Friday, July 31, 2009

Photography Rant-Amateurs listen up!

As someone who shoots for Getty and Wireimage, has a studio, a book on the way, and has been around the world, I have to chime in.

The best camera is the one you have and actually use.

People ask me all the time how they can get good fast, they want to be the best immediately. I ask them how much they shoot. They say once or twice a week. I tell them they have to be OBSESSED with shooting, they have to shoot all the time, on the way to work, going home, when traveling, portraits of friends, everything. They instead want to buy the next Nikon D3X or 200-400 lens. They think that is the KEY to becoming better. 

I will tell you a secret. A good photographer with last years consumer beginnner SLR and a single, good 35mm or 50mm lens will be able to outshoot a mediocre photographer with the best new SLR camera with 10 lenses. Why?

They know how to use it. Most amateurs who are serious sort of skip the part where they learn their camera inside and out. Trust me, they do. Can you change your settings in the dark or without looking at your camera? How long does it take you to change your white balance? F-stop? Shutter speed? Spot metering to evaluative? iso? Single-shot to Servo focus? RAW to JPEG? When you have to think about how to do these things while you are shooting something, it takes you out of the moment and you will miss it.

With respect to the talk about acting, I know a bit about that too. And you are right about what you say. I compare it to when an actor is trying to get off-book. Every time he or she pauses for a second and calls, "Line!" they find themselves out of the moment and out of the scene. Photography is the same way. You have to know everything about your camera from the ground up and know how to use it and why to do things if you want to actually have a chance of having a career doing this, just like in acting. You have to think on your feet, no matter what you shoot--food, celebrities, stock, car racing, sports, portraits, or flowers--because somebody else is already doing it, and probably better than you.

So to recap- LEARN YOUR CAMERA. Start simple. Start with a 50mm prime, and use it for 6 months. Know everything about it. Then move on and buy something else. If you need something during this time, rent it! Don't buy an $1800 70-200 F2.8 lens because your friend is going to pay you $50 to shoot his nephews' soccer game. Rent it. Wait to buy the equipment until your job DEMANDS it or your billing can pay for it.

I find it slightly amusing that you "outgrew" your D60 in two months. I have a 30 year old Canon F-1 with a 35mm F2.0 lens, and I haven't outgrown it in all the time I have owned it. 

I find that many amateurs who talk incessantly about "pixel size" and "sharpness" and "megapixels" (I am not implying necessarily you, by any means) spend too much time blabbing about things that don't matter, instead of taking pictures. You can't get better by BUYING equipment. You can only get better by using what you have. 

Nothing you buy will make you a BETTER photographer, you have to do that yourself with practice and buy accumulating knowledge. Buying things might expand your repertoire of shots. It might make you feel cool. It might make you bankrupt. But it will NOT make you a better photographer. So, before you go to buy that new camera or lens because you NEED it to make you better, learn how to use what you have. 

After all, race car drivers don't start out in Formula 1. They race go-karts.

Actors don't start out doing "Hamlet." They do improv, scenes and one-acts.

Photographers don't start out with a D3X and a 400mm F2.8 VR, or a Phase 1 Hassy shooting at Pier 59 with a capture team and 3 assistants and 4 grips on a 3 day shoot for Louis Vuitton. They start with a Canon AE-1 with a 50mm lens and some Tri-x (or a digital Rebel and a 18-55 zoom now, sadly I guess.)

But most people simply don't want to put in the time and effort to get good like the old days. They want to be good now. American Idol and reality TV have made us the "Skip To The End" Generation.

Anyway, hope all this crap I wrote helps someone out there. Feel free to share your thoughts. Just remember, this comes from someone who has shot food for national magazines, Sundance, Tribeca, Venice film festivals, stock around the world, travel, and has shots published every day worldwide. So....yes, I do know what I am talking about.

Brian Ach Photography, Inc.