How important is your equipment?
Not nearly as important as you think!
I was recently attending a photography convention and got to see the new Fuji 102mp medium-format camera. One word comes to mind:
The Fuji rep let me take it outside for a spin and the images and resolution were incredibly impressive. Sharp beyond sharp!
I started drooling, and calculating, and rationalizing why I needed this camera.
But then I heard my own words echoing in my head: great images are rarely about sharpness or technical perfection. It’s about Vision, creativity, feeling and soul.
If I had to choose between the worlds best equipment and no Vision, or a Kodak Brownie and my Vision…I’ll take the Brownie. Why? Because with Vision even a Brownie is enough.
Of course equipment is important, but it’s not the key to a great image.
Ansel Adams said:
“There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.”
That “concept” or Vision is much more important than sharpness or technical perfection.
Look at my Old Car Interior above, it was created with an 8 mp sensor. Would it have been a better image if it had been created with a 102 mp camera?
It certainly would have been sharper, but I doubt it would have been better.
Harbinger No. 38
And then there is the low-quality, small-sensor cell phone. Increasingly I’ve incorporated iPhone images into my portfolios. Why? Because it was the camera I had at the moment of inspiration.
The Harbinger image above was created with my iPhone, as were these following images:
Everybody’s Got Something to Hide…
Community of Christ Temple
Snow on Steps
How good is good enough? Most of the cameras we use today, including the iPhone, is better than the equipment the great masters had in their day.
Creating a great image is not about having better equipment, it takes something more. I love this quote by Edward Weston:
“The fact is that relatively few photographers ever master their medium. Instead they allow the medium to master them and go on an endless squirrel cage chase from new lens to new paper to new developer to new gadget, never staying with one piece of equipment long enough to learn its full capacities, becoming lost in a maze of technical information that is of little or no use since they don’t know what to do with it.”
Because they don’t know what to do with it…
It’s not that I’m against better equipment, but I am against chasing better equipment with the false hope that it will improve my work. Only improving my Vision and creativity can do that.
How important is your equipment?
Not nearly as important as you think!
Even though I’ve been photographing in Black and White since 1968, I consider the years from 2004 to present to be my important ones. It was during these years that I found my Vision and pursued my Passion.
Poudre River Spillway
During the last 15 years my work has changed in many ways and I’d like to illustrate one of them: my work has become more simple.
I’ve always loved simple images but it wasn’t until the last few years that I consistently started to create them.
Swimming Towards the Light
It wasn’t really a conscious decision to simplify my images, it just “sorta” happened as a by-product of another decision.
Several years ago I decided to simplify my equipment and processes.
String of Pearls
I was spending too much time tinkering, adjusting and fixing things and I wanted to instead focus on what was important. I think that this philosophy of simplicity spilled over into my images.
Lone Man No. 35
So what do I mean by a simple image?
Gull and Moon
For me, it’s an image with fewer visual elements and less detail.
Lone Man No. 7
Like in the “Lone Man” image above, there are only three elements and very little detail.
The fewer the elements and the less detail, the simpler the image is.
Dew on Feather
Even though this image has a lot of detail, I have darkened the sand detail so that it doesn’t compete with the feather, but rather makes it the focal point.
Beneath the Clouds
Simple images are, well, simple.
Monolith No. 27
And I generally don’t find them this way, I create them this way.
Minneapolis Power Lines
Sometimes “simple” comes from the composition: what you include in the frame, but more often what you don’t include.
Sometimes what you don’t include is just as important as what you do include.
Iceland No. 12
I always ask myself two questions: what do I want the eye to focus on? What’s my focal point?
Fluid Water No. 45
And: what’s not needed?
Another element of “simple” is to eliminate detail.
Separation No. 2
Yesterday I was looking at an HDR black and white image and it suddenly occurred to me why I don’t care for them. The wide dynamic range includes too much detail, I find it distracting because it obscures the focal point.
That certainly would have been the case with this image if I would have preserved all the shadow detail in the rock, it would have overwhelmed the image.
Melting Giants No. 22
One of my oft used tools to remove detail is the long exposure. I use it to smooth out detail in water and sky.
Isolated No. 15
This image, without the long exposure would not be nearly as clean or effective.
Faroe Islands No. 6
Another technique I love to use is burning down detail. While many photographers work to preserve shadow detail, I purposely eliminate most or all of it. When I do leave some shadow detail, it’s very subdued.
Monolith No. 62
Many of my images are very dark because I burn out all of the detail. This helps to simplify them.
They Walk Among Us
And sometimes I’ll do the opposite and dodge up the image to eliminate or reduce detail except where I’d like your attention to go, the focal point.
Lone Man, Zabriskie Point
This image has a lot of detail, but it’s been pulled way back into the background by lightening it, leaving the lone man as the focus.
Dunes of Nude No. 73
And sometimes I both dodge and burn, bringing up the subject and burning down the surrounding area.
Isolated No. 20
That’s what I did with this image, I darkened much of it to reduce the amount of detail and brightened the areas I wanted to focus the eye on.
However I do it, simplifying the image always seems to make it better. It pushes the eye to the Focal Point.
