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Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Dodging The Magic Bullet

It's not the number of megapixels in your camera, it's what you do with them

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Photo Traveler - Dodging The Magic Bullet
It’s not entirely our fault, pro and amateur alike, that we’ve contracted "upgrade fever." Think about it—we used to have at least three, five or even seven years in between introductions of new cameras and gear. That gave us plenty of time to think about and create photographs instead of thinking about buying a new camera. Now the new gear comes at us every five or seven months, and it’s hard to think about anything else but upgrading.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not one of these simplicity purists. I’m as much of a gear head as the next guy, and in the early days of digital, there was a huge need for rapid technical improvements. But I stopped worrying about digital technology cutting the mustard for professional use the first time I saw a 30x40-inch print from my first 6-megapixel D-SLR that blew away anything I could have done with 35mm film. Finally, I thought, I was ready to start thinking about making pictures again and not always buying new cameras.

That was a few scant years ago, and my megapixels have already doubled, my CF cards have five times the capacity and speed, and my inkjet printer has even better color and even finer resolution.

It’s amazing how fast and far our equipment has come. But we have to ask ourselves one nagging question: Is my photography evolving as dramatically as my equipment and, if not, could it be that I’m spending too much time upgrading my technical specs and not enough time developing my vision? We’re starting a new year, and it’s time to think about making a resolution (a resolution that has nothing to do with pixels!) to dodge that magic-bullet syndrome.

That’s right, it’s not about the camera. But sometimes it takes someone from the outside to bring that point home. A couple of years ago, Keith Bellows, the editor-in-chief of National Geographic Traveler, wanted an entirely digitally produced issue for the yearly photography annual. All the regular freelancers were onboard with this project, but Keith had another caveat. Everyone who received an assignment would be required to shoot with the entry-level D-SLR of whatever brand of camera he or she wished.

Create National Geographic-quality images with "amateur" cameras? It wasn’t a hard thought for me to get my head around because I’ve always used the smaller, lighter cameras in Nikon’s line, and my D-SLR of choice at the time was the D70. It’s the camera I was using for all my assignments. Some of my colleagues found it unnerving to give up their "pro" cameras for entry-level D-SLRs, but did so because those were the rules. Editor Bellows wanted to prove to readers that it’s not the camera, it’s what you do with it that counts.

Sure enough, the all-entry-level D-SLR issue came out and looked great, and an important point was made. (To this day, the minimum requirement for a photographer shooting digitally for any National Geographic publication is a 6-megapixel SLR.) Yet it’s a point that we’re prone to forget—cameras don’t make pictures, photographers do.
And while it’s a good thing to own and master the latest and greatest in photo technology, it’s not the only thing that matters.

But the infatuation with the technology of photography over the "vision thing" is rampant in the digital age. You only have to spend a little time on some blogs and forums run by experts, many self-proclaimed, who endlessly analyze and pontificate on the merits of one RAW-processing program over another, one brand of camera over another, one JPEG algorithm over another to realize this. If you only read the analyses, many of these experts sound great.

For a schedule of Bob Krist’s workshops and seminars, check his website, www.bobkrist.com, under the "Teach and Talk" heading.


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