with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Equipment Lust: The Hunt for the Ideal Camera

Animated graphic of a painter splashing paint on a canvas.The tools of a painter consist of paints, canvas and brushes. With paints there are thousands of colors and types to choose from: watercolor, oil, pastels, and more. Brushes are similar: nylon, horsehair, and a variety of natural fibers and synthetics, not to mention shapes and sizes. Canvases? Some like smooth surfaces, some rough, some fabric, some paper. Lots of choices. Painting is a subjective art and often taps the very soul of the viewer, so when was the last time you met a painter and asked them which brush they used?

Not a week goes by that we don’t get such an inquiry. “What kind of camera should I buy?” “I have Blank brand camera and need some lenses; what should I get?” “Should I go with a digital camera or traditional camera?” We crave discussing the hows and whys of an image, the intricate concentration and artistry to create the photograph, the use of light and shadow, the emotional connection between the subject, its environment and the viewer. But people firmly believe that the camera MAKES the picture.

The why of this is best saved for a more philosophical time. The reality is that the camera is simply a tool. It is up to the photographer to create the photograph using the best tools for the job. Let’s take a good look at the tools that help the process of nature and outdoor photography. Oh, next time you see us, ask us about the artistic nature of our work instead. We’ll have a much better chat.

It isn’t the idiot camera that makes the pictures.
It’s the idiot behind the camera that makes the pictures.
Lorelle VanFossen, from a day-in-the-life of a nature photographer instructor

Equipment Lust

Photographers and bird watchers line up at the Venice Rookery, Florida, photo by Brent VanFossenPhotography is one of those hobbies where the participants have to have the latest and best. It’s as bad as car collectors. A friend of ours has 17 cameras and numerous lenses to match each one. Another friend MUST have the latest and most expensive, but barely knows how to use it. Equipment lust can get out of control and often requires long discussions with your financial advisor. The reality is that whatever you have is often “good enough”.

A camera purchased new today is a state-of-the-art computer, not just a glorified picture taker. The technical aspect of taking a photograph is the easiest thing the camera does. Today much of the problem solving of exposure is taken care of with sophisticated computer engineering. Even with all this advanced technology, with built-in flash, autofocus, motor controlled lenses and other whiz bang gimmicks, the process of taking a picture hasn’t changed much over the years.

Use What You Have

Mountaineering photographer and instructor, Ted Case, hauls his gear up the face of mountains and over rocky ledges. He can’t carry with him a vast selection of lenses. A few years ago, he decided to begin self assignments to further advance his artistic skill. “I decided to spend a day in the field with one camera and one lens. No other choices. If I couldn’t learn how this lens saw and worked, it served no useful purpose for me.” He spent a day with a 50mm lens. With a persepctive close to that of the human eye, Ted concentrated on capturing images as “he” saw them through each lens. He worked the “wide angle” aspects of the lens for scenics. Then close-up work – how close would it focus? Ted put all his different lenses through the same paces. “Suddenly these old lenses became new friends again,” he admits in his workshops. “I gained a new respect for each and a better understanding of their perspective.”

Before getting your credit card out for the hottest gimmick, take a look at what you have. Learn to thoroughly use what you have in a variety of situations. Push it to focus at its closest and farthest. Learn to see how it sees. Why can’t a 400mm lens be used as a close-up lens? Why not create scenics with it? Will it do that? How about your 17-35mm wide angle zoom as a macro lens for close up photography? Will it work? You might find you have a new respect for an old friend and gain more artistry in your photography.

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