Dunes of Nude No. 86
It is true that sometimes, less can be more.
St Louis Arch
I love Black and White and I like it simple. Simple is often better.
Palms, Rapa Nui
A photographer friend, George Digalakis, asked me to write this article for his blog: Inspirational Places. You can read the original article here: https://www.digalakisphotography.com/inspirations/ct-ei
My Favorite Location:
How does one choose their favorite location? It would be like choosing your favorite image or favorite child!
Sometimes it seems like the last location is always my favorite location. And philosophically, I don’t believe an exotic location should be necessary for creating a great image. My philosophical hero, Edward Weston, said the following when he was confined to a chair with Parkinson’s:
I should be able to look down at my feet and see something to photograph
But I have been fortunate to travel to many incredible locations. And of all the places I’ve been, Easter Island has been the most significant to me. Why? Because it has been on my mind ever since I read Thor Heyerdahl’s book “Aku Aku” when I was 17 years old.
Now fast forward 47 years to when my wife and I were compiling our bucket list and I mentioned that I’d love to add Easter Island to the list, but that it really wasn’t feasible. My wife asked: why not? I didn’t really have an answer and so off we went in 2015.
Easter Island is known as the world’s most isolated inhabited place. I tell people that it’s really not that hard to get to, but it isn’t for the faint of wallet. It’s an expensive journey.
Easter Island is small, about 7 by 15 miles and has about 5500 inhabitants, some of which are the native Rapa Nui and also many Chileans. Only the Rapa Nui can own land on Easter Island.
Easter Island is best known for its Moai, those monolithic statues carved by the ancients. There are about 1000 Moai on the island and about 30 standing on several different ahu’s or alters.
I spent two weeks there, circumnavigate the island 3-5 times each day. I focused almost exclusively on the Moai and created three portfolios:
The Moai of Rano Raraku
Moai, Sitting for Portrait
The portfolio I am most proud of is the “Moai, Sitting for Portrait” and how it came about. Here is my artist statement:
In January of 2015 I spent two weeks photographing the Moai of Easter Island. This fulfilled a lifelong dream, one that started when I was 17 and read the book “Aku Aku” by Thor Heyerdahl. I became fascinated with the Moai and they have been on my mind and influenced my art for these many years.
As I traveled to Easter Island and tried to imagine what I would encounter, something interesting happened: I fell asleep and dreamt that I had invited the Moai to come and sit for a formal portrait.
When I awoke I thought “why not?”
I knew there would be challenges: the Moai are reserved, aloof and almost unapproachable. They had suffered greatly at the hands of outsiders and the question was: would they come to trust me?
Distance was the first hurdle to be overcome: the island is small by automobile standards, but when we are talking about the Moai who walk everywhere, traversing the island to get to my makeshift studio could be difficult. Then there was the Moai’s physical condition: many were incapacitated by war and the ravages of time and could not make the journey. And how would I accommodate the size of the Moai, with some towering 33 feet tall?
Facing these challenges and armed with nothing more than a dream and hope, I issued the invitations…but would they come?
Initially only a few came; the younger and less suspicious ones. But slowly, as word spread of their experience, others started to arrive.
Photographing the Moai created some interesting situations: one older Moai refused to allow me to photograph his face and turned his back on the camera. Another arrived with a hawk and insisted on having his portrait taken with the bird atop his head. Several Moai with bullet wounds, inflicted by outsiders, insisted that I document those scars.
And there were tense moments, as two rival Moai came together face-to-face in the studio, but which ended well when they agreed to be photographed together. And there were touching moments as old friends were reunited after years of separation.
The Moai are quiet, stoic and could even been described as “stone-faced.” And it’s true, not once was I able to photograph a Moai smiling, but instead they have a dignified poise that transcends time.
It was a lifelong dream that brought me to Easter Island and a sleeping dream that caused me to create this portfolio.
See all of the Moai portraits here
Dunes of Nude No. 227
In my last blog post I strongly suggested that people should not to listen to other people’s advice, and someone called me on that advice! He reminded me that one of the best lessons I’ve ever learned came from following someone else‘s advice (Ansel’s already done Ansel)
He’s right, sometimes you should listen to the lessons taught by others! I’d like to share five lessons I’ve learned from important people in my life.
Mr. Casey owned Casey’s Camera in Rochester, NY. Upon discovering photography at age 14, I visited the camera shop frequently…probably much too frequently. I was there all the time; talking, asking questions and buying old cameras which I would then trade in a month later. No matter how long I was there, how many questions I asked, how many times I traded in cameras…he was always patient and kind.
It wasn’t until some 40 years later that I came to appreciate how very kind and patient he had been with me.
And so I decided to track down Mr. Casey and thank him for his kindness, but I wasn’t even sure if he was still alive. I searched Rochester for Casey’s camera and came up empty but did find a Casey’s Camera in Las Vegas. I thought that was an odd coincidence and so I called the camera store and asked if they knew a Mr. Casey. The employee who answered said he had never heard of a Mr. Casey and didn’t know how their store had come by that name. Just as we were ending the call, I heard someone in the background yell: Mr. Casey, Dick Casey?
