5 Reasons Photo Gear Hasn’t Changed My Life

Seagull, Santa Cruz, Nikon F4, 80-200 F/2.8 lens, Fujicolor 800

I enjoy Chris Nicchols and Jordan Drake’s Digital Photography Review TV YouTube channel.

Chris and Jordan deliver great gear reviews that are focused on the needs of the viewer.

Recently, they posted videos on “The Gear That Changed My Life.” Chris praised the humble wrist strap; Jordan talked about his first Panasonic mirrorless camera, the GF1.

Searching my heart for chunks of photographic metal that changed my life, I found – nothing.

The only camera that came close was the Nikon F4. It was big but strangely inconspicuous – I could stand in a group and bang away and nobody would notice. Truly weird. And it did everything WELL. It gave me confidence and made me feel like a pro.

But, generally speaking – life change by gear? Meh, no.

What changed my photographic life:

1. Tri-X exposed at ASA 200, souped in Rodinal, 68 deg. F for 6 min with 5 sec per 30 sec agitation, and printed on grade 4 paper. NOBODY did this! But wow, it worked. I could bang around with the camera all day, shooting with all kinds of light, and make lovely prints. The secret was to produce a soft negative and print it on high-contrast paper. The soft negative had no ugly grain but printed in a beautiful scale from dark blacks to sparkling whites with wonderful gradation in the midtones. Very soon after I learned this secret, God put me in other work, and that was okay with me; I’m still coughing up fixer fumes from my years in the darkroom. Digital is the holy grail.

2. Learning to expose for what matters. If a face is in shadow I’m much happier exposing for it properly (Zone VI, as defined by Ansel Adams). And let the highlights fall where they may. I shoot events where I can’t always control the lighting. Because I’m using the wonderful Canon 24-105 F/4 L IS and 135mm F/2 lenses, any overexposed bokeh hardly ever looks ugly.

3. Learning to get quiet, focused, and deeply self-controlled, and step aside from the ego before I shoot. It’s amazing fun to shoot from an island of quiet at the center of the world whirling around.

4. Never craving good photos, but putting myself in a state where they are likely to happen, Being happy to come home without photos, if I’ve done the right thing, staying in the moment with focus and appreciation but without craving.

5. Finally – 54 years of practice.


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