While I have a pretty tight camera system and methods for shooting paid work, when shooting freely and creatively, I like to try a variety of cameras and lenses. I find that doing this can offer a fresh vision and shakes up my personal conventions, allowing me to take things in new directions.
Every day that I go to my day job, I enter through a back door, next to which is some electrical conduit. I enjoy the repetition of lines and shapes. There is something rhythmic and calming about subjects like this.
So I’ve photographed this conduit intermittently for the 6 years I’ve worked here. I’ve probably used nearly every camera I own and numerous lenses to frame it up.
These are my favorite three that I’ve taken. Each piece is a different take on the same scene and offers its own merits, I think.
This is one of my first images of the conduit. I worked an earlier shift when this was taken in 2012 and could catch the morning sunlight casting interesting shadows. The 135mm Soligor lens I was using did a nice job isolating and simplifying the scene. A longer lens can really get to the core of what you find compelling about a subject. Most people don’t but I enjoy putting a 135 on a rangefinder from time to time. Unlike an SLR, when you mount a long lens to an RF, you don’t see a zoomed in image in the viewfinder. Instead you still see the surrounding area. While focus becomes more critical with long lenses and rangefinders, composition can be perfected because you are able to see and compare your framing options very clearly in the viewfinder. I picked up this LTM 135/3.5 Soligor instead of a Leitz 135/4.5 Elmar which is similarly priced due to the additional speed. It can flare a little like all lenses of this period but is sharp and tonal.
For years, my photos of the conduit were very tight like the first image. I even experimented with 50mm lenses and vertical composition to try to reduce the scene to only conduit. The diminutive, frame-lines-free viewfinder of the 1930 Leica is very different from the large, comprehensive M6 finder. Instantly, I found myself framing scenes a bit wider than normal. Never before had I included the handrail on frame right or the loading dock door on the left. But using this camera with its native 50mm Summar helped stop me from forcing my concept on the scene and to accept the scene more totally, more for what it really is. It encouraged me to photograph the surrounding lines that I was trying to exclude for so long, which are maybe what drew me into the core of the scene (the conduit) to begin with, and, are so well balanced against the lines of the conduit! This image was such a small revolution to me that I submitted it to a local art exhibit where it was accepted and is currently on display. I like how the veiling flare of the unshaded 1930’s Summar. Ken Rockwell says its front element “looks like it’s made out of ordinary window glass” which lends a bright, uneven shine to the metal.
Here’s a shot I took just a few weeks ago with my new Yashica TLR. This camera brings two important elements to this well-worn scene; medium format and a square frame! I have always struggled with square compositions. I am not totally sure that this is a successful example but, while the camera is still new to me and opening my eyes in a different way, I like it. It does, however, feel a bit empty and reminds me why I enjoy that 1930 Leica shot so much. But it’s just a different style that I hadn’t previously tried.
A popular sentiment among the photography community that’s always bothered me is “the camera doesn’t matter.” But it does. I get that the point of this comment is to deter would-be gear-heads from obsessing over pointless technical minutia and to just get out there and use what you have. I get that. But to say that the camera does not matter is to deny its influence over not only how we envision a scene but how we are physically able to render it.
Knowing the type or name of a camera, or that an image is shot on film or not may not matter at all as to if an audience likes a particular image. But to a photographer, I still hold that this information, and more so, this understanding, is important if not critical to creating successful images.
We just have to strike a balance and not become so mired in technicalities that we can no longer see the forest for the trees.
Digital cameras seem boundless in the freedom that they provide photographers. However, as technology has evolved, much of the available camera design has narrowed and lacks the rich diversity that mechanical film cameras of the past boasted and showcased. I am not saying that the restrictions, characteristics, etc of any film camera are inherently more beneficial to a photographer than any digital camera. But I am simply pointing out that the camera DOES matter and that using many different types of cameras is a healthy way for a photographer to explore their ideas. To make the camera an invisible part of the process is to completely disregard the journey. And without venturing on the journey, the destination cannot be so fully appreciated, or even arrived at to begin with.
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