Fujifilm’s X Summit is fast approaching and new gear is on the horizon, so I thought it might be time to balance that out with some advice for those lusting after some new camera gear. New gear is fun and, often, allows us to achieve things that we couldn’t before, but it is not the only thing we need to approach with zeal.
In this article, I’d like to discuss keeping your love for gear and the art of photography in balance. We’ll borrow the phrase “The Middle Way” to describe what I’m aiming to impart here. It might be a little pretentious to take the Buddha’s teachings and apply them to such a frivolous topic, but it seems like a fitting analogy to what we should strive for.
Love your gear
For a website entitled FujiLove, I’m somewhat obliged to encourage your love for photographic equipment and that’s fine. I do believe gear is an important part of what we do, as long as it’s loved in moderation. However, I’ve noticed quite a disturbing trend, as I’m sure many of you have in that cameras seem to be more revered than photographers these days.
For those who follow any one of my Instagram accounts, you may have noticed that I have significantly slowed down my interactions on the platform. One of the major contributors to that was that it really wasn’t giving back to me in any meaningful way. I don’t mean in the sense that my need for dopamine wasn’t getting fulfilled by likes but that I wasn’t being shown anything of value. I was sharing my work in the hope it would find an audience who was interested and, in turn, was hoping Instagram would show me art that I would be interested in. Unfortunately, all it seems to show me is pictures and Reels of cameras and people holding cameras.
I am not here to tell anyone that loving their tools is wrong. In fact, if the love for the look of the tools gets you out creating photographs, that’s fantastic. I love working with Fujifilm cameras. They put me in the right headspace to make the work I like to make. I do not love the cameras themselves. They are simply tools and I am I not an engineer.
What I want to discuss here is that there is far more to photography than a nice-looking camera and finding a balance with all these elements is important to creating good work. I also don’t want this to be another social-media-hating article, but the trend I noticed on Instagram was what sparked the idea for this discussion.
Love your craft
The craft of photography involves everything from working with the camera on location to preparing scenes for shoot, chasing or crafting light, and even post-production. Focusing on the areas of this that you love is such an important part of photography.
Personally, I love the surprise I get from rounding a corner and seeing light in a way I haven’t seen it before. The way that it can fall at different times of day and different times of year inspires me to keep looking at the world and finding ways to make use of light. The air here in Seoul gets thick with pollution quite frequently in spring and while I don’t enjoy breathing it, it can make for a dramatic filter for the early morning light.
I also love crafting light using flashes. For me, the process of finding a scene and then augmenting it with my own light is a challenge that I really enjoy. It allows me to hone in on really making the image that I see in my mind without the constraints of the existing light. A simple one-light setup is enough to make a dramatic portrait of a good friend. For me, setting this up and balancing it on my subject and the wall is a part of the craft I really enjoy.
What part of the craft do you enjoy most? Would you say that you focus most of your attention on that or is there something else that occupies your mind?
Love your subject matter
This, I believe, is truly important. Over the years that I have been working and playing as a photographer, I have noticed that if I try to force my way into a particular type of subject matter, I simply cannot make good images of it. The subject matter I love, however, puts me into a state of flow and I am able to create around it. By gaining a deeper knowledge of something and loving it for what it is, images form that otherwise would not.
Food photography is a great example of where I failed miserably. I have, several times, attempted to turn this genre into something I do. But, each and every time, I have failed miserably. I love other people’s images of food, but I do not love the visuals of food enough to understand the subtleties of it and make great images of it.
Unique culture, however, is an area that pulls my interest even outside of photography. I love learning about people who do things or have done things in a very different way to me. Discovering what it is that someone has spent their lives doing, whether that be a belief, a craft of their own or a piece of their culture that has dictated parts of their life, is something that encourages me to dig a little deeper with my photography and make images I wouldn’t normally do.
What is your preferred subject matter? What about it speaks to you and draws you to photograph it? What is something that doesn’t interest you personally at all?
Love the results
The culmination of loving your tools, process and subject matter, is, of course, a finished photograph. Loving that result is just as important as each of the other parts of the craft since it gives you something to focus each of the other parts on. Working towards an image that you do not love will only stifle all of the other things I have discussed here.
You may not love the image forever. You desired outcome is a moving target and that’s just fine. What is important is working towards something that you love and are proud of. In my own work, I absolutely adored this frame when I first made it. I worked really hard to build a set of skills that would allow me to capture it, learned about my subjects and thoroughly enjoyed the end result. Now, I might change a few things.
Have you made photographs that you loved at the time but would change things in now? Chances are, that’s development in your photographic knowledge and your sensibilities. It’s a good thing to pull apart your old work. It helps you to see that you’re evolving. But love the work you make now. That will keep you focused.
The Middle Way
Each of these elements in balance is what will sustain your photography over time. If you don’t love your tools, the process will become frustrating. If the process isn’t something your heart is in, the results will not be something you’re willing to work towards. I encourage you to spread your love across the photographic process. It’s okay to post a photograph of your camera every now and again, but ensure that your camera also gets to make photographs of its own. Happy shooting!