginary pile of statistics and specifications like the one I made--can do everything you want, you don't have much of an imagination.

I like the National Historic Landmark idea and decided to see what was on the list in California. The Fresno Sanitary Landfill made the list! I feel bad for Fresno if the best they can offer is their dump!

What then? I'd spend the rest of my days trying to produce photographs worthy of the perfect camera.

The "unknown reason" for the first Settlers staying was, of course, The Mars Cheese Castle. I would've stayed too.

That's a great, thoughtful post. I think you may be spot on, indeed!

Ah, a Dutch photographer took an old 4,5 x 6 cm camera (not a clue which but he used Ektachrome at least thats what the contacts said) and drove 350 km from Amsterdam to Calais to photograph the shacks, tents and dwellings, refugees build in the vicinity of Calais....went to Oss the other day to see it. Fascinating how people in such a predicament (they are/were from all over the world, mostly male and wanted to cross the Channel into England for some mysterious reasons only known to themselves) still maintain some order.

The photographer is Henk Wildschut and this is his project site:


And well a trip to the Museum Jan Cunen in Oss is worth the trouble.

Greets, Ed.

I'd drive around New Zealand photographing town halls and agricultural buildings: barns, woolsheds, old homesteads. I like corrugated iron.

Kittens. Loads of kittens. Especially those fluffy ones with the squished in faces.

Perhaps some bunnies too.

Why not? It's what you always end up with when you decide beforehand what you are going to take photographs of. Kittens. And bunnies.

Or - brave thought - you could hone your humility, keep a camera close by, and allow the world to surprise you.

I think the premise behind the question is flawed. This is a more constructive mindset:

"Don't wish for a perfect world; instead work towards a better you"

I think I reached the state of having a camera/cameras that, despite their "shortcomings," were good enough for me a number of years ago. Perfection ain't gonna happen and if it did, a more perfect camera/lens would be introduced within a year.

Solving the "what then" and the photographer's creative shortcomings are the only really tough questions and the ones that by far the most time and effort should be spent on. What else could be the point, if you are interested in photography?

Then, the only limits are in myself. A bit scary and exciting really, because there are no excuses.

By the way, "Wisconsinite" sounds like a new addition to the periodic table, the sort of element that can be used as a room temperature superconductor or is the ideal fuel for a flux capacitor. : o

" After the equipment, technique, and skills are all nailed down, what next? What do you do then?"
With a camera that would be my 100% perfect camera, I would do the same thing I've done for the last year with what is for me a 90% perfect camera: going around and travelling taking pictures.

I realise that several others have noted the same thing, but if people are into camera-collecting rather than photography then there is no need to think further about making pictures, as the performance measurement techniques are (I suppose) well known and are all that would be required.

In the situation you described, the "what next" depends on the marketing departments of manufacturers and retailers.

Talk about serendipity.

I'm already hired to photograph in one such National Historic Landmark right in my neighborhood tomorrow: a synagogue designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Very cool.

Until I found it in my state list just now--thanks to your linking, Mike--I had not realized it had NHL status.

I can see it (partly) from my front porch.

I did a quick search in the long list (166 NHL's in PA--who knew?). This was the first one that came up.

Talk about bird in the hand. And I could kill two of 'em with one stone.

Thanks again, Mike!


Well I think that National Landmarks photo contest sounds like an excellent opportunity for many folks to stretch their photographic legs. I'm not quite as crabby as John C. -- at least not today ;~> . Sure it will certainly produce mountains of sentimental, unskilled snaps. So what?

More than ever, the vast majority of camera owners and enthusiasts are not "artists", have little or no visual training, have no grounding in any visual arts or in the art creation experience (which generally begins with ideas not tools). They're just...camera owners seeking ways to enjoy their gear as a pastime.

So anything that gets folks off their asses, and away from their computers, to pursue a specific visual objective with their "ideal" cameras is terrific in my book.

For those considering hunting the NHLandmark-rich Chicago area I highly recommend taking one of the Chicago Architecture Foundation's excellent tours to at least become familiar with some potential targets.

p.s. But please take care not to end up like Richard Nickel.

Re: The toughest question.
As a student, this was stated to me as, "The most difficult thing in photography is deciding where to point the camera". And a good variant is, "The single thing that will most effect the way your photos look is...

Backwards, isn't it? Don't you start with the idea then accumulate the equipment and develop the technique to pull it off? Or am I entirely missing the point of the discussion?

Korean eBay camera stores and Tokyo Camera Style. Thankfully those two things ensure this can never happen to me.

John Camps comment is about the best I've ever read.

n excellent discussion, and a great example of how different people get different things from photography.

