Is Photography About Money?
What’s in my bag? I don’t have a bag. Well, I do have, but it is the size of my laptop. I see this question in 95% of interviews with street/urban photographers. Usually all of ‘ordinary’ photographers out there hope to read that famous street photographer X or Y uses cheap camera that you can buy for no more than 100 bucks on Amazon. The reality however is harsh. Yes, he has this camera in his bag but it is his third substitute player (using football language), and photographer X is a coach, this camera is a player that he had to take for the match in case all of his best players would forget how to play football. And that of course never happens so this little poor guy spends all the time sitting on a bench. So what happens when Photographer X crashes his two top Leica’s into pieces? Nothing, because it also never happens.
So there he is, the famous photographer and his gear, there you have it. He uses camera Z with lenses X and Y and tadaam – you are just a small step from taking all kinds of superb shots that famous photographer did. If it just was as simple as that, right? Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Leica or other great and expensive gear. I guess my hands would be shaking if I was to put my clumsy hands on 1 million dollar Leica. I would be so nervous and scared that I brake it, that I would forget how to take photos. I think taking selfie would be enough for me. I can hear you saying “but man, you have Fuji X100t that costs more than 1200 dollars so what do you know?” . You may have a point here, but let me just tell you what was my gear history.
About 16 years ago I had an old Russian Zenith PM4725 camer. What I remember about it is that it handled ISO up to 800 (crazy, right?). Then it was quite a long brake from taking photos. 4 years ago I bought an used Canon 450D only to change it to used Canon 5D classic. I had a collection of lenses including, 18mm,35mm,50mm,85mm,24-105mm and one more that I don’t even remember. When I was packing bags for holidays with my family I had to make my choice. Maybe taking a zoom, but it’s huge and heavy. Maybe one prime, but which one, 35mm seems to wide, 50mm not so good quality etc. My list of ‘for and against’ was getting longer and longer. I wasted so much time on thinking about equipment. More gear = more problems. For sure there are photographers out there who have their shelves packed with lenses, cameras, filters and they are fine with it and can take the most from every single piece of photo equipment they posses. I am not one of them. Since I discovered that simple truth everything became easy. All I had to do was to sell everything and choose one camera that will be a perfect companion for me.
I chose Fujifilm X100T and it was the best decission I could possibly make. I learned from my own mistakes. I am not telling you to sell all your lenses but I want to tell you that it worked for me, that’s for sure. So yes, I do have a camera that costs more than 100$ but I am going to use it until it dies. Very often having a cheap body and adding lenses and then selling them to buy another one would cost the same or even much more. Photography is not about money. That is why I hate that ‘what’s in your bag’ question. Why? I can see it from my own experience. 3 years ago, reading that Photographer X whose photos I love, uses that fabulous 50mm lens, could have easily convinced me into buying that magic piece of equipment. I would have pondered for hours and days about it and finally decided to buy it just to find out that this is not the end of the rainbow but more a feeling of huge disappointment. And that’s why I hate that question. It creates an illusion, especially in minds of beginners that everything is possible when you have the right gear and as we all know that’s not true. I’ve seen so many bad photos that came out of 4000$ gear and so many astonishing ones from 400$ gear. It’s obvious that practice, knowledge, experience, perseverance, passion, love, heart is priceless – and these things make you a photographer in the first place.
Before we all started to live our “online lives” there was no ‘gear talk’ a such. Of course you read about this camera or that camera, asked the seller what does he recommend and that’s it. You just needed a bloody camera and not a photographic arsenal for God’s sake! I live in Poland and there is a website here on which one can find a huge collection of cameras and lenses tests. There is also a comments section there. I am not going to criticise the website as such but that what can you find below that tests. People leave dozens, hundreds of comments in which they try to convince another people that the camera they had tested in fact is rubbish because when you click this and that and shoot in the direct sun and something else happens, the camera produces terrible photos. Pixel peepers is the name for it, I guess. I call them ‘gear onanists’. People who are passionate about pixels, benchmarks, tests, vignetting. Majority of them will never find a perfect camera or perfect lens. Why? Of course because there are no perfect cameras and lenses but also because they enjoy everything connected with photography except photography itself. They can easily use their equipment as an excuse for their bad shots and lack of style and creativity. They can always say – ‘hey man, I have a terrible lens, ok it costs 1000$ but it doesn’t get on with my camera body at all, hence my fuc&$d up shots’. You know what scares me most? Sometimes I think that I was a small step from becoming that person and it fills me with disgust. I could have ruined my passion easily and I believe that there are many people out there who left their dreams, passion because they read gear recommendations, forums, benchmarks, advice and they came to conclusion that photography is for people with money. Of course it looks like this because all the companies that are in this business want it to look like this. Of course, they leave you a choice, but the amount of models, variety of lenses, tons of different versions – all of this leaves you puzzled. You have conflicting signals coming from different directions and finally you get so tired and fed up with it that you stop liking photography. It was supposed to be fun and it’s a drag.
So what is my advice? Two words – chill out. Ok, you take photos of birds or other stuff that needs a special gear – of course you buy it because it is a must if you really love it. I am thinking about photography that does not require any sophisticated equipment like photography I do – I just hit the streets or my neighbourhood and register what I see in my camera’s viewfinder, as simple as that. So be honest with yourselves – do you really need anything else except a camera? I remember the day when I looked at all my photo equipment gathered in boxes and said to myself out loud another two meaningful words: “Fu%$ it!” (to be precise, in Polish it’s only one word).
More or less at the same time, together with my wife we started to minimize our lives, to sell or give away things that we don’t use or need, to think what material things do we really need and why. This perfectly fitted in my photography style. Keeping it minimal with the gear helped me to re-discover photography, to play with it. I started to enjoy photography as it always had been, as a process of saving unique moments.