Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Solving Problems You Don't Have

The Zacuto RED ONE setup. I have no idea what I'm looking at.

With the release of the 5DMIII, D4, and the D800 there has been a lot of chatter when it comes to gear.

It even got me thinking about selling the Hasselblad (but no longer) as I thought about the D4 and the D800. Now that the commotion has died down a little, I don't see myself upgrading to the D4 unless my D3 falls apart. And being that the D3 is so well built, I don't see this happening anytime soon though I've had it for 3.5 years.

On the video side of things, there's so much more development. RED cameras are dominating the 4K playing field and Canon is stepping up and trying to take a piece of that pie. The "peripherals" market (borrowing a computer terminology) is incredibly robust. Everything from stabilizers, dollies, to field monitors, to rigs, etc. are all going gangbusters. It's a very exciting time to be video, not even just digital video.

And as new technologies come and replace old technologies, many of us become tempted to buy stuff we don't need. Because as Canon and Nikon duke it out on the high-ISO or megapixel battlefield, most photographers don't have the need for the incremental 20% megapixel or the 1.5 stop improvement on high-ISO.

Nice to have? Sure. Need to have? Probably not.

Even as I look at my D3 (which is "old technology" when compared to the D4), for what I do it's still more than enough camera. But being that most of us come from engineering/scientific/logical backgrounds, the easiest thing for us to relate to is having more than we need. Overspec. Overbuild. Because "it's better to have and not need than need and not have".

But the real underlying issue is that it's a lot easier to resolve a technical problem than to resolve an artistic/creative problem. For example, my mind loves to solve problems that have to do with logic, science, logistics, technology. My mind doesn't enjoy problems of interfacing with humans, emotions, creativity, and art.

So when it comes down to problem-solving, I get carried away with how nice it would be to have a RED camera, on a dolly suspended in air, wirelessly downloading to a RAID array of 6G SSD's... then having a remote team of video editors rough-cut in real-time.

But the problem is that I don't have any issues with video resolution, frame rates, stabilization, download speeds, I/O speeds, etc.

Nope. Instead my problems are with pre-production, creating a solid concept, storyboarding, deciding camera angles, sequencing so the story makes sense, getting myself motivated to cut a long video, etc. Ironically, none of these issues are equipment-related with minor exception of camera angles because that might be dependent on your lenses and other gear.

Maybe it's just a natural lust for gear that most photographers have?

We forget that our ability to differentiate ourselves isn't primarily dependent on the gear we use. It isn't your RED camera, your Profoto 8, or your $3,000 Eizo display. Nope. What makes you different is what you're able to create with what gear you have. Your audience/client doesn't care what tools you use to create your final product. They only care about the final product. The only ones that care about all the gear and the tech that goes into creation are other photographers that are trying to recreate what you've done. And those people aren't paying you to do what you do.

Because at the end of the day, we all know that the tools don't make the shot. The photographer makes the shot. And whether that's with a $100,000 RED setup or a Canon Rebel T3i, all that matters at the end of the day is the finished work.

But it's easier to think that our problems could be resolved with gear (money) when the reality is that our "challenges" are much more abstract. No successful photographer ever "made it" because they bought some awesome gear. Perhaps we don't want to acknowledge what it really takes to succeed. We don't want to know how much learning is involved. How much frustration there is to endure. How many closed doors we have to knock on before we find one that opens.

Nope. Because it's easier to believe that our problems can be resolved by buying nice gear.


  1. I think gearlust is pervasive in photography. A lot of guys get into photography because of the gear (and pretty faces), so it's ingrained into their thinking.
    If folks would take half the time they spend poring over technical specifications and instead invest it in learning new skills, I think most people would see real growth.

    Which reminds me, people should sign up for your workshops. Because they are informative and rad.


  2. Thanks Yoav! At the end of the day, I like playing with new toys as much as anyone else... so it's just as hard for me to reconsider that maybe I should read a book instead of dropping $10K at B&H/Adorama :)

  3. I think as creators we have intrinsic drives to continue improving but at the same time on some level a desire to validate our current work. New "improved" gear can be tempting because it can give the sense that what we are already doing right now can quickly be that much better, if only we had (insert feature here)that the new gear provides. At the end of the day though as you said, better features don't make better photographers (or artists)unless you have grown beyond what you currently have.