Re John Camp's question ("...why not just enjoy these phenomena..."), I've made lots of pictures of subjects that have been covered many times before by more talented photographers than I'll ever be. It's not that I think I can outdo anyone else, or that I think I have some original approach that no one else has ever thought of. The reason I still go ahead and shoot instead of just taking in the scenery is the same reason I took up photography in the first place: it's fun!

I get pleasure from the planning and anticipating, in setting up the shot, in waiting for the light -- and sometimes I get off on just being in the right place at the right time for a serendipity shot. I find pleasure in working on the image post-capture, and in sharing the final image with others and hearing their reactions. That's a whole lot of enjoyment in addition to the original pleasure of just being there!

probably nothing for the next 4 years, unless i drastically change my career and academic plans. maybe i should look for subjects that are more readily available and projects that can be done in small pieces.

I can hit almost 10 of those sites in Cincinnati! In fact I have taken more pictures of the Cincinnati Zoo than any other subject (except for perhaps the Northside 4th of July Parade).

@ John Camp - thanks for that interesting comment on an interesting post. I have my own version of what most photographs (my own very much included) lack, and that is courage. Courage to do something different. Courage to put oneself in the firing line. Courage to ask someone if you can take their picture. The courage to look stupid and not care. The courage of your convictions. The courage to take risks, in other words. Thought AND courage? Now there's a combination that will get you into museum collections or between the covers of National Geographic. I think.

Don't need a better camera, although I'll take a D7100 if you are giving them away. I need more time.
It is hoped that will be coming in a year or two, I'm 63 and am nearing my "use by" date. In the mean time I'm exploring the beautiful Loess Hills of Western Iowa as my limited time permits.
As for Spring, growing up in North Dakota we used to say that if summer came on a Saturday we would all go fishing. I suppose that joke works for Spring too.

Seems all these photo contest want to use/own your pictures for free...at least for their use:.....SECTION 8 of rules here:..... By adding your entry to the 2013 NHL Photo contest, you authorize the National Park Service to:
 Use your entry for any educational and informational purposes in perpetuity.
 Crop or manipulate your photograph or edit your text.
 Use your name as the creator of the entry and state of residence.
 While it is our intent to use NHL images for non-commercial, educational purposes and with photographer credit, we make no warranty regarding use or credit once photos have entered the social media stream. Photographers maintain all other rights to your entry.

I completely agree with John Camp's thoughtfulness plea. Boring images are a failure of imagination, not technology or technique. But Ken is right too. Is shooting Bryce Canyon with a Leica M any more pointless than fishing or playing golf?

But I live in London and have real problems with National Historic Landmarks. It's hard to avoid them and every one has been photographed ad nauseam, not least by the 6m international tourist that visit every year. Tower Bridge is our Bryce Canyon.

But the 607 sq miles of Greater London contains visual gems in abundance nestling amongst the business and residential sprawl, mostly unnoticed by people rushing past on the way to work, or the next historic landmark in the guidebook. I know, I live in just such an area.

Discovering and photographing them is my personal passion. It's not art as we know it, Jim, and it's not original in concept. But it is an opportunity to create something original, potentially interesting and of some historic value, given that so many local environments are being redeveloped.

My challenge is simply to do it justice, to convey through an image something of the character and sense of place of the real thing.

I have few excuses. I have the inspiration of Evans, Shaw, Haas and Gursky; I can choose between an Xpro1 and a D800; no specialised technique is required, but most of all I have the advantage that it is always new to someone who has never seen it.

So if you don't fancy a pilgrimage to your nearest NHL, just walk out of your front door or take a short drive down the street and capture your own "uncommon places".

As a stranger, I am almost certain I will find the hills of rural Kentucky or a street in small town Wisconsin more interesting than another shot of Bryce Canyon, the Manhattan Skyline, the Golden Gate Bridge, or the Eiffel Tower.

And who knows, like me you may develop an entirely new appreciation for your own back yard.

Thanks for the featured comments from Crabby Umbo (although it makes me want an Autocord). I've been obsessing about what to do to get better at photography as a creative outlet for a while. Well, for a while should read "for years." As my wife says, "stop spending your time thinking about what to do and just go do it!" I have a nice Pentax MX with 50mm f1.7 which I love to look through and a Rolleicord that needs bending to the back door a little (stinking rolleifix, why did I not know about you?). Time to just pick one and go at it. I love that mechanical cameras are so cheap but I hate that film and development aren't cheap! I just wish I got as much joy from my results as I get from using the cameras. I've never been very creative or artistic anyways. Ok, thanks for the outlet for my venting!

The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007