It turns out that this man had purchased the store from Dick Casey after he had moved it to Las Vegas and then retired. He didn’t know if Mr. Casey was still alive, but he knew that he had retired to Pennsylvania.
After a little research I found Mr. Casey and he was still alive. I spoke to him on the phone and told him my story and thanked him for his patience and kindness. He apologized because he had the beginnings of Alzheimer’s and could not remember me or those experiences. And it didn’t matter that he couldn’t remember, I was grateful to be able to thank him and register an important life lesson: be kind to the little people…figuratively and literally.
Joe ran Leonard’s Camera Department in Garden Grove where I worked. Joe had been a combat photographer in World War II and after the war, he worked for the Hollywood studios taking stills for promotional purposes. Joe became more than a boss to me, he was also a friend and a mentor.
Joe’s approach to photography was different than what I had seen and experienced: he learned photography in the depression era and practiced it in wartime conditions, where you had to make do with what you had on hand. This gave Joe the ability to solve any photographic problem with without heading to the camera store to purchase a solution. Joe’s solutions may not have been pretty or fancy, but they did the job.
Once Joe taught me how to remove telephone lines from an image, not in the darkroom, but in the camera. He put his camera on a tripod and composed the scene. He then mounted an 8X10 piece of glass a few inches from the lens and while looking through the camera, used a Q-Tip to paint Vaseline over the telephone lines on the glass. The Vaseline would blur the telephone lines, rendering them invisible. It was beautiful in its simplicity and effectiveness.
I learned two lessons from Joe: the first is that you don’t need the best equipment to create great images. And second, that if you have a problem, figure it out!
John was my photo teacher at Loara High School and my friend for life. I skipped most classes in my junior and senior year (barely graduating) and held my own “independent study” in the photo department.
John was a “creative” and so much more than just a photographer. Besides photographing he painted, sculpted, designed and was an all-round creative person. The thing that I learned from John (although the lesson didn’t sink in until much later in life) was that photography was not really about photographing, but about creating.
John had a huge influence on my photography and my life. I created the image “John Holland Memorial” in his honor as we gathered in the High Sierra to spread his ashes.
John Holland Memorial
I miss John, he died too young.
I call this next person Mr. X because I don’t know his name. For those of you who have read some of my blogs or attended one of my presentations, you will be familiar with this story:
A few years ago I was attending Review Santa Fe where over the course of a day my work was evaluated by a number of gallery owners, curators, publishers and “experts” in the field.
During the last review of a very long day, the reviewer quickly looked at my work, brusquely pushed it back to me and said “It looks like you’re trying to copy Ansel Adams.” I replied that I was, because I loved his work! He then said something that would change my life:
“Ansel’s already done Ansel and you’re not going to do him any better. What can you create that shows your unique vision?”
Those words really stung, but the message did sink in: Was it my life’s ambition to be known as the world’s best Ansel Adams imitator? Had I no higher aspirations than that?
That sent me on a journey to find out if I had a Vision. I did and it changed not only my photography, but my life.
Vered befriended me and became my mentor shortly after my return to photography in 2004.
She and I were exact opposites in one respect, she was an artist who used a camera and I was a photographer who used a camera. She created while I documented and we had many spirited discussions about that. I had grown up with a photographer’s mentality and for me there was no worse sin than to “manipulate” an image. Vered was an artist and tried to convince me to create, which I resisted.
I am grateful that Vered was even more stubborn than I was, and did not give up on me. This is the first image that I felt that I had “created” from my Vision, and not just documented:
The Angel Gabriel
There are many great lessons to be learned from others, some come from advice given and others come from examples lived.
Copyright by Peter Lindbergh
A young artist is exhibiting his work for the first time and a well-known critic is in attendance.
The critic says to the young man: “would you like to hear my opinion of your work?”
“Yes” says the young man.
“It’s worthless” the critic says.
“I know” the artist replies, “but let’s hear it anyway.”
Did you laugh when you read this? I did, loudly!
If you’ve read many of my past blog posts, you’ll know that this is exactly how I feel about the opinion of “experts.” Their opinion is worthless. Why?
Because no matter what they are expert in, they can never be expert in one thing: Your Vision.
And if you are being true to your Vision, then no expert’s opinion can ever change your mind or change your course. You must create what you see inside of your head.
But if you have no Vision, then you are left to flounder about, not knowing which way to go and will be tempted to look to others for direction. And the problem of course, is that their advice will be based upon their Vision, their preferences and their opinions.
To be confident enough to ignore the advice and opinions of others, you must have a conviction of your direction…and that means you must have your own Vision.
I choose to create according to my Vision and to produce work that I love and am proud of. Because at the end of the day, what I think of my work is the only thing that really matters. Accolades last for only a short time, but personal satisfaction lasts forever.
Each of us possess this amazing ability to create, but we are often held back, not because we lack ability, but because we doubt ourselves. We create how we think we should create, how others have created, we create to follow the rules and we create to meet the expectation of others.
Letting go of all of that, and creating what you see and feel, is the key to unlocking your potential and producing work that you love.
Others may not understand or appreciate your work, and that’s okay, it’s not for them.